January marks the advent of one of the most auspicious days of the Hindu calendar. One of the very few Hindu festivals that is celebrated on a fixed date, Sankranti falls each year on either January 14 or 15.
While the term ‘Sankranti’ itself denotes the movement of the sun from one zodiac constellation to another, Makara Sankranti is considered particularly significant as it marks the transmigration of the Sun to the Makara constellation (which is the Capricorn zodiac).
Dedicated to the Sun god, Sankranti is primarily a harvest festival and marks the beginning of a new season. Widely celebrated across India, it is known as Magh Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Sankranti in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and Poush Sankranti in West Bengal.
Barring slight regional variations, Sankranti is synonymous with bonfires, festivities and, of course, a whole lot of special food. Most of the recipes make use of freshly harvested seasonal vegetables (avarekai aka hyacinth beans, flat beans, red and white pumpkins etc), sesame seeds, jaggery, sugarcane and groundnuts. Below are three unique recipes from the Southern states that are prepared during the festival. Delectable and bursting with flavours, these dishes have significant health benefits too.
A key harvest vegetable during this time, sweet/red pumpkin is known for its high antioxidant content, vitamin C and the fact that it is a rich source of potassium. Given that it generates heat in the body, red pumpkin is consumed in this season when there is still a nip in the air and winter has not completely waned. “This recipe is specially prepared for the festival in Karnataka, as it is an ideal side dish with tangy and savoury flavours. It incorporates the goodness of fresh coconut, mustard seeds and red chillies that add in a medley of flavours. You could also add crushed pepper on top,” says Parimala, a homemaker from Bengaluru.
Sweet (red) pumpkin raitha
2 cups sweet pumpkin, chopped into small pieces after peeling the skin
4 tbsp freshly grated coconut
2 tsp mustard seeds
4 red chillies
Curry leaves, mustard seeds and asafoetida for seasoning
1 tsp coconut oil
Thick curd for mixing
Cook the pumpkin pieces by adding water till soft (ensure that the pieces are not smashed). Grind raw red chillies, mustard and freshly grated coconut with a little water to form a smooth paste. Add the ground mixture to boiled sweet pumpkin and mix well. Add curd and salt to taste. Heat coconut oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, and once the seeds splutter, add red chillies, curry leaves and a pinch of asafoetida.
Few foods are more comforting than a bowl of hot rasam and rice. The traditional soup is loaded with nutrients known to soothe many minor ailments and build immunity. Amla or gooseberries — a rich source of vitamin C — are harvested during Sankranti in the Telangana region and a special rasam is prepared using the same for the festival. “In this season, everyone is prone to catching viral infections or common cold. Usiri kaya rasam is an excellent recipe that helps combat these infections. The combination of spices used not only satiates the palate but also helps in digestion,” says Varun MB, executive chef, Novotel Hyderabad Airport.
Usiri kaya (Gooseberry/Amla/Nellikai) rasam
3 cups gooseberry (amla), roughly chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3-4 green chillies
1-2 red chillies
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
10-15 curry leaves
1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp ghee
Fresh, chopped coriander for garnish
Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. After they splutter, add methi seeds, chopped green chillies and asafoetida. Add the chopped amla and water, cover and allow to cook till soft. Then add tomato, red chilli powder, salt to taste and turmeric powder. Mix well and bring to a boil. Adjust water accordingly. Remove from heat and strain.
A wholesome curry rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, this one is a traditional recipe that is mandatorily prepared in Tamil Nadu along with sweet pongal. “All these harvest vegetables are not only auspicious for the Sun god but are also very nutritious and are supposed to be consumed this season. The vegetables are added in an odd number and the same can be increased to nine by adding potato and elephant yam,” says Gowri Balakrishna, a native of Tamil Nadu.
Ezhukari kootu (Seven vegetables curry)
1 cup white pumpkin
1/2 cup red pumpkin
1 cup broad beans
1 cup beans
1/2 cup carrot
1 cup chow chow
1 cup hyacinth beans (avarekai)
1 cup toor dal
1 tsp tamarind juice extract
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp oil
Curry leaves, asafoetida and mustard for seasoning
1 tbsp coriander seeds (Dhania):
2 tbsp Bengal gram
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 cup freshly grated coconut
6 red chillies
Chop the vegetables into small cubes and cook till soft; pressure-cook the toor dal till soft. * Heat oil in a pan and add Bengal gram. Roast till it leaves an aroma. Then add the rest of the ingredients under ‘to grind’ till aromatic. Grind to a soft paste. * Take a thick-bottomed vessel and add the cooked vegetables, dal and the ground mixture. * Add salt, turmeric and tamarind extract and mix well. Add a little water if needed. * For seasoning, heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the curry leaves and asafoetida and pour into the curry.