Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter Fare

Being in Delhi towards the end of winter is a rare treat for me.  The worst of the weather is over and one still has a few weeks of the wonderful winter vegetables that this season brings.  Though these begin by the end of November, they grow in flavour as the cold proceeds and are their tenderest and most flavourful by the middle of December.

Many can be eaten raw without any dressing or flavouring - the deep red, sweet carrots, the mild white radishes and their more fiery red counterparts, the tender, tiny green peas, baby spinach, spring onions...  Being winter, they're also welcome in soups - light broth flavoured by a handful of this and a sprinkling of that and hearty stews - different from the western ones due to the addition of the ubiquitous ginger-garlic and the warming spices - cloves, black cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorns.

Then there is the gamut of cooked vegetables and beans- dry, semi-dry or swimming in curry, we have the sweet carrots and peas, the delicate turnips, the pungent mustard and radish greens, the faintly bitter fenugreek, the fresh, green chickpeas (that we never find at any other time), the wholesome cauliflower and potato, the plump sweet potato and more, all eaten with hot phulkas or buttery rotis and dal.

And other little ways of using up every bit of the winter flavour - the pickles with their traditional combinations- lemon and jaggery, lemon and ginger, cauliflower, carrot and turnip in pungent mustard oil, the drinks - kanji - a delicious sour drink (perhaps the taste for this is acquired as most people unfamiliar with it can't understand why north Indians are so fond of it!) made of fermented black carrots.

And winter, of course, is incomplete without the sweets - with ghee and dried fruit added to taste, the halwas that melt in the mouth made of ground dal or semolina or the tastiest in my opinion - the sweet, red carrots grated to just the right size and slowly cooked in creamy, sweetened milk on low heat for hours.  I feel blissful just thinking about it.

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