Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival celebrated all over the country but with different names. For instance, in Gujarat, we call it Uttaryan, in Punjab and other Northern states it's dubbed as Lohri. You might have also heard about Pongal. Yes! It's Makar Sankranti but in Tamil Nadu. So, for a festival that is hailed by so many cultures is worth celebrating with family and friends. But how? Well, only if we could enjoy colourful decorations, meals, kids singing folklores & feasts that follow one of the most important Hindu festival, Makar Sankranti in the hubbub of our closed, compact cities.
I am sure rural areas must be brimming with celebrations amidst this harvest festival but we city-goons will have nothing to do on this day except go on with our daily lives. Well, how about I present a counter-proposal which will not only bring you closer to your traditions but satiate all the cravings you didn't know existed up until now.
I think it's time to guide you through Makar Sankranti's unmatched food palette from all over the country that you will never forget. Ready?
To give you a gist, Uttaryan is celebrated to mark the last day of the winter solstice and welcome summer or longer days. Now, people of Gujarat have a rather fun-infused, liberating style of celebrating Makar Sankranti. To begin with, there are Kite Flying competitions between friends, families and National teams. The entire state chants "Kai Po Che" like hymn except its a mockery to address the losing side. However, the main event is their mouth-watering dishes. Undhiyu, Gulab Jamuns, Ladoos and the list goes on. To bring some of these drool-worthy treats to your house, I have a few classic recipes you'll definitely thank me for. Enjoy!
Originally, Undhiyu was prepared in underground earthen pots upside down fired from the top. And the name came so from the word "Undhu" which means upside down. However, the dish is essentially a mixture of seasonal vegetables like peas, unripe bananas, eggplant, grounded coconut, potatoes, purple yam... made delicious with spices and festive vibes. But the good news is we have a right-on recipe of everyone's favourite Makar Sankranti dish from Tarla Dalal's kitchen. You're welcome!
Image Courtesy: Tarla Dalal
2. Surati Jamun
This dessert melts into one's mouth like no other. Made from milk powder and sometimes from paneer and khoya, this sweet treat is a trademark dessert preferred for all the major celebrations in the family, especially during Uttarayan. However, these traditional ones from Surat are a symbol for auspiciousness which is what we need during festival season. So, let me make this better for you. I am spelling out the most basic, easy to make recipe of Gulab Jamuns by Kunal Kapur right here. All you need to do is prepare, admire and enjoy!
Image Courtesy: Food Network
3. Til Ladoos
These dry crunchy Ladoos are prepared with dry roasted sesame seeds, sweetened with jaggery, peanuts, and desiccated coconut. They are a rich source of calcium and if you have them throughout this month they can fill up your depreciated calcium levels. Now, that's what I'd call God's food. Also, the Ladoos are stacked with nuts which will be helpful in boosting your immunity and people usually enjoy it with a glass of warm milk. To tell you the truth of it, this recipe doesn't require a lot of ingredients. All we need is a good half an hour up our sleeves and this amazing, easy-to-follow recipe of Till Ladoos from one of the highest-ranking YouTuber when it comes to food, Kabita's Kitchen.
Image Courtesy: YouTube
Punjabi's are known to make a dull day bright and festive with nothing but their presence and mouth-watering dishes. And the festival of Lohri is a rather special one. It's the beginning of harvest season when the sun shifts to Northern Hemisphere and the time is near to yield what they sowed. It is their day to thank the Sun Deity for his blessings and pray for warmth and good yield in return.
Now, this day is celebrated with families gathering together, kids fetching firewood, a 5-6 feet tall bonfire in the middle, family members dancing around it, singing folk songs while they confer popcorns, Rewadis, peanuts to the fire as a symbol of embracing the New Year on a fresh note. The shift of the Rabi seasons also has people wearing new bright-coloured clothes and making various mouth-watering dishes, like Makki Di Roti with Sarso Ka Saag, Gajjak, Till Rice and more.
1. Makki di roti with Sarso da saag
The saag has no shortcut to its preparation and the only way to embrace the real flavours is by investing time into it. To give an idea, Saag is prepared with various kinds of greens such as Bathua (Chenopodium), mustard, spinach, radish, fenugreek. Although, the main flavour is of the mustard greens which keeps bringing us back for more. It is mostly accompanied by Makke di roti which is the famous Punjabi flatbread made out of maize flour.
