A vegetarian, Ashoke starts with lukhmi, which is a vegetarian variant of mutton lukhmi. "There are several similarities between names of Kashmiri and Hyderabadi dishes but the mode of cooking is different." Topping his list of preferences is dum ke aloo. "We use more of almonds and cashewnuts in the gravy while in Hyderabadi food they use yoghurt. I still remember how we used to make holes in the potatoes with knitting needles. It takes at least five hours to prepare the dish for the potatoes take time to absorb the spices."
Dum ke aloo arrives. Though here the potatoes are considerably smaller than the Kashmiri variant, they get Ashoke's approval. "Kashmiri vegetarian cuisine is as rich as the non-vegetarian wazwan, but it doesn't get that much publicity. Another speciality is khatte baigan called chukh wangon." Gulati has its distant cousin bagare baigan, the fried aubergines, and again Ashoke tucks in some with pleasure.
Ashoke is an activist filmmaker who keeps raising the issue of Kashmiri pandits from different platforms. His film Sheen on the same subject was showcased at the UN Human Rights office in Geneva and the House of Commons. "It didn't do well at the box office as expected but it was the most honest portrayal of the problem. Otherwise, filmmakers have just exploited the scenic beauty of the State." Talking of Sheen, Ashoke recalls how they cooked food on location near Rohtang Pass. "My cameraman Nadeem Khan is a good cook. We used to catch fish and he used to cook for the entire unit. But the problem was with the chicken. The chicken refused to boil in the cold conditions. Finally, we had to put soda to make it work. For me it was easy, there were plenty of carrots and other vegetables around."
Never at home in the kitchen, Ashoke says he can make kehwa, the Kashmiri tea. "Another speciality is sheer chai which is a salty tea, very good for digestion."
Trying navratan korma, an assortment of nine vegetables, Ashoke says he is now working on a film based on the Priyadarshani Mattoo case. "As I am closely associated with the movement, I thought it apt to take the issue to celluloid. I am going to start it from the father-daughter relationship and then the rest of the story will unfold. Anupam Kher and Neetu Chandra are the lead actors."
Time for mirch ka salan and palak ki rumali and Ashoke shares how he has carried the legacy of Kashmir with him. "We still use copper plates and utensils to eat and store water. Its iron is good for health. Then my wife is from Pampore, a centre of saffron."
Ashoke doesn't have a sweet tooth. "I am no diabetic, but somehow I just can't stand the sight of sweets. Perhaps I am too sweet from inside." So double ka meetha and qubani ka meetha have to wait for those who can respect their opulence.
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Pandara Road Market
Meal for two
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