Rain, rain eat away

Chefs across the nation suggest ways of celebrating the monsoons with food beyond chai and pakodas, writes Phorum Dalal

Kulith Saar

One thing to refrain from in the monsoons is fried food,” food blogger and chef Amrita Kaur tells us over the phone with a laugh. “Yes, that includes pakodas,” she quip. The Mumbai-based ayurveda practitioner brings our attention to the digestive system, which is at its lowest functional rate during the rainy season. “Heavy food only slows it down, so avoid cold food. Instead, fuel your body with food that increases ojas or vitality and immunity in the body.”

During monsoons, the digestive fire or agni is weak and causes discomfort with heavy foods. Pack in your cooking with a fair balance of black pepper, clove, cinnamon, garlic and ginger. “Remember, coffee adds to the heat. Indulge in kadhas made from cardamom, nutmeg, star anise and ginger, but all in good moderation. Haldi, khus, triphala and bitter gourd help balance the pita, too. One of my most recommended ingredients is gilou, also known as the root of immortality,” says Kaur, who explains that since the earth is hot, the pita goes up and vata causes bloating. “So, no raw food, and ensure you don’t over or undercook your food. Make sure to wash ingredients thoroughly.”

Warm soups

Chef and author Saee Khandekar associates monsoons with soups and broths. “Warming drinks that offer comfort and nourishment. In Maharashtra, for instance, we make kulith saar (a broth made by boiling and straining horse gram with a tadka of ghee, garlic, and red chilies), which is rich in protein and great for digestion. Kokum saar (not sol kadhi) is also typically made in this season as it helps activate the sluggish metabolism triggered by the season,” she says. This movement to light and hot soupy liquids happens across the country when temperatures drop. In the South, for instance, pepper and ginger-based dishes which were eaten lesser in the hot summers make a comeback. Tender, young ginger is also a monsoon product. 

“I am smitten by the special array of monsoon greens that come to the market for a short window at the beginning of the season. These foraged greens are fast disappearing, and as a result, the simple recipes and the nutritional benefits derived from them as well. During Ganesh Chaturthi, rushichi bhaaji (which is a medley of as many as 20 foraged vegetables, including leafy greens, gourds and tubers) is made in Maharashtra,” says Khandekar.

Banana Fritters with Coconut Hot Chocolate at The Bombay Canteen
Banana Fritters with Coconut Hot Chocolate at The Bombay Canteen.jpg

Down South, the rains are tropical, and the temperature is not too cold. Chef Rakesh Raghunathan, who hosts the show Dakshin Diaries on Living Foodz, says, “In parts of Kerala, there are leaves that grow on the onset of monsoons like arbi, pumpkin, yams. They bloom just before the first showers. We make a curry called patta ila with the stems and leaves in a coconut base, which also has bird’s eye chilli, cumin, coarsely ground and drizzled with coconut oil,” recalls the blogger and chef who at home in Chennai, makes a ‘Bombay chutney’. “It is similar to the kadhi in Mumbai, but there is no other reason why we call it so. It has gram and chickpea flour, buttermilk, asafoetida, green chillies and mustard seeds. It is like a thick paste and we add boiling hot water and lemon to it. This is eaten with hot puris,” says Raghunathan.

Green is yummy

Chef Thomas Zacharias’s Bombay Canteen kitchen is lush green with phodshi, gharbandi, laal math, kantola and arbi leaves. “The latter is used to make Monsoon Pot Pie, a take on rushichi bhaji, the monsoon Maharashtrian equivalent to the Gujarati undhiyu made in winters. We cook it with amaranth, arbi leaves and peanuts,” says Zacharias, mentioning another monsoon vegetable which is shevla or dragon chalk yam. “It is a wild vegetable whose toxins get stabilised when cooked with another wild vegetable called kakad— a favourite amongst the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu community in Maharashtra. It grows only in the first three weeks of monsoon.”

As a child growing up in Kochi, he remembers eating tapioca, jackfruit seeds left over from summer, and dried fish. His favourite monsoon nostalgic food is pazlam peechi, a banana fritter his grandmother made. For the special ‘Toddy and Pakora menu at The Bombay Canteen, he’s serving a churro version using the mashed fruit served with coconut hot chocolate.

Recipe curator Shipra Jain of Daryaganj in Aerocity, New Delhi, is conscious to incorporate digestives in her cooking during monsoon. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that the levels of potassium in the body drop during monsoons. Black salt, jeera, pudina are some ingredients that aid digestion. One can make a coconut pudina punch with lots of lemon or shikanji using cucumber and jeera,” says Jain. One should cut down spices, increase the fibre intake and be hydrated. Sudip Misra, executive chef at Bengaluru Marriott Whitefield, recommends the comforting bowl of khichuri from Bengal, and singhade ki subzi from Eastern Uttar Pradesh made using water chestnut, a fruit that grows wild during this time of the year. Also, potato fried in different ways is almost the ritualistic rain food in India. It is munched as crispy-fried discs with khichuri in Bengal; mashed as chokha in Bihar; mixed with gram flour and fried as aloo bhujia in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

One important monsoon ingredient which tends to be overlooked is green chillies. They are full of vitamins C and A, valuable in countering infections, and can be seen in many preparations, notably as part of pickles and fritters. “Mirch is often batter-fried in Northern India to make mirch ka pakoda as also the Rajasthani mirchi vada or stuffed with other spices as a table condiment/pickle this time of the year,” says Misra.

Chai time

With monsoon, we cannot ignore the magical powers of a cup of tea. Kausshal Dugarr, founder and CEO of Teabox, explains the monsoon flush. “Mainly during the monsoon, the growth of the leaves is higher as compared to other seasons, thereby resulting in a decrease in quality levels. As the character and the flavour of the tea get diluted, India produces around 45% of the teas during this period of time.During monsoon, not more from the flushing out point of view, but to have an ideal experience point of view, a good cup of Bombay cutting chai paired with some fritters is an ideal way for us Indians to enjoy the rains."

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