“bi-khūbī tā shavad Kashmīr mazkūr | bi-‘ālam nām-i nīkash bād mashhūr kunad daryūza kūh-i Pīr Panjāl | zi chatr-i daulatash rif‘at hama sāl “
As long as Kashmir is mentioned with good words, may it be renowned in the world. The Pir Panjal mountain seeks elevation from the parasol of his fortune, all year
-Kalim Kashani, 17th Century Persian Poet
On a trip to Srinagar last year I finally learned what goes into a Kashmiri Rogan Josh. And was I surprised.
No dish has bewildered me as much. It is one of India's most famous curries, but also offered in so many hodgepodge and wildly disparate versions in restaurants and online that it’s hard to know what an authentic Rogan Josh is. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising - with the violence in Kashmir (In the few days I was there a man with a grenade was arrested at the airport and, there was a shooting at a hotel and a gunfight between militants and the armed forces), there is a lot less 'sharing' of Kashmiri culture in the mainstream than there should be.
Kashmiri cooking traces its history to the 15th century, when Timur the Lame invaded India and accomplished woodcarvers, painters, weavers, architects and calligraphers and cooks migrated from Samarkand in today’s Uzbekistan, to the Kashmir valley. So too did expert cooks, known as Wazas.
The descendants of these cooks are now the master chefs of Kashmir and the elaborate feasts they prepare on special occasions came to be called Wazwaan. I had the good fortune to talk with Ghulam Mohammed Bhandari Waza, a renowned chef in Srinagar, with the assistance of his friend Arif Shah. Ghulam Mohammed's father and grandfather were also Wazas, but unhappily his son doesn't want to be one. Arif translated our conversations from Koshur to English and added that the younger generation don’t think the profession is given the respect it’s due. So many Kashmiri traditions, like the weavers of epic jamawar shawls, the wood workers of Khatamband, Ferozi and Pinjra kari and the makers of Wagu mats, have given up their trades as the years of violence in the valley have chased away tourists and with them demand for artisanal crafts.
It is crucial these authentic recipes are preserved and as I was lucky enough to get many of them including Dum Aloo and Gucchi Pulao I hope you will consider cooking them up.
Kashmir is a syncretic culture with myriad influences beginning with the trickle effects of the Persian Achaemenid invasions, followed by Alexander the Great's invasion of Punjab, the arrival of Turkish scholars, the Central Asians, those who ruled after Babur came to be called the Mughals, Kashmiri food is complex and beautiful and like its culture and crafts, an alloy welded by some of the world’s greatest warriors and civilizations.
While the name Rogan Josh is Persian, the techniques and ingredients involved are diverse. Roughan means "oil" in Persian, while josh means to boil. Interestingly the Muslim version of this dish involves boiling, while the Kashmiri Pandit (the Hindu Shaivites of Kashmir) recipe involves searing and braising. There is undoubtedly an Indian influence in the use of ghee and a large number of spices. Some of the ingredients such as Alkanet are of Mediterranean origin, Mawal or Cockscombe flower, it is argued is of African origin.
Facts I learnt about Rogan Josh (please send me an email or tweet if you disagree)
• There are 2 versions of Rogan Josh The Hindu Kashmiri Pandit version, which is more easily found on the internet and the Muslim version, which I obtained from Ghulam Waza. You will be surprised how different the two are and even more how awful the fake versions served in restaurants are.
• Rogan Josh is also made with chicken. You will find a good recipe for it in a book called Wazwaan by Khan Mohammed Sharief Waza and his brothers.
• The Pandit version does not use garlic and onions while the Muslim version uses Kashmir pearl garlic and shallots called pran (see grocery list below).
• The Pandit version uses dried ginger powder called sunth.
• The Pandit version uses yogurt the Muslim version doesn't.
• The ideal meat is mutton and if unavailable lamb. The best and traditional cut is the shoulder for the Kashmiri Pandit version. The Muslim version often uses meaty goat ribs also called champh.
• Several natural colouring agents unique to Kashmir are employed. Mawal or red cockscomb flower in the Wazwaan version, and rattan jot, a kind of wooden peel known as alkanet root or Alkanna tinctoria in the Pandit preparation. Saffron is used in the Muslim version and alters the taste because saffron unlike Mawal and Rattanjot has a strong flavour.
