The temperatures are dropping across the country. The chilly cold waves are enveloping the villages and cities, cardigans and mufflers are creeping out from closets and unwrapped from naphthalene balls. And it is during this time that our grandma’s venture into the kitchen with an unmatched zeal and enthusiasm.
For generations winters have meant an addition of unique and distinct dishes and foods in our daily diet. And why not! Have you noticed that you tend to feel hungrier during winters? This is a proven fact, though experts find it hard to conclusively understand why do our stomachs crave and rumble for more food during crisp weathers.
But our culture has always had provisions for long. Come winters and there is frenzy around the kitchens, with aromatic flavors salivating and whispering in our palate to shed the guilt (not the weight!) and devour the delicious specialties that are winters main ingredients.
So let’s buffet around the must-have dishes sprawled out in our homes and prepared with much arduous dedication over generations. Not to forget, most of these foods have a solid reasoning for their intake. The body needs extra calories to keep warm and foods that provide immunity as well as healthy nutrients to wade through the chill are incorporated almost seamlessly in our winter diet.
Gajar ka Halwa is an anytime favorite dish, however, in winters its importance and freshness seems to only enhance. Carrots are an important vegetable to add to your diet during the chilly season, because it strengthens the respiratory system and body immunity. There is no better way to wash down the carrots in the form of a well prepared gajar ka halwa that has a bit of ghee too. Ghee is another staple ingredient in our culture used in various ways and counted as a healthy option.
Raab a drink made from ghee, milk and flour is a Gujarat and Rajasthan special and one of the best ways to beat the chill. Packed with ingredients that are strengthening for the muscles and known for increasing immunity, the raab is standard morning dish in many households.
Continuing with a sweet tooth, comes Bengal’s very popular Nolen Gurer Sandesh, a sweet dish made from date palm’s jaggery and is a trademark winter dish of the region.
Gond ke laddoo, gol papdi and panjiri are some other sweet dishes that are a variation of essentially different types of flour with ghee and dry fruits.
Regional specialties include the Til Pitha of Assam made during the festival of Magh Bihu in January, Lapsi of Gujarat and its variations from Jaipur and Udaipur and the traditional chikki found in many parts of Maharstra and Gujarat.
Winter is the best times for purchasing fresh vegetables. The taste, color and flavor of the vegetables are significantly different during winters hence playing the perfect host for some mouthwatering vegetable curries and preparations. Couple these hot savory vegetables with buttered soft parathas or warm rice and trust me you will think twice before admitting that you are not really a vegetable person.
Sarson or mustard green is available during the winter season and a true Punjabi’s winter is never really complete without eating the saag accompanied by makkai ki roti.
Undhiyu, Gujarat’s notable ensemble of various vegetables along with methi or fenugreek balls is extremely healthy and breathtakingly delicious. The sheer combination of the vegetables dipped in spiced gravy does the trick. It is also one of those dishes that take probably the entire morning to make and is made with a lot of love and enthusiasm by the elders in a proper traditional way.
Bajra roti with ghee and green lasan or garlic is a must have in various homes of Gujarat as well as in other parts of the country. The lasan is finely chopped and added to egg or minced meat or even made with kichdi. The bajra roti is a thick layered chapatti with dollops of generously added ghee spread within.
Kootu from the Tamil Nadu is another combination of vegetables devoured endearingly with sambhar or rasam.
Sweet potato is a popular vegetable that abounds during the winter season and hence dishes such as fried sweet potatoes or Shakarkandi Chaat are quite popular.
Other vegetable delights that add zing and offer tantalizing flavors in their various preparations are mooli or radishes and beetroot besides all the other common vegetables.
The diehard non vegetarians look forward to the winters because they tend to enjoy the spiced up curries and fatty additions in their sometimes greasy meat preparations. The early morning Niharis and payas are delicious and a great way to begin the chilly morning in a hard hitting hot way.
The flavorful rogan gosht or the Kashmiri gushtaba are deadly combinations with rice or chapatis.
The list could go on…
Our cultural DNA is such that it is aware of all seasonal fluctuations and finds reason to celebrate it with food and festivals. It would be not too hard to list the winter foods, however it would be priceless to try and understand how the social and cultural landscape around us, at both the micro and macro level adapts itself to the external environment. Our grandmother’s for ages have understood the need of certain foods in the diet during the different seasons and have taught us to just add them faultlessly and flawlessly in our everyday lives.
Yes, these can be fattening if not eaten in the right proportion, yet, they incorporate essential ingredients that are very good for the overall health and immunity of our bodies. Which is why as they ‘dadi ke nuske’, or ‘grandmother’s hacks’ are not old superstitions always. What you really need to do is understand what works and what can be ignored in the modern times.
As far as winter foods are concerned, it is only a win situation for all. After all, to indulge in nutritious diets that are home made using fresh ingredients is always a better option than gulping down marketed tablets. Here is hoping that you have a well fed winter!