Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter produce at its best

In our country the winter season generally lasts from October to March. The days begin to get shorter and there is often just so much more to do, in terms of cooking and eating. A reason behind this is the ample amount of a variety of produce that becomes available in winter. When I close my eyes and think of the colours that correspond with winter I see lovely hues of greens, reds and oranges.
Why don’t you try it? Close your eyes and think of the vegetables as well as various fruit that you associate with winter. Let us try and get to know the goodness that lies hidden in the wonderfully colourful world of winter vegetables and fruit:

I took to spinach as a fan of Popeye the sailor man who in testing times grabs a tin full of spinach and wins against his rival. I shred palak leaves to use in soup or steam them to pair up with a healthy dose of cottage cheese to make an irresistible palak paneer or knead it into my dough to reap its goodness in the form of the regular roti. The green leafy vegetable is known for its high content of iron. Other than that, spinach leaves are a rich source of carotenoids and flavonoids which are an important source of anti oxidants for our bodies. Spinach is also rich in various minerals and vitamins that are a must have for everyone, especially growing kids like you.
Fenugreek leaves

Methi or fenugreek leaves are more commonly known as a close cousin of spinach. The green leaves bunched together offer as many benefits for your body and immune system as any other vegetable. Rich in fibre content and minerals, fenugreek leaves are known to help lower cholesterol ­— the harmful part of fat — as well as help to control the dreadful disease diabetes.
Radishes and Carrots

The two root crops carrots and radishes are known for their high fibre content but that is just the beginning of how power packed these are. Radishes are high in potassium and ascorbic acid which are required by the human body whereas carrots are loaded with carotene and Vitamins B, C, E and K. Carrots can single-handedly take care of minor vision problems. So grab a bowl of gajar ka halwa or munch on a raw carrot.
Citrus fruit

The joy of sitting under the warm winter sun and enjoying an orange is rarely matched by any other experience. This forms a major part of my fondest childhood memories which were full of other sweet-tart citrus fruit like mousambis and kinnows. The citrus fruit are a rich source of Vitamin C. Hardly is there anything else that can beat the Vitamin C content in them or the freshness that they infuse in their air as soon as one of these is peeled.

You must have grown up hearing the old adage ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Have you ever wondered why that is? Let us delve into the benefits that lie within this deciduous fruit. That apples are a rich source of iron and fibre is common knowledge, but recent studies show that apples also help fight various kinds of cancer in the human body especially lung cancer. An antioxidant called quercetin found in apples aids physical endurance by making more oxygen available to the lungs. Apples like many winter fruit and veggies are a rich source of antioxidants which prevent damage to our cells and tissues. Apple consumers have been noticed to run a lower risk of heart diseases.

(The post appeared as a column first in The New Indian Express on Dec 21, 2012. You can find it here-  

Monday, December 10, 2012

It’s halwa season

Winter is here. The thought of getting under layers and layers of woollens does not really make me happy. Also, winter brings with it bouts of cold and sneezing fits which leave me with a persistent headache.
But what can make winter bearable is the food — the kind and the quantity — that one can eat during this season.
A mere mention of rounds of hot ginger tea accompanied by delicious pakoras is enough to set my heart racing.
Add a dollop of pudina or mint chutney and I could survive on pakoras alone for days and days together.
Too much pakoras in my system now and I crave for something sweet, besides the tea, to restore the balance.
A godsend answer to this craving is the Indian sweet called halwa.
The wonderful Suji ka halwa

When I was a kid, Mithun Chakraborty in the guise of a certain halwa-wallah brought joy to children in a Bollywood film. I did not get a chance to know him or the type of halwa but I have had my share of a variety of halwas that are sumptuous and delicious.
Halwa is also associated with auspicious occasions. It is a ritual followed in many parts of our country to serve halwa made of roasted semolina, also known as suji or rawa, combined with sugar and ghee, generously garnished with dry fruits as prasad.
Probably the suji halwa is the most famous of the halwas but another popular halwa that you might know very well is the gajar ka halwa. Carrots are found in abundance in winter and what better use of them if not in a resplendent orange halwa. The carrots are grated and then cooked with milk and sugar. Khoya is an important ingredient of the carrot halwa.
Gajrela or gajar ka halwa

Besan halwa is known for its remedial properties. It is an effective counter against sore throat and common cold as gram flour contains the medicinal properties of B-complex molecules. This also helps to increase the body’s immunity. Atta halwa is a delicious cousin and I associate it with the gurdwaras where the dish is distributed to the people as prasad.
Two vegetables that you can expect to see in a halwa avatar are the pumpkin and bottle gourd. Honestly, when I was presented with the prospect of tasting these two in the form of a halwa I was not very happy or keen. But I must admit that after tasting them my opinion changed very quickly.
Our adventurous kith, in search for quick and easy to make recipes, have invented dishes like bread and banana halwa and also an egg halwa.
Oh! So sinful, the Karach/ Bombay Halwa

For those who like their time in the kitchen there are various options like the moong dal halwa, badam halwa, Karachi halwa and also the sohan halwa. All these dishes demand a lot of labour but end up being worthy of the time and labour spent. 
The word halwa comes from Arabic language where it literally means sweet. Halwa is a popular sweet not only in India and neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka but this sweet dish is also consumed in Central and West Asia, North Africa, Balkans and the Jewish world.

This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on December 7, 2012. The link to it is here:

"The Straight Hair Experiment"

The gravitational pull has been known to put many things into an aligned perspective. Remember the fame it brought to Newton? Similarly to straighten hair I would use the same- yes you guessed it right the magical pull, the GRAVITATIONAL PULL.

The first step is to apply the right amount of weight to your hair to align them. In case of wavy hair, you can use coins to straighten them first. Using Rs 5 coins is highly recommended as the weight of this denomination has been found to be ample for slightly wavy hair.

In case of more problematic hair aka dense curls, you will need to take help from a brother or a boyfriend keen on body building. Raid their body building equipment for dumbbells. The principle 'the weightier the better it is'can be applied while choosing the right degree of weight for your curliness.

Moving on to the next step. After you have applied the appropriate weight to your curls/ waves, you have to lie down on a bed and let down your hair from the edge of the bed. Now it is important to ensure that this  position remains undisturbed. You will also need to maintain the position for as long duration of time as is possible to achieve the desired results. SO this way you can achieve two things at once; you get your stright hair and while you are at it, you manage to get your beauty sleep.