Often assumed to be insipid, Kumaoni cuisine is a balance of taste and nutrition.
Known as the ‘Land of Gods’, Uttarakhand is a well-known pilgrimage site, but what most of us don’t know is its regional cuisines. Segregated as Kumaoni and Garhwali, these cuisines are equally heavenly. However, Kumaoni cuisine, especially is still an unexplored spectrum of diverse colours and flavours. People tend to go to the mainstream touristy spots, thus losing out on trying out the local authentic dishes. This makes their cuisine a lesser-known blessing, which isn’t one in disguise at all.
The beauty of Kumaoni cuisine is its exclusivity, even in our times of globalisation. Fortunately or unfortunately, not much is known about this particular cuisine, which is no less than creating magic with their special ‘culinary music.’ Rustic and vibrant best describes Kumaoni cuisine. You tend to feel and experience the region’s flavoursome culture and landscape through their food, which includes diverse ingredients for the same.
And what this cuisine makes the most use of is homemade ghee, naturally, to stay warm during freezing temperatures. If you visit people living in Kumaon, their kitchens are always stocked up with ghee to cover up the chills. This is also another reason for their healthy immune system; this also enables them to rightfully earn the title of ‘expert hill-climbers’. They often cook it with jaggery, cumin and several other local herbs. Bhaang is commonly used there in the form of chutneys. It is prepared with bhang seeds, cumin, garlic, pomegranate seeds (unique for a chutney, right?) coriander, tamarind, raw turmeric and sand grinded on a stone mortar. I don’t know if other parts of our country would be open to adopting this particular ingredient for their chutneys! Jakhia, a lesser known ingredient, is only available in the Kumaoni valley and nowhere else in the country. It is frequently used in simple dal preparations. It is basically a dark poppy seed-herb, which is excellent in texture and high on nutrient value.
There are several dishes unique to this beautiful cuisine. Kaafuli, is a spinach-based soup that enjoyed by babies and the old alike. It is often given as ‘medicine’ if someone has a cold or is suffering from fever. Another essential ingredient is gahet, which is a grain. It’s used as a dal, as a base for chilla and as a main course dish with vegetables as well — an extremely versatile item, it is a delicacy in the region of Kumaon.
The cuisine has contributed to the country’s culinary palate by bringing in unique devices of cooking with seasonal fruits and seeds, lesser known ingredients as well as rustic ones — thus introducing many of us to a wonderful new world of diverse flavours —something that is yet to be explored in totality.
I don’t think that it is largely explored in the first place. To make that happen, we must start including them in our menus to bring out the beauty of our nation’s different corners.
Jhangora ki Khichdi
1 cup swang ke chawal or Banyard Millets
2 cups of water, and water for soaking
2 medium tomatoes
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tsp cumin seeds
Green chillies, chopped
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder to taste
½ inch root ginger, peeled and grated
3 tsp ghee or clarified butter
Soak swang in water for two hours. Boil the potatoes and cut them in cubes. Keep aside.
Add finely grated ginger and green chilies, add chopped tomatoes and toss them till it becomes soft and gooey.
Add cubed boiled potatoes. Add the soaked swang to the pressure pan and then, add water, salt and chilli powder.
Close the lid and let it cook for five whistles or five to seven minutes after pressure builds up. Open lid and serve hot. If you wish to, pour on top a spoonful of ghee.
Serve with papad and raita.
Note: Ghee is an important ingredient because without enough ghee, banyard millets tend to become hard, dry and chewy.
Aloo Jhol Wale
350 gm baby potatoes
2 tsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1-inch ginger, paste
2 garlic cloves, paste
1 green chilli, chopped
2 tomato puree, medium-sized
1 pinch hing
½ tsp dhaniya powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
½ garam masala
3 tsp coriander, chopped
Salt to taste
Put the frying pan on a moderate flame. Pour the oil and allow it to get hot. Add cumin and fenugreek seeds in the hot oil. When the seeds start crackling, add garlic cloves, ginger paste and green chilli
Stir-fry till the garlic and ginger turn slightly brown.
Add chopped onion and fry until it becomes tender. Add red chilli, dhaniya and turmeric powder, tomato puree and fry for nine minutes. Now, add potatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Add one cup of water and put garam masala, salt and hing.
Cook for about 10 minutes in moderate flame, till the potatoes become tender. Remove the pan from the flame and sprinkle chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot.
Chef Sharique is an executive chef at Twenty Nine, Mumbai