In Punjab, the breadbasket of India, wheat is the main winter crop, which is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fields come up with the promise of a golden harvest, and farmers celebrate Lohri during this rest period before the cutting and gathering of crops.
Born and brought up in Delhi, which is situated in north India and happens to be a bastion of north Indian culture, I have been witness to many a Lohri celebrations. It’s a fun festival, with an evening bonfire being the highlight. A fire is lit outside houses, and people move around it in a circle, dropping popcorns, peanuts, and other wintry goodies into it. Supposed to mark an offering to the fire god wishing for prosperity, this is a tradition that perfectly fits the season. Nothing can be more heartwarming than the community coming out in the evening and sharing joy before a warm, glowing fire.
As the evening wears down, the celebration is rounded off with a traditional dinner of Makki di Roti (maizemeal bread) and Sarson da Saag (mustard greens curry). Let’s gather then for a hearty meal, shall we?
Sarson Saag (Mustard Greens Curry)
Mustard Greens: 500 grams
Bathua Greens: 250 grams
Ginger paste: 1 teaspoon
Onion paste: 2 tablespoons
Garlic paste: 1 teaspoon
Tomatoes: 2, chopped fine
Green chilies: 3-4, chopped
Ghee/White butter: 1 teaspoon
Salt: To taste
Sugar: A pinch
1. Chop the greens finely and wash well. Boil until soft, then blend with the green chilies.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic pastes. Fry for a few minutes.
3. Add the chopped tomato and stir until the oil separates.
4. Add the blended greens, salt, and sugar. Keep stirring until the greens thicken. Turn off heat.
5. Add the ghee/white butter.
6. Serve hot with makki ki roti (recipe follows).
Makki ki Roti (Maizemeal/Cornmeal Bread):
Maizemeal: 1 cup
Wheat flour: ½ cup
Radish: A small piece, grated
Green chili: 1, chopped fine
Coriander leaves: Few sprigs, chopped fine
Lukewarm water: Enough to bind the maizemeal into a soft yet firm dough.
Salt: To taste
1. Combine all the ingredients and bind into a soft yet firm dough. Add half of the wheat flour if needed.
2. Make small balls out of the dough. Use a rolling pin to flatten the balls into round breads or rotis. Keep the bread a little thick.
3. Place the roti on a warm griddle. Be careful; maizemeal dough tends to be a little brittle.
4. Fry on both sides until you get that nice golden hue.
5. Plop it straight to the plate and serve with hot sarson ka saag and a piece of jaggery. This is the traditional accompaniment.