For me winter is a celebration of the beautiful and bountiful things that nature bestows on us in all forms. Be it the snow in the mountains or the seasonal bounties that make their appearance only at this time of year. Almost in all Indian homes, the season is celebrated by preparing special recipes using winter fruits or vegetables combined with the virtues of age-old spices and condiments. These are actually comfort foods that I like to call ‘power food’.
During winter, our metabolism speeds up to provide our body the extra energy it needs to keep itself warm. These biological changes make us inclined to eat more high-calorie food. There are so many nutritious yet tasty options we can choose from to actually curb our hunger pangs and provide solace to our sugar cravings. These foods not only provide nourishment but also keep our bodies warm in the cold weather. I am really thankful for the traditional knowledge and wisdom passed down to us in respect of the time-tested benefits and usefulness of these power foods.
Winters always brings back fond memories of my childhood days in Delhi. It was a ritual to bask in the sun out in the garden while peeling and chomping down on countless sand roasted peanuts … and, mind you, this was after stripping and gobbling down several fresh seasonal oranges.
Ah! How much we drooled over the gajar ka halwa made with the juicy red Delhi carrots and fresh khoya! The wide varieties of revadi and gajak and chikkis from MP and UP are sought- after munchies during these cold months and have become synonymous with winter.
Another culinary marvel is the daulat ki chaat more commonly known as makhan malai. It is a seasonal dish and is said to be added to the list of our Indian heritage foods by the Mughals, nawabs or the Afghans. It is prepared by churning milk and cream until it turns frothy and feather light. It is then embellished with dry fruits, khoya and saffron before serving and is truly unique in its creation, taste and appeal. It is honestly like eating freshly whipped cake icing!
The winters in the north can be harsh. Almost every Punjabi family will stash up on loads of panjiri or pinni to fight the vile cold. The goodness of the ingredients in panjiri, i.e., roasted whole wheat flour, combined with healthful ghee, dry fruits and edible gum help soothe sore and cold muscles, lubricate joints and reduce body aches apart from fuelling us up with ample energy and vigour. Talking of Punjab, the beloved sarson ka saag made with the seasonal green sarson (mustard) leaves is a popular winter dish and is full of wholesome nutrition. It goes perfectly with makki ki roti (corn flour rotis) and I would say is incomplete without a dollop of fresh white butter on top of both the saag and the roti.
Now to Kashmir. How can you miss the robust mutton dishes prepared with the richness of Kashmiri spices which warm you instantly? The piping hot paya shorba (mutton soup), rogan josh and gushtaba served alongside jeera rice or roti are extremely rich, heavy and ultimate for your appetite in the freezing winters!
And from our North -Eastern states, the aromatic and flavourful varieties of thupka (noodle soup with meat and seasonal veggies) are just perfect to keep you full, warm and cosy. Nolen gurer payesh is prepared in almost every home in Bengal in the winters. It is just divine for your sweet tooth. It is a simple rice pudding made with fresh date palm jaggery that is available only in winter. Even the traditional rasgullas, sandesh and rasmalai are prepared with the date palm jaggery during the winter months.
On similar lines is the Assamese til pitha. It’s a pancake filled and rolled with sesame seeds mixed with fresh winter jaggery and makes an interesting snack.
The western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan offer a variety of hearty dishes to fill up your taste palette. Undhiyu is a classic Gujrati dish filled with the goodness of healthy winter vegetables. The taste is just perfect to justify the hard work that goes into its preparation. Lapsi and its variants made with cracked wheat with generous amounts of ghee and dry fruits is a great dish to start your winter morning.
Raab is another immunity booster drink from the west. It is made with millet flour and sweetened milk thickened in right amounts and is best served cold. The til gul dinka laddoos (sesame seeds, jaggery and edible gum laddoos) from Maharashtra are a natural source of calcium and help in bone and immunity strengthening. They are nutritious balls to curb your sugar cravings so don’t feel guilty about gobbling down more than one at a time.
Even in our southern states where winter hardly shows up, people prepare traditional recipes using winter’s bounties that become available to them.
The famous nihari from the state of Andhra is basically a chicken, beef or mutton dish with a spicy gravy. It is cooked overnight to make the meat tender and soft. Enjoying it with hot pooris is a sinful indulgence on a crispy cold winter morning.
The carrot poriyal replaces the usual beans poriyal as the winter side dish. The beetroot thoran is another nutritious food item which goes well with rice meals. It is prepared just like carrot poriyal where the vegetable is stir-fried with coconut, green chillies and other traditional herbs thereby granting the dish a perfect blend of sweet and spice.
It is believed that when it’s cold, gloomy and dark outside, we tend to develop lower levels of happiness, and as a result we lean towards ‘comfort foods’ in the desire to cheer ourselves up. But now you know which comfort aka power foods to opt for in the chilling winter months. So, go ahead and seek pleasure in trying your hand at cooking some of these specialities or just slow down, relax and order these gourmet dishes from the comfort of your homes.
Remember “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home” – Edith Sitell.
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