Known as the Switzerland of the East, the foothills of the Himalayas are heart-stoppingly beautiful. Jagged peaks are surrounded by lush verdant forests and emerald lakes are fed by glaciers; single-gauge railways snake their way around vertiginous cliffs dotted by hill stations occupied by the British Raj during the stinking-hot months of summer. The stations are perched in their lofty, cool mountain retreats away from the gupshup (chit-chat or gossip) of the city, strung out like a jade necklace across the Himalayan range and offering a haven of clean air and tranquillity. Settled as the summer headquarters for the Punjab government until 1876, the Murree hill station in a corner of the north-west Himalayas was known as the Queen of Hills, and offered my uncle Stan and various siblings a rare holiday break. Wearing a jumper was a novelty, as were the landscape, the people and the food, all in stark contrast to the streets of Stan’s Sindhi Province.
Here, traditionally cooling ingredients, such as yoghurt, were used to warm you up. Hot karhi was a welcome addition to the menu, a smooth yoghurt-based soup spiced with popping mustard seeds and the curiously named asafoetida. It’s deliciously simple, a great alternative to cream of mushroom, and it warms the body and enchants the soul.
- 3 tbsp gram (chickpea) flour
- 500ml cool water
- 400ml natural yoghurt
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2cm fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped
- 8 curry leaves
- ¼ tsp asafoetida
- Coriander leaves, chopped, to dress
How To Make Karhi
Sift the flour into a bowl and combine with 60ml of the water to create a smooth paste. Tip in the rest of the water and keep whisking to avoid any lumps forming. Add the yoghurt, turmeric, sugar and salt and keep whisking; it’s essential that the mix is velvety and even. Decant into a saucepan and, over a medium heat, stir constantly and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
In a separate frying pan, sauté the mustard seeds in the oil until they pop, then immediately add the ginger, chillies and curry leaves. Fry for 3–4 minutes until everything has darkened a few shades. Drop in the asafoetida, mix thoroughly and combine with the simmering karhi. Muddle the ingredients, remove from the heat and dress with the chopped coriander leaves. Enjoy the Indian Subcontinent spicy soup hot with a side of naan.