Food from the hills

Food from the hills

When I land at Dehradun's Jolly Grant Airport, the air is crisp and the landscape is a dull green carpet that continues onto the mountains, amid open fields and colourful houses. I drive into Antara, a senior living concept that invites residents above 55 years of age to live on its 14-acre property situated on the plateau surrounding by Mussorie hills in Purukal village.

Chef Arun Karara, head of menu creations, has prepared a traditional lunch for us, using locally sourced produce and recipes. "I am in charge of a healthy and balanced diet for the residents and when I looked around at the region, I realised that the high-quality local produce here can make my task simpler. Any meal in the hills is ghar ka khana," he smiles, adding that they work with a food partner network that deals directly with farmers to source produce. Vegetables in Dehradun have travelled only a short distance from the farms, which ensures their freshness and taste.

Dehradun is a pot belly, which combines Garhwali and Kumaoni food. The server had brought in a plate of tikkis made from barley and pumpkin with a side dip made of wild sesame. "Compared to the black and white sesame available in city markets, the hills produce four to five different varieties, which are consumed to keep the body warm in winters. We toast the sesame and add lemon juice to it," Karara explains.

The warm tikkis melt in my mouth and the lightly spiced bites are wholesome. For the non-vegetarians, there is bhatti chicken made with simple masalas of turmeric, chillies and garam masala. The meat is succulent and the charred edges add a rustic touch to the dish.

Go to grains

Dehradun is big on millets like jangora (barnyard millet) and madwa (ragi), which are available here in plenty. "All the produce in hills is seasonal, so even the locals follow seasonal meals. They usually avoid meats and heavy foods in summers, saving that rich diet for winters," the chef explains. With the nip in the air, winter greens like batua, palak and sarso abound. For mains, I am served batua saag with jhangora roti.

"People here have large backyards, where they grow their own produce including greens, broccoli, tomatoes, etc," says Karara.

I dip my roti in the local Uttarakhandi dal called kulhatt or horsegram. The dal has been roasted, ground and boiled to a thick consistency.

Spice trail

Since Dehradun doesn't grow a lot of spices, the locals incorporate fresh spices like turmeric in their meals. "The fresh spices that locals grow are not similar to the ones used commercially. Desi turmeric has a different sort of flavour profile than the regular one," Karara points out. A popular spice in the hills is jakhiya (cleome viscose), which belongs to the mustard family. When I taste it in a yogurt dip, the tiny, dark brown grains have a crunchy texture that leaves a subtle zing of mustard. "Even a simple aloo sabzi is treated with a tadka of jakhiya," says chef.

Apart from the use of few local spices, Dehraduni cuisine is also known for the use of dairy. Small vendors make local cheese for their own consumption, which is  similar to cheddar. They also make an excellent mozzarella using cow milk.

Sweet tooth

In winters, locals consume heavy desserts, so you will see lot of ghee lot of millets and starch paste. During summers, they prefer fruits.

Bal mithai is an absolute must have. The brown chocolate-like fudge is made with roasted khoya, coated with white sugar balls. I relish a bowl of janghore ki kheer, one of the most popular desserts cooked with millet and cow's milk. It is not heavy on your palate compared to the rice kheer, and is easy to digest. I decide to take a spoonful just for a taste after the scrumptious meal, but end up licking the bowl clean!

On any given day, a full meal like this would slip me into a drowsy mood, but this one leaves me feeling energised to walk around and breathe in the fresh air. "The ingredients have been nurtured by the good soil and air. It is bound to uplift your spirits," Karara signs off.

My time in the beautiful hills of Dehradun comes to an end the next day. The chef sends me off with a loaf of banana and walnut cake, which is dense, buttery and nutty. On my way to the airport, I take a small detour at the famous Ellora Bakery on Rajpur Road. At one of the oldest bakeries in Dehradun, kids are buying toffee, locals are buying freshly baked bread while tourists are picking up plum cakes.

Bakes and cakes are an integral tradition of Dehradun and I pick up a box of toffees that are chewy, caramel treat to end my trip on a sweet note.

Recipe

Chainsoo (serves 4)

Ingredients:

Whole Black gram dal (gehat dal): 200 gm  
Garlic: 4-5 cloves
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp  
Black pepper: 4 corns
Red chillies: 4-5
Coriander powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp  
Red chilli powder: 1/2 tsp  
Garam masala: 1/2 tsp  
Oil (preferably mustard oil): 1/2 cup  
Water: 3 cups  
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt: 3 tsp  
Ghee and coriander leaves for garnishing

Method

* Place a kadai on a medium flame and dry roast the dal for about 3-5 minutes until it emanates an aroma (do not over roast). Take it off the flame. Grind the roasted dal into a coarse powder.
* Heat oil in a kadai and add the garlic cloves. When the cloves turn light brown, add cumin seeds, red chillies, black pepper and asafoetida. Immediately, add the powdered dal and fry for 1-2 minutes.
* Add turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, salt and water. Cover and cook until the dal becomes soft. Let the mixture simmer for 20-30 minutes.
* Before turning off the heat, sprinkle garam masala over the chainsoo.
* Garnish with ghee and chopped coriander leaves.

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