Showing posts with label Muslim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muslim. Show all posts

Nov 6, 2017

A Big Fat Kashmiri Nishaani! (Part One)

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

A Nishaani is a formal engagement party in the Kashmiri Muslim community. Recently we attended my niece's Nishaani in Kashmir celebrating her recent engagement to a young man. Pre-marriage customs and rituals vary widely among Muslims in the different regions and ethnicities of India. Nishaani, nishane, or nishani is an Urdu word derived from Persian meaning mark, sign, souvenir, or keepsake. Gifts, food, and jewelry are exchanged between the families of the bride and groom in this traditional event. Above you see my niece adjusting her bejeweled tikka headpiece at the end of the ceremony.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

When we first arrived the day before the big event we saw all the sister-in-laws peeling huge heaps of garlic and shallots (praan) in the family courtyard. This is one of the traditional rituals in preparation for the big feast of Kashmir - the Wazwan. The wazwan is the ultimate formal banquet of Kashmir. In the Kashmiri language, waz means 'cook' or 'cooking' and wan means 'shop.' This grand and glorious feast is 36 courses minimum and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Then began the mehendi ceremony. Two professional mehendi artists came the day before the event to apply intricate henna patterns upon my niece's hands, wrists, and feet. If this were the Nikah or wedding the henna would extend up her entire arm. I thought it was interesting how each artist worked simultaneously on her hands and feet.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The mehendi is a bit of traditional glamour and and pampering for the young lady about to get officially engaged. It was really amazing how fast the professional mehendi artists drew the incredibly beautiful designs with the tiny cones of henna mixed in oils. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Isn't that gorgeous? I want this on my feet every day. So elegant. A hairdryer was used on the hands to speed things up while the mehendi artists did her feet.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Here's the finished look. Just exquisite. The oils from the mehendi filled the room with wafts of cardamom, cypress, lavender, tea tree, cajeput, and ravensara. The henna paste eventually dries out and falls off. The stain that is left from the henna paste continues to darken overnight to a rich, deep, reddish brown. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Meanwhile, the wazwan is cooking out back. The wazwan is cooked outdoors by a specialized team led by the vaste waza or master chef. The vaste waza supervises everything. The vaste waza starts by selecting the sheep, chickens, and only the finest ingredients for the big feast. He oversees the butchering and even chooses the firewood. Wazwan dishes are all quite elaborate- some requiring two days to prepare.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The vaste waza and his team are also tasked with preparing lunch and dinner for all the relatives and friends arriving the day before and the day of the Nishaani. Above you see lunch starting to be served. The meal begins with invoking the name of Allah and a ritual washing of hands with a pitcher and  basin called the tash-t-naer.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Wazwan is served upon a large copper platter that is nickel plated called a traem. The traem or platter is about two feet across and is heaped with steaming rice to serve four people. The meal is served atop a long, narrow tablecloth called a dastarkhan placed upon the floor. For lunch that day we were served methi maaz and a spinach dish. The methi maaz has the reddish sauce and is made from the stomach and intestines of the sheep and dried fenugreek leaves. Both the spinach and the sheep guts were absolutely delicious and perfectly spiced. I'm not much of a carnivore and I've only tried tinned methi maaz before this which was AWFUL. But this was really good. I think two other dishes followed this. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Just to let you know: every part of the sheep is used in the wazwan. Here's the parboiled tripe and whatnot before being chopped finely and simmered with spices to make the methi maaz served for lunch. Every dish in wazwan (that isn't chicken or cheese) features a different part of the sheep which is expertly prepared with an amazing variety of flavors.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

And then all the cousins, aunties, nieces, siblings, children, and female friends and neighbors sang. The songs were both serious and silly. Some praising Allah and some joking about rings that won't fit on fat fingers and so on. Above you a little cousin playing the drum whilst singing. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Even Aunty Bibi was jamming! Egads, I look pale and pasty. I doubled up on 50 spf sunblock and foundation this Summer and it appears to have worked. Perhaps a bit too well!

