The air has turned from nippy to nasty, and there are two ways of approaching operation winter combat. The first is, of course, to stock up on Crocin and chyawanprash, and the other is the more preemptive—and exciting—measure: food.

While the poster child of winter food is sarson da saag and makki di roti, there’s a winter menu to provide comfort and also combat the harsh weather—some celebrated, some forgotten, some in between, but all of them essential ammunition for the winter months.

The basics

Mughal magic: Jahangiri shorba is an Awadhi recipe which uses chicken. Javeed Shah/Mint

• Opt for protein-rich foods and spices and condiments such as ginger, garlic, pepper, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, garlic, saffron, sesame and jaggery as they naturally make your body work hard to digest them.

• Eat nutrient-rich food, especially green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach (a relatively small portion is packed with all the essential nutrients).

• Also, it’s essential to strengthen your immunity to avoid cold and cough. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are great for building immunity. “Fruits you should look out for this season are, therefore, the citrus family of oranges, lemons, as also guavas; vegetables to go for would be spinach, and other varieties of saag such as sarson, bathua, chana, muli patta, (which are) abundant in the north," says nutritionist Neha Ahuja, who also consults at Inter-Med Clinic, New Delhi.

Mumbai-based Vishakha Shivdasani, a medical doctor specializing in nutrition, attached to the Breach Candy hospital, says: “The sarson da saag, makki di roti is such a hit because firstly, the makki (corn) is a protein and causes thermogenesis (produces heat) in the body; the saag (spinach) is a seasonal vegetable and extremely nutrient-rich. This dish is a nutrient-rich, protein-rich, immunity-giving combo: The best you can (eat) to counter the harsh winters of the plains." Peanut-jaggery brittle (gajak) and sesame seed-jaggery brittle (revdi) also fall in this category. “Til (sesame) is heat-giving, aids digestion, and strengthens immunity. Jaggery aids digestion, and prevents cough and cold," she adds.

Food historian Pushpesh Pant says adding certain warm spices to foods which are not naturally heat-producing changes how they effect your body. Other than proteins such as meats or whole lentils, which are essentially warming, any other food will need a dash of ginger. “No single dish is warming unless you add ginger to it," he says.

The concoctions

Each part of the country has something to offer in the winter menu. In the north, the Mughlai cuisine has plenty of shorbas (soups), while the south has its rasams. In the north, for instance, suggests Ravi Saxena, corporate chef at The Claridges Hotels and Resorts, New Delhi, the dal palak ka shorba (lentil and spinach soup) is very popular. The lentil base, the nutrient-dense spinach, and the piping hot liquid make for a healthy and perfect combination for the winter.

Other popular options are tamatar-dhaniya shorba (tomato and coriander soup) and Jahangiri shorba. “The Jahangiri shorba is a clear soup made of chicken and saffron. Although this is an Awadhi dish, it initially evolved in the Mughal courts. In fact, the influx of people from the northwest region to the plains brought saffron with them. Saffron, too, has heating qualities, and is used abundantly along with dry fruits in the Kashmiri kahwa. Kahwa, of course, contains spices such as cardamom, which itself is heat-generating," says Vishal Atreya, executive sous chef at The Imperial, New Delhi, who also follows Ayurvedic principles in his cooking.

The Mughlai kitchen uses a lot of meats in shorbas, gravy dishes and barbeques; meats being heat-producing food. The quintessential winter food made in many regions of the north, and also Bhopal and Hyderabad is the paya (a dish made with a goat’s trotters). “Paya is made of trotters and is extremely heat-giving and most effective in harsh winters. It’s also coupled with other warming spices such as chillies, cardamom, and fat, and shanks of meat. In Hyderabad where it originates, they serve it with zubaan (tongue of goat)," adds Pant.

In the south, where the winters are mild, the spicy rasam works wonderfully. “Concoctions such as pepper and lemon rasam are great for mild winters. Although the rasam per se is not essentially heat-producing, these lemon and pepper combinations, served piping hot, make it an effective winter food," says Saxena.

