The green peas are bursting with sweetness, the crunch in the carrots are more pronounced and the leafy greens are responding deliciously to the ghee and butter infused gravies. Winter foods are a blend of hearty, nourishing ingredients which strengthen the immune system, fortify the body for the months ahead and provide specific nutrients for winter wellness.
Contrary to the diet which has become commonplace today, it is during the cold months when people relished heartwarming comfort food like slow cooked stews, spice laden gravies and delicious flatbreads generously smothered with desi ghee and butter.
The farmers too enjoyed this season where the aftermath of the monsoons brought a cool moisture laden mist and the earth responded in fertile alertness to push out a seasonal bounty. We hear of people talking about this being their favourite time of the year. That is mostly because the weather calls for comfort and cuddling and keeps the body and mind free from exhaustion. A hot plate of food is felt in the soul as much as it is on the palate!
When scourging the local farmers markets one is bound to come across some interesting produce one way or the other. Though global foods have taken pride of place in our grocery stores, one out of 20 of every Indian farmer is still growing the delicious local yam or greens or typical seasonal crop. Even if it’s not on a large scale, the chances are that it will still be grown in a quantity where he will have some left for sale.
Native cuisine is till largely governed by simple, heritage recipes simply because that’s what an elder would have passed on to the home cook in the rural community lifestyle. The mud pots, the open fire and the hand pounding style of cooking continues to fill their bellies and nourish their bodies without creating a hole in their pockets.
The up side of having to follow a frugal diet is living healthy relying on local greens, fruits, seeds, oils and vegetables/fruits.
When a cauliflower is harvested for example, the florets are made into a hearty gravy with dried spice powders. The greens make for the fresh subzi. Cauliflower greens when grown organically are a powerhouse of antioxidants and vitamins. Just one medium sized cauliflower with its large leaves can easily make a delicious meal for a family.
Radish leaves are just as delicious ground in an earthen pot or cooked with other greens and spices. Grated radish is cooked down with onions, tomatoes and herbs to make a delicious stuffing for parathas or cooked with lentils to make a mouthwatering mullangi sambar.
A sustainable lifestyle which helps the farmer as well as has a direct influence on our health is one that adopts a diet using specific ingredients which the earth nourishes during each season. Winter is truly about strong textures and slow digesting foods like tubers, root vegetables, flavorful greens and different kinds of native foraged foods.
There are some yams which are available only this time of the year. The startling colour of the purple yam adds so much vibrancy to a dish. It is the time of the year to load the table with meals comprising different colours, flavours and textures. Turnips, kohlrabi, red carrots, green chana, fresh peas, multiple varieties of radish, garlic chives, winter greens... the list goes on to showcase a spectacular array of colourful seasonal deliciousness.
When choosing to adopt a diet in accordance to the climate, it really does boost environmental health in more ways than we can imagine. The right nutrients are drawn from the soil, allowing the other nutrients to stay intact for a different crop. The kind of flowers that bloom on seasonal plants are just what the insects need for their survival and to contribute back to seasonal biodiversity.
It allows for the good bacteria to thrive which prevents or minimizes pests attacks. This in turn, is cost effective for the farmer who does not need to use expensive pest control measures or resort to chemical spraying.
All of these incredible advantages depend on the choice we make as consumers. This is the kind of knowledge which must be shared, taught and passed on to those around us and also as education in schools, from a young age.