Friday, January 24, 2014

A Time For Eating

Delhi's grey damp days do not deter me from walking - the air is fresh and icy and the damp gets into every crevice it can find.  But at the end of long walks I come home and help myself to a little bit (or more!) of the wonderful food that winter brings.  Everything is so plentiful right now that I can't imagine that it will all be gone in just another month, when spring brings its own special things.

Right now we are eating carrots in all forms - deep red, sweet winter carrots in salads as we bask in the occasional sunshine (along with this we have white or red radishes, which are particularly mild at this time).  Carrots with peas, carrots with methi (fenugreek greens), carrot juice and delicious carrot halwa (which is never the same when made with regular orange carrots - in fact it is never really made at any other time of the year except in restaurants).  Black carrots, fermented to make a unique winter drink - kanji- which gets its zing from the fermentation and a heady flavour from the carrots to which rock salt and pounded mustard have been added.  It begins as a deep blue liquid and gradually turns deep pink as the acid builds up.  Beetroots, which are also plentiful now, are sometimes used when black carrots are not available.

Winter is always good for greens - an endless variety that can be stir fried (on their own or with potatoes or paneer), kneaded into a dough and used to make rotis.  They can also be made into pullaos with rice, added to lentils and more.  Spinach, fenugreek greens and others which have no English names that I know of.  The mustard greens are now losing their sweetness as they mature and flower; the seeds will later be crushed for oil.  We have the last of them this week, cooked thick and served with thin flat corn bread (makki ki roti), lots of chopped ginger and butter on the side.  A hearty meal.

Peas are especially sweet and tender and are thrown into almost any conceivable dish -  pullaos, curries, dry vegetables. stuffings for breads that are pan fried or deep fried.  My favourite is mattar paneer - peas and cubes of paneer (a kind of homemade lemony cheese) in a light curry.  They also go well with mushrooms, which are plentiful in the winter.

This is also the season for palm jaggery (an eastern Indian specialty) that is freshly tapped and concentrated by boiling the juices.  This imparts a distinct dark colour and delicious flavour to sweets.  I just like to scrape off a little bit and add it to homemade curd.  Apart from this, many other sweets are made, ostensibly to keep off the winter cold - piping hot halwas oozing with ghee (clarified butter) and nuts, thick milky concoctions with saffron, pista or almonds sprinkled in, sheets of peanuts or sesame seeds bound together with sugar or jaggery syrup - crisp and crackly or soft and flaky depending on the consistency.  And when one is tired of all the sweetness, there are always the savouries - roasted nuts, vegetables dipped in gram flour and fried, little salted and spiced snacks made with different kinds of flour and fried till they are crisp and samosas stuffed with potatoes and peas - to be consumed with hot milky tea and much gossip on the side!  Perfect for those dark winter evenings.
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