India, with its rich diversity of produce and regional flavours, offers an endless variety of winter dishes. Seek these out for comfort in the cold
Words: RUSHINA MUNSHAW GHILDIYAL
Traditional Indian food dietetics have always recommended a diet rich in seasonal produce because it is believed that nature gives us the foods we need to stay healthy through the seasons. Which is why we have such a varied diet through the course of a year, featuring a variety of different foods, each with unique health benefits that are in tandem with the season. The cold intensifies the appetite, digestion is considered at its best in the winter, and produce is at its peak. No wonder, then, that winter is a season to savour in India!
In winter, the body needs the warmth and nourishment of energy-rich foods. There is an overall shift to richer foods, more meat-rich dishes and dairy-rich offerings that are considered warming and highly nutritious. Most of India switches to a winter diet of robust grains and cereals like jowar, bajra and makki (cornmeal), whole legumes like urad, rajma and masoor, and oilseeds like sesame and peanut. Winter is also the season of plenty, when greens and fresh produce abound and the Indian cereal-pulse diet is augmented with lush winter greens like amaranth, methi, spinach, dill leaves and sarson, as well as starch-rich vegetables like yam, radish, turnip and carrot.
All these are cooked with warming, medicinal winter herbs, and spices such as pepper, ginger and green garlic are used to temper and season, boosting the nutritional value of dishes not only to enhance overall metabolism but also to protect the body from various infections, colds and flu. And, of course, immunity-building, warming chutneys, pickles and side dishes add to the tempting array of offerings.
India, with its rich diversity of produce and regional flavours, offers an endless variety of winter dishes. The sanction to consume foods otherwise considered ‘hot’ or ‘heaty’ is an added incentive to indulge ourselves. Here is a list of some winter dishes you must try this season from different states around India:
1. KADAMBA KOOTU (FROM TAMIL NADU)
A celebrated form of the ubiquitous sambar that comes in hundreds of avatars in South India, kadamba kootu is always made during the Pongal festival and stays on menus through the winter season. It is a power-packed dish. Featuring over 11 seasonal vegetables in a tasty base of mixed lentils like chickpeas, chana dal and Bengal gram, this kootu is served as a wholesome meal with steamed rice and a dollop of ghee. High in fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, kadamba kootu with rice is comfort in the real sense.
2. BAJRA KHICHDI (FROM RAJASTHAN & HARYANA)
Bajra khichdi is a warming, one-pot winter meal made from coarsely-ground bajra (pearl millet) and moong dal (instead of the usual rice that is used in khichdi), flavoured with asafoetida, turmeric and ghee, and tempered with cumin. This quickly-made, robust dish offers a hearty, high-energy, nutrition-rich meal that is both comforting and satiating on cold days. Often served with a yoghurt-based kadhi and a dollop of ghee, it paves the way for some beautiful winter afternoon naps.
3. RAGI MANNI (FROM MANGALORE, KARNATAKA)
Ragi manni is a quick and easy recipe made widely as a winter staple dish in Mangalore and the surrounding areas. Ragi, or finger millet flour, is cooked with jaggery, coconut milk, ghee and cardamom into a rich, thick, jelly-like porridge that is set into a cake. Full of healthy doses of calcium and iron, it makes an earthy, filling, immunity- building dish for cold days.
4. TIL KA GAJAK (IN NORTH INDIA)
Important to many harvest and winter festivals in India, sesame is an ancient food that is valued across the country for its warming qualities. It is cooked with jaggery into crunchy treats like til ka gajak, laddoos, and chikki all over India during the winter. The combination of sesame and jaggery is one that is widely enjoyed and valued for its health-giving properties; rich in protein, iron and calcium, it helps balance the temperature of the body and shield it from infections. As you travel through India, you will find several versions of til ka gajak, but the most famous comes from North India, in which whole or crushed sesame is cooked with jaggery or sugar and set into sheets. When hard, it is cut into thin slabs, strips or cubes that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.