We catch up with some of the biggest culinary names in India on their favourite winter delicacies.
Cold weather may be on its last legs across most parts of the country but there are better ways to relish the season than piling on woollens even as the mercury climbs. Such as with food that used to be popularly consumed during the colder months. Although, these days, all kinds of produce is available through the year, with the conversation about sustainability gathering momentum, seasonal foods have made a comeback on plates across the world. And it is for this reason that culinary masters have not only gone back to their roots to explore traditional seasonal foods but are also digging into local favourites from across the country.
Who better than experts at the top of their game to share insights into what they love to gorge on through winter, the memories attached to some of their favourite winter food and new, unique dishes they would want to put on menus.
Chef Akshraj Jodha, Executive Chef, ITC Windsor
Having grown up in Rajasthan, Chef Jodha remembers the extreme cold in the region. “Laddoos are commonly eaten to keep warm and there’s a wide variety available here. Maans makka soyeta which is corn cooked in mutton is another regional favourite for the season. And then there’s raab, a lesser-known winter drink made of buttermilk and corn or millets.” Of course, given the diversity of India’s culinary landscape, he is fascinated by winter food from some other parts of the country, such as kootu from Tamil Nadu (a stew made with a variety of dals and vegetables) and nolen gurer sandesh from Bengal (a sweet made with date palm jaggery).
Recommends: Sweet potato chaat
Chef Kedar Bobde, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Mumbai
Chef Bobde’s winter experience has been a moderate one, as is expected in Mumbai’s climes. But his native town of Nagpur made sure he got his fair share of cold weather goodies. “Traditionally, winters were the ideal time to eat high-fat food. One of my favourite winter food is the gulachi poli, a paratha stuffed with jaggery and slow cooked in desi ghee. Other offerings such as masalayachi vaangi (sesame and peanut with jowar or bajra roti), watanyachi usal (green peas curry) and gajjrache lonche (carrot pickle), are today popular through the year.” Despite his fondness for traditional recipes, he hasn’t shied away from experimenting with some unusual offerings. “The muga (silkworm) is popular in Assam. Locals preserve the cocoons of these ‘high-protein snacks’ from silk season to eat later.” Ladakhi cuisine such as skyu (a stew made with wheat balls, root and sundried veggies), chutagi (bread cooked with vegetables) and churpi (Yak cheese), is another intriguing discovery for Chef Bobde.
Recommends: Undhiyu (vegetable medley from Gujarat)
Chef Uchit Vohra, Executive Chef, ITC Gardenia
For Chef Uchit, winter brings back memories of his grandmother’s home in Meerut and gorging on gajak/rewdi (a confection made with sesame seeds/peanuts and jaggery) and laal gajar ka halwa (carrot pudding). Given his love for adventure, the chef wants to explore northeast Indian cuisine. “The ingredients in this region are very interesting with dried fish and fermented pork fat used for many dishes. My personal favourite is the fermented fish.” A Kashmiri dish, shalgam gosht (slow-cooked lamb curry with turnips), is something he would love to add to the winter menu. “Turnips are one of the few vegetables available in Kashmir in the winter. This recipe involves slow cooking to imbibe the unique flavours of local spices.”
Recommends: Pinni (a dessert made with ghee, wheat flour, jaggery and dry fruits)
Chef Megh Singh, Head Chef, Suryagarh Jaisalmer
“Finding my grandmother’s secret stash of methi laddoo is a priceless winter memory,” says the chef. While laddoos of all kinds have been a favourite, he also has a special regard for dishes such as kacchi haldi matar (fresh turmeric curry with peas) and mogri ki sabzi (radish pod curry). When digging into the local culture, he discovered an interesting practice. “Locusts are a menace for the farming communities of Rajasthan. In the summer, during sowing and harvesting seasons, these are caught and dried. Known locally as tiddi, the locusts are then eaten in winter when vegetables are scarce. I had the fortune of trying tiddi biryani, although given the fact that irrigation has progressed and winters are hardly as dry, this is a dying tradition.”
Recommends: Methi paratha with maans ka achaar (fenugreek stuffed flatbread with meat pickle)
Chef Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director, Marriott International
Chef Himanshu Taneja spent his childhood in Dehradun, where three decades ago, winters were harsh and spent largely tucked away underneath warm blankets. “My early winter food memories revolve around my mother cooking makki ki roti stuffed with mooli (cornbread stuffed with radish). She would knead the dough with salt, coriander seeds, green chillies and cumin and used no water. Instead, she would leave the dough aside for half an hour and the water secreted due to osmosis was used to kneading it. She would then make dough balls, stuff them with mooli (radish) and roast them.” The roti was served not with the traditional sarson ka saag, but with palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) and white butter.
Recommends: Besan ka Sheera (a drink made with ghee, gram flour, sugar and spices)