Sharing a border with Tibet and Nepal, the hilly and picturesque Uttaranchal (Meaning Northern region) has a distinct cuisine, so very different from regular north Indian cuisine. The Mogul cuisine which influenced most of north India has had little impact on the traditional cuisine of Uttaranchal.
In its two major regions, Garwahl and Kumaon, we find an array of delightfully different curries made from three basic building blocks -Lentils, Spinach and Yogurt. Unlike other parts of north India, rice remains the staple food in Uttaranchal.
The Curry base:
Pulses form the base for most curries. Horse gram, black soyabean and whole unhusked urad dal are the most popular pulses.
Roasted and powdered urad dal is mixed with water, spices and cooked into a thick curry called the Chainsoo. Use black soyabean instead of Urad dal and you have the Bhatwani.
Mixed dals are boiled in water, mashed, the solids filtered and the thin curry is cooked into a Ras. Add rice flour to thicken the Ras and you have the Thathawani.
A curry made from black soyabeans, thickened with rice flour is cooked into churdkani. Replace black soy beans with horsegram, and Churdkani becomes Fannah.
Yogurt is the next popular curry base. Yogurt thickened with rice flour is cooked into the Jholi. This is similar to the north Indian Kadi but for the fact that rice flour is used as a thickener and not gram flour. However, the use of dairy products is limited because this hilly land is not conducive to raising cows.
Ground mustard and turmeric is mixed in yogurt to make the Kumaoni Raita. It is only in Uttaranchal and West Bengal would you see the use of ground up mustard.
Spinach is also used as a curry base. Boiled and mashed spinach gives the Kafuli. Add yogurt to it and it becomes the Kappa. Unlike north Indian curries which use gram flour, Uttaranchal prefers rice flour as a thickener.
The extensive use of mustard oil gives Utatranchal curries a distinctive flavor. Spices like cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder, garlic and ginger are popular across the state. Unlike most north Indian curries, asafetida is extensively used.
Traditionally, each curry is cooked with a select few goodies. For example, a Jholi is usually cooked with spinach. Chainsoo, Kafuli, Phaanu or Kappa use no vegetables. But you can experiment by using your favourite goodies in any of these curries. Unlike other north Indian curries, tomatoes are used very sparingly. A specialty is the use of crushed veggies (mostly potatoes or radish) in curries. It is in Uttaranchal you’d see Marijuana leaves and seeds used in chutneys. A local spinach known as Bichhu Ghas is very popular.
Play with different combinations of bases, flavourings and goodies to cook up a huge variety of Uttaranchal curries.
If you spot an error or have a recipe to share, do leave a comment.