I chanced upon a quote from none another than the Enlightened Great Albert Einstein. “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” The startling thing is that one can’t be more far removed than him in the subject of Food.
I may never evolve into a vegetarian, but having been an extremely hardcore non-vegetarian for the past half a century, I am slowly getting there. Well, if not getting there, I am certainly getting more enlightened to its varied advantages and also appreciating its flavour as a hard core foodie. As a self-respecting gourmand I have realized rather late the myth that a vegetarian gourmet spread cannot be as much a wholesome culinary experience as ‘Carnivore’ affair in Nairobi.
I owe this lateral shift to two fabulous experiences in the past month. One at my sisters place who introduced us to a vegetarian ‘Pahadi’ cuisine from the Himachal region and the other was at the home of a friend who created what I would say a Michelin experience at the Bajoria’s home, that too packing the entire evening with 10 different Vegetarian starter dishes, each one a killer. I will post about that later in detail another time. Lets delve into the ‘Pahadi stuff for now.
Every region in India has a distinct vegetarian tradition which is cooked as parallel to its Non vegetarian counterpart. Just as much, every region also has a parallel Muslim delicacies to counter the Hindu / Brahmin cuisine. Himachal cuisine is a bit removed to this practice, as there isn’t much or rather zero influence of Mughal/ Muslim traditions in the region. The upper regions of Himachal does have a tradition of Non vegetarian dishes which I have yet to explore.
Sangeeta made the evening special as she even organized some traditional Thalis and managed to give the experience a truly traditional flavour by getting small knick-knacks, which created an ambience of the region.
Traditional Pahadi –
1) Instant Raw mango and onion PICKLE called ‘NIMKI’ –Sliced raw mango and onions in Mustard oil with salt red chillies and Kalonji ( Nigella seeds)
2) A refreshing CHUTNEY – called ‘CHACHA’ - Raw mango, Mint, Curd green chilli with a dash of coriander leaves minced together with pinches of the traditional Masalas.
3) Sweet and Salt gravy Chutney ‘GUDAMBA’ – Whole Raw mangoes cooked till tender and flavoured with Jeera powder and sweetened
And the usual
I) Sliced Ginger with split green chillies in Lemon juice and salt
II) Pickled Button onions
III) The Traditional Smashed onions with the skin and squashed to remove juice and raw green chillies
All dishes have a lot of Coriander powder along with all other masalas of course and lot of ‘Hing’ Asafoetida added when cooking and are topped with lot of Coriander leaves. All are cooked in curd based gravy, which require skill and timing.
1) Black lentils with Kidney beans – MAA KI DAAL – Cooked in ‘Mustard’ oil and to it was added COAL Burnt red hot in a mesh case and Asafoetida liquid poured over it. No Tomatoes or Cream but instead some curd was added to the onion ginger garlic 'tadka'
2) Chick peas in Curd – ‘MANDRA’ – This one is in Pure Ghee - A tricky one to do as the curd needs to be stirred continuously on high flame till it starts boiling – and then pre boiled chickpeas are added – The Masalas have lot more of Dry Coriander powder along with Garam masala etc.
3) ‘JIMIKAND’ – Cooked in the traditional Pahadi style gravy made of DRY COCONUT called ‘GUTT’ little onions, green chiliies, coriander leaves, curd and DRY AMLA to add the sour taste along with all masalas ground together and cooked in Coconut oil. Almost tastes like a Mutton dish….wow
4) Special RICE Dish – ‘BALAI’ - Rice with ‘BADI’ ( Not sure what it would be called in English) traditionally cooked in a gravy of butter milk– the water that you get when butter is made from malai ) – She just used Curd and a bit of malai as now you don’t get Makhan from packaged milk.
DESSERT: Absolutely Marvelous.
1) Traditional KADDU HALWA – flavoured with ground cardamom and garnished with Cashew Nuts and KISHMISH topped with silver foil.