From the snow-capped highlands of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to the short winters of South India, the country eagerly expects the winter season as it brings with it the simple joys of life. Aside from lazy, languid days spent with family, chilly nights by the fireplace, or steaming hot cups of coffee with a book in hand, winter bestows its gifts in the form of cuisine in all parts of the country in all shapes, sizes, and flavours.
For generations, winter has meant incorporating new and distinct dishes and foods into our daily diet. Winter is said to be the best season for increasing human immunity. People appear to be more hungry during the winter season than normal. Furthermore, the systems inside the body function better during this season than during other times of the year, which improves the process of food digestion within the body. Overall, this results in more nutrients being delivered to the body. Human hunger has a natural desire to devour warm food as the temperature drops. It mostly desires substantial foods that give sustenance and comfort.
As a result, the food market, like the merchants, comes alive with energy and colour throughout this season. The body needs extra calories to stay warm, and foods that provide immunity as well as critical nutrients to help us get through the winter are easily included into our winter diet in all of India’s cuisines.
From the wonderful and timeless traditional gajar ka halwa to lesser-known pleasures like harissa, here are numerous winter foods from around the country that are prepared and savoured.
1. Gajar Ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)
Ghee-dripping delectable gajar ka halwa, an all-time favourite, is painstakingly made across the country. With the addition of dry fruits like almonds, cashew nuts, and pista, this sweet treat is mostly created in the Northern portion of the nation during the winters, when the carrot harvest is at its peak.
Skyu, a traditional soup-like Ladakhi delicacy made with veggies and wheat dough kneaded into flat thumb-size balls, is one of the lesser-known winter specialties. These flat balls are cooked on low heat with water and root vegetables like carrots and turnips and served with meat. This is a staple in the region to beat the cold temperatures that frequently fall below freezing during the winter. Skyu is also available in oma (milk) form, which substitutes milk for water as the main ingredient.
Gushtaba, another culinary gem from one of India’s coldest areas, is a popular dish in Kashmiri cuisine. Refusing a bowl of Gushtaba is considered an insult to the host, in part because of the passion and time that goes into making this savoury dish. This rich preparation is often served at the end of the meal and is made with minced mutton balls that are slow-cooked in royal spices like cinnamon, cardamom, asafoetida, and so on, along with curd. While the curd helps to balance the heat, it’s the spices, meat, and mustard oil that make it the best warm food for the winter.
4. Jhola Nolen Gur
Jhola nolen gur, the crown gem of Bengal’s sweet delights, is the freshest batch of liquid date palm jaggery with a rich sweet texture with woody and caramel overtones. It comes in two types: liquid and solid. The liquid version is known as Jhole nolen gur, while the solid version is known as Patali gur. While both can be consumed on their own without any accompaniment, they are also used to make a variety of desserts such as Pithe, Sandesh, and Payesh. Nolen gurer roshogolla and payesh is a must-order dessert.
Undhiyu, a Gujarati winter delicacy that takes hours to create, is a labour of love and time. Undhiyu is a classic dish comprised of mixed vegetables, spices, and loads of ghee that is a healthy indulgence away from the rich cuisine commonly enjoyed in other regions of the nation during the winters. It is named after the vernacular phrase ‘undhu,’ which means ‘upside down,’ since it is usually made upside down underground in matlu (earthen pots) with continual fire from above.
This lip-smacking meat-based treat originated in the Awadhi cuisine of Lucknow and is sure to brighten up your chilly mornings. Nihari, a slow-cooked meat stew generally made with beef or mutton, is typically eaten for breakfast. This rich and spicy dish takes a long time to prepare and is best served the next morning with puris. The melting meat wrapped in a medley of flavours is a must-try.
Although Thukpa has its origins in eastern Tibet, it is extremely popular among all communities in the state of Sikkim. Thukpa, when combined with a variety of veggies, is quick to prepare and fills the stomach while warming the heart. Locals regard this dish as the epitome of comfort food, and a bowl of this piping hot Thukpa can brighten anyone’s mellow evenings. Many people in the state also like to pair it with Momos, which is a popular and favourite food item in all of India’s North Eastern states.
8. Malai Makhan
Daulat ki Chaat or Malai Makhan, a sought-after sweet delicacy found in purani (ancient) Delhi lanes, is an iconic dish that melts in the mouth in an instant. The light sweet has a cloud-like consistency and is made by churning milk, cream, khoya, or mawa until it forms soft frothy peaks. This early morning treat is topped with dried fruits, sweetened mawa, and saffron.
9. Chi Al Meh
Most of us have had our fill of Thukpas, but this northern delicacy is a flavor-packed bomb that will keep all winter cold at bay. This delightful broth stew is a traditional Manipuri cuisine cooked with veggies like onions, capsicum, mushrooms, spinach, and a lot of ginger, chillies, and other ingredients. Chi Al Meh is typically eaten as a nutritious dish on its own, but it can also be coupled with noodles.
Zan of Arunachal Pradesh is a famous porridge recipe in Arunachal Pradesh. It is simple to prepare and tasty to eat. This tasty spicy porridge provides a flavour roller coaster and is ideal for cold winter days. While enjoying the warmth of Zan this winter, one can be assured of good taste and nourishment.