With some garnishing of coriander leaves and butter, the dish becomes nearly irresistible. Both mustard and maize are winter foods and warm the body and hence are a trademark of the festival of Lohri. Let me make this dish even better. An amazing recipe of the classic Makki Di Roti & Sarso Ka Saag by none other than Pankaj Bhadouria. The cherry on the cake or should I say... butter on the Saag.
Image Courtesy: The Statesman
Made from sesame seeds, groundnuts and jaggery this dessert is also a winter special treat which is a bit difficult to prepare but the result will totally be worth it. First, of, the til is boiled in sugar syrup and cooked to be put in layers. Then the dough is beaten until all the sesame seeds break down and release their oils into it. Finally, the process takes an interesting, a bit tedious turn explained in detail in this recipe video.
The good part is, this dish has a long shelf life which makes it easy to store for the rest of the year. You'll find these crunchy Gajaks in almost all North Indian household as a snack with evening teas or in my case, lunch & dinner during the winter season.
Image Courtesy: Punjab Kesari
3. Til Rice
Also known as sesame rice, this dish is a nutty touch to the rice that is cooked to a crisp and made irresistible with sesame powder. The rice is cooked in Asian sesame oil, which has a rich aroma and flavour. It is usually accompanied by roasted fish or chicken. Vegetarians can also alter these with brown rice and garnish it with leaves and beans. The rice is usually kept a little brown to keep the crispy side dominating. If this is something you'd be interested in making during Lohri, I have a recipe in my hand that is a healthier version of the good ol' Till rice we all love and fairly easy to prepare.
Image Courtesy: YouTube
Pongal, Tamil Nadu
The festival of Pongal remains the most celebrated event on the Tamil calendar. The Tamils specifically celebrate the Makar Sankranti as Pongal along with others in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as the rest of the country. The best part? It is a four-day affair and is usually celebrated form the 14th of January to the 17th every year. The festival mainly corresponds to Makar Sankranti marking the gratitude towards the sun god for a good harvest. It also signifies the Indic solstice, when the sun enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn.
The first day celebrated as Bhogi Pandigai. A fresh start of the year when people burn old things and place Neem leaves to get rid of the evil. The second and the most important day is known as Thai Pongal, named after the Tamil name of the month which is Thai. People shout out phrases like "Ponggalo Ponggal" to celebrate the first bubble out of the boiling rice. This is the most important day and has various dishes to grace the rituals.
What's interesting is, Pongal means to boil over or spillover. It has two variants which are Chakkara Pongal that is sweet and Venn Pongal which is spicy and is made from clarified butter. I hope you understand where we are going with this.
1. Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)
A sweet porridge-like dish made with rice and mung lentils, flavoured with cardamoms and dry fruits is the lifeline of Pongal. Also known as Sakkarai Pongal in Tamil, it is the most popular dish of the festival and is enthusiastically prepared with expertise and patience. It is made traditionally in earthen pots with wood fire and devoured on a banana leaf and not just as a mere dessert but also as Prasad. It is prepared usually in temples with dry fruits like raisins and cashews and served with blessings. However, it would be a good omen if you could prepare the dish in your own house. If that's something you are interested in, here's a brief recipe that will lend a helping hand. You're welcome.
Image Courtesy: YouTube
2. Ven Pongal
One of the staple dishes of South India, this rice preparation serves as breakfast in Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and other southern states. A simple dish that includes the boiling of dal and rice and then garnishing. When prepared during the harvest festival is usually referred to as Khara Pongal. In here the rice dish is kept a little spicy and the ghee and pepper are used enough to dominate the taste. Drooling already? Well, wait till you see this recipe of how to make this at home in a few simple steps. Enjoy!
Image Courtesy: The Indian Claypot
Makar Sankranti, although celebrated by different names and traditions all over the country, the one thing it does is brings everyone together and teaches the importance of harvest and seasonal change. However, for the foodies, it's another gastronomic trail worth exploring.