Of grains, food & togetherness

Amrita Prasad and Alisha Shinde
Thursday, 11 January 2018

With the harvest festival coming up, Amrita Prasad and Alisha Shinde talk to chefs to know why we must indulge in the seasonal  produce and make delectable goodies.

Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Lohri, Bhogali or Magh Bihu or the beginning of Kumbh Mela — the harvest festival is celebrated almost across India during mid January every year. With the festival coming up on January 14, people are busy making preparations for kite flying, a hearty meal, bonfire and get-togethers. The festivities are more or less the same across regions but yes, communities do have their own way of celebrating it adding a unique flavour to the feasting and merriment.    

Celebrated as Poush Parbon in West Bengal, the highlight of the festival is the freshly harvested paddy and freshly-made khejur gur (date palm jaggery) with which mouthwatering sweets like Pithe Puli, Patishapta, Dudh Puli and other delicacies are made.

Down South, Pongal is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala over a period of four days during which delicious items like Pongal are cooked and relished.

In Maharashtra, people dress in black and distribute til (sesame)-gul (jaggery) and wish each other ‘Til gul ghya aani god god bola’. 

Punjabis have a colourful way of celebrating the festival. They have a bonfire and eat Makke Di Roti and Sarson Da Saag — the harvest of the season, and perform the bhangra and gidda. 
In Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat, Makar Sankranti is celebrated with kite flying and exchanging homemade delicacies like Til Ke Laddoos and dishes made with sesame, and Khichdi made with rice and lentils. While seasonal crops have a fresh taste and a cultural significance, they are also loaded with health benefits.

The sweetness of Sankranti 

Amit Chakraborti, chef de cuisine, Courtyard by Marriott Pune, Chakan, says that India being a multi-cultural country has celebrations that come with packages of good food. He says that Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the harvest season and people across communities consume similar food grains like sesame seeds, jaggery, etc that are harvested and are available now. “Sesame seeds and jaggery are a rich source of copper and manganese as well as calcium which are essential for the body. Undhiyu, which is made using raw banana, yam, potato, eggplant, peas and vaal, keeps you warm,” he informs. 
Here, he shares his Gul Poli recipe:

For dough
    Wheat flour.....2 cup
    Water.......1¼ cups
    Ghee........25 ml
    Salt to taste
 For stuffing
    Roasted white sesame seeds......1/4 cup
    Jaggery...2tsp
    Roasted peanut powder...1/4 cup
    Cardamom powder...1/2 tsp

    Sieve wheat flour in a dish, add a pinch of salt and mix well.
    Add a little water at a time and make a dough.  
    The dough should have medium consistency.
    You can also add 2 tsp hot oil while kneading the dough.
    Transfer the dough to a bowl and coat it with a little oil.
    Cover and let it rest for 30-45 min.
 For stuffing
 Heat a pan over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and roast them FOR about 5-6 minutes) until they turn golden.
 Take jaggery, roasted peanut powder, roasted sesame seed powder and cardamom powder, blend them together to make a soft mixture and add some ghee to it.
Making of Poli
  Take the dough and divide them into equal parts.
  Make cups of dough and fill it with the stuffing and close it.
  Roll it equally so that the stuffing spreads uniformly.
    Fry it on tawa from both sides till brown and crispy, apply ghee to it.
    Serve with ghee or cold milk.

— Recipe by Amit Chakraborti, 
chef de cuisine, Courtyard by Marriott Pune, Chakan 

The pomp and gaiety of Pongal
Talking about Pongal, Vineet Pathak, sous chef, Marriott Suites, Koregoan Park, says that in Tamil Nadu people like to eat Pongal on this particular day and the common ingredients used in making the dish are rice, jaggery, moong dal, coconut, etc. 
Pathak informs that all these ingredients are good for your body and have health benefits. Says the chef, “Jaggery acts as a detox and helps cleanse the liver by flushing out toxins and also prevents constipation. Rice helps in stabilising blood sugar level, and also helps in slowing down the ageing process. Moong dal is a good source of protein and is light and easy to digest. Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fibre, vitamin B5 and B6, and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, etc.” 
There are varieties of Pongal like Sakkarai Pongal, Rava Pongal, Rice Pongal. He shares his Sweet Pongal recipe. recipe

