Connecting with your Roots via ‘Haakh’

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By: Sabba Shah

You are ‘how and where you were raised’. I am from Kashmir- a beautiful valley nestled in the great Himalayan ranges. Like our geography, our culture is unique and rich in terms of language, customs and food. Amongst our famous cuisine there is one staple veggie eaten almost daily that is Haakh (Collard greens)- or, as I used to call it, my arch nemesis. My teenage years saw me grimacing in distaste at dinner time when I would see that dish as the epicenter amidst other delectable bits and pieces of meats and rice.

Haakh was a queen nestled lovingly in a copper bowl embellished with silver plating and engraving to enhance its  royal status.  My Mom, heartbroken about the fact that her rebellious daughter has a nerve to reject this lovely green gem of a dish, often displayed gentle cajoling to try them or sometimes throwing me that look of absolute fury. Despite all her efforts, I felt acute aversion towards those fresh organic greens with long leaves gleaming with evil, languishing in a pool of oil with a dash of salt. I would lament loudly how ordinary it was and often compared it to be an ideal fodder for the cattle. My youthful exuberant taste buds were seeking something more contemporary like a veggie sandwich or even better -a sophisticated gourmet pizza.

Fast forward and I found myself in America. I immediately sought limitless food options, those sizzling burgers with a side of heavenly crispy fries, fresh brick oven pizza with limitless toppings and not to mention the barely cooked salmon fish with fresh raw veggies. Was it tasteful? I am not sure but the idea of eating these alien things seemed pretty tempting. My adventurous food drive was cruising along but one day my taste buds gave up out of boredom.

These fatigued insipid beings turned gastronomical and I felt a war within. They raged and roared with fury and forced me to revisit and dig in through my old gourmet memories. I thought of wooing them back and spice their morbid dull life. It was all about connecting to my roots. With spring in my step, I ventured to grocery store. My eyes were busy scanning the produce section and there they were. Lush green leaves enticing me towards them with tiny little droplets of moisture gleaming with pride and shining bright.

They beckoned me seemingly with a wicked grin as if they were saying ‘we knew you would come back one day’. I didn’t let their vanity crush my enthusiasm and hauled them back home. In they went into my pressure cooker with my mix of spices and then that long wait. Three whistles and I opened the lid. The heavy aroma hit me and felt dizzy with excitement. It tasted so good and I felt I was home in Kashmir with my Mom. Only this time instead of a scowl, there was a huge grin on my face.


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