Satiate your hunger pangs this winter
Read what Chef Vikas has to say about winter comfort food that may help you beat the cold weather blues...
The other day, while on an errand to the local grocery mart, I was thunderstruck to see a bunch of ripe fresh mangoes on the pretty shelves, along with other alien looking fruits. Mangoes! In December! Dumbfounded as I was and trying to figure out an appropriate mental response to the sacrilege, my mind couldn't but help recalling the sheer lingering we as kids used to experience while waiting for the luscious fresh mangoes to arrive in the peak of summers.
Belonging myself to a mango farming family, I couldn't fathom what my village folk would think if I told them we had fresh mangoes in the winters, here in Kolkata. I can clearly envision that the Langda will limp to astonishment, the Himsagar will go back to its hills and the Dussehri will have ten thoughts on its worth if we even so much as try to delink summers from mangoes.
Similarly, now we in the big cities miss the craving for the fresh white radish and cauliflower, green peas and gloriously fragrant mustard leaves in winters and gourd, cucumber and the rotund brinjals in summers since almost all these are available the entire year around. That brings us to the larger point. Is there any seasonality left in the produce anymore? Thankfully the mango tasted dreadful and thankfully the answer is a resounding Yes. Most people still understand the concept of seasonal produce and prefer to eat fresh, seasonal, and well, cheap since seasonal is also inherently cheaper.
Winters = Hungrier
This is a well-accepted fact that in winters we tend to eat more. But have we analysed why that happens? We tend to generally believe 'when the weather is frightful, the food is delightful', but is there more to it? There is certainly.
In winter months, when the air temperature drops, our body temperatures also drop and the body kind of kicks into a self-conservation mode that tells it to stock up on food. The body also then craves for foods that can heat us up faster, normally meaning foods that are rich in carbohydrates and fats. Another reason is that we generally drink lesser water in the winter months and the body needs to compensate that with more food. The cold weather, shorter days and early darkness also go on to translate into people staying home more and resultantly eat more. Generally, therefore, the winter foods tend to be richer, heavier, and well, tastier.
What to eat in winters
Unfortunately, when we think of a hot, comforting winter meal, set up in a cosy warm setting, carrot sticks and lettuce are the last things that come to mind. What we generally end up having are fat rich curries and roasts, warm desserts and for some of us, I included, an avoidable amount of the hard liquor or wines. Whereas it is perfectly all right to indulge once in a while in some rich food, we must also look at balancing it out with foods that are healthy and provides the much needed immune busters for the winter months which also bring in various diseases and infections.
To really know what we must eat in winters, especially at home, we actually don't need to look far away from home. Our parents and their parents and theirs have all unwittingly laid down certain guidelines that we should also adhere to, for they make complete sense. We all know about how our grandmothers used to make ghee rich food and sweets during winters and coax us into eating food with millets and nuts, well, they were bang on. Ghee, as it turns out is a rich source of moisture and energy and also has fat-soluble vitamins that improve immunity, all required during winters. Nuts and root vegetables provide warmth, high dose of iron and calcium as well as fill us quicker for longer, again all required during winters. Culinarily, it makes sense to eat foods that are moist, such as porridges and soups as well as foods that are cooked with a lot of spices and herbs, since these improve metabolism and keep us warm. Cheeses are also a great to eat as it is and also use in various recipes since it ticks all the correct boxes as a winter food.
Here I present a recipe that we make quite often, specially when serving to guests in winters since it is a dish with easily available winter ingredients, tastes fantastic, is quite filling and rich and is packed full of nutrients. I would rather have this soup on a cold winter night, may be a couple of helpings, with some nice crusty bread and not want anything else at all.
Recipe: (Robust Pumpkin and Almond soup)
-Yellow Pumpkin cubed500g
-Soaked, peeled and pasted
-Salt and Pepperto taste
-Cumin roasted and powdered2gm
-Chicken/ Vegetable stock500ml
Heat the olive oil and the butter together, put the onion, garlic, carrots and leeks and sauté till fragrant. Add the pumpkin, stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Blend the mix into a smooth puree, sieve. Put the soup back on the flame; add the cream, salt and pepper.
Serve scalding hot. It can also be topped with some micro greens and extra olive oil.