Snow-capped mountains framing a lush green valley forms the rural backdrop, as Kashmiris sit around the fire, relishing hot food and cheerful conversation. Flakes of snow flit by the window as they enjoy their saffron-flavoured tea and often, mouthfuls of rice, eaten with a vegetable preparation and possibly a dried meat dish.
Of course, available too are many forms of Indian breads, made from wheat or flour. On the other hand, there are quite a few rice dishes to be enjoyed in the Valley, of which the mutton Yakhni Pulao, is a popular one. Such is the magic of the Valley, that this dish is not a stress on the digestive system; rather, a combination with other ingredients, make it a balanced meal.
Both the Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir are meat eaters. Kashmiri Hindus, (Brahmins or Pandits), as they are known, like their counterparts in Bengal, and unlike the Brahmins of Maharashtra and South India, also eat fish. On Shivaratri, Lord Shiva is offered a meal of fish and rice in Kashmir.
Apart from the well-known Rogan Josh, the red mutton curry, enjoyed equally with rice and roti, the Valley is known for a number of other delicacies, as part of the wazwan banquet, prepared by professional cooks. The state is noted for many dishes flavoured with saffron, the spice got from the Crocus plant that grows profusely in this state.
My friend, Anju Munshi, a freelance writer and a great homemaker, has done a book on Kashmiri cuisine, that is both healthy and easy to prepare. She shares her recipe for the Yakhni Pulao with me.
Anju says, For a Kashmiri woman, cooking and serving are not arduous or depressing chores. They enjoy doing it. There are times, however, when she feels like resorting to short cuts or is in the mood to serve a one-dish meal.
This is where her Yakhni Pulao, comes in handy, as it combines taste with a certain simplicity, though yakhni or curd, is not always used in cooking the meat.
In some other cases, Yakhni Pulao, is rice cooked in the stock of lamb or chicken that has been delicately flavoured with aromatic spices.
ANJU's Yakhni Pulao
For the mutton balls or kofta(s).
Chicken mince - 500 gms
Onion paste - 1 tsp
Garlic and ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Curd (optional) - A tbsp
Egg - 1 (well beaten white portion)
Salt - To taste
For the pulao.
Basmati Rice - 500 gms
Asafoetida - A pinch
Cloves - A few
Cinnamon - 2 sticks
Green cardamoms - 3-4 crushed
Water - 5 cup
Oil - 2 tbsps
Aniseed - 4 tsps
Mix the mince with all the ingredients. Make walnut- sized balls. Lightly fry in a pan and keep aside. Meanwhile, heat oil in another pan, add the rice, washed and dried, alongwith the spices and pastes, meant for the rice. Keep stirring for five minutes. Add the water and cook till done. Take out the rice carefully off the fire and spread it out on a big open dish.
Now mix the fried mince balls to the rice, add coriander leaves and put it back in the pan in which the rice was cooked. Return to the fire and cook for about 15 minutes, till the rice and the meat are well blended.
Garnish with onion rings.
Serve with pickles, chutneys or dips of your choice.