On Instagram, there are more chefs posting about halwa recipes than style influencers strutting in Pantone’s colour of the year, a bright shade of yellow named Illuminating. To not be left out, chef Ranveer Brar posted a recipe of halwa with kaali gajar (black carrots) on YouTube. Food consultant Monika Manchanda’s Instagram post on slow-cooked (eight hours!) halwa shines like rustic gold. And, food writer Vernika Awal’s, @delectable_reveries on Instagram, is a spot of sunset glow on a plate.
Sadaf Hussain, chef and author of the book Daastan-e-Dastarkhan: Stories and Recipes from Muslim Kitchens, says winter in Lucknow is marked by gajrela which has a creamy kheer-like consistency. Depending on your preference, it can be sweetened with sugar or jaggery. And, it is a perfect seasonal sweet treat for our time-crunched work-from-home lifestyle for Gajrela takes less than half the time and effort to cook compared to gajar ka halwa. In Kashmir, he says, there is a khatti gajar ki sabzi flavoured with fennel seeds and cooked in tamarind water. In Jharkhand, he says, this is the season to add carrots and peas to chilkas which is a spin on the chilla. In Hussain’s home, diced carrots are cooked with peas and fenugreek leaves in mustard oil and spiced with cumin seeds and whole green chillies. It is served with hot parathas. He also likes to make a quick soup or shorba with tomatoes and carrots: “The tangy flavour of tomatoes balances the mild sweetness of carrots.” As a quick hack, he recommends mixing grated carrots in idli, dosa or paniyaram batter.
The winter favourite vegetable is used in North-Indian style pav bhajis too, Hussain says. He has a recipe of this dish on the YouTube page of India Food Network. Although pav bhaji is synonymous to the street food scene in Mumbai and Gujarat, it has a North-Indian variation as well. Koshimbir is a Marathi word for grated salads. In summer, Maharashtrian kitchens make a kochimbir with cucumber and in winter, carrots replace it. Roasted peanuts, fresh grated coconut, green chillies, fresh coriander and a dash of lime juice make it a perfect accompaniment for lunches.
Carrots are not limited to just three varieties—perky orange, muted red and deep purple or kaali gajar. There is a radish-like white carrot which is shows up in the vegetable baskets of North India. At a sweet shop in Old Delhi, named Sheeren Bhawan, one can find halwas made with white carrots.
The food of temples in India rely heavily on seasonal produce. In winter, carrots are a staple in langars, bhogs and prasads. Chef Anuj Kapoor is a consultant chef who has spent several months researching dishes prepared for Gods and devotees across temples in India to craft a menu for the restaurant Varr in Rishikesh. It opened this year with a completely vegetarian menu that allows guests to sample foods from temples across India. “During this time of the year, temples make the most of seasonal produce like carrots. In Mehrauli’s Bara Mandir, one would find a delicious gajar-matar-gobhi ki sabzi; in the temples of Vrindavan, one will find carrots cooked with fenugreek or dill leaves; at the Jagannath temple in Odisha, a mixed vegetable dish named Dalma is packed with carrots; in Gujarat’s Akshardham temple, devotees line up for the Swami Narayan khichdi streaked with carrots; and, in the temple prasad of Tamil Nadu sambars are made richer with this vegetable.”