“What good is the warmth of Summer, without the cold of Winter to give it sweetness.” -John Steinbeck
Away from the chaos and the humdrum of life, it’s time to head back to the hills, as the winters have set in.
As the New Year began on a freezing note for the northern part of India. Many people decided to head towards beaches or the coastal plains and few like me decided to brave the chill and head towards the hill station, to witness and enjoy the snowfall along with clean, clear and salubrious weather.
Winter season for me is all about heading back to the hills to my home town and be in the nature’s lap to enjoy the ultimate luxury of sitting around the fire place .
Winters every year become the connecting link to the memories associated with childhood that have frozen with time, but visit to the hills during winters makes them flow like a river amidst the chilly breeze and icy cold winds.
It’s a regular winter morning on the hills, the smoky fragrance from the neighbouring houses exudes a certain charm about the ongoing winters.
Holding my hot piping cup of masala chai in my hands, sitting under the pine grooves, amongst the chirping birds and soaking the unfiltered sun light, all cuddled up on my cot and a small bonfire lit along side helps in thawing the body from the early winter morning stiffness.
As the day progresses the pine trees cordoning the house rustle softly in the winter breeze.I languidly stretch myself, after an exhausting session of meticulously going through the daily reads and now it’s time to admire the spread of glorious greens.
Every winter it’s the same old tale at home. When the house is divided in two territories. It has become more of a ritual now. First one is the outer kitchen garden territory and the second one is the inner kitchen territory. The former belongs to my dad and the latter to my mother. The outer kitchen garden territory under dad is all abound seasonal winter delights, predominantly dominated by the greens. If one side it’s Spinach, coriander, lettuce and green chillies, then on other side we get to see turnips, fenugreek, pig weed and mustard greens.
All these are laboriously grown in an organic way for the family and friends. Who come and appreciate this bounty every winter and also get to take along with them these green bundles.
Though nowadays, there are visitors of a new kind, who come in hordes, that too uninvited and destroy the greens grown with dedication and hard work, within seconds.
Yes! Its the ever increasing simian population. While the primates are in their full destructive mode, dolu the family guard dog gives them a tough time and is able to chase them as they retreat for the moment.
As the glorious greens come to their full glory, they are transferred to the next territory. The competition of another kind begins here, the raw from the fields will soon have to undergo the tedious journey before it is served on the platter. If kitchen garden is dad’s territory which involves looking after the vegetables, it is now mom’s turn to convert the raw into delicious magical portion.
Apart from making quintessentially hearty Himachali food, she is a master in converting the power of raw into delightful and finger licking Mustard green vegetable called the “Saag”.
Saag was once considered as the food for the rural people but now it is the culinary delight and a treat to the taste buds for the rustics and the urbanites as well. I consider it as a luxury in today’s day and age if one gets to taste this homemade authentic cuisine. It becomes more of a palate fest for me when I get to eat this energy rich and mouth watering dish, made by mixing the mustard green, fenugreek, pig weed and spinach .
For years, the ritual of picking up the mustard greens with their soft stalks has been followed in the household. After cutting it with a sickle and mixing with other green vegetables along with ginger and garlic, it is slow cooked and hand stirred on the firewood. The final icing on the cake is the tampering of this delicacy with ghee and onions. The glass of buttermilk and cornflour roti acts as cherry on the cake. This winter delicacy is not just tasty, appetising but an energy booster and saviour against the freezing cold of winters.
Every winters I indulge myself in this gastronomical experience, as I devour on this delicacy, the child in me is awakened. Who is always wanting for more of this exquisite cuisine cooked with unadulterated love with oodles of ghee to top up with. To balance the taste of this spicy, tangy and salty Saag, the jaggery does the magic trick and treat
Anjali, with a masters in English is a teacher on a sabbatical, loves travelling and spending time in the lap of nature, observing its bounties and being thankful to the hills.