Monday, January 27, 2014

The best of winter vegetables

Winter in India means great vegetables. I honestly mean that. If you are someone who shops for vegetables, you should be happy. The vegetables all look happier, greener and altogether nicer during the winter. The range of vegetables expands and by this I do not mean only the fancy `English’ vegetables, but, the `Indian’ vegetables too come into their own.

You can see wonderful peas, strangely tomato [which world over is a summer vegetable/fruit], green garlic, radish, all manner of leafy vegetables and, of course great `English’ vegetables. Exotic peppers, glorious Leek, fat luscious celery and so many more. On the matter of tomato, there were some really sweet, I mean really sweet tomato on sale in the market. These were small, about the size of a large walnut and not the usual face puckering sour cherry tomato you normally get. 

To give you an example. Winter is the time for what I consider Gujarat’s best and frankly only worthwhile dish, `Undhiyu’. For those who do not know what this is, it is a potpourri of various root vegetables [`Kand’ or Purple Yam, Potato, Yam, Sweet Potato] various beans both in their pod as well as shelled [`Tuvar’ or Cluster beans, Broad Beans, Pigeon Peas] in a green masala made with coconut, green chilli, fresh green garlic and coriander. To this you add chunks of Banana and dumplings flavoured with fresh `Methi’ or Fenugreek leaves. Most of these vegetables are available only during winter.

It is difficult to get a decent `Undhiyu’. Making `Undhiyu’ is difficult. The list of ingredients itself is daunting. Cleaning and prepping the vegetables is a task in itself. Once you have got that done you realise that the dish has at least two subcomponents that have to be made independently – the `Methi Muthiya’ or Fenugreek Dumplings and the ground coconut masala that is the key to a successful `Undhiyu’. This is daunting for most people today. Add to this, the fact that in nuclear families no one really knows how to make `Undhiyu’ and frankly `Undhiyu’ cannot be made in small quantities, so no nuclear family is going to be able to finish what is made in a single meal. Most restaurants serve slap dash efforts with ingredients missing or shortcuts employed. The best `Undhiyu’ is available from a small shop in the old part of Bombay – C P Tank. The shop is Hiralal Kashidas Bhajiawala call them reserve a kilo or two of `Undhiyu’ and have a absolutely great meal at home. Their numbers are 24223716 or 22428375. We get `Undhiyu’ from them quite a few times during the winter. It is really good and authentic.

You also get local carrots which are redder and longer and they are used to make `Gajjar Ka Halwa’. This is a dish where the results are far greater than its parts. The parts are carrot, sugar, ghee, evaporated milk and Cardamom powder for flavour. Sounds pretty plain, but let me tell you that a well made `Gajjar Ka Halwa’ is quite delicious.

Winter is also time for the classic Punjabi dish `Sarson Ka Saag’ which is made with Mustard Greens. This is another dish where the results are greater than its parts. Mustard Greens are available during winter and these are mixed with spinach and what is known as `Bhatua’ which is a sour leaf. `Sarson Ka Saag’ is supposed to be very nourishing. The best place to get `Sarson Ka Saag’ in Mumbai is The Great Punjab restaurant at Linking Road Bandra. Very nice indeed.

The Bengalis use a fresh Jaggery called `Notun Gur’ spellings may vary, to make their classic `Sandesh’ during winter. This Jaggery is tapped only during winter.   

A couple of days ago when shopping at Pali Market, Sunil, the effervescent vegetable seller whose popularity in Bandra is fairly incredible, asked me to take some Romanesco Cauliflower which he had. I was rather surprised to see this in Bandra.  Romanesco Cauliflower is fairly exotic even in the West and I was not going to turn this down. I grabbed a healthy head and took it home. Romanesco Cauliflower is a cousin of Cauliflower and Broccoli. It looks like something descended from outer space, or, something from the sea. I boiled it in salted water, shocked it in iced water and got the lovely green colour fixed. Then I cut the florets and made a salad with some Parmesan, Capers, and Olives and toasted Almonds and dressed the salad with a Vinaigrette. It was really delicious, crisp and fresh tasting. You could even make Romanesco Cauliflower with a luscious Cheese Sauce.

So, if you are so inclined, do visit the market this winter and enjoy the wonderful vegetables on offer. If not, buy the `Undhiyu’ and the next weekend the `Sarson Ka Saag’ and have the best of what our winter offers us. None of this is a large amount of money.

And, before I forget, I have not turned vegetarian.


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