One of the best things about the harvest festival is that several communities celebrate it in their own unique way but they are all united by the emotion of happiness, love, togetherness and gratitude towards nature. Call it Makar Sankrati, Pongal, Uttarayan, Lohri or Bhogali Bihu, the festival is all about good food, fun, and merrymaking. People enjoy kite flying in Gujarat, doing the Bhangra around bonfires in Punjab, making floral rangolis outside their homes in South India, taking a dip in the holy Ganges at the Gangasagar mela in West Bengal and so on.
What also one enjoys are the special dishes prepared by using seasonal produce like til, gud, sarson leaves, freshly ground rice flower, coconut, mustard, peas etc. So Til Ke Laddoo, Narkel Nadu, Puran Poli, Sarson Da Saag are the signature treats but if you want to give some new twists to these dishes, here are some ideas:
CHIKKIS GET A TWIST
Arindam Bhattacharya, executive chef, Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa, suggests that instead of going for the usual Til Ke Laddoo or Barfi, you can try Sesame Toasts or Sesame Aloo Tikkis. “Sesame seeds are one of the main ingredients used during Lohri and Makar Sankranti. It has a distinct nutty flavour and is loaded with health benefits. A lot of festive treats are sweets so using sesame seeds to make Sesame Aloo Tikkis or Sesame Toasts is a unique way of consuming the traditional festival ingredients,” says he.
Peanuts is another essential ingredient. Bhattacharya suggests that an interesting way of using peanuts is to make Peanut Cookies and give the traditional Peanut Chikkis a break this year. “Popcorn and peanuts are two commonly consumed ingredients during Lohri in North India. We can give it a delicious twist by adding a few more ingredients such as granulated sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and butter. The end result will be something like caramel popcorn,” he says.
Vineet Pathak, sous chef Marriott Suites Pune, says that since Makar Sankranti is celebrated at the end of winter the main food ingredients are til (sesame) and gur (jaggery). “This year, you can celebrate by giving an unusual twist to the traditional recipe of Till Patti and combine it with a French dessert to create something unique. Also, it’s the season of fresh strawberry so why not use it to do something different? We came up with a unique dessert called Fresh Strawberry and Sesame Mille-feuille (Til-gur Patti) in which instead of using puffs pastry we used sesame seeds and jaggery sheets or Patti,” he says.
Dudh Puli, which is a popular dish in the eastern and north eastern region of India, has all the ingredients which Mahashtrians too use for making treats for Makar Sankranti, such as coconut, jaggery etc. “So why not try Dudh Puli for the festival this year? Punekars can add an interesting flavour to their festivities while keeping to the traditional ingredients of Makar Sankranti,” says Sunil Menon, executive chef, Four Points by Sheraton Pune.
Ambar Rode, executive chef, Brasserie Cinq, says that Sesame and Herb Crusted Rare Tuna Nicoise is a healthy dish that one can try this Sankranti. Also, it is the season of leafy vegetables, so it is the best time to have them during the festivities. “To make a crunchy salad, keep the salad greens in ice cold water for 15 to 20 minutes and drain the water completely. This not only keeps the leaves crunchy but also helps remove all the dirt and pests,” he says.
Most of the salads have uneven seasoning, because the seasoning is added on top of the salad leaves. Instead, add your seasoning in the dressing for it to melt and distribute evenly in the salad,” says Rode adding, “When it comes to salad dressings, most readymade ones are temporary emulsions, especially the vinaigrettes, so don’t waste your time whisking them, just put all the ingredients in a glass jar or a squeezy bottle and shake vigorously before use.”