Monday, September 30, 2013



                     (   KASHMIRIS   AND HAAK   OR  COLLARD GREENS    )

“Gaarri haak paeri haak , naakhaai paana gaeri draakh"

(Haak cooked in the family
 and Haak outside it,
 O heart,  
why then leave the home? )

“Aey haak tche kaeti aakh ,na tche noon na tche paak “

(O  haak !  where did you come from?
 You neither need salt nor too much of boiling . )

 And what would you do if you don't get Haak in Gurgaon shopping malls.  Yes buy spinach instead and cook it like  Haak and forget. On a  visit to Gurgaon, Haryana, I wrote a poem on this issue when I bought green and leafy spinach and got it cooked like Haak. Here is the poem:-

                 (Paalak khaayi Haak samajh kar)

Haak doondanay hum gaye Gurgaon ke mall
Haak shaak to na milaa aaya hamein khayaal
Aaya hamein khayaal le aayein paalak ghar mein
Mauj kareingay issay pakaa kar harey mutter mein
paalak ke pattay chaurray aur harey harey thhay
Shelf  tokray iss sabzi se bharrey bharey thhay
Ghar mein bolaa issay pateelay mein hi pakaao
Haak samajh kar Gurgaon mein paalak khaao

(Avtar Mota )


Haak is a green leafy vegetable consumed by Kashmiris. It is certainly an equivalent of ‘Hara Saag’  of the Indian cuisine. Kashmiris cook it any day or every day. It is an essential dish in Kashmiri Pandit marriage functions and is gradually entering the cuisine of north India. Kashmiris may call it by many names like  Kaanul Haak, Haanz Haak, Tolaa Haak, G. M. Dar Haak, Khanyaer Haak, Noor Bagh Haak and Kaatchhi Haak but Haak as such belongs to acephala group of vegetables that also include cabbage and broccoli. Kashmiris also connect some other green leafy vegetables with Haak. I quote some as  Vopal Haak, Vostaa Haak, Mujji Haak and Monji Haak. 

Kaanul is the early springtime Haak with tiny stems. This Haak has small and soft sprouting green leaves. The summer Haak available in Kashmir is green leafy with wrinkles. The autumn Haak is green leafy with stems. The sweet and tasty green stems of this autumn Haak are also cooked along with green leaves. These stems are called Kaatchhie in Kashmiri. Accordingly, this Haak is also known as Kaatchhie Haak. Another tasty variety of Haak with long and fleshy stems and green leaves grown in the winter season is known as Tolaa Haak. All varieties of Haak grown in Kashmir are tasty. 

The Haak gravy or soup is known as ‘Haak Russ’ . Haaka Vater ( Haak leaf ), Haak Bodh ( a  bundle of Haak leaves ), Haak Phoat ( a basket for carrying Haak by sellers ), Haak Door ( a bed of Haak ), Haak Null ( Haak stems ), Aaaram Vaer ( Haak growing field ) and Haak Raadh ( A floating space created over water for growing Haak . This is seen in Dal lake  ) are quite popular terms with Kashmiris. It is believed that Haak was first cultivated by ancient Greeks. Americans call it  'collard  greens ‘. It is also cultivated in  China, Spain, Croatia, Bosnia,  Herzegovina, Siberia,  Portugal, Brazil, and  Africa.   Don’t be surprised when I say that some communities in deep South especially Tamilnadu cultivate Haak and call it Seemai Parattai Keerai.

The Kashmiri way of cooking Haak is meant to retain its aroma. Accordingly, it is not laced with spices. It is carefully cleaned and leaves are plucked from long stems. Haak should be cleaned for pests and insects that thrive on the leafy green material. Just heat three-four spoonfuls of mustard oil to the flashpoint. Cool it down and add two or three cups of water, one or two green chillies possibly compact. In case you want to add cut chillies, remove seeds as these may spoil the taste. Add a few drops of milky white liquid Heeng (asafoetida ). Add a pinch of salt. Put washed Haak leaves in this mixture and cool stir it. Now put the mixture over a gas flame in a pressure cooker and boil it for two or three whistles. Remove the flame. Let it cool down. Don't open the cooker lid when the Haak is hot. That removes the entire aroma. Let it cool and then serve.  Some families add a pinch of Kashmiri Vaer ( Masala Tikki ) as they cook it . This is how Kashmiri Pandits cook   Haak. Kashmiri Muslims do not use Heeng (asafoetida ). They also add pinches of some spices like turmeric powder, red chilly powder and other spices with some small pieces of cut garlic.

Haak provides the body with various vitamins especially vitamin K and E, calcium, iron,  magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. It also contains proteins and carbohydrates apart from being a rich source of dietary fibre so essential for our intestines. A  recent newspaper report informs as under:-

"Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have recently discovered that diindolylmethane in collard greens is a potent modulator of the innate immune response system with potent antiviral, antibacterial and anti-cancer activity. Collard greens are also a high source of vitamin K (the clotting vitamin) and should be eaten in moderation by individuals taking blood thinners."

 During my recent visit to the  US, I found Haak or collard greens  in abundance inside vegetable stores of New York.  Chinese vegetable sellers sell a variety of Haak in the US. I would frequently buy Kaanul variety from Chinatown market in Canal Street, New York. 

Let us  eat Haak as much as we   can to prove the Kashmiri saying:-

‘ Buss  Haak ta  bataah gatchi poshun ’
 “Let Haak and rice  be there for us ”

( Avtar Mota )

                                          (   Haak seeds meant for germination )
                                      (  Above ..Vaer or  Kashmiri Masala Tikki  used for cooking Haak )
                                                         ( Above  Heeng (Asafoetida )  dissolved in Water  )
                                            ( Green chillies used for cooking Haak in Kashmir )

                                                ( Collard Greens  grown in a pot in the US )
                                          ( Haak sellers on Foreshore Road  near Nishat Garden )                                             

            ( Winter Haak or Tolaa Haak sold in Kashmir   along with Nadru or  Lotus  stems )


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