The much-awaited season of all, when the new blossoms burst forth in vivid colours and the ground is painted green with daisies studded over them, is unquestionably a sight for the sore eyes. The valley turns monochromatic in the bitterly cold months of Chilleh Kalan and the transition that takes place as nature sprinkles colours around us, is surely a magnificent transformation to witness. Not only does the sunny spring feel good on the skin, it also rejuvenates the soul. An unspoken joy rekindles the spirit.
Employing ingenious tricks to work around the vagaries of climate change, the natives have figured out ways to deal with extremes of nature. The scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables in bone-chilling winters led to the practice of sun-drying seasonal produce. A long-standing technique of preservation, which is still followed by many households and has been successfully commercialised for the convenience of the new age generation, busy with the fast-paced life but still longing for the flavours which bring back warmth and nostalgia. Having survived on Hokh Syun (dried vegetables) pushes us to wait eagerly for spring to arrive.
“Soanth Mubarak”, people would greet each other and exchange the happiness with smiles and affection. As the winds of change come about, we stop by our favourite vegetable vendor hoping he has stocked on some newly harvested greens and glowing fresh produce. Green haaq and varieties of vibrant saag is what everybody craves for after a dull, lifeless winter. Haaq (Collard Greens), Monje Haaq (Khol Rabi), Wasste Haaq (Red Orach), Lisse (Amaranth), Sotsal (Mallow), Obuj (Sorrel) Hannd (Dandelion Greens) and Spring Onions are a few fresh greens that we look forward to. In order to retain the prominent herbaceous flavour of the kind of green we’re cooking, we usually opt for minimal spices or no spice at all while cooking these gems and highlighting their natural character. However, garlic will be a common aromat amongst all the fresh produce in most households.
Here are a few shades of ‘greens’ from Kashmir’s emerald spring palette.
Lisse – Tender foliage of Amaranth makes for a delicious leafy green with its robust vegetal notes.
Obuj – With its hallmark tart flavour, the Kashmiri variety of sorrel aka Obuj, is a unique hyper-local seasonal green making an appearance in late spring.
Sotsal – The slightly crumpled, frilly-edged Kashmiri mallow resembles dainty water lily pads gracefully floating on the serene waters of the Dal. A finely balanced flavour between subtle and hearty, amazes the palate with depth and complexity for a seemingly simple green.
Wassta Haaq – With stunning hues of magenta and a faint minerally aftertaste, Wassta Haaq, aptly meaning The Master of All leafy Greens, claims a place of pride in every Kashmiri spring spread. Traditionally paired with silken paneer or hard-boiled eggs, Wassta Haaq stains its partners in flavour with a stunning blush and its unmatched taste.
Here’s a family favourite that we cook to usher in spring and celebrate the glorious produce it brings.
Wassta Haaq & Zombre Thool
Wassta Haaq – 1/2 Kg
Hard-boiled Eggs – 6
Onion – 1 (medium-sized)
Garlic cloves – 5 to 6 (thinly sliced)
Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
Chili powder – 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Fennel seed powder – 1/2 tsp
Garam masala powder – 1/4 tsp
Mustard oil for cooking
Salt for seasoning
Pick the leaves and wash the wassta haaq thoroughly under running water and keep aside.
Deep fry the hard boiled eggs till golden.
Heat the mustard oil till it smokes, lower the flame, and add garlic and cumin seeds. Sautee well and add chopped onion, cook till golden brown.
Add the powdered masalas except for garam masala, cook well till oil separates.
Put the washed, drained Wassta Haaq and sauté on medium-low heat till it wilts, softens and leeches out its water. Do not add water.
Add the fried hard boiled eggs and let it cook together for another 10 minutes till the Wassta Haaq is cooked on medium flame. Lastly add the garam masala and give it a good mix.
Serve with plain rice or tsot of your choice.
My Tip: Always cook the greens in a thick bottomed pan.
This recipe is moderately spiced, you can increase the quantity of chili powder or add a tablespoon of Kashmiri vaer masala slurry and eliminate all other powder masalas.
Every household will have their own version of the delicacy depending on the region, availability of ingredients and personal preference.
Minor tweaks and touches can lead to interesting derivatives of the same mother recipe.
This particular preparation, a part of my family heirloom is very close to my heart. The minimalistic but uniquely Kashmiri recipe handed down from generations embodies the philosophy of our cuisine and carries the warmth of tradition and heritage.
This spring, as nature turns a new leaf, let’s focus on the seasonal gems available in our very own backyards. Discovering their charm, reviving heirloom recipes and improvising innovations around these humble, local greens. May the spring sow a seed of fascination, excitement and discovery which sprouts and blossoms into an appreciation for the exotic in the everyday!
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