Kebabs on Swords

“Origin of kebab is credited to the medieval soldiers who used to grill meat on their swords in the open fire.”

I go back to sixties & Ahdoos of Srinagar, Kashmir for those ‘Lahabi kebabs’ of a tender texture & an appetizing flavour, while I watch Kebabs being grilled. A typical smoky flavour of the contact of the charcoal with meat of the traditional charbroiled kababs lingers on. What a dark brown appearance! During my five years of stay in Naseem Bagh to persue my Engineering course; it was a joyful ritual amongst friends. to visit the restaurant for the cuisines and the ambience.

  • Feasting on Barbeque and grills is a style and apparatus for cooking food out of doors on live fire and smoke of wood and heat of charcoal.Charcoal is preferred to the modern Gas or electric grills, though wood is still the best.

Barbecue and Grilling are often intermingled; Chefs argue that barbecue is a type of grilling, and that grilling involves the use of a higher level of dry  radiant heat either from above or belowto sear the food. But it’s also important to have the proper tools.

  • Barbecuingis cooking at low temperature for a long time.The flames and smoke rise and envelope the food, giving it a certain flavour.

  • Burning vegetables – like grilling, roasting or barbecuing, whatever, is healthier, next best to eating them raw. “The main point is, to use as little water as possible, so the nutrients don’t leach out.”
  • Barbecue sauces may include vinegar, tomato paste, as well as liquid smoke, onion powder, spices such as mustard and black pepper, and sweetener-to taste. It is used as a marinade, or topping in the barbecue cooking style.
  • Smokingis the process of cooking & flavouring food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Kimb(dhdunj) is a fruit from citrus family grown in Dogra Regionof India. The skin is peeled off, The juice is squeezed out;a smoky flavour is givenby (dhuni) dropping mustard oil over burning charcoal, held between the inverted halves. Cut pieces, mixed with the paste of green chilies and mint, black salt, sugar and crushed walnuts, make a special dish. The last I relished the delicacy was with Anila and Col. Surinder Kumar at Noida.

  • Cooking over an outdoor fire pit (trench) is barbecuing. Pot-shaped copper (bronze) vessels with narrow openingsare known “Degs” in Kashmiri; “Batohi”, “Baltohi” or “Charoti” in local languages of Himachal.

Simmering fires of wood, preferably obtained from old fruit trees, are used as a source of heat for cooking Wazwan, the Kashmiri cuisine .It perhaps dates back to the kingship of Zain-Ul-Abidin. Theskilled cooks are known as wazas. A thaal full of meat makes a feast for foursome.“Spices used in its preparation give special taste and aroma and suggest its Sanskrit influence.”

Kashmiri Pandits prefer food cooked without onion and garlic. They say that the Pandits introduced the use of yoghurt, asafetida and turmeric powder to Indian cuisine. Chaman (paneer in Kashmiri), nadru yakhni (lotus stem in yogurt sauce), nadru palak (in spinach), chok wagun (brinjal cooked in sour and spicy gravy with tamarind); and dum aloo are specialties.

As the legend goes, 1,300 years ago the then king of Himachal Pradesh, Jaistambh, was so impressed by Kashmiri Wazwan that he ordered his cooks to prepare a similar feast back home but without the use of meat; prepared only by Brahmins called botis and considered sacred.

  • Whereas Wazwan may comprise from seven to 36 dishes of mutton chicken, fruits, and vegetables; a dham would consist of about 6-8 dishes. “I have even prepared 20-22 dishes for a dham; our specialty is in slow cooking the dishes for long hours to develop the flavours rather than making them rich,” says a boti from Hamirpur.Onions and garlic aren’t restricted unless requested by the family;even though, in cold zones even meat dishes have crept into the dham” for the elite.”

Both Wazwan and Dham take days of planning,hours of cooking and serving; yet even the finicky eaters get their choice.

Pots lend the dishes a distinctive flavour as they are slow-cooked for hours; ‘maa ki dal’ is slow cooked for over four hours.The shape and thickness of the vessel helps the food remain hot for a longer time.

According to a Boti from Pathiar(Kangra) cooking in such manner gives the dham a unique flavour and the flame from the wood kills all the possible germs.

The dal is made by smoked cooking method where mustard oil is put over a piece of burning coal and put in the dal. It is then covered for some time to get the smoky flavour, a technique known as Dhuni,same as for kimb.

Slow cooking in copper pots and iron vessels whiffs out aromatic flavours. It is joy of community feasting.

  • In big temples, like Puri, only earthen vessels are used for cooking. Vegetables boiled at a low temp in an earthen vessel may lose much lesser nutrients as a matter of common sense.

Some villages still have a communal tandoor. Unlike other cuisines like Himachali, Kashmiri, Dogri; continental food & Anglo-Indian food is not region-specific, nor does any community influence it.

Amalgamation of Indian spices, stews and roasts is peculiar of British food. There is no one person or place behind the cuisine. *“The Indian cooks of the colonial times invented new dishes, which was a combination of Indian flavours along with those of Britain and Europe.” Regional influences cannot, however, be overlooked.

Mughlai cuisine consists of dishes developed in the medieval Indo-Persian cultural centers of the Mughal Empire.Chinese cuisine is accepted worldwide.

According to Sumant Dadhwal, a connoisseur of cuisines,“the most popular in Indiais theNorth Indian Food followed by Chinesedelicacies”.

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* Keren Martin

Prof. (Er.) Chander P Mahajan is an art critic & a free lance journalist. The Environmentalist stays in Shimla and Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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2 Comments

  1. says: Sushant Awasthi

    A ‘Lajeez’ description of Kashmiri cooking ! Mention of Ahdoos brought back some fond memories of ‘Kanti kebab.’ Simply mouth watering 😋

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