Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Taste of Terroir

I had blogged about terroir over a year ago, when Anna first came up with this event. Since then, life has intervened in a pretty major way to keep me from finding the time to participate yet again. But Anna's email finally prompted me to stop procrastinating and write in on the theme yet again.
Indian food has a very sound and interesting theory behind it. Most of the prescriptions about what to eat and in which season and how are based on seasonality - what the weather will be like, what the harvest of the season will be like and what the body needs to stay healthy in that weather. This is much more heightened in the north of India, where you actually have 4 distinct seasons in the year as opposed to any other region of India.

Winter in the North brings forth a bounty of delicious vegetables and I go crazy each time I visit the local vegetable market, greedily trying to cram lots of them into my shopping basket, yet bound by the finite number of meals in a day! Green vegetables really come into their own and one can pick out several kinds of greens which are only available in the winter.

One of the major specialities to eat in Punjab in the winter is Makai ki Roti and Sarson ka Saag.
Makai is maize, so this is an unleavened bread made with maize flour and topped with dollops of home made unsalted white butter. With it, you have a mashed vegetable made of mustard leaves blended with onions, ginger, garlic and daikon, again topped with lashings of home made butter. On the side, you have jaggery, the brown sugar made from sugar cane.

These are typical dishes eaten in village homes in this season. By October, you can see mustard plants with bright yellow flowers on their stems as you drive by villages in the North. In villages, the dish is prepared with freshly harvested mustard greens. The Makai is locally grown as well, dehusked and made into flour. The jaggery is made from the sugar cane grown in the villages and is used to sweeten almost everything in the villages, and the taste of the jaggery actually changes with the soil of the area in which the sugar cane is grown.

This meal is particularly designed for the winter, to provide more heat to the body. Makai has a lower sugar content than wheat and thus is slower to be absorbed, keeping one full for longer. At the same time it is easy to digest, a must for cold weather. Mustard leaves are known to be 'heating agents' as per ayurveda even though mustard oil is a coolant. They also make sure the meal is high in fibre which is needed for good digestion in winter. Jaggery too is supposed to have a heating effect on the body. And the dishes are all topped with butter which helps the body to stay well-lubricated in the cold, dry winters of North India.

Of course, quite apart from the health benefits of this meal is the delicious taste. The Sarson ka Saag has a rich, slightly bitter taste, offset by the sweet and salty rotis.

Sarson ka Saag
1 bunch sarson ( mustard) greens
1/2 bunch spinach leaves
1 daikon
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 green chillies
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Wash and clean the greens thoroughly and chop off the bottom two inches of stem. Peel the daikon and chop into 1 inch pieces. Pressure cook for one whistle or boil the greens together with the daikon until soft. In a large wok, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and green chillies and cook for one minute. Then add the greens and the daikon and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Let cool and then puree until you get a fine paste.
Serve topped with white, unsalted butter and a large piece of jaggery, some slices of onion and a green chilli.
(I prefer not to add turmeric as that gives the dish a brownish colour instead of the bright green it otherwise looks.)
Makai Ki Roti
Maize flour - 2 cups
Water - 1 cup
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
Mix the flour, salt, oil and then slowly add the water while mixing, until the flour becomes easy to knead.
Make the dough into 12 small balls. Roll them into rounds and then flatten them with the palm of the hand. Roll them out into flat disks about 5 inches in diameter and cook on a hot skillet, turning to cook on both sides. Serve hot, topped with butter.


Asha said...

Both these dishes go so well together, like ultimate comfort food even if we are not Punjabis. Love it BEV, great post! :)

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