From the north to the south, India has many diverse cuisines to offer. From the north, a Kashmiri meat dish and from the south, a rice porridge that is offered to the gods. The Kashmiri yakhni is usually served for special occasions; it is simple yet allows the unique blend of spices, making it a crowd pleaser.
The porridge is a staple in my house, we have it for breakfast at least twice a week. In South India, it is commonly served in temples, during auspicious days and festivals.
Cooking yakhni requires three basic steps — cooking the meat, preparing the yoghurt gravy, and combining them to create the final dish.
For the meat —
1 kg meat (lamb/mutton)
2 green cardamoms
½ tbsp fennel seed powder
5 chopped garlic cloves
½ tbsp salt
For the gravy —
1 kg yoghurt
3 tbsp oil
2 cinnamon sticks
10 green cardamoms
½ tbsp mint powder
Start by preparing the meat in a pressure cooker; add the meat and cover it with water — just enough to cover the meat. Add the spices: cardamoms, fennel seed powder, chopped garlic cloves, and salt.
Stir the spices so that those are spread out evenly, and cook over high heat till the water starts to boil. Close the lid and cook the meat for another ten minutes over medium heat under pressure, if the meat does not feel tender after the 10 minutes, cook for a little longer.
For the gravy, cook the yoghurt over medium heat, start stirring as soon as you turn on the heat — make sure to keep stirring throughout the process, this is crucial for the yoghurt to not curdle. When the yoghurt has come to a boil, you can stop stirring and add the oil, cinnamon sticks, cardamoms and cloves. Do not add the mint powder yet. Cook over low heat until the yoghurt starts to thicken.
As the gravy cooks, separate the meat and strain the broth in a separate bowl. If you have too much, just freeze it and use it as a broth for your next soup. Add the meat to the thickened yoghurt gravy and enough of the strained broth to make the gravy a fluid consistency. Make sure the gravy is not too watery!
Add the mint powder and cook for another 10 minutes over medium heat, once the oil is visible on the surface, it is ready to be served.
In South Indian homes, ven pongal is usually offered to the gods during pujas. It is a combination of rice and split green gram and can be sweet or savoury. It also works great as comfort food on sick days.
Cooking ven pongal is rather quick and easy, it consists of two steps; cooking the rice and then adding the seasoning.
For the rice —
½ cup rice (or any grain of your choice — millets, oats, quinoa)
½ cup split green gram (moong dal)
½ tsp salt
1-2 cups water
For the seasoning —
1 tbsp ghee
8 cashew nuts
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 inch ginger, chopped or grated
1 sprig curry leaves
1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
1 pinch turmeric
1 green chilli (optional, usually skipped if used as an offering)
Before cooking the rice and split green gram, combine the two in a pot or a rice cooker and wash thoroughly. Once cleaned, add 1 to 2 cups of water and cook over medium heat until the rice is soft enough to form a consistency.
Over medium heat, add the ghee to a small frying pan and fry the cashews till it is golden — set the nuts aside. In the same pan, add the cumin seeds and black peppercorns, once they start to crackle add the remaining spices; ginger, curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric, chilli and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.
Add this mixture to the rice and garnish with the golden cashews. You can serve this with coconut chutney and sambar.
Photo courtesy: Sobia Ameen