Soups, halwas and rasams… Indian cuisine serves up a wonderful spread of warm options for surviving the cold and wet months

This time of the year has become synonymous with torrential rainfall in much of southern India, with a greater frequency of cyclonic weather patterns, thanks to climate change. Feeling hungry while cooped up and trying to be part of an invisible army of work-from-home soldiers? Try these traditional recipes that are tasty and nutritious (when taken in moderation) and will keep you warm enough to face the wet months.

“The winter diet of our Bohra Muslim community includes dishes to keep everyone immune from colds and fevers,” says Alifiya Husein, a former catering industry professional and avid home chef based in Chennai. “We have bhajiya (fritters) using seasonal vegetables along with small malpua pancakes made with a semolina-flour batter. The cuisine of our migrant community has evolved to integrate local ingredients wherever possible.”

Husein says the hearty breakfast dish kheema lasanyo, that has layers of chopped sprouted garlic and minced mutton topped with fried egg, is typically prepared only during winter. Besides the rich stuff, there are some simpler preparations too, such as stew-type mutton white khurdi (see recipe), served with warm khichdi.

Long before fruits and vegetables began to be available through the year rather than according to their natural farming cycle, the subcontinent already had a set of weather-specific dishes.

Mutton White Khurdi

  • Ingredients
  • Mutton pieces 1 kg
  • Ginger-garlic paste 1 tbsp
  • Water as needed
  • Ghee – 2 tbsp
  • Black peppercorns – 4
  • Cloves – 3-4
  • Cinnamon stick – 1 small
  • Bay Leaf – 3
  • Cumin seed – 1 tsp
  • Onions – 2 medium chopped
  • Wheat flour (Atta) – 2 tbsp
  • Mint leaves – 1 bunch
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Green chillies – 3-4, slit (or to taste)
  • Milk – ½ cup
  • Method
  • Wash mutton, and coat it with ginger-garlic paste. Add water (as per desired serving size), and cook it in a pressure cooker until done.
  • In another heavy-bottomed pan, sauté cumin seed, peppercorns, green chillies with sliced onions until lightly browned. Dissolve the wheat flour in a little bit of water, and add to the mix. Pour in the cooked mutton, milk and salt and bring to a boil, while stirring the soup constantly. To finish, add lime juice and mint leaves and simmer. Serve Mutton White Khurdi warm with Khichdi.

In North India, for example, home cooks made big batches of gaajar (carrot) halwa to utilise the root vegetable that grew abundantly during winter. The rich dessert, made with grated carrot cooked down to a mushy paste with lashings of creamy milk, sugar and dried fruits, was stored in containers and naturally refrigerated by the cold air. When serving, portions of the halwa would be reheated, bringing alive the caramelised flavours on the palate.

There are many recipes for sweets like gond ke laddoo made with edible acacia gum, and gur aate ka halwa, a delicious melding of whole wheat flour and jaggery, that are cooked specifically during winter, because the ingredients create warmth, and increase the body’s ability to bear the winter’s lower temperatures. Beetroot halwa, also cooked in generous amounts of clarified butter with sugar and nuts, is yet another winter-time treat.

Nutritionists advise people to look out for seasonal produce that can enhance immunity and fight winter infections. Fruits like oranges, guavas, figs, pomegranate and grapes and vegetables like French beans, yam, beetroot and radish are beneficial during cold weather.

In the South, soups and rasams that are spiced with ingredients like pepper and turmeric are popular during winter. Vegetarian options include poondu milagu rasam (made by cooking peeled garlic cloves in tamarind water spiced with pepper), and sundal, a snack made with pre-boiled chickpeas, or horse-gram tempered with mustard seeds, dried chilli and curry leaves in hot oil.

For non-vegetarians, manjal thanni (literally turmeric water) is a mild and watery gravy made with chicken or mutton, to help banish the chills. Paaya soup, made with lamb trotters slow cooked with an infusion of spices, has travelled from the erstwhile Deccan kingdom of Hyderabad to all parts of the country, and remains a favourite for winter breakfasts and dinners.

So, if the rainy weather is making you hungry for comfort food, keep an eye on the healthy and traditional dishes that you could be eating this season.

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