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The traditional green tea of Kashmir call kahwah was served too. Above you see an aunty sitting by a traditional copper Kashmiri samovar. The samovar is like a giant teapot and has a hollow tube down the center which is filled with live coals. Around the coal containing core there is space for water to boil and brew the tea leaves, saffron strands, cardamom pods, sugar or honey, and other ingredients.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Here's a hot cup of kahwah served with a piece of very beautiful western-style cake. This is what the fiance's family will be served upon arrival at our home. Kahwah is served with crushed walnuts and almonds sprinkled in it. It packs quite the green tea and saffron punch. Your face will flush and your heart will go a'flutter with just a few sips of the steaming kahwah. You'll also have a fluorescent green tongue for a day!

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

While all that singing and snacking was going on sumptuous Kashmiri copper ware was arriving by the truckload for the big event. Gorgeously chased with designs of flowers, vines, and Chinar leaves - each piece is beautifully decorated. Those fluted bowls you see stacked in the back on the right are especially for the dish called gushtaba- a giant pounded meatball made of all white meat from a lamb. Huge carpets arrived to line the hall for the guests also. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

And the aunties and guests sang and snacked on. Being the only foreigner in the family I get asked some curious questions:
Why aren't you wearing yellow gold? 
Why haven't you gained weight?
Why aren't you wearing more bangles?
I answered as best I could:
I'm not wearing gold because I'm wearing my mom's platinum and diamond set, that is traditional in my culture. 
I haven't gained weight because I'm fat enough already? 
I don't know, I'm just always bangle deficient for some reason. I always forget you're supposed to wear bangles on each arm. I think my hijab is on the wrong way too. Sigh.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The morning of the Nishaani all manner of elegant place settings were being prepared for the big event that night. Silver trays laden with cans of juices and hand painted boxes filled with treats and goodies were assembled for the family of the fiance. My niece picked all of this out herself with care for the big night.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The day of the Nishaani also required three changes of clothing. Above is my junior doppelganger and youngest niece giving us her best surly supermodel stare. She rocked a modified robe à la francaise in aquamarine blue (as shown above) during the day, in a pale lemon chiffon version for the afternoon, and brilliant white and gold ensemble in the evening. Aunty Bibi had to wear three fancy outfits that day too!

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

After guests had all arrived during the day the fiancé-to-be's family arrived around midnight bearing gifts for my niece and her family. The fiancé does not attend. The mother, father, eldest son, and the wife of the eldest son do the honors. The lady in red is the wife of the eldest son and has just placed the heavy gold neckpiece with the ruby cabochons, matching earrings, and tikka head piece on my niece in the bright pink suit. The placing of the jewelry upon my niece signifies the acceptance of the engagement proper. If you look closely you can see a long chain around my niece's neck with a flattened box at the end- this is a copy of the Holy Koran given to her by her in-laws-to be also. Now they proceed to eat wazwan together ! The rice for the wazwan is under that copper dome. The copper dome flips over to hold the traem (platter) aloft and keep the food warm. Attendants from the wazwan team bring the dishes in fresh from the fire and ladle it onto the guests' plates. 


After the wazwan is served my niece changed into her last and most glamorous outfit of the evening and is placed on display as she demurely gazes down. She is flanked by her sister-in-law-to-be and mother-in-law-to-be. No one much talks to each other during the event. My niece told me that's because they really don't know each other very well yet. (This is an arranged marriage.) The other female guests sit facing them.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The in-laws-to be also brought gifts for my niece's family. They arrived on wicker trays about a meter/3 feet across covered with beautiful beaded and embroidered cloths.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

One tray contained nuts, dried fruits, candies, and rupees folded into crisp rosettes. This was for the immediate family.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,
The other tray from the fiancé's family was piled high with fancy boxes of traditional sweets. All these boxes are meant to be hand delivered to my niece's family members the next day. 

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

The boxes of sweets are just as beautiful inside too! All sorts of milky, nut laden treats beautifully garnished with gold and silver leaf or vark.


