Rainsoaked nature is a sight to behold. The green cloak that Mother Nature wears makes the surroundings so vivid and beautiful that you like to enjoy every moment nestled in its lap. Add to that the joy of having roasted corn on the cob, crispy, crunchy pakoda and adraki chai, and your day is made.
Along with your craving for hot, spicy food, what you must also indulge in is the right kind of spices to keep the body insulated from seasonal diseases.
Sachin Joshi, executive chef, Vivanta by Taj, Blue Diamond, Koregaon Park, says that infections spread faster in monsoon and diseases like cold, flu, sore throat, cough, malaria, cholera and fever are common.
“Spices contain medicinal properties which have the potential to prevent certain diseases common during this season. In cold, wet weather everyone looks forward to eating steaming hot food. We chefs also make sure that the food is healthy and have the right balance of spices,” says Joshi.
He points out that turmeric, an essential part of Indian cooking, contains anti-inflammatory agents which boosts immunity. “Consuming turmeric milk at least once a day during the rainy season will reduce your chances of falling ill. Pepper helps prevent cold hence having hot soups with a dash of roasted black pepper is soothing for the throat as well as for the stomach. Asafoetida (hing) is a must in the rainy season as it can boost digestion and reduce flatulence. This spice is also used as a remedy for flu. Idli and Sambar with a good tadka of hing and curry leaves will work wonders,” advises Joshi.
Ask him his favourite ingredient for the rainy season and he instantly says lemongrass which he uses in slightly larger quantities in Thai gravies and teas in monsoon. We all love adrak-wali chai, but ginger is more than just a flavouring agent. Says Joshi, “Ginger has gingerol which has a healing effect. It is anti-inflammatory in nature and hence a must have in the rainy season.”
Cinnamon is a magical spice that cures sore throat, cough and cold. “It also helps keep the body warm. Cinnamon powder can be added to desserts, teas and gravies,” he says.
Hing is King
According to Gulshan Kumar, executive chef, The Orchid Pune, Balewadi, spices play an important role in every cuisine. But Indian cuisine simply cannot do without spices.
His favourite spices in the monsoon season include ginger, asafoetida, black peppercorn, turmeric and saffron. Kumar says that ginger and black peppercorn are important ingredients in many curries.
“Ginger has medicinal qualities which help relieve cold and throat infection. Ground or crushed black peppercorns add a delectable taste to soups, salads and also main course dishes. It is also used in many vegetable dishes and Rice Pulaos,” he says.
Talking about how spices not just add colour to food but also enhance the taste, Kumar says, “Hing, the pungent and unpleasant smelling spice, imparts a pleasant flavour to the cooked dish and also aids in digestion. Turmeric, the bright yellow spice, mostly used in every Indian preparation mainly for colouring, comes with great antiseptic properties too. Saffron is used to add colour and flavour to a dish and is equally important for sweets and savouries that one enjoys in monsoon.”
Among the five spices in monsoon, asafoetida or hing plays a vital role in Kumar’s kitchen because in his words, cooking with hing ‘requires some skill.’
“A small pinch of hing can create magic in your dal, curry and, of course, pakodas which is a favourite monsoon snack. According to ayurveda, hing is one of the best spices to use during the rains as it enhances digestion and cures colic pain. Hing should be stocked in every kitchen. If children suffer from bloated stomach, a little asafoetida can be dissolved in water and used as medicine. In monsoon, different types of pakodas are my favourite and without this magical spice, tasty and flavourful pakodas cannot be prepared. A pinch of hing should be added in gram flour to make flavoursome pakodas,” he adds.
Sprinkle Chaat Masala
Shrunkhala Sharma, a home chef and owner of Treat Away — Pune-based vegetarian house party and catering service, says that the dip in temperatures allows us to indulge in all those spices which we couldn’t have in summer.
“We use elaichi (green cardamom) and adrak as they give warmth. It is also a time to enjoy corn on the cob, hence giving us the opportunity to use black salt, red chilli powder and lime. For me, this season is also about relishing Chaat and the taste of chaat masala and tamarind chutney gets enhanced furthermore in monsoon. My favourite masala to work with in this season is chaat masala,” says Sharma.
She generously sprinkles chaat masala on Kanda Bhajji (onion pakodas) after they are fried, roasted corn on the cob, Shakarkandi Chole Chaat, Fried Dal Kachori served with yoghurt, green chutney, tamarind chutney and sev on top.
“Made of powdered cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorn, hing, dry mango powder (aamchur), black salt, pudina powder, dry ginger and red chilli powder — chaat masala is an amalgamation of all the important spices. I even add it to my Poha which tastes awesome,” she adds.