It’s cold and dark and you want to return to the warmth of your home after a long day at work. You open the door and are engulfed by a familiar aroma that hugs you like that old cardigan which you refuse to let go of and seek refuge in each winter.
That’s what gogji-syun (mutton and turnips, cooked Kashmiri style) does to you— it comforts you, fills you up, and lingers in the air, tantalizing you long after you have licked the bowl clean. The mere mention of the dish makes you smile, triggering memories of snow, pheran, kangri, chilblains and steaming meals had together with the family in the kitchen in winters long gone. You can conjure up its wholesomeness even in blistering summer, when no turnips are available, a memory that stops by when you are least expecting it, and leaves you with a deep yearning.
The dish is that unique culinary marriage, where the turnip soaks up the flavours of the meat, and the meat absorbs the pepperiness of the root vegetable, the fat in the meat adding to the medley.
Turnips are easy to make, cook quickly and have a strong flavour, requiring no enhancement through onion, ginger, garlic, tomato or an assortment of spices.
What’s more, it’s actually meat-agnostic. If you are a vegetarian, you can cook it on its own or with lotus stem (nadru) or kidney beans. Take the basic version, for instance. It uses just three ingredients: mustard oil, asafoetida and green chillies. Wash, peel and roughly chop the turnip. Heat mustard oil to smoking point in a pressure cooker. Add a couple of whole red chillies (optional) and asafoetida. Add the turnip. Sauté for 5-10 minutes. Add salt to taste and a little water. Cook under pressure for one-two whistles: it’s fine if it disintegrates. Finish with a couple of green chillies. Eat with rice and some yogurt on the side. Sometimes, I drizzle a bit of mango pickle oil over it for that extra kick. It doesn’t get simpler than this.
Turnip with lotus stem—the other seasonal Kashmiri favourite—also uses the same three ingredients, the crunchiness of the nadru complementing the butteriness of the turnip well. However, if you like it spicy, cook the turnip with kidney beans (gogji-rajma), which uses red chilli powder, turmeric, fennel and ginger powders.
If the basic version—turnips cooked on their own, as described above—is everyday comfort food, then, cooked with mutton, it becomes the weekend dish, associated with a kind of contentment no amount of roganjosh or damaloo can give. It’s not the showcase dish you serve in your best chinaware when guests come, it’s the dish you have with family and close friends, sharing stories while slurping, licking and fighting for the last bits and pieces of bones and bone marrow. Just like that cardigan, with its many holes and memories, and chilblains (which I still get in the Delhi winter), this is part of my winter ritual.
Turnip with meat
3-4 turnips, small to medium size (the smaller ones are sweeter)
4 tbsp mustard oil
Pinch of asafoetida
Half kg mutton (preferably from the front shoulder, called kanga or daest)
Half tsp turmeric powder
Half tbsp ginger (saunth) powder
1 tbsp fennel (saunf) powder
1-2 whole red chillies
Salt to taste
Wash the turnips, lop off the crown, halve or quarter, depending on size. Sprinkle with salt and keep aside. Heat 2 tbsp mustard oil to smoking point in a pressure cooker. Temper with asafoetida. Add the mutton and sauté for 10-12 minutes to seal the meat. Then add salt and two cups of water, bring to a boil and add turmeric, ginger and fennel powders. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then cook under pressure for 4-5 whistles so that the meat is nearly cooked. In the meantime, heat some oil in a wok and fry the turnips after rinsing them of the salt. Remove once they are slightly golden. Add to the meat and cook under pressure for 1-2 whistles. Add water as required and let simmer. Heat a tablespoon of mustard oil. Temper with a pinch of asafoetida and 1-2 red chillies. Pour over the meat. Let it come to the boil again. Check for seasoning and serve hot with rice. Vary the amount of oil, spices and water as per taste. You can also add the turnip without frying to cut down on the oil.