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Recipes: Keeping Winter Blues at Bay with Indian Flavors

By Nandita Godbole Email By Nandita Godbole
February 2015
Recipes: Keeping Winter Blues at Bay with Indian Flavors

[Clockwise from top] Jaggery, white sesame, ginger, dried ginger for winter dishes. (Photo: Nandita Godbole)

Those of us who have a fully stocked Indian kitchen will attest that our friends often find our kitchens at once amazing and perplexing. How do we keep track of all those spices and methods? Any of us with even a teeny tiny pinch of Indian heritage have mostly learned by example—watching elders or grandparents cook delectable foods and fix minor ailments, from the same toolbox in their kitchen.

All this knowledge has filtered through the generations, simplified from Ayurveda, the traditional system of Indian medicine. In Ayurveda’s holistic approach to health, the first step to living a well balanced life is eating appropriately.

Even the most modern Indian kitchen is abuzz with tantalizing aromas and the flavors of the season, in keeping with these ancient traditions. Spring and Summer diets deliberately include fresh, juiceladen fruits like melons and cantaloupes, succulent mango, pineapples, and whatever else is fresh off the trees, whereas the cool months of Fall invite flavors that showcase the bountiful harvests of vegetables, pumpkins, and squashes. Winter foods and flavors that fine tune digestion and warm the body are no exception to the rule.

Winter evokes images of hot soups, casseroles, and steaming beverages. But is there a way to infuse them with new flavors? Besides using different types of cooking methods (steaming, frying, etc.) and a variety of ingredients, arguably the easiest way to impart a special touch to any food is to use Indian spices and additives that can transform a dish from humdrum food to a culinary masterpiece!

Used correctly, these tiny magicians of the food world not only highlight flavors but immensely benefit one’s health and harmonize the body with the environment.

Here are four common spices/additives that are especially suited for the winter months:

Ginger is widely used in an Indian kitchen. Fresh ginger root is pungent, sharp, and crisp to the taste. It builds appetite and aids digestion. In large quantities, it is thought to generate excessive heat in the body and so must be used in moderation, especially for folks with a delicate stomach. Store-bought pre-made ginger pastes are typically prescribed for convenience when preparing complex dishes. However, to get the best flavor and to extract optimal health benefits, use fresh ginger, plump with flavor, clean and dry on the surface. If you are using a small quantity of fresh ginger, save the skin to add to winter brews that will be strained (such as chai) and use the flesh for cooking. Everyday dishes where the inclusion of ginger is beneficial to one’s health include chai, dals, or stews.

Dried ginger
Whole or powdered dried ginger is very different in taste and application from fresh ginger. Pungent in nature, it has warming properties and is frequently added in very small amounts to hot brews. Its potent healing qualities make it an essential ingredient in postnatal diets, especially for lactating mothers. Dried ginger must be scraped clean to remove the white lime coating and coarsely crushed with a mortar and pestle first, before it is ground further using a heavy duty blender. Before use, discard the skin of dried ginger. Sift the ground dried ginger to remove any fibers and use it sparingly in simple everyday beverages like chai, herbal chai, masala milk, etc.

Jaggery is a popular additive in many Indian stews and dals and often used to make desserts. In small quantities, it is great for the body as it is loaded with iron. Jaggery is made from sugarcane, but unlike refined sugar, often made from GMO beets, it is considered quite healthy. This caramel flavored additive can be used as a sugar substitute in chai and coffee and snack foods like chikki. Some folks will consume a small piece of jaggery on its own, as part of a meal.

Sesame seeds(black and white) and sesame oil
Sesame seeds (black and white) are mild and nutty in flavor. These delicate seeds release their flavors on being roasted over low-to-medium heat. They are warming for the body and are best used in small quantities in savory preparations. Many desserts like Til Chikki (sesame seed brittle) use sesame seeds as a main ingredient. Such preparations must be consumed in moderation. Sesame oil is particularly preferred in Northern India not only for cooking, but also for massages! Include a dash of sesame in trail mixes, top a bowl of cereal, a shake, a smoothie, or baked dish with lightly toasted seeds.

These four spices or additives are easy to find, easy to incorporate and most importantly, very easy to love.

Adding small quantities to your winter diet, incrementally of course, will boost your immunity and resistance to cold—a good way to keep off the winter blues.


(Photo: Nandita Godbole)


Quick Ginger Digestive

Cook time: Nil (plus 30 minutes to soften)
Makes: 5-8 servings

2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
¼ tsp Sindhav or rock salt
Salt to taste
Dash to 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice, to taste

Combine the fresh ginger, Sindhav, and table salt in a glass or steel container and keep covered for 30 minutes. When the ginger has softened, add fresh lemon juice to it, and mix well. Serve a teaspoon alongside a meal, or consume 10 minutes before meal time. A word of caution—consuming more than a teaspoon in one serving can aggravate the stomach lining.

Nandita Godbole is the CEO of Curry Cravings (TM), and a third generation culinary professional who likes to simplify traditional cooking while preserving the finer nuances and methods of a preparation, without losing the essence of the dish.

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