Kashmir Valley; not many regions of the world are blessed to have four distinct seasons like this little paradise of ours. We have a lovely spring when the cherry, almond and peach blossoms fill the air with divine fragrance and beauty. Our summers are short and dry. We have apples, pears and walnuts in the offing, followed by Quince Apple. The autumn in Kashmir can be compared to something heavenly only. The chinars are fiery and the pomegranates, big balls of ruby.
A Kashmir Winter, the longest and the harshest of the four seasons has millions of stories associated with it. Not only stories, the preparations for this time of the year are also worth a mention. Kashmir witnesses a very cold, wet and harsh winter almost every year. In olden times, a heavy snowfall was often followed by food shortage, especially a shortage of vegetables which would come from other neighboring states. So, in those times, Hokh Siyun (dried food) was the best option for the people of the vale. The dried vegetables or Hokh Siyun used to be an important and inseparable part of life for each Kashmiri household. Though many people have kept this tradition alive, but some do not approve of it as a healthy practice, unfortunately.
All vegetables that grow in Kashmir are not dried. Lot of wisdom and health benefits are associated with drying of veggies. Our forefathers, without an iota of doubt, had immense knowledge and skill that helped them to survive a savage cold season. Vegetables like spinach, eggplants, tomatoes, bottle guard etc, grow in abundance during summer. Some are consumed and the rest left to dry in the hot sun. Late autumn season has a different group; turnips and lotus stem(nadur)being everyone’s favourite. This group has different drying techniques than the first one. Not only vegetables, some fruits are also dried to be consumed during winter; pears, apples and the fru-getable called quinceapple are among the most popular ones.
Besides fruits and vegetables, some fish are also dried in Kashmir.
Sun dried eggplant or Waangan Hatchi are particularly sliced along their length into four slices and these are held together at the top. These are then kept on a straight rope or spread on a straw mat and left to dry. Before being fried and cooked with green gram, Waangan Hatchi are boiled to remove any impurities.
Ruwangan Hatchi (dried tomatoes) are essentially used for flavour and colour in various Kashmiri dishes. They taste best with Waangan Hatchi and also with fish. Bottle guard or Al e Hatchi are usually cooked with chicken or meat.
Quinces (Bamcxoont Hatchi) are commonly cooked with meat without using chilies in the dish. However, the sour sweet taste of dried Quince also makes it a favourite snack to be eaten raw.
Gogji aare (dried turnips), the thick circular pieces tied into a string like a garland are absolutely mouth watering. The aroma is incredible especially when cooked with chicken. This delicacy is usually made on special occasions. Gogji aare are also cooked with cottage cheese. Nader Hatchi, the dried lotus stem is also very delicious and is liked by people across Kashmir.
These dried vegetables have a special place in our lives and our hearts too. From being a connecting link with our past and somewhat lost heritage, these essentially nutrient rich dried foods are a simple proof of the fact that our elders knew food preservation techniques better than us.