Monsoon on a plate

This monsoon, go on a 'foodventure' with traditional monsoon meals

Rajwadi khichdi

After a long, harsh and scorching summer, the first drop of rain brings in a distinctive petrichor — that sweet earthy scent of wet mud fills the senses and leaves you with a huge cloud of memories. Our love for food only becomes more prominent as the temperatures drop. Think crispy pakoras and corn-on-the-cob roasted on charcoal and brushed with chilli powder, salt and lemon juice.

When the grey clouds are out, chef, blogger, author and hospitality and food consultant, Reetu Uday Kugaji, scouts for traditional recipes with spices, herbs and vegetables, and for the authentic methods to cook them. “Our digestive system gets weak in the monsoons, so I try to incorporate a lot of fresh veggies, fruits, and cereals; especially bitter and astringent vegetables like the varieties of gourds and cooling foods like barley, brown rice and oats, in my cooking. It is also a good idea to use turmeric, ginger and honey because of their antiseptic properties. And usual comfort foods like khichdi find a place on the table too,” she adds.

Come monsoon, Maharaj Jodharam Choudhary, corporate chef — Khandani Rajdhani, craves for fried food, hot and steaming rice dishes, a cup of masala tea and anything crunchy to munch on. “In my college days, when I’d come home drenched in the rains, by the time I finished changing and freshening up my mother would serve a hot cup of tea and crunchy pakodas made of onion, aloo, capsicum, paneer and brinjal,” he fondly remembers.

Choudhary warns that although the tongue craves for street-side, carb-rich and fatty foods during this season, it’s best to avoid them altogether. “Even the water consumed must be checked as chances of cholera and indigestion increase during the season. Also, non-seasonal fruits and vegetables can be infested with worms, so just stick to fresh, seasonal produce,” he adds.

A case of lost recipes

Reetu believes that one of the primary reasons for not making the traditional monsoon foods these days is the lack of knowledge about what and how our ancestors made dishes with locally available seasonal produce. “That along with lack of time is the reason. Traditional recipes are elaborate and require effort. That’s why we’ve shifted to quick and easy recipes, junk foods, and pre-prepared and frozen meals,” she adds.

Chef Choudhary thinks that everything today is fabricated — right from the ingredients to the vegetables and fruits available in the market. Also when it comes to traditional recipes, most require overnight soaking and slow cooking — that’s not possible these days due to lack of time. For instance, patoleo or East Indian leaf cakes require perfect parrot-green coloured turmeric leaves; soaking the Goan red rice and making the stuffing with Goan jaggery, coconut and cardamom powder and steaming the stuffed leaves in a traditional Komfro steamer. “Making patoleo is an art and requires lots of patience and precision. Sometimes, jackfruit leaves are used, but I prefer the turmeric leaves because the oil in the leaf has purifying properties. As the patoleos are steamed, the oils penetrate in the dish,” suggests Reetu.

The reason that Sundar Sudarshan, executive chef, Planet Hollywood, Goa, avoids making traditional fares is the lack of local ingredients in the market and demand for new, international flavours. The exposure of our palettes to different cuisines has made us forget about our culinary roots. “Even the farmers have switched to cultivating international produce, rather than the usual traditional one,” he adds.

Southern spice

Another interesting monsoon dish to note is Kerala’s pappada vada (batter-fried papad). For this fried snack, poppadums are dipped in a batter made with rice flour, turmeric, chilli powder, sesame seeds, cumin and a pinch of asafoetida; and deep-fried in coconut oil. Perfect for a rainy day, kuthiraivali kuzhi paniyaram from Tamil Nadu are interesting pancake puffs where a batter of barnyard millet, rice, black gram, fenugreek, water and salt is tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves, urad dal, finely chopped onion, and green chillies and fresh cilantro is added and paniyarams are made on a special pan called arepaddu or ponganalu.

Mangloreans make jackfruit appam or jackfruit sweet paniyaram, that are just heavenly with a steaming cup of coffee. You could even try it with badami haalu, a drink made with almonds, milk, sugar, cardamom powder and saffron.

Northern delights

Up north, especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh, singhade ki subzi (water chestnut curry) is relished during monsoons. Water chestnuts prevent coughs, nausea and indigestion. And in the Himachal, pachole made of sweet corn and spices is quite popular.

Chef Choudhary fondly remembers rajwadi khichdi from Gujarat and gehun ki Bikaneri khichdi from Rajasthan. Made with rich dry fruits like walnuts, almonds and cashews that help build immunity and protein-rich toor dal along with seasonal vegetables, the Rajwadi khichdi is a one-bowl nutrition wonder.

From the coast

The Konkan coast is the most mesmerising region during monsoons. “There are many ingredients in the region which can be found only during the monsoon and one should not let go of the opportunity to experience these organic, healthy and fresh ingredients which are available for just three months in the year,” says chef Sudarshan.

He loves preparations made with almi, a variety of wild mushrooms that bloom with the first heavy rains and konga (snail) found in the fields. “Villagers living close to the forests of Goa harvest and sell these seasonal delicacies along streets and highways. Locals use the mushroom as a replacement for chicken in the traditional Goan xacuti, a thick coconut-based gravy loaded with spices. Others like them fried, with chopped garlic and herbs. You can also make a soup with them, but the xacuti is by far the favourite,” he adds.




  • Turmeric leaves: 6 
  • Goan red rice: 2 cups
  • Ghee: ½ tbsp
  • Grated coconut: 1½ cups
  • Goan jaggery: 1 cup (grated)
  • Green cardamom powder: ½ tsp


  • Soak the rice overnight, drain the water and grind to a smooth and thick paste. Wash the turmeric leaves and wipe them dry.
  • To make the stuffing, add ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan, followed by grated coconut and jaggery. Sauté for four minutes. Add cardamom powder and mix well. Take it off the heat.
  • Now divide the mixture into six parts. Moisten your fingers with water and take the thick paste of rice and apply on the turmeric leaves evenly. Place the jaggery stuffing on one side of the leaf. Fold the other half of the leaf, ensuring that it seals properly.
  • Place these inside a steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Once the colour of the turmeric leaves changes to a dull shade, remove from the steamer. Let it cool. Unwrap the leaves. Serve warm or cold as desired.

Courtesy: Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji

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Monsoon on a plate


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