All the guests received bags of swag too. From our family came the beautiful pale blue velvet bag with chain stitching and hand painted lacquer boxes were all filled with nuts, dried fruit, candies, and rupees folded into rosettes. The royal blue velvet potli was a gift brought to our family members from the in-laws-to-be and also filled with toffees, dried fruits, nuts, and rupee notes. Our family members  were all given plastic bags and disposable aluminum foil food containers to take home uneaten food. (It's considered bad form for the fiance's family to take food home with them.) There is no way any person could ever eat all 36 courses of the wazwan. But you can take it with you!

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

And the party went on well into the wee hours of the morn. My youngest niece is wearing her dress #3 and looks about to nod off here.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Here's my niece looking regal and resplendent like a Mughal princess in the 16th century. (Her face is blurred as not to outrage the modesty of an unmarried young lady.) Such a classic beauty. Most all of the rituals and traditions of the Nishaani are from the royal courts of the Mughals. From the royal feast of the wazwan to the formal displays and opulent gifts- it all harkens back to the Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin founded by the successors of Tamerlane.

ife, love, nishane, nishani, nishaani, kashmir, kashmiri, wazwan, engagement, muslim, islam,

Oh my gracious. Here's what was left when the Nishaani was over. We were eating wazwan for weeks!

That concludes Part One of A Big Fat Kashmiri Nishaani
Next week I'll have some amazing behind the scenes shots of the elaborate preparation of the wazwan and the gifts sent to the young man's family- so come back next Monday for Part Two!

Toodle pip,
Bibi

Sep 9, 2016

Baed Eid


Next week starts the most holy celebration of the Islamic year called Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) in Arabic or Baed Eid (Big Eid) in Kashmiri. The festival begins at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj.  During the Hajj, Muslims remember and honor the trials and triumphs of great patriarch and Prophet Abraham. This holiday honors the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son. Just when the Prophet Abraham was prepared to perform the sacrifice, the angel Jibra'il (Gabriel) intervened telling him that his sacrifice had already been fulfilled.

The Sacrifice of Isaac  by Caravaggio 
With this act of obedience the Prophet Abraham had shown that his love for Allah was above all others, and that he would willingly lay down the lives of those dearest to him in submission to Allah. Muslims commemorate this trial of the Prophet Abraham by the halal slaughtering of an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow, or goat. Allah has given us dominance over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. 

Kashmiri women at Eid prayers
On the first morning of Eid ul-Adha, Muslims worldwide attend morning prayers. Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayers. Prayers are followed by visits with family and friends, the exchange of greetings (Eid Mubarak), and give gifts called Eidi.

Kashmiri men at Eid prayers
At some point during the festival Muslims who can afford it sacrifice a halal domestic animal such as a goat, sheep, camel, yak, or cow in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. The sacrificed animals are called qurbani and must be of a certain age and standards of perfection or the animal is considered unacceptable. (In Kashmir a sheep fattened up on cashews and other goodies is preferred. Every once in a while some affluent Kashmiri buys a camel or yak to show off I suppose. Camel and yak really don't taste that great.)

Sheep being sold for Baed Eid in Kashmir
The animal (qurbani) is slaughtered in the halal manner and the meat is traditionally divided into three portions. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends and neighbors, and one-third is donated to the poor. This act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us in order to follow Allah's commands, to strengthen ties within the community, and to help those who are in need. 

Traditional Kashmiri mutton-a-palooza!
(Every part of the sheep is used in a specific dish)
In addition to distributing qurbani to the poor the meat is prepared and often served at mosques so that those less fortunate do not miss this sacrificial meal. Many Muslims also take this opportunity to invite their non-Muslim friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates to their Eid festivities to better acquaint them with Islam and Muslim culture. (This means Bibi's going to be cooking a lot- not just meat but treats too!)


Eidi or the gifts given over Eid traditionally take the form of money, presents such as smartphones and perfume, or even flowers. Usually it is children who receive eidi from uncles and their parents.

From our family to yours:
May the blessings of Allah bring you hope, faith, and joy!  Happy Eid ul-Adha 2016!

