Saturday, December 5, 2020

Mirchi Qorma

Modern history defines Kashmir in a broad stroke. That stroke illustrates a land divided amongst three separate powers. There is Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, which is under the control of Pakistan. As that stroke moves east, there is Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ladakh, both of which are controlled by India. The stroke finishes with Aksai Chin and the Trans-Kakoram Tract, which are under the control of China (and, which are administratively part of Xinjiang and/or Tibet). 

Looking back into the past, when one spoke of Kashmir, they were more than likely talking about the Kashmir Valley.  It is a region bookended by the Pir Panjal range to the southwest and the Himalaya Mountains to the northeast. It is also the historic home to the Kashmiri people.  They are the focus of this blog post. 

The Kashmiri people are a Dardic ethnic group, a group of Indo-Aryan peoples who live in northeastern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan and Kashmir. It is a region that has seen conquerors come and go, including the Mughals, who ruled the region for about 200 years between the 1580s and the 1750s, the Afghanis, who ruled for a few decades; and the Sikhs, who ruled for about twenty years until they were supplanted by the Dogra Regime, who controlled the area until 1947. It was the Dogra Regime that perhaps best underscored the problem: a Hindu monarchy that exploited the masses of Muslim Kashmiri people.  As it was once described

The poverty of the Muslim masses is appalling. Dressed in rags and barefoot, a Muslim peasant presents the appearance of a starved beggar.... Most are landless laborers, working as serfs for absentee landlords.

This description is particularly jarring, especially given Kashmiri cuisine.  Dishes primarily feature rice, usually served with a protein, such as lamb or mutton. These include, by way of example, Machwangen Kormeh (meat cooked with spices and chilies, including Kashmiri chiles) and Yakhni (a yogurt-based mutton gravy flavored with bay leaves, cloves and cardamom). Indeed, meat features prominently in these dishes, which is something that naturally appeals to a die-hard carnivore like myself. 

A Wazwan Feast (from Auralcrave)

This dish has its place in Kashimiri cuisine. It is one of about 30 lamb dishes that are part of a 36-dish Kashmiri feast known as the wazwan. (In the Kashmiri language, waz means "cook" or cooking, while wan means "shop.") The feast celebrates the legacy of the 15th century Turko-Mongol conquerer Timur.  The conqueror brought with him 1,700 skilled workers.  Those workers included cooks, who would butcher the lambs for the dishes.  The cooks worked under the supervision of a wouste waze, who is the master chef.  As the dishes are completed, they are brought out to the guests, who sit at tables of four with a traem (a large bronze plate) on the middle of the table. The guests share the dishes as they are placed om the traem until the last dish - gushtaba (meatballs cooked in a spicy gravy - is served. The meatball recipe signifies the end of the feast. 

This recipe for Mirchi Qorma comes from Ahdoo's Hotel, which is located in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu-Kashmir.  A qorma is the Urdic word "to braise." In this case, it is the braising of pieces of lamb in a fiery chile sauce made from Kashmiri chiles.  The dish itself illustrates the influence of the past, as a qorma is a Mughal dish, typically made in the kitchens for the court of the rulers. The cooks first seared the lamb over high heat, typically with ghee, adding liquid to create the gravy or curry in which the meat continues to cook. This recipe basically follows that historical approach. The end product is one of the best curries that I have had in a very long time. 


Recipe from Saveur

Serves 4-6


  • 6 dried Kashmiri chiles or pasilla chiles, stemmed
  • 2 small red Thai chiles or 1 red jalapeno, stemmed 
  • 2 pounds lamb shoulder
  • 1 tablespoons black pepper corns
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspooon kala jeera (black cumin seeds
  • 10 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 2 Indian (or regular) bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup tamarind paste
  • 3 tablespoons dried mint
  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder, such as cayenne
  • Kosher salt, to taste.


1.  Cook the lamb.  Heat a six quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook dried chiles until lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor, add fresh chiles and 1 cup of water.  Puree until smooth and return to pan.  Add lamb, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon and 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cook, covered, until lamb is very tender, about one hour.  Transfer the lamb mixture to a bowl. 

2.  Finish the dish. Wipe the pan clean; heat oil over medium high.  Cook cumin seeds, garlic and bay leaves until seeds pop, about 1-2 minutes.  Add reserve lamb mixture, the tamarind paste, 1 teaspoon of mint, the chile powder and salt. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook until thickened, about 1 hour.  Garnish with remaining mint.