I am not sure about the Indian urbanites, but people who have been born in Indian villages or have their association with villages will understand that it’s not the first of Jan but Makar Sankranti marks the first celebration of the year. The harvest festival, called by different names in different parts of India, like Lori in Punjab, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Makar Sankranti in many states, Bihu in Assam and Pongal in Tamil Nadu. Irrespective of what name you give this festival in different parts of our country, what is important is the festivities that follow and the delicacies that we make during the festival.
Even as a child, I would remember that one need to make ‘til cha laddu’ ( Sesame ladoos)if not anything else to mark the festival. In Maharashtra, on Sankranti eve, families serve their guests with Tilgul while saying “Tilgul ghya, goad goad bola” which literally means “Take Tilgul and talk sweetly”. Whether we really follow the saying throughout the year, me and my friends would follow the saying very diligently that evening and collect tilgul from each of the household and enjoy them till they last, some time for days.
Another custom that would follow is married women inviting other married women for “Haldi Kumkum” ceremony in which women exchange haldi (turmeric) and Kumkum (vermilion powder) and give some small gifts as token of their love, as a symbol of their married status and wishing for their husbands’ long lives. As a small girl, I use to look forward and accompany my mother for the ceremony. Mainly because you get to dress-up in new clothes and can collect all the gifts plus the laddoos you get.
The harvest season is celebrated with much gaiety to enjoy the fresh produce of the first season. The celebration is complete with the lip smacking dishes from these local produces.
Custom play an important role in our culture. Our ancestors through festivals passed on their `festival foods’ to us along with their knowledge of food choice: Eat the seasonal produce to keep yourself healthy and keep illnesses at bay.
Sesame (Til) seed, jowar kernels, sugar cane which is converted to jaggery and mustard are mainly associated with our winter festival. Let’s therefore celebrate our country’s heritage with classic recipes that will take us back to our Mom’s kitchen table while understanding the nutritional value of these traditional Indian delicacies.
The significance of Sesame seeds is not hidden from any of us. Sesame is a winter food and builds warmth in our body. Roasted Sesame seeds are sprinkled on top of veggies while cooking and its oil is popular in healthy cooking and used for its health benefits. Sesame Paste, one of my favourite, acts like a spread on bread to have on a cold, wintery day.
In every household in India, in January, one can hear the crackle of the Sesame (Til) seeds while it’s being roasted to prepare yummy sweets from it. All over the country, people distribute sweets made from sesame seeds to friends to welcome the new season on a `sweet note’.
Spreading Happiness with Sesame (Til) Laddu
1 ¼ cup sesame seeds (Til)
1 tbsp ghee
1 ¼ cup roughly chopped sticky jaggery (Gur)
¼ cup roasted and crushed peanuts
½ tsp cardamom (elaichi) powder
- Heat a broad non-stick pan, add the sesame seeds and dry roast on a slow flame for 8 minutes, while stirring continuously. At this stage, aroma of the roasted sesame seeds will spread and you will hear the crackle sound of it. Keep aside.
- Heat the ghee in a deep non-stick pan. Add jaggery, mix well and cook on a slow flame for 4 minutes, while stirring continuously.
- At this stage, add the sesame seeds, peanuts and cardamom powder. Mix well and cook on a slow flame for 1 minute, while stirring continuously.
- Transfer the mixture into a greased plate and allow it to cool slightly for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Wet your palms with little water, take a small portion of the mixture and shape into a round.
- Allow the ladoos to cool and store in an air-tight container.
Jowar also known as the weight loss food, has a high content of calcium in comparison to rice and wheat. It is packed with iron, protein and fibre. Jowar Kernels can be steamed, boiled, added to soups and stews.
Jowar, as we all know is a cereal grain but what is not known to many of us, is the young jowar kernels which is available only in the months of January and February. These tender jowar kernels are known as Hurda, and the locals celebrate the good crop of jowar by arranging a Hurda party, celebrating the beginning of the harvest season.
These jowar kernels are tender and very juicy and are available during the winter months in the vegetable markets.
2 cups of Hurda
1.5 tbsp Oil
½ tsp mustard seeds (Rai)
¼ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 medium onion (Chopped)
10 curry leaves
2 green chilies (chopped)
½ inch ginger (finely chopped)
2 tbsp coconut (Grated)
1/3 cup coriander leaves
- First rinse 2 cups hurda (250 gms) in a fine strainer. Keep aside.
- Heat 1 – 1.5 tablespoon oil in a pan.
- Add ½ teaspoon mustard seeds and let them crackle.
- When the mustard seed begin to crackle, then add ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds. Let the cumin seeds splutter.
- Then add 1/3 cup chopped onions, 8-10 curry leaves, 1 to 2 green chilies, and ½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger.
- Mix very well and sauté the onions on a low to medium flame.
- Sauté till the onions turn translucent.
- Add the tender jowar grains.
- Season with salt as per taste.
- Mix very well and sauté for a couple of minutes or till the grains are cooked. Stir often when sautéing.
- Lastly, add 2 tablespoons grated coconut. You can skip coconut, if you do not have it. You can also add roasted peanuts (whole or crushed) or roasted. Mix very well.
- Switch off the flame and add 1/3 cup chopped coriander leaves. Serve Hurda upma hot or warm with some lemon wedges.
Jaggery is a cardio tonic, according to ayurvedic science, and is used in heart weakness. Also, a blood purifier, people with blood or skin disorder can replace refined sugar use with jaggery. Jaggery is a good source of iron, so it helps in anemia. It also has the natural cleansing properties that helps to get rid of digestion problems. You simply have to add it to your diet and have its benefits.
Makki ki Roti, jaggery (gur) and a generous dollop of ghee! A winter favourite. Jaggery as we all know is prepared by boiling sugar cane juice till it solidifies and is then put in blocks. Jaggery is an important part of the festivities and along with the use in sweets, it is also offered to deities during worship.
½ cup Short grain rice
3 tbsp moong dal/Split green gram
¾ cup Jaggery (grated)
4 cups water
3 tbsp ghee
8-10 cashew nuts
2 cardamom (crushed)
2 cloves (crushed)
- Wash the rice and keep aside.
- Add 1 tbsp. ghee in a pressure pan.
- Add the moong dal and fry till slightly browned.
- Add 3 cups of water and washed rice.
- Cook till the rice and dal is done.
- Add jaggery and 1 cup water in a pan.
- Cook till jaggery is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.
- Strain the mixture.
- When the dal and rice is done, open the pressure pan.
- Add the jaggery mixture, cardamom and clove.
- Mix well and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the remaining ghee and fry the cashew nuts. Fry the raisins too till they swell up.
- Add the cashewnuts and raisins in the Pongal. Mix well.
- Serve hot.
Ganee (Sugar Cane juice) Ki Kheer
1 Litre Sugar cane juice
100 gms Basmati rice
- Put the sugar cane juice in a pan and heat.
- Wash and add the rice to it and allow it to cook in the juice on a slow fire.
- Continue cooking till the rice and sugarcane juice form a smooth mixture of thick consistency.
- Take it off the fire. Allow it to cool.
- Refrigerate and serve cold.