The early days of December can be a bit surreal. The afternoons border on sweltering while the evenings can be shockingly chilly in our streets. While it usually never gets very cold here in Mumbai, this time around we have a cyclone to thank for the gloom and large splashes of rain. The only sign of it being December are the new vegetables that greet us when we step down to buy them. Long red halwa carrots, named so I suppose because that’s what they are most commonly used for-to make Gajar ka halwa, Radish and Mustard greens or sarson, wild Bathua, Radish pods or mogri, green garlic, green chickpeas, the list goes on. What excites me most about winter is how I can pick things up at random from a bhajiwala, treat it rather simply and be rewarded exuberantly. Such is the kind of produce winter brings with it, and this harvest is so abundantly good, I miss cooking with it the year round.
Take just green garlic for instance; it’s fascinating to see how beautifully it sits in egg dishes-anything par eeda in the Parsi tradition-and also lends itself to the most basic European breakfasts if snipped like chives or worked into a creamy hollandaise. Fresh pigeon peas and startlingly green petit pois are some of my favourite things to look forward to as they’re much sweeter in the winter, you can easily swap one for the other, and even eat them uncooked. Mogri or spicy radish pods that range from a bright green to a deep purple can also be eaten by themselves or worked into salads, mixed into a paratha dough or turned into a simple seasonal sabzi. In this recipe feature, the first recipe is for a crabmeat dip/bruschetta topper with mogri. I steamed the crabmeat briefly before stirring it with finely chopped mogri, mayonnaise, and seasoning. Sweet seafood, sharp radish pods and some citrus to finish makes a simple snack with toast.
The other recipes are for Radish greens cooked down with spinach and green garlic in a very simple Sindhi-style saag, then Red carrot cheesecakes without any cheese, but just as soft and creamy on the inside and finally, the Christmas side dish I’ll be serving alongside my roast this year-Red carrots cooked in brown butter, hazelnuts and chilli. Here are the recipes:
Crabmeat and Radish Pod Spread
Sweet fresh crabmeat and spicy radish pods go superbly together in this bruschetta topper. You can also have these with plain nachos, in bagels or with an egg.
Picked Crabmeat 200g, steamed or cooked for a few minutes till just heated through. Ask your fishmonger for picked crabmeat.
Mayonnaise 1/4 cup
Lemon 1, zested and juiced
Mogri or radish pods 1/3 cup washed and finely chopped
Chilli flakes or paprika 1/2 tsp
Salt if necessary
Bread to serve
Mix all the above ingredients together in a bowl and chill till ready to serve. Spoon over hot crusty bread and serve.
Kadai-wali palak is the original dish that inspired this radish saag riff. It’s made in a kadai obviously by bunging all the leaves in, putting a lid on and letting them cook on low. The greens release their liquid and cook in it, so you’re ready to serve when the cooking time is up. Serve this green leaf sabzi with papad, kachumber salad made with any leftover baby radishes and doda which is a rustic, dry Sindhi flatbread made with jowar, bajra or rajgira. The traditional way to make it is with salt, curd or water and a bit of ghee to bind it. The doda served below is made with jowar atta with green garlic added in for extra flavour. A doda is made by wetting your palm and flattening the dough balls and not by using a rolling pin.
Kadai Wali Mooli Ka Saag
In my house we make a spinach dish that’s separate from saibhaji called Aisi Palak. For this recipe, I’ve used a combination of radish and spinach but cooked it in the same way. You could also add an optional tempering of ghee and garlic at the very end.
Radish leaves chopped 3-4 cups
Spinach leaves chopped 1 cup
Green chillies 2
Ginger 1 tsp, freshly grated
Green Garlic 1 tbsp, greens and cloves separated
Onion 1 medium sized, sliced lengthwise
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder 1 tsp
Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Vegetable oil 3 tbsp
Heat the vegetable oil in a large kadai big enough to fit the greens. Add to this the onion and let it cook on a medium flame for a few minutes till translucent. Next add in the ginger, green chilli and the garlic pods from the green garlic and continue to cook for a minute. Add in the turmeric, coriander, cumin powders with some salt and stir for a minute more. Add the radish and spinach greens to the pan in batches letting it wilt. Finish with any remaining green garlic greens and put a lid on this and let it cook on a reduced flame for 20 minutes. Check for salt and take it off the heat. Use a stick blender to blitz the mixture together and serve with rotis, dodo or rice.
Winter carrots are a real treat to look forward to- sure they make the halwa that they’re so famous for but they also make a rather delicious and different carrot cake from the kinds you’d make with orange carrots. This particular cupcake sized treat packs in all that delicious carrot flavour in a creamy, almost-cheesecake-like bite with no cream cheese necessary. It’s also remarkably light and great served with tea and a dollop of cream cheese or quenelle of custard on the side.
Mini Carrot "Cheese"cakes
Yield 12 mini cakes
These are neither traditional carrot cakes nor cheesecakes. They are much lighter creamy little cups of dessert made with seasonal red carrots. The little bit of flour is just so that it can hold its shape. If at any point of time the mixture seems to curdle, don’t be alarmed as it all sorts itself out during the baking process.
Red long winter carrots 600g
Caster sugar 250g
Butter 70g, plus more for greasing, softened
Salt a pinch
Cinnamon 1/2 tsp
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Cook down 500g of the winter carrots in salted boiling water till a fork inserted can pierce easily with no resistance. Drain the carrots and using a stick blender, purée them. Let them cool completely. Grate the remaining 100g of the carrots.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cream the butter and sugar together in a deep bowl till light and fluffy. Switch to a spatula and add in the puréed cool carrot purée and gently fold it in. Add the eggs one by one and stir it in using a wooden spoon. Sieve over in the flour, pinch of salt, cinnamon and zests and fold it in gently. Transfer the batter to a 12 hole muffin pan and transfer to the oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let it cool completely before turning them out and serving.
Come Christmastime, we always have a roast on the table, which implies also having a few sides, a stuffing, salad and dessert on the table to accompany it. To kick things off, this year’s star side would have to be this dish of red wintertime carrots tossed in brown butter, hazelnuts and chilli. It smells and tastes comforting, warm, and very Christmasy.
Brown Butter Red Carrots with Chilli and Hazelnuts
Yield 2-3 as a side
My Christmas roast needs a delicious and warming side to complement it. These red carrots tossed in brown butter, chilli and lemon works perfectly.
Red winter carrots 300g
Hazelnuts 2 tbsp, toasted and crushed
Curly parsley 2 tbsp, leaves picked
Lime 1 juiced
Chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Salt and pepper
In a large saucepan or a wide nonstick pan, add the butter and let it turn into brown butter over medium heat. The solids will separate from the butter and the butter will start to smell nutty. When the bubbling starts to subside, add in the toasted and crushed hazelnuts and chilli powder followed by the carrots, parsley and lime juice. Toss everything together well and finish with salt and pepper. Take it off the heat and serve.