In Uttarakhand, two types of dal preparations are made using toor (pigeon pea) and/or gahat (kulath) to fight the winter chill. “Paharis have a weakness for these dals and they become regular on daily menus with the advent of winter, along with urad dal. In the Garhwal region, both dals are extremely popular in the winter. We use extra ginger to help it become digestible. Often, we use the cooked kernels of the gahat to make stuffed paranthas," says Mumbai-based nutrionist and food writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal and author of the soon-to-be-published My Mumbai Cookbook.

The Kumaonis prepare a lentil dish called kumaoni ras. “This too is a mix of heavy winter dals, cooked usually in an iron kadhai (wok) and eaten along with steamed rice and bhang ki chutney, but it can also be served as a soup," adds Ghildiyal.


(Serves 4)


150g whole moong dal (soaked overnight)

750g spinach, shredded

100g green coriander root

1 potato (medium)

1 onion (medium)

1 inch ginger piece

10 garlic cloves

4 green chillies

4 bay leaves

2 big cardamoms

23 green cardamoms

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp kastoori methi

Juice of one lemon

Salt to taste

For tempering

1 tbsp desi ghee

1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)

1/4 tsp cumin seeds


Roughly chop the onion into small pieces. Crush these pieces with ginger, garlic and green chillies. Cut small dices of potatoes. Take a pot, add all the ingredients (except those for the tempering) along with a litre of water; let it boil for 15 minutes on low flame.

After that remove the whole spices from the dal and puree the remainder mixture. Put the whole spices back into the dal mix, and give it a boil. Prepare the tempering separately with ghee, hing and cumin seeds. Add to the shorba. Finally, add finely shredded spinach, sprinkle some lemon juice and serve hot.

—Ravi Saxena, The Claridges Hotels and Resorts, New Delhi


(Serves 6)


400g toor or gahat dal, or a combination of both

1 tsp tumeric

2 inch ginger piece, grated or chopped fine

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp red chilli powder

Salt to taste

For tempering

1 tsp jakhiya (seed of the Cleome viscosa plant; it has the same use in the Garhwali kitchen as that of mustard in other cuisines)

1 tbsp jambu grass (a herb from the onion and garlic family valued for its garlic-ky flavour)

2 tbsp ghee

A pinch of asafoetida

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

7-8 pods of garlic


Soak the dal overnight. Place in a pressure cooker with ginger, tumeric, coriander powder, chilli powder and salt. Cook until done (the dal is cooked when it flattens when pressed between the thumb and forefinger). To temper the dal, heat ghee until hot but not smoking. Add the asafeotida and let it crackle, add sliced garlic and let it begin to brown at the edges. Add the cumin seeds and allow to splutter. If you are using jakhiya, add it and allow to splutter. Take the tadka off the flame and add the jambu grass and allow to sizzle. Add this to the cooked dal and cover the vessel to trap the fragrant smoke inside. Open at the table when ready to serve.

Tip: When making gahat dal by itself, add a tablespoon of rice flour dissolved in water. This will help to thicken the dal.

—Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, food writer


(Serves 4)


100g kahwa leaf

1g saffron

50g almond shavings

100g sugar

5g cinnamon sticks

10g green cardamom

1litre water


Put the kahwa leaf, saffron, sugar, cinnamon stick, green cardamom in

water and give it one boil. Strain and garnish with almond. Serve hot.

—Vishal Atreya, The Imperial, New Delhi


(Serves 4)


1 kg chicken bones

100g chicken, shredded

75g onions, sliced

75g oil

Salt to taste

15g green chillies, sliced

15g fresh coriander leaves

7g ginger (whole)

5g turmeric powder

75g tomatoes, chopped

7g coriander powder

5g black peppercorns

7g green cardamom (whole)

10g garlic (whole)

1/2 litre water


Wash the chicken bones and blanch them in boiling water. Put oil in a handi, and add peppercorns, cardamom, ginger, garlic and sauté till golden brown. Add the onion and sauté further. Add tomatoes, salt, turmeric powder and coriander powder. Sauté for a minute and then add the chicken bones. Add water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock and add chicken. Simmer till the chicken is cooked. Sprinkle fresh green coriander and serve hot.

—Vishal Atreya, The Imperial, New Delhi