Gourmet Secrets by Karen Anand: There’s more to the cuisine of Ladakh than the much-hyped momos
The food scene in Ladakh is booming with a revival of its traditional cuisine besides some interesting innovations tooUpdated: Oct 13, 2019 00:00 IST
I was in Ladakh recently and contrary to popular belief that the cuisine is all about momos (aka mok mok) and soup in some form – either with noodles (thupka) or with handmade pastas (chu-tagi, skyu), I discovered a wealth of interesting and healthy local ingredients and a revival of traditional as well as innovative cuisine, the likes of which I really didn’t expect.
Ladakh, because of its severe climate and distance, has always been cut off from the rest of India. Until recently, the staple carb at all meals was made out of barley or buckwheat. Neither wheat nor rice is grown there. Lamb and chicken are wild and therefore take either ages to cook or are served quite dry and hard which the Ladakhi palate has grown accustomed to, especially in winter. There’s fish from the Indus river which is certainly fresh but has neither the sweetness of the West Bengal bekti nor the salty savouriness of the West coast’s pomfret. In terms of vegetables, there is an abundance of green spinach type leaves, mouth watering new white potatoes and purple potatoes from the valleys. Fruit is pretty amazing – orchards of apricots, peaches, dozens of varieties of sweet and crisp apples, mulberries and cherries in season. Many of these are dried and sold in local markets all year round. Tiny apricot kernels (bitter almonds) and walnuts are some of the best I have ever tasted. A golden oil is extracted from the bitter almond which is used on the skin and hair to combat dryness. In fact, there is a little cottage industry using this oil to make creams, potions and lip balms. Worth picking up a whole bunch since they don’t seem to be available outside Ladakh.
Oddly enough there has been a considerable European influence for many years due to the many trekkers and adventure tourists who discovered this spot well before mainstream Indian tourists. So you will find German bakeries, a Japanese patisserie and even a Korean restaurant in Leh. Apart from local and Indian food, what is astonishing is the new generation of Ladakhis re-interpreting on the one hand and producing totally traditional Ladakhi dishes on the other in a very elegant way.
Padma and Jigmet of Namza have the most extraordinary restaurant in the middle of town alongside their very upmarket designer boutique of the same name. In far away Turtuk, in the region of Baltistan, we had a stunning 10 course tasting menu at a restaurant called The Balti Farm. Each dish was unique, used local ingredients only and was a highly refined version of traditional cooking.
Just before we left Leh we came across two young women, Tsezin and Kunzes Angmo, who are doing marvellous things with breakfast. They have converted part of their parents’ house down a “secret” lane in Leh, into an exquisite little B&B (the kind you will find in Jaipur in Civil Lines). You can enjoy the breakfast by booking at least 24 hours in advance even if you’re not staying there. A 4 course feast that could take up to 3 hours to get through (forget any notion of having lunch), it is made entirely by them from start to finish. Some of the dishes are a little ‘vernacular’ like the butter tea with barley flour – an acquired taste, but the interactive kneading is quite therapeutic. It’s called the Artisanal Alchemy Breakfast experience and starts with a local bread, salad and cheese platter served with local white butter and seasoned with fresh thyme leaves and borage blossoms and organic local veggies - shynkyo radishes, zucchini, baby carrots. I would fly back to Leh for their walnut chutney (walnut and yogurt dip seasoned with fresh mint, coriander, pepper and lime), and their in-house variation of hummus made from Ladakhi karzae dal. The second course is a dish of new baby white potatoes, slow roasted for an hour and a half and served with fresh peppermint and an organic beetroot and beet green, apple and walnut salad.
If this is beginning to sound like a southern Californian menu, you’d be right... The third course was ‘kholak’ (roasted barley flour kneaded in Ladakhi butter tea), ’tingmo’ and ‘loco mokmok’ served with ‘chinpa’ (fried lamb liver), ‘sha-phing’ (mutton and glass noodles stew), stir fried dried shiitake mushrooms and capsicum, ‘tshong-chu’ (peppery onion and milk soup) and two fiery chutneys - Manali yellow chilli ginger-garlic chutney and our red chilli-tomato chutney with walnut and a salad of baby carrots and purple cabbage.
Finally dessert is stone ground (in a watermill!) black buckwheat, apricot and walnut pancake served with apricot conserve which Kunzes makes herself from fruit from their own orchard (of course).
Black buckwheat and apricot conserve pancakes with walnuts
•1 cup black buckwheat flour (organic if possible).
•½ tsp ground cinnamon
•¼ tsp salt
•2 tsp softened butter
•1 ½ tsp baking powder
•½ tsp baking soda
•1 cup milk (all or half of the milk can be substituted with curd)
•3 -4 tsp organic apricot conserve to sweeten the pancakes
•2 eggs beaten
•2 tsp chopped walnuts
•Use a small 3-4 inch non-stick pan as smaller buckwheat pancakes don’t break and have greater integrity while flipping despite their airiness.
•Add all the dry ingredients - buckwheat flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda in a big bowl and mix.
•Beat the eggs and butter in another bowl. Whisk in the milk and the apricot conserve.
•Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients while whisking continuously. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
•Heat the small non-stick on medium-low heat and just when you spoon a dollop of the pancake mix into the pan, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover the pan, so that the top side is fully cooked before flipping.
•Turn the pancake and brown the other side too.
•Serve hot with fresh apricots, apricot conserve and fresh cream
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is curated food tours.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on November 3.
From HT Brunch, October 13, 2019
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First Published: Oct 12, 2019 22:32 IST