Five Punjabi celebrity chefs open their hearts and welcome us into their memories…one of who’s now part of the vibrant community by virtue of marriage!
Lohri is the most notable harvest festival of Punjab. It’s a grand celebration in most Punjabi homes. Observed on the night before Makar Sankranti with a huge bonfire, it marks the end of winter. Prayers for prosperity are offered. It is a festival that brings love and laughter among families and friends. We got some leading chefs to recount their favourite Lohri foods and memories.
Chef Ranveer Brar
Chef & Television Host
Our festivals are a brilliant way of getting people to eat seasonal and local, two concepts I always talk about. Lohri and Sankranti are classic examples. It’s the transition of seasons and a great reason for families and the neighbourhood to gather around a fire, as it’s believed that the offerings into the fire will be carried to the Sun God. It goes without saying that Til-chikki, Gajjak and Rewri are my typical Lohri favourites.
When I was a kid, our family farmhouse would be filled with the aroma of warm jaggery and roasted sesame and peanuts. Indeed, the kitchen would be the kids’ favourite hangout. We would be pretty impatient for Biji (‘mother’ in Punjabi) to finish making the treats. Scientifically speaking, sesame & jaggery have ‘garam taseer’, i.e., they provide the body warmth and are super rich in iron too. These along with peanuts are great for the winter and help boost immunity during the change of season.
Favourite Lohri memory as a kid: I loved to dance to the dhol beats and tried to sing along. I’d get especially excited when the Sundar Mundariye song came on. The only word I knew in that song was “Hoye”. I’d make sure to shout it out with as much enthusiasm as I could muster!
Chef Chiquita Gulati
Founder, Paschion Restaurants
Born a Gujarati, brought up in Mumbai and married to a Punjabi in Delhi, Lohri to me means many things. All my childhood years we celebrated Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, flying kites and feasting on Dal Vada; Kand ni puri—a batter-fried pakora-like puri made with purple yam and coarse black pepper; Undhiyu—a mixed pot of the freshest seasonal greens; and Ponk—the seasonal harvest of fresh jowar, brought straight from the farms, a delicacy only available for about a month, which is eaten with Shakariya—sugar, makhana and spicy pepper sev.
In the evening we would traditionally cook the ‘saat dhan no khichdo’, or seven dal and rice combination cooked in an open pot. It’s very auspicious to let it overflow as it signifies abundance. Our Maharashtrian neighbours would send us Puran poli—stuffed sweet rotis made with jaggery and chana dal. Ladoos made with sesame seeds and jaggery would be exchanged with the customary phrase “Til gul ghya aani god god bola”, which means “Eat sweets and exchange sweet words”.
In my house in Delhi, Lohri means lighting the customary fire around which we do a puja using peanuts, phuliyan and gajak. My mom-in-law usually makes Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Ki Roti and we round off the evening with some Gud Ki Patti and roasted peanuts. I make a Gud Ki Roti topped with desi ghee and lots of nuts for my kids. One festival and so many memories and traditions woven around it—true bliss!
Chef Sunil Ghai
Chef-owner, Pickle, Dublin
Beginning with Lohri, the days gets longer. The festival is related to harvest and farming. Back in the days we brought along wood blocks to create a big bonfire and dance to loud music on the beats of Bollywood, Punjabi bhangra and gidda. Early morning on Lohri day, my sister and I used to dress up to visit our close family friends and ask for our Lohri (gifts in kind or cash), a fun ritual in Punjabi culture. Apart from money we often received peanuts, sweets, gajak, and sesame ladoos.
Now, living in Ireland, I can relate to Lohri with Halloween here. You visit people at their homes and request for a treat. We lived in a big joint family, dinner was a big feast comprising of Sarson Ka Saag, Makki Ki Roti, Til Ke Ladoo, fresh radish, and fresh green chickpeas (choliye). My late father used to make Dahi Bhalle and Choori (crumble of Makki Ki Roti, ghee and jaggery) with left-over Makki Ki Roti for next day’s breakfast.
Chef Manjit Gill
Senior Independent Chef
I have Lohri memories of family members eating and throwing special and seasonal delicacies such as white sesame seeds, gajak, popcorn, peanuts and rewari into the bonfire. I loved the rewari and gajak made with jaggery and still do. I remember lightly charring fresh Bengal gram (hara chholiya) and enjoying the fruit from the pod and throwing the rest in the fire. My mother was always very particular about celebrating Lohri together, as a family, to offer gratitude and take blessings from Mother Earth for fertility, prosperity, and to bring positivity.
I miss how we friends gathered together and sang Lohri folk songs and tales and went around the neighbourhood, collecting token gifts. I wonder why I don’t see any children doing this these days. After offerings to the fire, chanting prayers, and singing folk songs, it used to be a special vegetarian dinner at home with dishes such as Mhaan Sabat (black lentils), Ghutwan Shalgam, Aloo Methi, Gajar Matar along with Guchhi Pulao and Ruh Kheer (rice and sugarcane juice). The kheer, cooked with rice and fresh juice of sugarcane on low heat, is delicious, with the crunch of copra (dried coconut) and a gentle fragrance of fennel.
Chef Rohit Ghai
Chef Patron, Manthan & Kutir, London
Lohri night is traditionally the longest night of the year, known as the winter solstice, and also indicates the end of the winter season. The most important part of any Lohri celebration for me is the bonfire, gathering around with friends and family and offering prayers for prosperity. Peanuts, popcorn, jaggery, etc are tossed into the fire as offerings! As kids we loved peanut, rewari and popcorn and after the puja would look forward to the Sarson Ka Saag with Makke Ki Roti and home-churned white butter and Gur Ki Gajar and Gur with Ghee that my mother made. I miss this a lot but still celebrate in whatever way we can at home here in London.