The chikki is one such delectable winter delicacy. This delicious and crunchy brittle made with jaggery, almonds, and ghee is popular throughout the country! In India, the chikki is known by a variety of names, including ‘layiya patti’ in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, ‘layee or lai’ in Sindh, and ‘palli patti’ in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This winter food is so popular that you can easily get a variation of chikkis in every other neighbourhood store.
Raab is a warm drink made mostly of bajra, jaggery, ajwain, ginger powder, and other components that give immediate relief from cold symptoms. Raab’s consistency is similar to Sheera, a Northern state native cold cure composed with besan, ghee, milk, and jaggery. Bajra, sometimes known as the “poor man’s mainstay,” is a nutrient-dense food with several health advantages. It is a starchy grain high in fibre that provides your body with much-needed energy. Bajra is an essential grain for heart patients because it contains niacin, which may effectively decrease harmful cholesterol levels in the body.
Panjiri is a winter delicacy. It is a thick, succulent ladoo-like sweet that is one of the most soothing dishes that might help us get through the next cold days. Whole wheat flour (atta), clarified butter (ghee), dried fruits, makhana, and edible gum are used to make it (gond). This grainy sweet packs a nutritional punch and is claimed to boost immunity to guard against common diseases like colds and coughs throughout the winter months.
14. Beetroot Thoran
Beetroot Thoran is a quick and simple stir-fry of ruby-red beets and shredded coconut seasoned with mild Indian spices and finished with a squeeze of fresh lime. It’s a vegan and gluten-free South Indian side dish that showcases the sweet and earthy tastes of beets. A short sauté in olive oil with shredded coconut, dark mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, and cayenne pepper, then finished with fresh lime juice. It just takes 10 minutes to prepare the beets and another 10 minutes to cook them for a 20-minute side dish with tonnes of flavour!
15. Chholia Pulav
Fresh green peas are plentiful during the New Year basant. Green chickpeas, also known as chholia or hare chaney, are a desi favourite that can be found in vegetarian and meat curries, as well as a variety of traditional dishes such as chholia pulav (spiced vegetable rice dish containing cooked chholia). When combined with plain rice, it creates a refreshing twist on classic pulao. It’s a basic dish that’s great for quick preparation, especially when you’re looking for light dinners.
16. Shakarkandi Chaat
Shakarkandi chaat is a sweet and tangy street snack made of sweet potatoes (shakarkandi) seasoned with chaat masala, spices, and aromatics, and served with a variety of toppings. In Delhi, where the original shakarkandi chaat dish was developed, street food sellers sell it from their thelas (handcarts). Shakarkandi roasted over a charcoal fire has a seductive smokey flavour and scent. Shakarkandi chaat is not only a delicious snack, but it is also a favourite cuisine during fasting times for Hindu holidays such as Navratri, Mahashivratri, and Ekdashi. It is eaten on upwas or vrat (fasting) days because it is full, healthy, and delicious.
17. Methi and Palak Pakoras
One of the best parts of winter weekends is waking up to a sliver of sunlight but a plate full of pakoras and a hot cup of tea. Because methi and palak are traditional winter vegetables, they can be used in a variety of vegetable combinations during the winter. However, lazing around in warm blankets with a plate full of methi and palak pakoras is an indulgence everyone should go for!
18. Til Pitha
This Assamese dish, which is frequently served with tea as an afternoon snack, is not as simple to prepare as it appears. Cooking Til Pitha, or sesame pancakes, takes practice because it’s a delicate dish, but the burst of flavour provided by jaggery is worth every extra minute spent on the stove. It is traditionally prepared during the Magh Bihu celebrations in January.
19. Rogan Josh
Rogan josh is a fragrant lamb curry with Persian origins, however it is now more strongly linked with India’s Kashmir area. The dish has delicate beef and a rich, hot crimson sauce made with deseeded Kashmiri chilies. Lamb is usually cooked in a sauce composed of caramelised onions, garlic, yoghurt, ginger, and fragrant herbs and spices. The dish’s name is derived from two words: rogan, which means clarified butter or oil, and josh, which means passion or fire. Rogan josh is typically served with plain or spiced basmati rice and Indian flatbreads like naan on the side. Since the 1950s, when Indian cuisine was introduced to the country, the dish has also become popular in the United Kingdom.
20. Paya Shorba
Mutton Paya Soup, also known as Paya Shorba, is a wonderful soup prepared from lamb trotters. Lamb legs are regarded to be the greatest and most affordable source of calcium, protein, and minerals. The paya soup is a very healthy soup for children, both young and elderly. This transparent soup, created by boiling trotters and spices in a large amount of water, too has a history and is said to have travelled from several places and civilizations. Paya’s popularity grew as a result of the coastal Mappila people of Kerala, who enjoyed their mutton and Paya was a big hit with them. In fact, the current paya shorba or Attukal paya owes its creation to them.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone when it comes to winter cuisine. After all, eating nutritious home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients is always preferable to swallowing marketed tablets. Don’t pass up the opportunity to consume as many winter dishes as possible in order to avoid having to wait until the next season. Let’s hope you have a well-fed winter!