Go beyond popular winter picks and try little-known delicacies. How about some lilva kachori or ulavacharu this year?
Winters are a delight, giving us a much-needed breather from the searing heat. The season is a joy even if you live in the South and make do with a barely-there colder month or, if you get lucky, two. Irrespective of which region you live in and how intense your winter is, season-specific foods keep you warm and help boost immunity levels.
Consider sesame or til. The superfood morphs itself into a variety of treats. Markets in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, New Delhi and a few other states burst with flavourful gajaks, and til laddoos are essentials in the South. In fact, til laddoos are a must in Sankranti celebrations in Telangana.
A tweak in the menu happens with the onset of winter that brings in fresh produce. Makki ki roti, sarson ka saag and gajar ka halwa may have popular recall value, but there’s a treasure trove of delicacies in each region. Spinach and fenugreek leaves, though available in other seasons, are winter greens. So are green garlic shoots, tender shoots of beets, turnips and red radishes, tender tuvar and green chickpeas. Add the greens to soups, saags, mix them into lentil, vegetable and meat preparations; roast the green tuvar and chickpeas for a snack, or add them to hearty curries — they all add to a rich, nutritious meal.
The humble horse gram is used to make kollu rasam in Tamil Nadu and ulavacharu in the Telugu-speaking regions. Madhu Reddy, Hyderabad-based organic farmer who believes in slow food, emphasises the importance of fresh tamarind and horse gram. “Fresh tamarind is used to make dappalam with winter vegetables; the stew is thickened with rice flour,” she says. The dappalamgoes with rice or ragi sankati, with a generous helping of ghee.
Different combinations of winter vegetables, greens and lentils go into soups. Delhi-based writer and food consultant Sangeeta Khanna suggests a host of winter foods, including a tomato-turnip-green pea soup and a pineapple clear soup with galangal and lemongrass.Simpler remedies
North Indian winters are synonymous with piping hot parathas served with a dollop of butter. This wasn’t always the case, she points out. “Around 40 to 50 years ago, not everyone had access to LPG, and it took a while to get the coal angeethis to work. So gond ke laddoo, til laddoo and panjiri came in handy for a quick breakfast,” she says. Panjiriessentially contains wheat flour, edible gum, dry fruits and jaggery, and keeps good for a few days. Besides the regular parathas, Khanna suggests sattu ka parathawith a dash of ginger, ajwain and kalonji seeds. The winter thali includes two or three saags made with seasonal produce — methi matar ka saag and channa saagamong others.
Winter is also the time for fermented foods, from amla in brine to mixed vegetable (cauliflower, tender beans, red and black carrots, boiled potatoes) pickle, spiced with mustard powder.
If date palm jaggery or nolen guris the pride of Bengal’s winter, dates are sometimes laced with ghee and had in the morning in certain parts of Gujarat, especially in the farming community, as they gear up for a long day in the fields. Gujarati food is a lot more than dhokla, thepla and khandvi. Away from the sugar-laden dals in touristy Ahmedabad restaurants, one remembers savouring wheat and bajra rotlas with spiced jaggery, bajra khichdi, sautéed spinach and lilva (fresh tuvar) kachoris. In winters, the undhiyuuses seasonal vegetables, like purple yam.
Food writer and photographer Sheetal Bhatt, who divides her time between Singapore and Ahmedabad, shares the story of a little-known special from Gujarat — the kachariyu, that gets its name from the Gujarati word kacharvu or ‘to grind’. “Kachariyu is the residue that’s left after churning or grinding sesame to extract oil. The residual sesame pulp is nutritious and is eaten mixed with jaggery,” she says. Bhatt also makes kachariyu laddoos, mixing the sesame residue with shredded coconut and jaggery. Dates, ginger powder and almonds are other add-ons.
Winter drinks include a variety of masala chai, spiced apple tea, hibiscus tea and Kashmiri kahwa with almond slivers. Rajasthan and Gujarat have winter drinks called raab, prepared with makki, bajra or wheat.