HEALTH FOOD SPECIAL Heartwarming winter treats
Celebrate the nip in the air with winter specials such as dudh na puff and ponkh makaikichu
A coastal city is not supposed to be big on winter food. But Mumbai, sort of, bucks the trend, thanks to its cosmopolitanism that brims with food memories from distant lands and harsher climes. And, we are not just talking of til ladoos, or sarson daa saag. If you know where to look, you'll find eateries that cook certain dishes only during this time of the year.It's a short window, yes, but we'd recommend you make the most of it.
“In regions where the winter chill is pronounced, the menu used to be altered to accommodate seasonal produce in the old days. Back then, some vegetables would only be available in that season. Gajar ka halwa, for instance, was a winter preparation, because you'd get the sweetest carrots at that time of year. But now these are available all year round, and so is the dish. In Lucknow, however, you get a delicious, black gajar halwa (prepared from black carrots) around this time of year.Winter cuisine also includes dishes that warm the body -I'm not sure if the ingredients actually achieve this but, at least, they seem to work psychologically,“ says food writer Kunal Vijaykar.
He offers the example of nolen gurer, which translates as “new jaggery“ in Bengali. “It's a dark jaggery that's only available in winter.“ The jaggery is made from the sap of the date palm, and at stores like Sweet Bengal, you can find nolen gurer variants of sondesh (Rs 26 per piece), kanchagolla (Rs 26 per piece) and rosogolla (Rs 22 per piece).Bhojohori Manna, in Oshiwara, serves a mean nolen gurer ice cream (Rs 130), a modern interpretation of the jaggery that turns the winter tradition on its head. “In Bengal, winter was also the time when cauliflower (phulkopi) was available, so phulkopi singara (cauliflower samosa) would be prepared as would various cauliflower sabzis,“ says food blogger, Kalyan Karmakar. Try Bhojohori Manna's alu phulkopi koraishutir torkari (a delicious curry of potatoes, cauliflower and green peas, priced at Rs 120).
Healing and heating
Closer home, there is vasanu, a Parsi winter speciality. Prepared with as many as 30 ingredients, this is a sweet-spicy fudge that, “is the Parsi equivalent of Chyawanprash,“ says Karmakar.This restorative winter special is available for a limited time at stores such RTI, on Pedder Road, and the Parsi Amelioration Committee's stall opposite Bhatia hospital. Even harder to find is another Parsi winter treat: dudh na puff. “It's like eating sweet, milky air,“ says Vijaykar.
“When I was a child, a dhoti and pyjama-clad vendor would walk down the street, advertising dudh-na-puff with loud cries. It used to be sold in glasses.Traditionally, the milk would be churned, and then the muslincovered pot would be hung up on trees, or kept on the terrace. The belief was that the milk had to be exposed to the night dew in order to froth properly.“
Several Parsi home-based chefs prepare dudh na puff, but Vijaykar recommends sampling the dish (Rs 65) at Parsi Da Dhaba, at Talasari, on the MumbaiAhmedabad Highway. “They have a room that's kept at a certain temperature specifically in order to make this, so the taste is always consistent.“ The dish, says Vijaykar, is somewhat similar to Lucknow's makhan malai. “In Lucknow, however, it's set in a tray.“
This is no coincidence. Winter recipes were, after all, devised expressly because of the unique produce the weather yields, the way the climate affects certain ingredients, or the way certain ingredients affect human physiology. “The ayurvedic school of thought suggests that bajra should be enjoyed in summer as it has a cooling effect, while jowar should be consumed in winter as it warms you up,“ says nutritionist Khushboo Thadani. Our ancestors, Thadani feels, were on to something with these recipes.“Immunity levels dip in winter, so illnesses are common. Many of these ingredients help combat this. Chilli peppers may add a spicy kick to the dish, but they also contain high levels of capsaicin, a natural antioxidant which aids in pain relief, blood circula tion (which afflicts the elder ly the most in winter), and also protects against diseases caused by toxins. Nuts contain monounsaturated fatty acids, which naturally detox the body and boost immunity. And, garlic works like a natural antibiotic because of its natural healing powers.“
Delicious comfort food
“A Gujarati winter staple is undhiyu. One of its core ingredients is green garlic. This is also used to prepare lasan nu vegharla rotlu, a Kathiawari dish,“ says Karmakar. The rotlu is a kind of unleavened bread prepared with millet flour, onions and green garlic. “Kathiawar is arid,“ says Karmakar, “so you won't find many vegetables in Kathiawari cuisine. Instead, there are a lot of flour-based recipes, and there's an emphasis on using ingredients like green garlic which add flavor. It's the same with Rajasthani food.“ Stop by Adarsh Annapoorna, Kalbadevi to sample dal-baati churma (Rs 170), an energising Rajasthani winter favourite. The dal is prepared with a variety of lentils, and is served with deepfried flour balls and churma (crumbled baked flour-cakes). Lasan nu vegharla rotlu features on the winter specials menu at Soam (Rs 200). It's listed here with an array of dishes prepared with ponkh, another name for tender jowar (sorghum) seeds or white millets, a Gujarati winter grain. Try the ponkh bhel (Rs 250), ponkh makaikichu (a sort of kichdi made by cooking the grain with grated corn; priced at Rs 220), or the ponkh bhajiya (Rs 200), a recipe in which the grain is inventively used to make the quintessential comfort food.