‘Gajar ki halwa’. Photo: Wikimedia
‘Gajar ki halwa’. Photo: Wikimedia

Hunger Games | Last chance to try my mother’s winter specials

Carrot and turnip pickle, gajar ka halwa, green chana gravy and dry fruit chikki are staples in our home this time of the year

My mother is always complaining that my sister and I simply don’t appreciate her cooking. Sometimes if she’s really angry at us for pointing out dry, burnt vegetables or too much salt in the gravies, she even challenges us to hire a cook whose home-cooked food we would enjoy better. The truth is—I’m sure my mother knows too—that we could never enjoy everyday meals cooked by anyone but her, not even her mother (our nani). Over the years, she’s adopted a style of cooking that is so unique to her that my sister and I often offend friends and families who invite us for a home-cooked meal either by “not eating enough" or wasting whatever little we’ve been served.

On most days, it’s much easier for us to tell our mother about a faulty ingredient or an overcooked dish than tell her that the aloo-mattar or Sindhi curry or sai bhaji—all dishes we eat regularly for lunch or dinner—was delicious. It’s not as if my mother whips up restaurant quality food that we can’t eat at other homes, it’s the opposite really. She uses spices in quantities so miniscule that our food would be too bland for most people and she uses oil so little that I’m sure it’s like a drizzle on top of dishes in other homes. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like most home cooks, my mother has days when she’s just too bored to cook and days when the local produce is such rubbish that she rather we all just eat koki, the Sindhi onion paratha with dahi or pickle. But as a family, we all really enjoy winter vegetables and each of us has a favourite. I think green chana (fresh green chickpeas) makes her life really easy—we happily eat it as a chaat-like salad or a in light tomato-onion gravy almost every other night in December and my sister even carries the salad for lunch to work. My mother cooks the green chana gravy the same way my nani cooks her mutton gravy and we even mop it up the same way we would eat the mutton, with pav or bread slices.

My sister rarely makes any culinary demands, but when bright red carrots are in season, she asks mum to pickle them with turnips and mustard at least two-three times while they are available in the market. The pickle is super sour and made in water, unlike oil, think of it as a Sindhi kimchi. It tastes great with anything, but I mostly eat it just like that when I’m snooping around the kitchen for a snack. My mother also makes gajar ka halwa in small quantities for me and even though I don’t say I love it very often, she knows I do when I ask her to make some more the day after I finish the first batch of the season. I personally like it when my mother makes it with just carrots, milk and sugar, but in the recipe below, she insisted I include white poppy seeds and dry fruits because “readers wouldn’t like it so plain and simple".

When I told my mother that I’d like to share recipes for my winter top three on The Hunger Games blog—carrot and turnip pickle, green chana gravy and gajar ka halwa—she said I must share her seasonal favourite too, an easy-to-make dry fruit chikki that’s called wada in Sindhi. She makes the chikki in less than 15 minutes and I think this year, she’s really enjoyed gifting them to friends and family.

It seems like the weather in Mumbai is getting back to normal—hot and humid—so I recommend you try our family’s favourite winter dishes while the vegetables are still sweet and full of flavour.

Carrot, turnip and mustard pickle

Makes a 500ml jar of pickle

Ingredients

2 medium-sized red carrots

2 medium-sized turnips

100gm cauliflower (optional)

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tsp red chilli powder

2-3 garlic flakes (optional)

500ml water

Salt to taste

Method

Wash, peel and dice the carrots and cauliflower into 2-to-3-inch long chunks. Wash, peel and quarter the turnips. Put the mustard seeds into a mixer and grind to a coarse mixture, take care not to powder the seeds. Place the vegetables along with the ground mustard seeds, red chilli powder and garlic in a clean, 500ml glass jar. Fill the container to the brim or until it covers all the vegetable chunks with filtered water and add salt to taste. Mix the pickle and store the jar in a dry, cool place for 8-10 days. When the water begins to taste sour and the vegetables soften, the pickle is ready to eat. It typically lasts a week, but it can last longer if refrigerated.

Green chana gravy

Serves 4

Ingredients

300gms fresh green chickpeas

2 onions

3 tomatoes

2 green chillies

½ inch ginger

6 garlic cloves

1 tsp coriander powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp garam masala

1 bay leaf (optional)

1 black cardamom pod (optional)

½ tsp dried mango powder to garnish

2-3 tbsp oil

500ml water

Salt to taste

Method

Sauté grated onions with finely chopped ginger and garlic in a pressure cooker (with the lid off) for a few minutes until the onions turn pink. Add the grated tomatoes, fresh green chickpeas, green chillies, other spices and salt. Stir on a medium flame until the smell of the raw masala disappears. Add 500ml of water and finish the dish in a pressure cooker. Switch off the flame after two whistles. Garnish with garam masala, dried mango powder and fresh coriander.

Gajar ka halwa

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 kg red carrots

1.5 litre full-cream milk

2 tbsp white poppy seeds

2-4 tbsp ghee

250-300gm sugar (or to taste)

½ tsp ground green cardamom powder or 5-6 green cardamom pods

2 tbsp chopped cashews

2 tbsp chopped almonds

2 tbsp chopped pistachio

Method

Finely grate the red carrots and sauté them in ghee on a high flame until they are soft and dry.

Add the ground cardamom powder or seeds and milk. Boil the mixture on a medium flame until most of the milk has evaporated. At this point add the sugar and keep stirring until the milk has evaporated completely and the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the dry fruits and chop a handful finely to use as garnish.

Mixed dry fruit wada / Sindhi dry fruit chikki

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup of finely chopped, assorted unsalted nuts (almonds, cashews and pistachio)

1 tsp white poppy seeds

¼ tsp ground green cardamom powder

1 tbsp ghee

2-3 drops of lemon juice

Method

Grease the rolling pin and chakla or the flat surface you plan to roll out the chikki on. Heat ghee, add sugar and cook on a low flame until the sugar dissolves to a smooth syrup. Turn off the flame at this point and stir in the finely chopped nuts, poppy seeds and ground green cardamom powder. Add a few drops of lemon juice and quickly roll out the mixture, as thin as you like, on the greased surface. The lemon juice helps keep the chikki crispy for longer.

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