Fresh off the mountains

Fresh off the mountains

Bold flavours, humble ingredients and delicious surprises define food from the hills, writes Sharmila Chand

Gath ki dal & Mandua ki roti. photo courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa

Mountain food is all about humble earth ingredients. Across the country, chefs are decoding these ingredients which form the staple food of the locals in the mountains. As these ingredients have travelled down in the plains, they are much talked about and are the latest favourites of chefs who are either presenting dishes in authentic manner or in modern avatar.  

Himachal Pradesh: Cuisine in Culture 

Pranay Kumar Malik, executive chef of Fortune Select Cedar Trail in Mashobra, Shimla, is not just a cook but a conscientious artiste who is sensitive to the local milieu and respects the traditions attached to the region. Before he settles down in his new kitchen in a new destination, and gets the knives and forks in place, he spends many nights studying the local food habits, the ingredients available according to the seasons, and then curates every dish as a homage to the soil which he will proudly call his homeland. As the neatly laid out copper thali makes an appearance at the table, Chef Pranay explain each dish and the sequence of eating it before the diner takes the first bite.

He explains, “What I have prepared is dham — a traditional community meal served in special functions and festivals in Himachal. It is a lavish offering comprising of sidu, babru, kaddoo ka khatta, madraah, sepu badi (dumplings of flour cooked in spinach gravy from Mandi district), kadhi (curd cooked with gram flour and Himachali spices), plain local rice and talia mash (commonly called as kali dal or maa ki daal in the plains). Black lentils are soaked overnight, boiled and then cooked with different spices, coconut mawa and curd in mustard oil.”

That’s not enough. Chef Pranay is very particular about the condiments that he thinks are a ‘must’ to complete the Himachal meal. So there is khatta, which is also known as kaddoo ka khatta. It is made of pumpkin cooked in a spicy and tangy gravy with a generous amount of aamchur powder. Dham is rounded off with a meetha of either pumpkin cooked in sugar syrup or rice cooked in milk with sugar, popularly called kheer. Sidu is like a bread made from local wheat flour. After being kneaded, the flour is kept aside for some time, which causes the dough to rise. The bread is then set on the direct flame of a bonfire so that it is partially cooked and then steamed. Pranay guides his guests to have it with just pure ghee as is eaten by the locals. Babru is a kind of Himachali kachori. The stuffing is made of soaked and ground black gram dal paste and makes for a perfect tea snack with tangy tamarind chutney.

Uttarakhand: Simple yet Incredible

Sunil Kumar, director of food & beverage, and his team at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa, have put their hearts in curating a typical Ghadwali thali. “‘Eat Right and Eat Local’ holds a special place for us as we embrace our roots to create masterpieces,” says Sunil. Explaining the concept of his thali, he adds, “It is a special thali which brings together local dishes of different regions of Uttrakhand. The most popular ones are chainsoo from the Tehri region, lal bhath from Pauri, railu from Kumaon, and gath ki dal from Chamoli.

Deconstructing the signature dishes, he goes on to explain, “Kafuli is a dish that almost all Pahadis swear by in Uttarakhand. Made from spinach and fenugreek leaves and cooked in an iron kadai, kafuli is complemented by hot steaming rice. The gravy for this dish is prepared by adding rice or wheat flour paste along with water. The taste is further enhanced by slow fire cooking and is one of my favourites, which I can have every single day without complaining…it is that exotic!” he exclaims.

Gath ka paratha and swala are popular breakfast dishes in the region. They can be served with homemade silbhate ki chutney. Prepared by stuffing gahat dal, a special brown lentil, soaking the dal overnight, then adding the crushed coriander seeds, red chilli powder, salt and chopped green chilli to make a stuffing, in the wheat and mandua flour (finger millet), gath ka paratha makes for an excellent breakfast option in Uttarakhand. Take a trip down this delicious trail with another staple item — swala looks like a puri, stuffed with potato which is tempered with zhakhya seeds.

The discerning diners of Delhi got a taste of Uttarakhand food when bloggers Maneesh Srivastava and Vicky Vickrham got together with executive Chef Manoj Rawat to rustle up an exotic Uttarakhand Food Festival at Hilton Garden Inn, Gurgaon. “I came up with the idea soon after attending a wedding feast at a remote village in Garhwal region,” says Chef Rawat. The wedding food was simple, flavourful and full of love, and that was just the right inspiration for him. The trio drove to the interiors of the state, exploring local food, ate at local houses and eateries to come up with a menu that showcased authentic dishes. They made sure to get lot of spices and ingredients from there to ensure that the food is cooked exactly the way it is cooked in the homes of Uttarakhand.

They presented their meal with the typical guraans flower juice. The menu included a range of authentic dishes like gehat ka phanu, bhaddu dal, pahadi meat, mandwa roti, bhat ki churkani & bal mithai. They also tried to play around with the ingredients and offered fusion dishes like jhakhya chicken tikka, bhaang ka paneer, bhutwa mandwa pav and buransh kheer. While the non-vegetarians feasted on the pahadi chicken preparation and fish tikka, the vegetarians had a field day with the typical mountain saag, ragi khichri, kaddu ki subzee prepared in milk and the magical gahat ki dal.



Channa Madra
Channa Madra

Channa Madra


2 cups chickpeas soaked overnight and boiled

Asafoetida - a pinch

2-3 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

2 pieces of black cardamom

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cups yoghurt (beaten till smooth)

2-3 tbsp ghee 

Rice Mixture

¼ cup raw white rice

1 cup water

1-2 pods of green cardamom

Soak ¼ cup rice in 1 cup of water and cardamom. Grind this mixture and set aside.


Heat 2 tbsp mustard oil to a smoking point on medium heat.

Add a pinch of asafoetida, 2 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, and 1 black cardamom seed.

Add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds.

Stir for 30 seconds and add the coriander powder and turmeric powder.

Stir for 30 seconds (do not let it burn or blacken).

Add the chickpeas and stir well.

Add the yoghurt to a pot and keep stirring continuously.

Do not stop stirring or the 
yoghurt will curdle. 

Stir continuously on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

When it comes to a boil, add the ground rice mixture.

Stir the mixture frequently and let it cook for about 20 minutes.

Add 2-3 tbsp of ghee.

Turn the heat on low and cook the madra on slow fire for about 30 minutes, stirring often until the entire mixture thickens.

Add salt to taste and serve hot with white rice.

(Courtesy: Chef Pranay Kumar Malik, Fortune Select Cedar Trail Mashobra, Shimla)



Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox