Preparations of fresh veggies and raw spices played around with yogurts and tamarinds, Himachali cuisine is an irresistible delectation. With generous quantities of ‘ghee’ added to age-old recipes, the food and its flavours are unparallel.
With its thick blanket of trees, which are often cloaked by misty breeze, the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is a chilly place all year round. With mountains, forests and lakes making up its topography, its lifestyle is altered to the roughs and the colds; and this is rather evident in the local fashion and food of Himachal. Warm and filling, just like their comfortable apparel, their dishes also leaves one feeling cozy. But the dishes, however, might be a little hot for the ones whose palates aren’t adjusted to the rich Indian spices. Nevertheless, they are yummy treats, full of flavoured, textured and cultured goodness.
A tasteful blend of locally available ingredients and age old recipes, local Himachali cuisine, at times also has a reflection of the food culture from its neighbouring states like Punjab. The meals here are rich in lentils, rice, meat and green leafy veggies, some of which, like the bichu buti or stinging nettle is intensively grown in Himachal.
Loaded with desi ghee or clarified butter that keeps the body warm, the dishes all have a dominant hit of jaggery or tamarind, which is used intensively in the local preparations. Sugar or dried mango powder are also used intensively. In fact, the distinctive tangy and sweet taste is what makes the cuisine stand out from other Indian cuisines. The strong cardamom hits is another unique touch.
Try these five dishes for yourself and savour the flavours from the hills.
A popular Himachali dish, madra comes from the high altitudes of the Chamba district. A dish of chickpeas or kidney beans that are slow cooked in a gravy of curd, madra is a pop of many a flavours and textures. Apart from dominant hits of tamarind, it is also full on cardamoms, cloves, black cardamom, clove powder, turmeric and cumin, all strong spices that are subtly mellowed down by the curd. Some recipes also mention the use of raisins, which again helps balance the spices. A true pahadi or mountainous delicacy, the only thing one would have to take extra care of while preparing it is the continuous stirring of curd so it doesn’t cuddle up. The curd curry is, after all, the base of the dish.
A classic Himachali dish from the Kangra region, Chana mahani is made from Bengal grams or black chickpeas. A simple recipe, it requires one to roast flour or chick pea flourin mustard oil and add boiled black chickpeas t it. The flour makes for a thick gravy giving a disntinctive texture to the dish. Rich in ghee and spices, just like other Himachali dishes, this one also has dried mango powder and jaggery added to it to give it a sweet and sour edge.
Milk or milk products like buttermilk and yogurt are often used in Himachali cuisine. The thick cream or the rich yogurt fused with spices and something tangy like tamarind makes for a curry unique to Himachal. The aloo palda is another dish that uses this basic gravy, which is very simple and quick to make . Boiled aloo or potatoes are added to curd that is cooked in mustard oil laden with spices. A hassle free recipe, the dish can be eaten with rice or bread.
A ball of wheat flour, sidu is a local Himachali bread. With fillings of dry fruits or pulses right in the middle, it is dunked in ghee before being eaten. In fact, every bite of it has the goodness of ghee, as the locals don’t shy away from pouring generous quantities of the product over the ball of bread. Kneaded and set aside for some hours for the yeast to settle and the dough to rise, the flour balls are then put on direct flame of bonfire to be par-cooked and then later steamed to complete the cooking. Sidu can be enjoyed as it is or as an accompaniment to meat based dishes.
Khatta, literally meaning tangy, is a side dish that can spice up even a simple meal. A puree of chickpeas blended with a whole lot of spices, dry mango and of course, tamarind, just a small quantity of khatta is enough to add some flavourful drama to a regular meal.