Sweet Pongal
    Rice......    ...1 cup
    Green Gram Dal..........    ..150 gm
    Milk..........    250 ml
    Jaggery.........    ....50 gm
    Ghee……    …100 gm
    Cashew nuts……    …50 gm
    Raisins……    …. 50 gm
    Cardamom powdered…. 1 tsp
    Clove powdered…    ……. 1 tsp
    A pinch of saffron
    Water…    ……. 400 ml

    Roast the green gram dal and keep it aside.
    Cook the rice and green gram dal with water and milk and keep aside.
    Melt the jaggery on slow heat and strain it. Cook until it become sticky and thick.
    Now add the cooked rice and dal and cook it.
    Add cashew nuts and raisins to the Pongal and stir it well. Now add powdered cardamoms, cloves nutmeg and saffron.
    Mix well and serve hot.
 — Recipe by Vineet Pathak, sous chef, Marriott Suites Pune, Koregaon Park

To celebrate Pongal, actress Sakshi Tanwar, who is also hosting Epic Channel’s Tyohaar Ki Thali, prepares Sakkarai Pongal — a kind of sweet halwa. She also tells the audience  Pongal stories from her mom’s collected postcards, including a Shiv and Nandi story on the episode. Pulihora or Tamarind Rice which is common to the four states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and Chola Paniyaram, made from sorghum and urad dal and is considered a royal dish, are the other dishes she prepares. Sakshi shares her Chola Paniyaram recipe and adds that she serves it with a special Coconut Chutney which further enhances its flavour. 

    Sorghum millet…….    1 cup
    Split black lentils…    …1/2 cup
    Fenugreek seeds…    ..1 tsp
    Salt to taste
    Red chili powder as required
    Oil as required

    Soak some sorghum millet and split black lentil and 1 tsp fenugreek seeds overnight.
    Grind it in the morning and add salt and red chili powder to it. Let the mixture ferment.
    Grease the Paniyaram mould with some oil, add the mixture to it. Let it cook from both the sides. 
    Serve with Coconut Chutney.
— Recipe by Sakshi Tanwar,  actress and host Epic Channel’s Tyohaar Ki Thali  

Laddoos and Lohri 
Kamlesh Rawat, executive chef, Radisson Mumbai, Goregaon says that delicacies like Til Ka Papdi, Til Rewadi, Til Gajak and so on are festival goodies that one cannot miss out on.

“However, the most common and loved Sankranti snack is Til Ka Laddoo. From Punjabi Lohri celebrations to Marathi Sankranti feast, Til Ka Laddoos are a staple part of the festivities. Some traditional preparations also have grated coconut in the til-jaggery mixture,” says Rawat. Talking about the dishes that one should make during the festival and in the harvest season, he says that one can use ingredients from winter crops such as mustard greens, sugarcane, radish, groundnuts, etc. “The dishes that are traditionally prepared during Lohri and Makar Sankranti include Makki Ki Roti (flatbreads and Sarso Ka Saag. Til Ka Laddoos are a common fixture throughout winters. Til helps in keeping the body warm, which is why the delicacy is made in huge batches stored for weeks in airtight containers. In addition to generating body heat, sesame is also a rich source of vitamins, minerals and healthy oils. It contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, zinc, fibre, thiamin, vitamin B6 and folate,” he says and shares his Ariselu and Gulab Badam Chikki recipes.

    Poppy seeds…    ……….1/4 cup
    Rice…    …..1 kg
    Jaggery……    .3/4 kg
    Oil for deep-frying
    Water……    .1 cup
    Poppy seeds………    …1/4 cup

    Wash the rice and soak it around four hours. Strain the water and keep the rice in another pot. 
    Grind the rice to a fine powder, add jaggery and water and mix properly. Make small round shapes and sprinkle poppy seeds.
    Heat oil in another pan. Deep-fry these on low flame till dark brown, and serve. 

Gulab Badam Chikki
    Butter    …….2 tbsp
    Sugar…    …1 cup
    Salt…    ….1/8 tsp
    Almonds (sliced)…    ……. 1/2 cup
    Dried rose petals…    …….1 cup

    In a heavy bottom saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt the butter, then add sugar, and salt.
     Keep stirring the sugar continuously until it starts melting and changing colour to light brown. Turn off the heat as soon it becomes golden brown. This should take 4-5 min.
    When sugar starts melting, add almonds and dried rose petals, stir quickly. Pour over the silicone sheets and spread properly.
    After they cool down to room temperature break them into pieces and store in an airtight container.
— Recipes by Kamlesh Rawat, executive chef, Radisson, 
Mumbai, Goregaon

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