Winter is a season of celebrating food, and culinary experiences that hinge on the bountiful produce of these months are nothing short of rollicking adventures .
There are people who think all there is to winter is aloo gobhi. They are obviously missing the joys of fresh red carrots, the various vibrant greens, luscious and fleshy bell peppers, soft and flavourful green beans, green garlic, fresh peas and fenugreek, sweet potatoes, deep red beetroot, spring onions and much more that is the bounty of the colder months. Not only is nature generous in yielding this season, human appetites are also more amenable to food and drink, partly due to the biological need to stay warm with additional calories.
Warm broths, hearty meats, a medley of colourful vegetables and various halwas are cooked in homes across the country. Think stir fried veggies, pulao, saag, gajar ka halwa, piping hot homemade soup, homemade chikki and dry fruit laddoos, stuffed parathas, fresh roasted groundnut… Winter is obviously the season to indulge.
At newly-launched Italian restaurant Perbacco located at The Lodhi in the capital, Michelin-starred chef Adriano Baldassarre offers a delicious onion soup laced with saffron that is wholesome, hearty and packed with flavour. With a bit of bread, it’s a whole meal in itself. Chef Adriano likes to trump the ingredient and has a light touch, packing in maximum flavour with minimum confusion on the plate. His burrata is the freshest, creamiest you will have encountered, daring to stand alone on a plate, and winning, as is the risotto with truffle shavings and the gelato with vanilla. Simple, but perfect.
Making the best of the season’s produce is what every responsible cook aspires for, be it someone cooking at home or a restaurant chef. Seasonal, local and fresh is also the discerning diner’s order today, and many players in the industry offer just that.
For instance, Kashmiri inspiration comes packed in an unexpected soup of turnips flavoured with fennel at The Bombay Canteen, where chef Thomas Zacharias is using ingredients like hara chana in a salad, saag in kebabs, green wheat in haleem and red carrots in a toffee pudding to celebrate winter.
The big jars of fermented kanji made in many homes with black carrots and spiced with salt and masala is an old Indian tradition, but like many things Indian, is the next big thing on the food scene. Restaurants like Rooh in the national capital are extending their range of fermented drinks to milk whey, black berry, apple and even tea. Their pomegranate kombucha laced with chilli and salt packs quite a punch, but it is the black berry house fermented drink that is the winner with its subtle and smooth flavours. Chef Sujan Sarkar offers the quintessential winter snack in a wonderful duck kebab with a charcoal biscuit while his take on the soup is a liquid corn bhurji that is perfectly spiced with chilli to balance the sweetness. He gives warm besan barfi gets a twist, elevating it to a complex dessert, but not giving away on the nostalgia one bit. On his range of fermented drinks, he says: “Not everyone wants to consume alcohol, and fermented drinks are the perfect alternative in being fresh, zingy and not over-sweet. Winter is also the perfect season for the fermentation process that yields these healthy drinks,” he says.
Well, healthy or not, winter is also the right season for red meats. At the capital’s Hyatt Regency, the lamb pizza at La Piazza ticks all the right boxes in being the ideal winter go-to dish with succulent pieces of lamb sausage and loads of cheese on a thin crust base.
Talking of comfort food, there’s no place that does it better than SodaBottleOpenerWala. With a range of new dishes under new chef Irfan Pabaney there’s all the more reason to seek winter comfort in the restaurant. Homely and big on flavour, binge on grilled and fried offerings like Kundapuri prawn, staff pickle achari murg, methi fish tikki, a wonderful meatless baida roti and green tikki and go on to dahi ma ghost with a berry pulao. The creamy curd-cashew curry with succulent pieces of mutton is just delicious. End with a warm coffee cake topped with whisky caramel sauce and mascarpone topping for the perfectly satisfying winter binge.
A little trip outside the comfort zone could be an adventure. Like a trip to Goa, the favourite holiday destination in the winter months, escaping to clear blue skies and warm beaches. Adding to the excitement is a new hotspot called Titlie at the scenic Vagator beach, where collaborative cuisine that refuses to be bracketed is the order of the day. Here again, local and fresh rules, with big focus on vegetarianism. Think avocados, passion fruit, jackfruit, greens, papaya, cashew, fish, crab, squid, pork, chorizo, etc. And, definitely no aloo-gobhi.