Makar Sankranti to Pongal: Here’s Why Festival Food is So Healthy
From sesame and jaggery laddus, to khichari, to seasonal vegetables, here are festival recipes from across India.
As the sun begins its journey from South to North in relation to the Earth, it is a time to pause and celebrate the only Hindu festival that almost falls on the same date every year according to the Gregorian calendar.
Known as Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal, Pedda Panduga or Magh Bihu this harvest festival is celebrated all over India. Traditionally associated with the harvest of Rabi crop, it is also a festival of kites, boats, fairs and bonfires, marking the end of winter.
Though rituals and traditions are unique to every region, the similarity of the festive food is the common thread that binds the whole country.
The festive platter, a delicious array of textures and taste including crunchy brittle of sesame and jaggery laddus, robust flavours of khichari, hearty mix of seasonal vegetables and rustic taste of bajra roti topped with ghee is immensely satiating.
Dr Archana Gaonkar, an Ayurvedic physician says, seasonal change affects the body.
According to the Indian calendar the Shishir Rutu (winter season) is the coldest. As it is cold outside, Agni (digestive power) increases and results in dry skin and hair. To protect ourselves we need to keep the body warm. The festive diet for Makar Sankranti provides the required nutrients
Sesame and Jaggery
Sesame seed is combined with jaggery and nuts to make rewari, laddus, tilkut and gajak, the essence of this season. Roasted sesame seeds either whole or pounded are mixed with golden jaggery syrup with a dash of cardamom to make these delicacies.
“Ayurveda gives much importance to sesame seeds and its oil. The sweet, pungent, bitter, and astringent in nature of sesame balances vata dosha, providing snigdhata (lubrication),” says Gaonkar.
“It also provides warmth, is good for respiratory system, rich in iron and is a cardiac tonic,” she adds. Avni Kaul, Nutritionist and, Wellness Coach and Founder of Nutri Activania says,
“Sesame is rich in calcium and zinc. It has an anti-inflammatory compound called ‘sesamol’ which prevents the incidence of atherosclerosis. Jaggery, rich in iron enhances immunity and prevents colds and coughs.”
These foods provide warmth during the weather and aid in digestion.
Savouring these items in moderation and being physically active is the key to have a healthy festival.Avni Kaul
It is a mix of rice, moong dal with colourful winter veggies tempered with fragrant cumin, mustard, pepper corns, cinnamon or cloves and topped with ghee. According to Ayurveda, this easy to digest wholesome dish balances all the three doshas .
This is the season to enjoy nature’s bounty from cauliflowers, cabbage and peas, a variety of beans, numerous greens and roots like carrots and radish.
“Mixed vegetable dishes prepared with roots, kandmool, green gram and ber (fruit) , eaten with bajra roti, nourish every organ and purify our bodies,” explains Gaonkar.
Therefore, traditional festive spread for Sankranti all over India includes a unique regional speciality that comprises of local and seasonal vegetables.
In Gujarat, Undhiyu, one pot vegetable that was traditionally cooked in earthen pots is the flavour of Makar Sankranti.
“Another reason for this being a winter speciality is the easy availability of required ingredients”, says, Purnima Patel from Ahmedabad, sharing her recipe.
Brinjals stuffed with masala, cubes of potatoes, sweet potato and seeds of fresh arhar, papdi and vaalor are tempered with carrom seeds and cooked with green chillies, ginger and garlic paste. At the end, muthiyas, small fried balls of chopped methi, wheat flour and besan and spices are also added. The dish is garnished with chopped coriander and shredded coconut.
Maharashtra: Bhogichi Bhaji
In Maharashtra a mixed vegetable dish “Bhogichi Bhaji” is a must for Makar Sankranti. Madhuli Ajay of My Food Court explains, “Bhogichi Bhaji is traditionally made one day prior to Makar Sankranti with carrots, potatoes, brinjals, green gram and ber. Sometimes sugarcane chunks are also added. Coarsely ground roasted peanut and sesame powder impart a crunch and earthy flavour.”It is served with bajra bhakri.
Chandrika R Krishnan, a counsellor from Bangalore says, Pongal being a harvest festival, home grown vegetables were liberally used to make a Kadmaba Kootu or Kuzambu, a mixed vegetable gravy.
"We use vegetables like raw plantain, sweet potato , ash gourd, pumpkin, yam , colocasia ,brinjal, ring beans, broad beans, field beans seeds , cluster beans, potato, and optional vegetables like drumstick, chow-chow and lady’s finger.”
- The gravy spice mix is prepared by sautéing dry red chillies, coriander seeds, roasted Bengal gram and fresh coconut and blending it into a fine powder.
- The recipe involves cutting the vegetables in equal sizes and cooking in a pressure cooker, except for lady’s finger, drumstick and colocasia which need to be cooked separately.
- Once the vegetables are done, tamarind paste, salt, turmeric powder, boiled arhar dal, and spice mix are added. It is then tempered with mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves.
These dishes combine the six tastes (shadras), sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent, mentioned in Ayurveda making food wholesome and complete. Our ancestors ensured the consumption of seasonal foods by making it sacred to provide optimum nourishment and make a healthy option.
These recipes passed over the generations connect us to our roots by supporting a sustainable lifestyle which is imperative in the present times.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer, and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting and travel.)
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