Kashmiri food is alluringly unfamiliar. Kashmiri food is comfortingly familiar. This contradiction is Koshur Saal’s greatest advantage. Written by Chandramukhi Ganju — yet another Non-Resident Indian cookbook author — Koshur Saal is a resolute, practical, and authoritative attempt to record the culinary culture of her community.
The reason why so many NRIs write recipe books is probably that distance brings the necessary perspective to understanding nuances and recording processes. After all, the food your mother and grandmother cook may seem ordinary, even boring, as long as you are at home eating it every day. It’s only when you try recreating it in a completely different set-up that you appreciate the techniques, skills, and measures necessary for every recipe.
The advantage of having someone like Ganju — who now lives in California — hand-hold you through this book is that she’s familiar with the challenges of creating a reasonably authentic meal in a situation that’s a world away from the recipes’ origins. More importantly, thanks to her popular Koshur Saal website, which draws Kashmiris from across the world hankering for a taste of home, Ganju is used to explaining processes to amateur as well as seasoned cooks.
The book’s precise instructions are accompanied by all kinds of tables, photographs and charts, listing everything from the customary glossary of translations (with meanings in Kashmiri, Hindi, and English) as well as step-by-step picture guides to help deal with vegetables like the unusual kohlrabi ( similar to a turnip). You can choose how much, or how little, information you want to use.
For Kashmiris who live all over the world and dream incessantly of creamy Yakhean mutton curry, or pulav interspersed with juicy morel mushrooms, or simple rice bread paired with kahwa tea fragrant with cinnamon, this is a realistic guide, empowering them to make these meals almost anywhere.
Ranging from basic omelettes (with chilli, ginger powder, and fresh cilantro) to the ever-popular chicken Rogan josh, with its intricate web of aromatic spice, the recipes are fairly simple.
There are alternatives suggested for ingredients that are rare or unique to Kashmir. Such as leafy mallow which can be substituted with spinach. Since this book is geared chiefly towards American NRIs, it suggests ingredients easily found in their supermarkets or Korean/Chinese/Indian food stores, which aren’t always available to all Indian readers, which can be annoying. Take lotus root, shiitake mushrooms or Granny Smith apples. Or ‘Cornish hen’, the suggested replacement for pacchin, a Kashmiri flying bird.
It’s high time NRI writers took into account the Indian situation when they wrote on Indian food. After all, this is a huge and profitable market.
You really don’t need to be a Kashmiri to use and enjoy this book. Its most charming feature is how unwittingly exotic it has turned out to be. Ganju’s relatively naïve approach, unlike that of the many authors who take advantage of “exotic India’s” marketability, is refreshingly unstudied. Of course, this has its disadvantages. For instance, she has helpfully added an entire section on other Indian food, which dilutes the book’s novelty.
Pictures are amateur, often unimaginative and sometimes downright unappealing. Yet, these pictures are functional. Often they are also endearingly helpful, pointing out what each vegetable looks like and even how some of them should be cleaned.
Clearly, Koshur Saal simply wants to share information, which is why it is direct, unfussy, and unpretentious. No glossy pages, chic layouts or fancy prose. Yet, it is a compelling read because it’s so unique.
KOSHUR SAAL - Traditional, quick and easy Kashmiri Cuisine: By Chandramukhi Ganju; Published by James A. Rock & Co., 900 South Irby Street, # 508 Florence, South Carolina 29501. Price not mentioned.