Recipe: Reclaiming a Kashmiri Pandit Sunday lunch staple after lockdown
Roganjosh occupies centre stage at feasts, get-togethers and Kashmiri Pandit weddings. What makes the dish so special and how do you get that perfect taste?
During the lockdown, we turned vegetarian as we decided to avoid going to the butcher’s shop some distance away or ordering home delivery. Soon after the lockdown eased, our colony was declared a containment zone, so that was another 28 days of no meat/chicken on the menu.
Growing up in Kashmir, the Sunday lunch menu in a lot of Kashmiri Pandit houses comprised syun, or mutton (usually a tempered-down version of roganjosh—far less spices and oil), haakh (a type of leafy green) or some vegetable dish, rice and curd. It was an unhurried meal where you lingered till the vas (bone marrow) had been sucked, the kantruck (cartilage) demolished and bones reduced to soor (literally ashes). This weekend meat ritual had remained a constant in my life, until the lockdown.
Much to my surprise, I did not miss or crave non-vegetarian food. Then last month, writer and film-maker Priyanka Mattoo wrote in The New Yorker about “How to extract a mother’s rogan josh recipe over Zoom". It seemed like someone had removed the lid from a pot of roganjosh simmering on slow fire and filled the air with the aroma of old memories. Now I was yearning for roganjosh and my old Sunday routine.
Like most people, my go-to person for Kashmiri recipes is my mother, who learnt to cook from my paternal grandmother. My mom has a simple mantra: Don't skimp on the oil, use minimal to no water, be it vegetables or meat. Water dilutes the flavour and taste, while oil acts like a preservative, and the food does not spoil easily.
On a recent weekend, I made roganjosh. I kept in mind my mother’s tips, as well as those gleaned from my aunt and a Kashmiri Facebook food group. I gave the dish the time and patience it demands. It had to be worth the effort to return to the non-vegetarian fold. As we sat down to eat, the sky opened up. And just like that, in the middle of the pandemic and intense humidity, punctured by the sound of brisk rainfall, I had reclaimed my Sunday ritual.
Roganjosh (and damaloo in vegetarian dishes) occupies centre stage at Kashmiri Pandit feasts, get-togethers and weddings. It rests on top of your mound of rice, to be arrived at after you have finished the other dishes on the menu. Think of roganjosh as a good mango pickle—you show it reverence. You ladle the meat on the rice with just enough of the masala and oil so that it coats the rice and does not run like dal or yakhni all over the plate. The flavours are intense and concentrated. If I were to pick another dish that is on a par with roganjosh, it would be the Bengali koshamangsho.
The aroma in roganjosh comes from asafoetida and whole spices while curd gives the gravy texture and a hint of tanginess. It’s important to note that Kashmiri chilli powder is not hot, but has a rich colour. You will not be guzzling water after every mouthful. And a not-so-secret tip my mother and many others follow: adding a half or one teaspoon of sugar while browning the meat, which caramelizes and deepens the red colour. My mother also says that it's okay if the masala and meat catch the pan a bit, it adds to the taste. Each family has their own tweaks and little variations to the dish.
In pre-1990 Kashmir, Pandit wedding meals were a sit-down affair. Row after row of dastarkhans would be rolled out in the shamiana. Senior members of the family would inquire after every guest. Special attention was paid to sons-in-law and their families. The food server would be beckoned and told to ladle one more piece of roganjosh on their plates (damaloo in case you were vegetarian). And if the guest demurred, waving his left hand frantically all over the plate, you would say, “Myoen marun chuv." Basically, "I will die if you refuse". People have even been known to wrap a piece of roganjosh in their handkerchief for the child who could not attend the feast. Such is the sway of roganjosh. It’s difficult to resist.
And, yes, the Kashmiri Muslim roganjosh is different. It uses garlic, pran (shallots) or onion, and no curd. The meat is boiled with garlic and whole spices and not shallow-fried. Two different recipes, but both Kashmiri in essence.
Mint brings you a traditional Kashmiri Pandit roganjosh recipe from Nalini Moti Sadhu, the owner and chef at Matamaal restaurant in Gurugram, Haryana, which serves traditional Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and breads, as well as some wazwan dishes. Sadhu says there are a couple of things one should keep in mind: The meat should be from the shoulder of the goat/lamb, the medium of cooking has to be mustard oil and the spices should be of good quality. Sadhu, who attributes her cooking skills to her late mother-in-law, Jigri, says they have come out with a roganjosh masala mix for a young generation on the run. You mix the masala in curd and add to the meat after browning it. Then you finish the cooking process in a pressure cooker. It can’t get simpler than that.
Nalini Moti Sadhu’s Mutton Roganjosh
1 kg shoulder portion of lamb
1.5 tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp saunf (fennel) powder
4 cloves (crushed)
4 green cardamoms (crushed)
3 black cardamoms (crushed)
1-inch stick cinnamon
2 pinches asafoetida
2 tbsp thick yogurt
1 tsp whole cumin
1 javitri (mace, small)
2-3 bay leaves
Around 3-4 tbsp mustard oil, or enough for shallow frying
Salt to taste
In a thick-bottomed pan, heat mustard oil to smoking point. Let it cool a bit, then return to fire and add cumin seeds, bay leaves, cloves, mace, cinnamon, black and green cardamoms and sauté on medium heat. Now add the mutton and shallow-fry (add a few drops of water to avoid splattering) till it is brown and has released all its juices. Add salt at this stage.
Add red chilli powder, asafoetida and yogurt. Continue frying till the oil separates and the curd is completely mixed. Add a tablespoon or two of water if it sticks to the pan. Cook on medium heat for another 5-10 minutes so that the meat absorbs the aroma of the whole spices. Now add ginger and fennel powders and enough water to cover the mutton. Close the lid and cook on low heat till the mutton is tender. Once ready, add garam masala or ver tikki masala (Kashmiri spice mixture) and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve hot with rice.
FIRST PUBLISHED16.08.2020 | 10:00 AM IST