Cold comfort: India’s most sought-after winter dishes

Close your eyes and think of til-gud. Prepared in various ways — such as revris by Northern Indians and as chikki by Maharashtrians and Gujaratis — it evokes memories of diffused winter sunlight on chilly mornings. For as long as one can remember, winter has meant fresh produce and good food. Here’s a look at some wintry dishes from across India that are entrenched in our collective memory in nostalgia:

Doodh Na Puff, Parsi
Of the many dishes available in Udvada, a quaint coastal Parsi town in Gujarat, Persian Patel is fond of doodh na puff. “Sweet and creamy, it’s milk foam served in a glass. It reminds me of my childhood,” says the founder of the Parsi catering service, Bawi Bride Kitchen. Patel says that before the refrigerator came to India, buffalo milk – because of its high fat content – was boiled and kept in a clay pot and hung on a tree overnight to cool. The churned cream of boiled, sweetened and chilled buffalo milk used to be a winter specialty but is now available year-round in the Parsi colonies in Mumbai and Gujarat.

Pork with Lai xaak, Assam
One of Gitika Saikia’s fondest memories of home revolves around the big Bihu festival every winter. “The whole extended family gets together, the women cook and everyone eats together,” said Saikia, an Assamese living in Mumbai, where she hosts pop-up meals of tribal and rural Assamese cuisine. However, the feast would not be complete without pork with lai xaak. “Made with pork and broad mustard greens, this dish is a winter staple that is prepared in abundance in a large cauldron over a wood fire, prior to the feast,” says Saikia.

Pinni, Delhi, Punjab, Up
Pinni, the potent food of Northern India, can be eaten for dessert, as a snack, but a true blue Punjabi would heat it up and have it early in the morning, followed by a glass of warm milk. “It looks deceptively like a laddoo, but pinni is a source of instant nourishment,” said Bella Ahuja, a teacher, who grew up in Chandigarh and knocked down pinnis for breakfast as a child. But it was during childbirth that she understood what sets it apart. “Made with dry fruit, toasted wheat flour, gram flour, ground sugar, cardamom, and mawa, all topped with a hefty dose of ghee, it came to my rescue when I was weak after giving birth,” says Ahuja.

Undhiyu, Gujarat
It is a winter staple in any Gujarati household, but for Pramit Mehta, undhiyu is not a standalone dish. “Til-gud-peanut chikki, ber and undhiyu, all in one bowl and in between or during kite flying on Sankrant day, that’s how I remember the dish,” said Mehta, a Mumbaikar who grew up in Ahmedabad. Prepared with winter vegetables including purple yam, raw bananas, flat beans, fresh peas, fenugreek, sweet potatoes and green garlic, among others in copious ghee, undhiyu is a sweet-spicy dish, best paired with puris or phulkas. What makes it special is the effort put into its preparation. In most cases, it is an opportunity for the family to sit together, clean, peel, or chop the vegetables before cooking begins.

Sattu Paratha, Jharkhand, Biharic
Perhaps the most underrated among parathas, sattu paratha — with a filling of sattu (roasted and ground desi chana and a few other grains), green chillies, chopped onions, coriander, and masala — packed in a burst of flavors nonetheless. “From farmers to office visitors, people of all classes enjoy it. It is a rich source of protein and can also be made into a litti or a laddoo or a sorbet in the summer,” says Manob Chowdhury, a Ranchi resident.

Til Ki Chutney, Uttarakhand
A native of Mumbai, home cook Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, who runs APB Cook Studio, says: “The Garhwal and Kumaon regions have a different winter menu and the cuisine changes drastically.” While meat is mainly used during festivities, the pantry sees a proliferation of legumes such as gahat (a variety of urad) and bhatt (a black bean). But comfort food, she says, is til ki chutney. Dry roasted on a tawa and then ground on the silbatta with green chillies, salt and lemon, it is often accompanied by grated mooli and had “as a side of daal-bhaat topped with warm ghee.”

Koraishutir Kochuri, West Bengal
If you grew up in a Bengali household, chances are you have a koraishutir kochuri memory. This winter specialty is not one of those dishes that goes straight from the kitchen to the dining table. Koraishutir kochuri is about soaking in the winter sun while you peel peas for the filling, while your dida (maternal grandmother) tells you about her childhood in Bangladesh. Come winter, Bengalis swear by this kachori with a spiced sweet pea filling. They dip it in chholar daal, top it with alur dom and the capricious drizzle of some nolen gur (palm cane sugar). The iconic cookbook by Lila Majumdar and Kamala Chattopadhyay, Rannar Boi, mentions that this is a dish that unites the ever-fighting Bangals (people from the eastern part of undivided Bengal) and Ghotis (those from West Bengal).

Duck in coconut curry, Kerala
Every time she cooked duck with potatoes in coconut curry, Thomas Zacharias, executive chef at The Bombay Canteen, remembers his grandmother telling him it made sense to eat poultry in winter because they were the thickest then. Raised in Kochi, it was one of his favorite dishes and a Christmas staple.

South India has no winter as such. What then changes is the quality of the products and more meat on the menu. Prepared with fresh coconut, the duck curry, Zacharias says, didn’t require much prep time, but great care was taken to ensure it didn’t overcook. “Served with puttu, steamed cylinders of ground rice stuffed with coconut, it’s a healthy breakfast. Otherwise, it’s eaten with rice for lunch or dinner,” he says.

With input from Premankur Biswas.

Leave a Comment