One privilege of changing seasons has to be the food choices on offer. While salads, juicy fruits and cool drinks dominate our summers, the monsoon brings along cravings for hot bhajiyas and steaming cups of chai. And winters? Well, that’s the season for indulging the taste buds like no other time with the freshest of vegetables, fragrant spices and comfort food to warm the soul.
For Rajdeep Kapoor, executive chef at the ITC Maratha, winter is his favourite time of the year as it allows him to gorge on some super comforting fare. Carrots, methi, spinach, cauliflower and yams are only some of the vegetables that are at their tastiest best during this season. “There’s so much to choose from. While sarson ka saag is an all-time favourite, there are other dishes like nalli nihari, pepper rasam, shorba and desserts like hot gajar halwa,” says Kapoor.
Winter, however, also brings along its share of ailments. “Aside from the common cold, one thing to strike during winters is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This makes one lazy, moody and causes a considerable increase in appetite,” says Sudev Sharma, executive chef at The Gateway Hotel, Surat. Sharma has a list of recommendations to beat the syndrome.
“Vegetables like turnips contain antioxidants that reduce the effect of SAD. So is having grains like millet, bajra and jowar,” he says. He stresses on the importance of spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric and cloves, all of which contain antimicrobial properties that help increase blood circulation and build immunity.”
Many turn their noses up at turnips but Kapoor offers a twist. “Shalgam gosht is a delicious dish.
Having mutton during this season is a good idea since it generates heat in the body,” he says, adding to his list dishes like baoli handi (mutton with veggies like cauliflower and carrots) and fish cooked with mustard leaves.
Maria Gonsalves, who blogs on Flavours Of Mumbai, says that the chilly weather makes her crave hot curries. “Apart from my favourite dal makhani with a dollop of butter, I make fish curries, stews and a steaming chicken curry with coconut milk.”
There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians too.
According to Sharma, a must-have for vegetarians in winter is the undhiyu, a Gujarati cuisine staple. “Not only is it very nutritious, but very tasty too. It’s made with a special kind of seasonal papdi (beans) and other veggies like yams, potatoes, brinjals, lentils and spices.”
Undhiyu can be had with fluffy puris and fresh cream. Sharma also recommends Tapeli nu shaak, a Gujarati dish prepared with chana dal, onions and potatoes and steamed methi muthiyas.
Undhiyu has a non-vegetarian variant — aradhiyu — cooked with the same ingredients, adding boiled eggs and chicken to the dish. Sharma adds that Gujarat has a significant meat eating population, especially the kshatriyas, who eat a lot of mutton.
Sharma recommends another vegetarian must-have — the ponk — a type of millet available only in Gujarat between November and December. Ponk is lightly roasted with different kinds of sev on a charcoal tava and eaten as a snack. Another way is to have ponk vadas with mint chutney. Mansi Zaveri, founder of parenting blog Kids Stop Press, says that her two young daughters love ponk.
“We also make bajra and jowar rotis during this season and have them with green garlic. In fact, green garlic can also be added to sauté veggies to give a completely different and delicious flavour,” says Zaveri, adding that she prepares desserts like black til (sesame) chikkis and laddoos that are rich in iron. “One can really experiment with the vegetables available. You can have palak parathas, mooli ke patton (radish leaves) ki sabzi, and bajra rotis with grated carrot,” suggests Kapoor.
For dessert aficionados, Gonsalves recommends making the most of carrots by making not just gajar ka halwa but also carrot cake. “Since oranges are in season, you can also make jams and marmalades. Also, with Christmas around the corner, Bebinca, a Goan sweet, is another favourite,” she says.
While a lot of winter food is associated with some heavy-duty calorie intake, Kapoor’s advice is straightforward. “Eat your fill but work out. It’s as simple as that,” grins the chatty chef.