It is time to revel in Nature’s bounty for there is a surge of fresh fruits and vegetables in winters. These natural foods not only warm us up but also improve our immunity. No wonder we have the time and inclination to make gajar ka halwa, undhiyu, mooli ke paranthe and sarson da saag! There are the reddest of carrots, milky white juicy radishes and plump shining purple brinjals available. As also are sweet green peas and purple yam. Winter is the time when the person who cooks is never at a loss for ‘what to cook’ for there are so many ideas (vegetables!) that work.
Carrots are chosen because the beta-carotene in them is an excellent source of vitamin A. Same way the strongly flavoured radishes, onion and garlic provide phytochemicals that can help prevent cancer. Potatoes and yams provide the much-needed energy whereas the leafy greens methi, palak, sarson not only provide beta-carotene but also Vitamin C. You can also include coriander leaves, amaranth in this. Even the beans are available in all their varied splendour: French beans, broad beans (valol), leeli papdi and tur papdi. These are all high energy and high protein vegetables.
Get nourished with nuts and dry fruits
To fight the chill we can also bank upon our everyday wheat flour and semolina in the form of fragrant sheeras. Add some nuts generously and then feel replete. Gajar and doodhi halwas are also favourites in many homes. Look at amla murabba as the right season to bottle. Even dates, rich source of fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium are highly recommended with milk or as a barfi.
Enjoy the warmth of spices
Be more specific in your usage of herbs and spices in the winters for all the everyday masalas like mustard seeds, asafoetida, black pepper, fenugreek seeds, dill and carom seeds stimulate appetite and improve blood circulation. Look out for fresh turmeric which looks like ginger but is lighter and golden yellow in colour as it is an effective anti-microbial immunity builder. Tulsi and adrak ki chai is an excellent warmer. The season now is for til chikki and dink laddoos.
Soothe yourself with warm beverages
If you are looking for beverages, call in the large coffee mugs and of course see to it that the kitchen has honey, mint and lemons. Coffee and chocolate drinks, especially cocoa, are not only counted as an aid to increase the intake of fluids but cocoa especially is held in high regard as an antioxidant. New research shows these popular drinks not only warm the body but could heat up the immune system and possibly prevent certain ailments. But in old Indian traditions nothing like a tall glass of elaichi flavoured hot milk sometimes enhanced with almonds. Try that for breakfast and see your energy levels remain high during the day. Another favourite is kale gajar ki kanji that is a true North Indian winter speciality.
Coffee: Pros and cons
Coffee is a great favourite with a huge population of the world opting for it and in winters especially it helps to kick-start the day and awaken you from slumber. Make sure it is milky and even though you are tempted do not have more than three or four cups a day. Coffee contains tannin and antioxidants, which are good for the heart and arteries. It can relieve headaches. It is good for the liver - and can help prevent cirrhosis and gallstones. And the caffeine in coffee can reduce the risk of asthma attacks - and help improve circulation within the heart. There is no denying that coffee is not for everyone. If you drink too much it can increase nervousness and cause rapid heartbeat and trembling hands. Pregnant women, heart patients and anyone with a stomach ulcer are usually advised to avoid it.
Go for dark chocolate
Chocolate is another recommended healthy treat. But only in moderation! That holds true for every food you absolutely love and adore. If you like chocolate go for dark chocolate but avoid milk chocolate and white chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in cocoa and helps to increase the levels of HDL, the good type of cholesterol that helps prevent fat from clogging the arteries. A cup or two of hot cocoa (sometimes sprinkled with nutmeg!) every once in a while can provide a delicious, warm and healthy way to obtain more antioxidants.
Perfect to the T
Other hot and important drinks such as tea and water mixed with honey and lemon help to clear up the respiratory tract. This is a must because winter is the time one can be coughing, having a running nose or a sore throat. It is rather hard to avoid catching a cold, or other infections but it is not impossible! Simple habits, sometimes, are all that are needed to prevent colds or to come down with fewer of them. Having a hot cup of tea (without milk) but made with a decoction of mint leaves and ginger is welcome anytime of the day on a chilly day. Some prefer tea sweetened with honey and laced with lemon juice. Or then for those who prefer nothing but milky tea add a pinch of chai masala to get the best of the perks!
Soups to the rescue
When you have been through a long day of hard work, plus there is a winter chill that is not allowing your insides to warm up, what is the best comfort food? We believe it would be a soup which is creamy and thick to fill you up and that which uses vegetables and meat to best advantage. Unfortunately, these days soups have become convenient foods. Open a packet, dissolve properly in some water, bring to a boil and it is ready! But the best soup is the one made from scratch! Soups can be made from meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables and seafood - or any tasteful combination of ingredients cooked in a liquid. It may be a thick soup like gumbo, which is a meal in itself, thin soups or broths like consommé and bouillons which can be used as a starter to a meal, smooth like a bisque which is a heavy cream soup usually containing shellfish, or chunky like a chowder or bouillabaisse which can provide good sustenance on a cold day.
Surprise all with sizzlers
Sizzlers originated a few centuries ago when meat was served on a heated cast iron plate in order to keep it hot. However, today, they have become a cuisine by themselves as we find many restaurants that serve only sizzlers. Sizzler is basically a combination of main course served along with a choice of meats or vegetables. Especially enjoyable for early winter supper!
Get that grill going
As outdoor barbeques are not advisable in winter, you can make good use of the electric griller! Grilled foods are simple to cook and an easy way to enjoy a variety of food during winters. Ensure sufficient marination before you grill. Food that is crispy outside but hot, filled with juices inside is perfect for a winter meal.
Have a fondue party
There is something about this melted concoction that brings people together! Long handled two pronged forks and a fondue pot is an investment that pays off very easily with each party you use them for! Fill up the pot with a cheese fondue … best accompanied with croutons or raw vegetables. Sweet fondues are chocolate based. You can use dark or white chocolate or a combination of both. Best accompanied with fresh fruits, wafer biscuits, cake cubes and marshmallows.
Cook well, be well
It is the season for eating good food with renewed spirit and keeping well. Take a close look at these fantastic winter recipes and happy cooking!