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The Kashmiri Pandit Kitchen

The Kashmiri Pandit Kitchen

The Kashmiri Pandit Kitchen

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The Kashmir Valley’s Pandit cuisine has found celebrated guardians — the Gurugram restaurant Matamaal and singer-turned-chef Sanjay Raina, for instance — and now Rahul Wali, who’s a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef specializing in European cuisine, has become the ambassador of a culinary tradition he left behind in Srinagar after his family fled the city in 1990 with a suitcase.

The cuisine travelled in his memories and in the food cooked by his mother and grandmother, and after years spent serving European food, Wali decided to go back to his roots.

And he has found a talented mate in chef-entrepreneur Sidakpreet Singh, who shares his passion for putting Pandit cuisine on the map of global gastronomy.

So what sets Kashmiri Pandit cuisine apart? He pointed out that it must be the only mutton-led cuisine in the country that doesn’t use onions, garlic, or tomatoes. And the Pandit kitchen also keeps a minimal number of spices — compared to Awadhi cuisine, it is almost spartan — believing in the philosophy of getting the most out of the least. The spices used include fennel powder, dry ginger powder, red chili powder, turmeric, cumin powder and asafoetida.

There are surprises he makes such as ‘warimuth’ kababs made with jet-black turtle beans and ‘sheyeem’, based on a 130-year-old recipe that the chef got from his grandmother — it’s very European in its presentation, being roulades of mutton mince, but the Kashmiri Pandit touch comes from the spiced yogurt gravy. There is also a havan dal made with whole moong dal cooked in ghee. It proved how the best things in life come in the simplest packages.

Then there is haak, or collard greens cooked in a gently flavored heeng gravy, which can be ruined if the heeng is not dealt with delicately and of course, the gold standard, roghan josh, a flavorful mutton preparation cooked in a Kashmiri red chilli gravy. All you need is saffron rice to do full justice to these beauties.

Having a love-hate relationship with paneer, or czaman, as the Kashmiris would call it, Kashmiri Pandit cuisine has the chaman qaliya, an addictive preparation of paneer cubes cooked in milk and haldi. Your doctor would certainly recommend it.

The cuisine has an array of chutneys — the ‘czetin’, are indeed special – radish strips (mujj) and yogurt; walnut, and dried pomegranate.

The cuisine is a show-stopper and thankfully not forgotten.

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