You know there are those dishes people name ‘Poor man’s pudding or Poor man’s such and such’ – iterating that the ingredients are cheap and basic? I really dislike that term.
It makes the ‘Poor Man’ seem unsophisticated like he has no manners – but I’ve oftentimes noticed ever since I was a child, that it is often the ‘poor man’ (or woman) who has much to give. Not only that but is much more willing to give.
Haakh (greens) has been a staple in Kashmir for hundreds of years – if anything can be described as ‘the poor Kashmiri’s diet’ it is this. Every self respecting Kashmiri knows the true value of the humble ‘Haakh seun’ (cooked greens). Haakh grows abundantly in everyones back yard in Kashmir, if there’s nothing else, there’s always haakh.
It may be a common and often repeated staple in many households across the valley, but like all things abundant and taken for granted, when Kashmiris are away from ‘home’, Haakh is a beloved comfort food – right up there with Razma daal (red kidney beans) and Aanchaar.
If you hail from Indian Occupied Kashmir and you’re reading this – I don’t need to convince you. You KNOW. But if not, dear reader – I tell you, you have got to try this. For most of my life – I left it up to other Kashmiris around me to feed me this delicious dish – and once or twice I even tried to make it myself – but it was a fail. Not because it’s difficult to make – but because it’s TOO EASY! Yes, seriously. If you try too hard with this thing it just …
There are so many ways of cooking these greens. My friend Alina makes it with fresh green chilies and a handful of chopped onions and hers stays the most gorgeous green color ever. My mum does some Kashmiri magic and eschews the onions altogether using only garlic, turmeric and red chilli powder.
Haakh is super versatile and can be added to anything – ‘Maaz t’Haakh’ (lamb and greens – like adding spinach to lamb but the taste is completely different) Kashmiri’s even make ‘Tschamen t’Haakh’ a lovely almost milky version where the greens are prepared with triangles of fried paneer.
Then there’s Oulve t’Haakh – potatoes and greens. My lovely Mother-in Law makes it like this (with a smattering of fresh tomatoes), and it’s the one I’m going to share with you because last time she was here I watched her like a hawk to see EXACTLY how she did it.
One taste of my Mother-in Law’s Haakh transported me straight back to Kashmir. Tumeric stained finger tips and all. She made it taste exactly as I’ve had it there. I used to think it was something to do with the particular soil that gave the haakh greens its distinctive taste but after taking notes from her – I realized the secret ingredient no one else here seemed to be using (at least the times I’ve had it outside of the valley). And guys I’m going to share it with you!
Also – it’s good for you, green light all the way for this one. Serve with plain boiled rice and a dollop of cold Zamoud doud (plain greek yoghurt) and eat as much of it as you like.
Ok here’s what you need :
One bunch of Haakh leaves. Basically any green leafy edible. Most akin to the Kashmiri haakh are Collard-greens (shown in photo), Chinese-brocolli and Kale.
Onion (one small)
Potatoes depending on size one or more, mine were quite small so I used three.
Garlic x 4 cloves
Green Chilli x 4-5 (can also use red chillies)
Cumin seeds & Mustard seeds – 1/4 teaspoon of each
Turmeric powder heaped teaspoon
Fennel powder heaped teaspoon
Red Chilli powder is not shown on the photo above as I was using fresh green chillies, but often is used along with green ones too – depends how hot you want it.
Mustard oil 4-5 table spoons (recommended, but any other non-smelling cooking oil can be used in place)
Salt (to taste)
Water 3-4 cups
(Here’s what to do- remember don’t try too hard!)
Begin by preparing your ingredients. Everything basically goes in one after the other so it’s really helpful to have all the chopping ect done before hand.
Wash each leaf of your greens under cold running water, then cut off a cm or so from the end stems.
Discard the ends and roughly chop the rest of the greens. Keep aside.
Peel and cut the potatoes as you like.
Slice the onion and chop the tomatoes as you like, keep them together.
Slice/grate/crush the garlic (whatever is easier for you). Chop green chillies keep aside, along with the mustard and cumin seeds.
Heat the pan/pot you will use for cooking on a high flame. Once it is hot, add the secret ingredient- Mustard oil! (I’ve always wanted to use the words ‘secret ingredient’ in a recipe blog!) Mustard oil has a pungent smell and it’s really important you heat it well – almost until smoking point. It is totally fine to use any other cooking oil if you don’t have mustard oil on hand – just make sure this time it’s of the non-pungent variety. It will still tase good without mustard oil, but if you do use it – it will give this dish that ‘back home’ twang.
When you feel the oil is hot and starting to smoke the tiniest bit throw in the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, allow to splutter and add garlic and green chillies. Give one little mix (you don’t want to burn the garlic or brown it too much)
Add the onions and tomatoes and potatoes (all together at once).
Mix, still on high flame, add salt and let cook for three mins or so giving a stir now and then. After three mins add the rest of the ingredients, turmeric powder, fennel powder and green chillies (also add the red chilli powder if you want it extra hot)
Stir, lower the flame and cover with a lid. Let cook for 2-3 mins more. When it seems the oil is seeping out on top of the mixture, add all the chopped greens, mix and turn up the heat.
Mix everything well and taste the sauce for salt. Add a little more at this point if you feel you need it.
After 3 mins or so add three – four cups of water. This may seem a lot but the greens should be covered in water.
Let it all come to a boil and then reduce heat to medium so it is still gently simmering. Let the water cook off until there is just enough that your spoon can still pick up soup (which will remain thin – don’t expect it to thicken) but the greens are more visible. Also by this time the oil should have risen and seeped out on top of the soup somewhat.
Taste for salt but beware of adding too much more as this dish tastes even better the next day and by then the saltiness also seems to slightly peak. Serve hot or cold with piping hot plain boiled rice and a dollop of yoghurt on the side. I love eating the whole concoction in a bowl with generous helpings of the thin soup. The spicy soup, fresh taste of the greens along with the hot rice and cold yoghurt is so delicious and literally guilt free.