Let’s begin by establishing that I’m not a fan of the winter season but, like many, I am a fan of eating desi during this time of the year.
Hence my planned trip to the East Coast of the US last weekend meant braving some uncomfortable weather, but nothing that a heavy parka and goosedown jacket couldn’t handle, I assumed. Grudgingly, I surrendered to a family get-together in the midst of the cold. Mind you, I was most excited about meeting the family and celebrating the birth of my niece, but the ‘brrrr’ part of it was keeping me up in the night.
And the polar vortex arrived just the very day I was to make a landing! Yes, the reality and application of Murphy’s Law has not escaped me to my utmost chagrin and panic. But my siblings kept reminding me, “We’ll do gup shup around hot desi food, and it’ll remind you of our childhood winter visits to Punjab with extended family, food, laughter, cold and a whole lot of catching up.”
I arrived in NYC ready to visit the Pakistani snow leopard at the Brooklyn zoo, brave the arctic blast, dress up in extreme winter attire (not compromising style), and eat some desi food, all in the company of my siblings.
When the weather is that cold, the best kind of comfort food is a piping hot paratha roll, not to say the delicious sarson ka saag and makai ki roti. Yes!
Stuffed with grilled spicy kebab, imli ki chutney, julienne sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes and green chillies, with a side of mint coriander chutney, it seemed life was perfect; and if it wasn’t in that moment, it was made so with the arrival of hot crispy aaloo samosas and Earl Grey chai (I prefer it to doodh patti), and I made the connection that winter eating is all about comfort food.
It’s important to note that a lot of winter-time eating is associated with cultural eating; we crave the cuisine and ingredients our genes evolved with, and nourished on — hence the parathas, samosas, sarson, nihari, paaye and halwas. Cool weather ushers in food cravings, and with it come opportunities to overindulge, especially as, because of the cold, outdoor activities are limited and we tend to prefer to stay in and eat.
Hence my craving for walnut halwa, chanay ki daal ka halwa and gajar ka halwa, not to mention the entire menu and cuisine that was a part of my childhood eating indulgences. Here, I revisit a few comfort food recipes from the winter of yesterday that are very relevant today.
GAJAR KA HALWA
(Serves 10 to 12)
1 kg carrots (orange)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 litres of milk
1/4 litre half-and-half
5 ounces heavy whipping cream
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 to 3 tbsp butter (unsalted)
¼ cup oil
8 to 10 cardamoms
1 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp blanched and chopped almonds
Lightly peel and grate the carrots and set aside. Bring the milk to boil and add the carrots, let it come to a boil and then add half-and-half and sugar, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture comes to a boil, reducing heat to medium. Once the milk evaporates (should take one-and-a-half to two hours), add heavy cream, stirring constantly. Once the cream evaporates, add butter, oil and cardamoms, stirring constantly, keeping the flame medium to high. Keep stirring until oil separates, and the colour is a rich, deep orange. Garnish with raisins and almonds and serve.
CHANAY KI DAAL KA HALWA
2 cups chanay ki daal
Sugar to taste
15 green cardamoms
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
¼ cup pistachios
Soak daal six to eight hours. Drain and grind in a food processor until fine. Pour the ground daal into a heavy based pan, adding milk, stirring periodically so that lumps are not formed. Once the milk starts evaporating, add oil, cardamom and sugar to taste. Now begins the heavy stirring, keep stirring and adding oil until the consistency is right. As you keep stirring the colour of the halwa starts changing to a golden brown. Do not lose heart, keep stirring, adding oil if required. Keep stirring until oil separates, and the colour is a rich beautiful golden. Garnish with nuts, and serve.
SARSON KA SAAG
(serves 8 to 10)
2 kg mustard greens (chopped with stem)
1 kg spinach
1 kg pigweed or amaranth (if available)
½ cup water
1 tsp brown sugar or 1 tsp jaggery (secret ingredient)
5 to 7 serrano peppers
Salt to taste
1-inch piece of ginger
2 tbsp cornflour dissolved in ¼ cup water
2 large sliced onions and 1 tsp chopped garlic fried in ¼ cup oil for garnish
Dollop of butter per serving, if desired
Pour half cup water and mustard greens in a large pot. Cover and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, add spinach, salt, sugar, peppers, ginger and pigweed (if available) and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Put in blender to roughly blend, add dissolved cornflour and cook for a few minutes. Garnish and serve.
MAKAI KI ROTI
(makes 12 to 14)
4 cups corn flour
2 ½ to 3 cups warm water
4 tbsp chopped coriander (optional)
2 finely chopped serrano peppers (optional)
Salt, if desired
Oil, as needed
Add warm water to flour, to knead the dough, adding coriander and pepper. Make round portions and flatten to roti on parchment paper. Heat pan with a teaspoon of oil and transfer the roti with parchment paper, remove paper and flip the roti. Cook for two to three minutes on each side until golden, serve hot with a dollop of butter.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, February 10th, 2019