Thursday, December 27, 2007


'Tis indeed the glorious season for soups and salads here in Delhi's winter. The days are warm and sunny but the evenings grow dim early and by six at night, it feels like much later. It's quite cold, particularly once you cross the border into Haryana, with a minimum of 11 degrees C considered a warm day.

Veggies, as I have said before, really come into their own in the Delhi winter, and the sheer variety and quality of veggies we get is nothing short of heaven for foodies. Moreover, the cold weather makes it easier to munch on something, unlike the oh-so-hot Delhi summer which just leaves you gasping for water and more water. There's nothing like peeling and baton-ing a crisp white mooli ( daikon) or juicy red carrot, then sprinkling chaat masala and a squeeze of freshly sliced lime on top and downing it, out in the warm afternoon sun. I have to admit, my mouth waters every time I see a roadside vendor of mooli and gajar but sanitary considerations have unfortunately crept into my ageing mind and so I disconsolately try the same thing at home which never has the same zing. The veggies are followed by a square of chikki or Revadi. Chikki is roast groundnuts encased in a jaggery syrup, and chikki is the same thing made with white sesame seeds and sugar instead of jaggery. Both considered 'heaty' according to Ayurveda and therefore apt for cold weather. Endless cups of hot adrak ( ginger) chai or Kashmiri Kahwa are also welcome in this weather. Somehow, come winter, one doesn't think of pakoras - those seem to belong more to the monsoons.

I find it interesting how food and the veggies and fruit are arranged by nature to suit the body's needs - and a little sad when I think how easily we city dwellers in easy reach of supermarkets neglect the rules. Heaty vegetables in winter - mostly from the 'gas' sy family - cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, daikons and carrots. Cooling things in summer - watermelon, melon, tinda, tori, lauki, cucumber - all veggies and fruit with a high water content.

As part of my little bit in winter comes the great soup and salad push. Not that my family object, since they are all, from A down to Puddi, big fans of veggies. So last week I whipped up a delicious pea soup with a dash of green leafies (since I'm a big fan of green leafies), and over the weekend, a lovely, sunshiny pumpkin soup served with salsa with a twist to heat up the innards.

Jade Soup
3 cups of podded peas
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
Pinch Mace
Knob of butter
Small glug of good olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 cup of spinach leaves, cut into fine ribbons
Salt and pepper to taste
1 litre soup stock or water

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the ginger and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.
Add the peas and a quarter of the soup stock. Let it come to a boil and then cover and cook until peas are cooked.
Blend finely and put back in the pan. Add the rest of the stock and the salt and pepper and let it come to a simmer. Add the mace and simmer for five minutes.

Meanwhile, on another hob, put the olive oil to heat. (Use plain olive oil, not extra virgin). Add the slivers of garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove from the oil and add in the spinach ribbons. Cook at high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp.

Before serving the soup, assemble by topping each bowl with a little of the garlic and some of the crisp spinach ribbons. You can add a crisp salad of daikon, carrots and winter tomatoes topping with salt and a dash of lime juice on the side for a light meal. You could also use crisp fenugreek (methi) leaves instead of spinach for an interesting twist.

Sunshiny Pumpkin Soup
1/2 of a well-ripened pumpkin ( about 14 inches in diameter), cut into two, with the skin on
2 whole garlic
1 large red onion, sliced
1 litre soup stock/ water
Good quality olive oil
Red Chilli powder ( use cayenne if required) to taste

1 tsp cumin seeds/ cumin powder
1 tomato, very finely diced
1 green bell pepper, very finely diced
1 small red onion, very finely diced
1/2 ripe tomato, grated
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp plain vinegar or lime juice
1 green chilli, finely sliced ( reduce the chilli if you want it less spicy)

Pour a glug of olive oil into each half of the pumpkin and pop into a preheated oven at 250 degrees for about an hour to roast slowly. Pour a glug of olive oil into each garlic and wrap it up in the foil and add it to the pumpkin.

Meanwhile, pound the cumin seeds, if using, into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. I always prefer to freshly powder the cumin because the aroma is so much nicer. Mix together the diced tomato, green bell pepper, green chilli and onion, add the caster sugar, powdered cumin and lime juice as well as the grated tomato pulp and put away in the fridge.

Once the pumpkin and the garlic are well-roasted, scoop the roast pumpkin flesh out and peel the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook the sliced onion in it until translucent. Add the pumpkin and garlic and cook for a further minute. Let cool.

Pulp the pumpkin-garlic-onion mix finely and add back to the saucepan, along with the soup stock. let it come to a boil and then turn down to simmer, adding salt and chilli powder to taste. Let simmer for five minutes.

Before serving, top each bowl of soup with a spoon of the salsa. The nice, deep heat of the salsa is a good counterpoint to the honeyed thickness of the pumpkin soup, and the crunchy vegetables add a refreshing texture. I also like to add a dash of coriander leaves to the salsa to intensify the freshness.

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