Cold comfort: India’s most sought-after winter dishes

collage- FOOD- 759 Here’s a look at some winter dishes from across India that are tied up in nostalgia in our collective memories.

Close your eyes and think of til-gud. Prepared in a variety of ways — as revris by north Indians and as chikki by Maharashtrians and Gujaratis — it evokes memories of diffused winter sunlight on cold mornings. For as long as one can remember, winter meant fresh produce and good food. Here’s a look at some winter dishes from across India that are tied up in nostalgia in our collective memories:

Doodh Na Puff, Parsi
Of the many dishes that are available in Udvada, a quaint Parsi coastal town in Gujarat, Perzen Patel is fondest of doodh na puff. “Sweet and creamy, it’s milk froth served in a glass. It reminds me of my childhood days,” says the founder of the Parsi catering service, Bawi Bride Kitchen. Patel says back in the day, before the refrigerator came to India, the buffalo milk — for its high fat content — would be boiled and stored in an earthen pot and hung from a tree overnight to cool. The churned cream of boiled, sweetened and chilled buffalo milk used to be a winter speciality, but is now available round the year in Parsi colonies in Mumbai and Gujarat.

Pork with Lai xaak, Assam
One of Gitika Saikia’s fondest memories of home revolves around the big Bihu feast every winter. “The entire extended family comes together, the women cook and everyone eats together,” says Saikia, an Assamese who lives in Mumbai, where she organises pop-up meals in tribal and rural Assamese cuisine. The celebration, however, would be incomplete without pork with lai xaak. “This dish, made with pork and broad mustard greens, is a winter staple that is prepared in abundance in a large cauldron over woodfire, ahead of the feast,” says Saikia.

Pinni, Delhi, Punjab, Up
The power food of north India, pinni can be had as a dessert, as a snack between meals, but a true blue Punjabi would warm it up and have it early in the morning, followed by a glass of warm milk. “It looks deceptively like a laddoo but pinni is a source of instant nutrition,” says Bella Ahuja, a teacher, who grew up in Chandigarh, downing pinnis for breakfast as a child. But it was during childbirth that she understood what sets it apart. “Made with dry fruits, roasted wheat flour, gram flour, ground sugar, cardamom and mawa, all doused in a good dose of ghee, it came to my aid when I was weak after my delivery,” says Ahuja.

Undhiyu, Gujarat
It’s a winter staple in every Gujarati household but for Pramit Mehta, undhiyu isn’t a standalone dish. “Til-gud-peanut chikki, ber and undhiyu, all in one platter and had between or while flying kites on Sankrant day is how I remember the dish,” says Mehta, a Mumbaikar who grew up in Ahmedabad. Prepared using winter vegetables, including purple yam, raw bananas, flat beans, fresh peas, fenugreek, sweet potatoes and green garlic among others, in plentiful ghee, undhiyu is a sweet-spicy dish, best had with puris or phulkas. What makes it special is the effort that goes into the preparation. In most cases, it is an occasion for the family to sit together, cleaning, shelling or chopping the vegetables before the cooking begins.

Sattu Paratha, Jharkhand, Bihar
Perhaps, the most underrated among parathas, sattu paratha — with a stuffing of sattu (roasted and ground desi chana and a few other grains), green chillies, chopped onions, coriander and masala — pack in a punch of flavours nonetheless. “From farmers to office-goers, people across classes relish them. A rich source of protein, it can also be made into a litti or a laddoo or a sherbet in summer,” says Manob Chowdhury, a resident of Ranchi.

Til Ki Chutney, Uttarakhand
A Mumbai resident, home chef Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, who runs APB Cook Studio, says, “The Garhwal and Kumaon regions have a different winter menu and the cuisine changes dramatically.” While meat features mostly during festivities, the pantry sees a proliferation of pulses such as gahat (a variety of urad) and bhatt (a black bean). But comfort food, she says, is til ki chutney. Dry roasted on a tawa and then ground on the silbatta with green chillies, salt and lemon, it is often accompanied with grated mooli and had “as a side with daal-bhaat topped with warm ghee.”

Koraishutir Kochuri, West Bengal
If you were raised in a Bengali household, chances are that you have some koraishutir kochuri memory. For, this winter specialty is not one of those dishes that travel straight from the kitchen to the dining table. Koraishutir kochuri is about soaking in the winter sun while shelling peas for the stuffing, with your dida (maternal grandmother) telling you about her childhood in Bangladesh. Come winter, Bengalis swear by this kachori with a spiced sweet pea stuffing. They dip it in chholar daal, have it with alur dom and the whimsical drizzle some nolen gur (palm jaggery) on it. Lila Majumdar and Kamala Chattopadhyay’s iconic cook book, Rannar Boi, mentions that this is one dish that unites the ever warring Bangals (people from the eastern part of undivided Bengal) and Ghotis (those from West Bengal).

Duck in Coconut Curry, Kerala
Each time she would prepare duck with potatoes in coconut curry, Thomas Zacharias, chef at The Bombay Canteen, remembers, his grandmother would tell him that eating the fowl in winter made the most sense because they were the fattest then. Growing up in Kochi, it was one of his favourite dishes and a Christmas staple.

Southern India doesn’t witness a winter as such. What changes, then, is the quality of the produce and more meat on the menu. Prepared with fresh coconut, the duck curry, says Zacharias, didn’t need much preparation time but a lot of care went into ensuring it didn’t overcook. “Served with puttu, steamed cylinders of ground rice stuffed with coconut, it makes for a wholesome breakfast. Else, it is had with rice for lunch or dinner,” he says.

With inputs from Premankur Biswas.

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