Visit any Kashmiri banquet, and you’ll be proudly told by the host that no fewer than 30 dishes are being served. Just try to put down half that number of dishes at a single sitting and you’ll know that it’s impossible to stuff yourself after a point. Yet, the hosts aren’t lying, so what’s the secret? Welcome to the shadowy underbelly of the Kashmiri wazwan: the chutney. You can make any number of them, add them to the list of the bona fide mostly lamb dishes, add the only real colour to a wazwan and aid your guests’ digestion all in one fell swoop. It’s what Rafiq Waza did in his recent festival of wazwan dishes at The Grand Lalit, New Delhi.
The whole point of a wazwan is that it’s a gastronomic way of using up all parts of a lamb. Only the chest is used to make yakhni, only the ribs for tabak maaz and so on. Each dish is sauced differently: some dishes call for curd-based gravies, others make use of milk, still others of chillies or dried apricots as a souring agent. All that meat does get a trifle much after a point, which is where chutnies make their presence felt. Their advantage is that you can enliven an everyday meal at home with one or more. Zeresk chutney made with barberries may be too exotic to go well with haaq – the quintessentially Kashmiri greens that are eaten almost everyday, but there are others.
The most unusual of the lot is made from the humble kaddu. It is steamed till soft, mashed and blended with hung curd. Nothing cuts the blandness save for salt and Kashmiri jira, but I’ve always felt that it could do with a teaspoon of finely minced green chillies in addition.
All over the Valley, the accompaniment to street food is onion chutney. So tongue tingling is it, that it’s not uncommon to hear customers haggling with stall-holders, not for the price of crisp pakoda-like savouries, but for an extra helping of the chutney. Sliced onions, a smidgeon of vinegar, red chilly powder and chopped green chillies may not sound extraordinary, but try munching a bland, if crisp, batter-fried lotus stem with onion chutney, and you’ll see a marriage that could only have been conceived of in heaven.
Mooli chutney and walnut chutney are such close relatives of each other, that at times, it’s impossible to tell them apart. Grated white radish, minced green chillies, coriander leaves, salt and a tablespoon of curd have to be mixed together. Adding a walnut or three to the chutney makes for a richer, grainier final product. For a wazwan, the humble radish would not be used: it’s walnuts all the way.
The final chutney would not pass muster at a wazwan, being too homely: tomatoes are sautéed with green chillies and oil, till most of their juices evaporate, leaving behind a thick, spicy puree, which goes marvelously with rice. Even Rafiq Waza would nod his head in approval.
Caption: Kashmiris would only count the lamb dishes in a wazwan as worthy for a feast. Even the meanest host would not serve more than two vegetarian dishes and two chicken. Chutnies, pickles, curd, salads and pulao all constitute the underbelly of the wazwan.