• Tomato is incorrectly used as a substitute when Mawal and Rattanjot are not available. No authentic version of Rogan Josh I ate or saw being cooked in Kashmir has tomatoes. Kashmiri chilli is also added in excess sometimes to produce a red color. This is incorrect because Rogan Josh is not a burn your tongue off dish. If neither are available to you I would suggest you use beet color as you might for a red velvet cake.
• In a Wazwaan the traditional Muslim meal, it is always the Muslim version of Rogan Josh with onions and garlic that is served.
• The Hindu version uses aniseed and asafetida or hing to replace garlic.
• The Muslim version uses ghee, the Hindu version also uses ghee and sometimes mustard oil.
• Both use dried Kashmiri chillies.
• Rogan Josh is served with rice.
• Rogan Josh has both a distinct color and aroma that you know instantly when the dish is placed before you. Kashmiri food places great importance on the sense of smell whether it is Haak or Gucchi Pulao the aroma is as distinct as the color and flavor. My piece on Kashmiri Haak-http://www.taradeshpande.in/kashmiri-haak/
Much of Kashmiri cooking relies on a fragrant mutton stock. I was surprised to note that Dum Aloo and Gucchi Pulao are prepared with mutton stock. The Dum Aloo served by restaurants is a far cry from the version made by Waza Ghulam and the technique for Gucchi Pulao is completely different from anything I’ve eaten before. Unlike the Kashmiri Pandits, the Waza's donot employ the technique of 'tadka' or tempering (throwing whole spices into hot oil) as much. A critical difference.
Ghulam Waza was quick to point out that in the old days Gucchi pulao was never a part of a Wazwaan. But many people insist on it now because Gucchi, a variety of Kashmiri morels are exorbitantly expensive and including them on a menu is a status symbol. A full Wazwaan can have as many as 25 courses but in 2017 the J&K government limited the numbers of courses to 7, banned the use of fire crackers and loudspeakers on account of air and sound pollution at weddings and the purchase of dry fruits sweets to be distributed with wedding cards to curtail the huge quantities food at weddings that wound up in dustbins.
Enjoy the Rogan Josh recipe. Dum Aloo, Gucchi Pulao and the Kashmiri Pandit version of Rogan Josh to follow soon.
• Ratanjot- If you buy Alkanet check on the expiry date. In humid weather it goes bad quickly and loses color.
Mawal of dried cockscombe flower comes in large quantities. You maybe better off buying the concentrated powder. If unavailable use beet powder.
• A Kashmiri saffron I have enjoyed using for various reasons including that it is Mogra (taken from the stamen) and of single origin- many Kashmiri saffron are blended with Iranian saffron.
• There are several kinds of Kashmiri garlic. The version in this recipe is single clove mountain garlic which is much more potent then regular garlic. If you don't have access use twice the quantity of regular garlic cloves.
• Kashmiri shallots can also be used in French cuisine quite satisfactorily. Keep them dry and refrigerated. In my experience a humid climate has a detrimental effect on them.
Kashmir Morels can be substituted with morels from the USA or France
For more pictures from my Kashmir trip and the ingredients that go into Rogan Josh like Pran paste and Mawal
please visit my instagram page @deshpandetara
TRADITIONAL MUSLIM VERSION OF ROGAN JOSH BY GHULAM MOHAMMED BHANDARI WAZA
FOR THE STOCK
1 KG MUTTON RIBS OR CHAMPH
3 PEARL KASHMIR PEARL GARLIC CLOVES PEELED, LIGHTLY BASHED OR 6-8 REGULAR PEELED CLOVES
2 PIECES OF BLACK CARDAMOM
3 PIECES OF GREEN CARDAMOM WHOLE
3 PIECES OF CLOVES
3 PIECES OF CINNAMON ABOUT 2 INCHES
FOR THE KASHMIRI CHILLI PASTE
8 DRIED KASHMIRI CHILLIES, STALKS AND SEEDS REMOVED
FOR THE ROGAN JOSH PASTE
6 PRAN OR KASHMIRI SHALLOTS PEELED AND CHOPPED
2 TBSPNS GHEE
1/2 CUP VEGETABLE OIL
FOR THE COLOR
50 GMS DRIED MAWAL FLOWERS
8 STRANDS SAFFRON CRUSHED WITH A MORTAR AND PESTLE
1/2 TEASPOON GROUND TURMERIC POWDER
FOR THE GARNISH
1 PEELED GREEN CARDAMOM POD SEEDS FINELY GROUND
SALT TO TASTE