Kashmiri Pandit food caught my eye a few months ago and I’ve since been obsessed with trying to recreate its flavours in my own kitchen. The difference between Kashmiri Hindu and Muslim cuisines is that the former uses quite a bit of asafoetida and yoghurt, whereas the latter depends on onion and garlic to create the base flavour of their dishes. The Kashmiri pandits don’t eat beef and both chicken and eggs are a more recent addition to their cuisine. Even the cuts of mutton that Kashmiri Pandits choose to eat are fatty cuts from the breast, neck, tail, loin and the fatty portion of the intestines.
We see a strong Awadhi influence in the food of the Kashmiri Pandits, who fry their meats in oil and yoghurt together with spices for quite some time. A typical Kashmiri Pandit gravy would have a base of hing (asafoetida), saunf (fennel seeds) and sonth (dry ginger) with yoghurt. This recipe for Shab Deg is one where mutton is cooked together with turnips long and slow to yield a deeply savoury taste. Shab stands for evening and Deg is the large vessel or pot it is cooked in, so Shab Deg is essentially mutton that is cooked through the evening in a deg that has been sealed tight, either by way of a heavy weight on top, foil, or a pardah / rolled out dough that traps the steam inside the deg, allowing everything to slow cook for a couple of hours.
A few pointers: I found that my packet garam masala did not work as well as a freshly pounded one for this recipe. The garam masalas I used here were badi elaichi, choti elaichi, laung, kali mirch, jeera, saunf, dalchini, tejpatta, star anise, javitri, jaiphal, laung and star anise. Before soaking the saffron in milk, on a mildly hot flat pan, heat the saffron strands gently, so as to dry roast them, then crumble into the milk. This helps extract the true flavour of the saffron.
Mutton 1 kg (ask your mutton shop for fatty cuts)
Ghee/ Mustard Oil 7 tbsp
Bay leaves 2
Black Cardamoms 2, crushed
Asafoetida 1/2 tsp mixed together with water
Sonth or Dry Ginger Powder 2 tsp
Ground cumin 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Kashmiri Chilli Powder 1 tsp
Turnips 500g or an equal amount of Kohlrabi
Turmeric powder 1 tsp
Fennel powder 2 tsp
Sugar 3 tsp
Almond paste 1 1/2 tbsp
Poppy seed paste 2 tsp
Water approximately 4 cups
Saffron a large pinch of strands, soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk
Garam Masala (see pointers above) 1 tsp
Coriander leaves for garnishing
Clean and cut the mutton pieces into medium sized chunks. In a deg or a heavy and deep bottomed vessel heat the ghee/mustard oil till it has reached smoking point. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, asafoetida and fry for a minute until they are sizzling.
Add in the pieces of mutton and fry this for about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the yoghurt with the dry ginger powder, ground cumin, salt, chilli powder and add this to the pan. Keep stirring this mixture together and keep stirring it till it comes up to a boil. You want to keep frying the meat till it turns a good brown in colour. Add some teaspoons of water periodically.
Once it has browned, add in the sugar, turmeric powder, fennel powder the almond and the poppy seed pastes and fry for another minute till properly combined. Add to this the 4 cups of water and fish out the mutton pieces. Strain the gravy to remove the whole spices and introduce the mutton pieces back into the gravy and bring this up to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat to the flame to low and seal the vessel with a fitted lid and put a weight on top to trap the steam inside. Leave this to cook on low all the way up till the meat becomes tender but not completely done.
Add in the turnips when the meat reaches this stage and once again, cook this covered slow all the way up till the turnips turn soft.
When the turnips are done and little gravy remains, add in the garam masala and the saffron soaked in milk. Mix everything gently being careful to not break the turnips or break down the mutton. Taste for salt.
Garnish this with fresh coriander and serve hot with steamed rice. I served it with pav and it was quite good with it too.