"Lokchar pounum yaad aeme hokh'e syen", says Mrs.Nalini Moti Sadhu, the Chef/Curator at Matamaal Restaurant.
Simply translated, this statement means, "dried vegetables are sheer emotions which take you back to your roots, to your home". Hokh'e syun reminds her of the time when she helped her mother and aunts in cutting and washing vegetables which were later dried and stored for the harsh winters.
(Left - Aubergine, Right - Bottle gourd)
These vegetables include - al hache (bottle gourd), wangun hache (brinjals), handh (dandelion greens), rawangun hache (tomatoes), gogji hache (turnips), chillies and many more. "Long needles were used to make garlands of these vegetables, which were then hung on the wooden windows and attics of the houses in the valley" adds Mrs. Sadhu.
Even fish were dried and preserved for consumption, as there was no fresh produce available until the construction of Jammu-Srinagar highway. Lean fish (hokhe gaad) was sun-dried whereas the fat fleshy fish was smoked and dried over grass to impart flavours (farri gaad). Indigenous apples were preserved for cooking with meats in the snowy weather. These gastronomic habits have now transformed into homely traditions. People who migrated from Kashmir relish these delicacies on special days like Ashtami, Shivratri, Raksha Bandhan, even family get togethers.
(Al Wangan Hatche for a private event at Matamaal)
Al hache and wangun hache are cooked together by soaking them in hot water until they swell up. These are later sautéed in mustard oil with tempering of cumin, cloves, asafoetida and kashmiri red chilli powder, flavoured with ginger powder and fennel powder. Yoghurt, tamarind or lemon are added to enhance the tangy flavour. Turnips are cooked with Black beans (Warimuth) in the Rogan Josh-like gravy mentioned above but without the addition of sourness. Al hache is also cooked in Kaliya-like (turmeric based) gravy by adding turmeric in the tempering of cumin, cloves and heeng. Yoghurt is added to impart flavour and body to the dish.
Sun-drying not only enhances, it intensifies the flavours of these vegetables and adds a chewy contrasting texture, something that words can't describe. Such stories are better experienced than heard.