Jun 21, 2016

Chicken Rezala


rezala chicken recipe simple indian historicl

Although quite decadent and delicious, this is one of the easiest recipes you could make for a posh event. Famous within the Muslim community of Kolkata, Rezala is a creamy chicken dish made with aromatic cardamom, saffron, and kewra essence in a velvety sauce. A truly regal Mughal dish from a bygone era.


When the Nawabs of Awadh and descendants of Tipu Sultan were exiled in Bengal they took their royal chefs with them. Thus Mughlai cuisine was formally established in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) and mingled with Bengali tastes and flavors. Bengalis like their dishes a little on the sweet side so traditionally this recipe is enriched with a pinch of sugar as well as a slurry of coconut milk and ground cashews. Cashews are a bit too sweet for my Kashmiri family's tastes so I've replaced them with poppy seeds and coconut cream. I've also replaced the sugar with a little flour to reduce the sweetness and keep the yogurt from splitting. (In case you like a little sweet in your savory dishes I've given the measurements for the sugar and cashews though.) As with most Bengali dishes, Rezala has a thin gravy and is best enjoyed with rice. Do try this dish to experience the influence of nawabi (princely) finesse on rustic Bengali cuisine.

Ingredients:
1kg or 2lbs chicken, skinless and cut into 8 pieces
1 TBS cooking oil
2 TBS ghee
2 cassia leaves/tej patta
5 dried red chilis/lal mirch
7 cloves/laung
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
8 green cardamoms/elaichi, bruised in mortar and pestle
4 black cardamoms/kali elaichi
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch, whole
pinch of saffron strands (optional)
2 tsp kewra water (optional)
10-12 dry roasted almonds (optional for garnish)
Grind to smooth paste for gravy:
3/4 C yogurt/dahi
1/2 C onions, chopped roughly
1/2 teaspoon flour/maida or sugar/chinni (this will keep the yogurt from splitting)
1 tsp salt
1/2 C coconut cream
Grind to smooth paste for marinade:
1/2 C yogurt/dahi
1/2 C onions, roughly chopped
2 TBS ginger/adrak paste
2 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper, ground
1 tsp cumin/jeera, ground
2 tsp ground coriander/dhania
1/2 tsp mace/javitri
1/2 tsp nutmeg/jaiphal
1 TBS white poppy seeds/khus khus (or ground cashews/kaju)
3-4 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped roughly (omit for less heat)

Here's what to do:
1) Grind all ingredients listed under marinade to a smooth paste. Coat all chicken pieces in marinade mix and place in sealable airtight container. Allow chicken to marinate for 30 minutes up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2) When ready to cook grind all ingredients listed under gravy to smooth paste and set aside. Heat oil and ghee in deep heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai and fry cassia leaves/tej patta, dried red chilis/lal mirch, cloves/laung, cumin seeds/jeera, green cardamoms/elaichi, black cardamoms/kali elaichi, and black peppercorns/kali mirch.


3) Remove pan from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add the smooth paste for gravy from step 2 to pan with fried spices and stir well. Return pan to heat and bring mixture to simeer. Allow gravy mixture to simmer for 5 minutes.


4) Add chicken pieces with marinade to simmering gravy mixture. Allow chicken mixture to simmer covered over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked completely. You shouldn't have to add any liquid to this dish, the chicken should cook covered in it's own juices to intensify the flavors.

5) Turn off heat and stir in saffron strands if using. Allow saffron to steep in dish for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with kewra water and dry roasted almonds if using just before serving with rice, naan, or rotis.

Helpful Hints:
Never cook chicken in a pressure cooker as the extreme heat will make the texture rubbery.

Wajid Ali Shah, 10th and last Nawab of Awadh
"Cast by providence for the role of an accomplished dilettante, he found himself a misfit for the high office to which he was elevated by chance. Wajid Ali Shah's character was complex. Though he was a man of pleasure, he was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He was a lovable and generous gentleman. He was a voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his five daily prayers. It was the literary and artistic attainments of Wajid Ali Shah which distinguished him from his contemporaries."

Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar, Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah
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