The cuisine of Jammu and Kashmir has always been a fascinating and exciting one for me.
It is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and underrepresented cuisines from India. A classic example of this would be Mutton Roganjosh, a dish that has been bastardized by Indian restaurants across the world.
Kashmiri cuisine is often thought of as meat-heavy (using mutton particularly). And most of us have heard of the magnificent Kashmiri wazwan, a feast fit for the Gods.
Yet there are scores of vegetarian dishes from this region that are a delight to the tastebuds. Today, we cook one of the more popular ones – Chaman Qaliya, or paneer cubes simmered with spices and milk.
This dish is fascinating because of its clever use of whole spices and saffron to lend flavour. Popular among the Kashmiri Pandit community, Chaman Qaliya is made devoid of garlic and onions. This style of cooking is popular among those who follow a diet that does not include garlic and onions.
Hing or asafoetida is an essential ingredient in such dishes to mimic the flavours of onion and garlic. Saffron and dry ginger are deeply integral to Kashmiri cuisine, along with other whole spices like fennel, cumin, cardamom etc.
But what makes Chaman Qaliya special is the use of fresh milk as the base, making it creamy yet light. The creaminess here is the flavour and not the texture, so don’t mistake it to be a thick gravy. It has a thin, runny base and hence best paired with soft fluffy, long grained rice which soaks up the flavours beautifully.
Chaman Qaliya is the perfect weeknight dish especially for our Australian summer.
It’s simple to make, with no complex ingredients, and is healthy. Ready in under 30 minutes, it is ideal after a day’s work. But it works equally well on a celebratory weekend thali with rice, rotis and an assortment of other dishes. Either way, enjoyment is guaranteed!
CHAMAN QALIYA (Kashmiri style Paneer Curry)
300gms paneer, cut into medium sized cubes
2-3 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 ½ tsp fennel seeds
1 inch cinnamon bark
2 whole green cardamom (lightly crushed)
1 tsp dry ginger powder
2-3 green chillies, slit in half lengthwise
1 star anise
2 dried bay leaf
¼ tsp hing/asafoetida
Salt to season
1-2 cups full cream milk
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves; chopped
Mix ½ tsp turmeric powder in a cup of water; keep aside.
Grind the cumin and fennel seeds to a fine powder.
Heat 1-2 tsp mustard oil in a pan and add the paneer cubes. Fry lightly on all sides and transfer to the bowl with turmeric water.
In the same pan, heat the remaining oil and add the whole spices (bay leaf, star anise, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon). Fry on low heat till fragrant and then add the ground cumin and fennel powder, ginger powder, asafoetida and green chillies. Mix well and add the paneer cubes along with the water.
Bring to boil and then lower heat; add 1 ½ cup milk, season with salt and simmer on low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add more milk if necessary.
Remove from heat and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Note: Frying the paneer cubes is optional. In another version of this dish, the paneer pieces are simply soaked in turmeric water and added directly to the spices without frying first. So it’s entirely up to you based on your taste preferences.