All that us wintery

Posted on In Focus Nov 2010 - by Tandoori Magazine
All that us wintery

Cooking in the winter isn't always as easy as other seasons in the year, with a scarcity of ingredients. All is not lost though, as Tandoori looks at what you can put on the menu.

When it comes to seasonal availability, if the summer proves to be a treasure trove of ingredients any chef would be more than happy to use in their menus, then winter is quite the opposite. Those dark and cold days can mean the dearth of the fresh, vibrant ingredients that are an absolute joy for a culinary master.All

It would be foolish to think that just because one can't get one's hands on a more varied selection of fresh fish, flavoursome vegetables and lush and juicy fruits that it's the end of cooking as we know it, but you do need to look at your choice of ingredients a tad more carefully. On the plus side, you don't have to be too precious and fussy, with the emphasis being on hearty dishes and warm and soothing spices. But look around you, look at seasonal charts, ask your suppliers what's best in the months from November though to the end of February, and use your know-how and skills to ensure that you and your customers aren't disappointed with what they are being served.
Besides, there are all kinds of meat - particularly game - during those rather short and chilly days, not to mention a plethora of green and root vegetables, pulses along with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla bean and star anise, and a whole lot more to ensure your menu isn't just a blank bit of paper!

Of course, one could ask why seasonal fare is important in the first place. "There is greater emphasis today on the use of locally sourced seasonal produce," states Alfred Prasad, executive chef of Tamarind. "It's also seen as being part of a wider awareness of the impact on the environment and our responsibility towards sustainable produce. At Tamarind, I ensure that during the summer, the focus is on lighter dishes such as salads and chaats. At the start of the game season, we introduce ‘specials' such as pheasant and guinea fowl which prove to be very popular. Our ‘Festive' lunch menu is introduced in December and for New Year's Eve we do a special menu with our signature dishes."

Cyrus Todiwala, chef-patron of Café Spice Namaste, states: "seasonal influences are important for those who care! Sadly not all do. It's great to still have the pleasure of running a restaurant in a country with seasons unlike some other countries around the world. Seasonal influences bring choice, flavour, excitement and interest to a menu. Give customers the opportunity to return and find new interesting changes.

"When it comes to the menus at Café Spice during the winter, they do revolve around my whims and fancies to some extent. For instance game is already on the menu. Soon we will run a game menu for a fortnight to celebrate British Game Fortnight. Likewise with fresh seafood in season based on landings. I do not do a winter menu as much as we celebrate the best of British in season each month."
Indian chefs working in the UK recognise that there are differences in terms of what's available here in the UK compared to what's available on the subcontinent.

"Large parts of the subcontinent only have a hot season and a rainy season and therefore the food does not change much with the seasons, "notes Prasad. "At Tamarind, the winter menu would certainly aim towards being hearty and warming. As to what defines ‘winter food' specifically, I would say dishes such as meaty soups such as yakhni shorba, stews such as khargosh (rabbit) stew, Kashmiri lamb shank, gosht dum biryani and sikandri raan, to name but a few.

"It is much harder to define specific vegetable dishes or breads as ‘winter food, though there are categories in both that are more prevalent in one season than another. Some of the vegetables we utilise during the winter months for instance are pumpkin, wild mushrooms, parsnips and chestnuts."

Todiwala has fond memories of the type of seasonal food he ate, growing up as a youngster. "Growing up on the Rajasthani border," he states, "there were very hot summers, dry and near 50 degrees, to very cold winters with very low temperatures. This meant that the food changed from season to season. In winter we always had superb dallia and ghee gudd ka paak, gajak (my favourite), more meat, game, etc. Summer was lighter, loads of greens, pulses, bhutta and rich mutton stews, etc. I think these are traditional things that we could do here too, but often forget as we naturally have to keep the British palate in mind.

That said, I don't see any reason why we can't adapt items like authentically made, good kormas, khabarga gosht, traditional roganjosh, breakfast halwa poori, gajjar ka halwa aur garam doodh or hot milk, shall we say! Dahi moongphulli kachoada, jawar ya bajray ki roti, ghar ka mukkhan (home-made butter) are further examples, along with the seasonal game such as mallard and rabbit, etc, good, mutton. Root vegetables are particularly good including various yams, beets, locally grown Japanese squash, greens, cabbage and some cauliflower."

What kind of spices we use in cooking obviously has a bearing on how a dish tastes, but there are some particularly welcoming and warming ones that we can not do without in winter.

Prasad says: "with spices there are advantages not just using them for flavor, but in partnerships that work with other ingredients. Peppercorns and ginger (fresh or dried) are age-old remedies for a cold. Other spices such as cinnamon, clove and nutmeg are used more liberally in winter food. A good masala tea also clears the sinuses! "

Todiwala concurs: "Winter is a time for spicy but not hot food. Spices help to warm the body besides helping to thin the blood during a good hearty meal or rich meal such that the body might not suffer and digestion takes place rather easily. Ginger, which strictly speaking isn't a spice, must be kept on hand to prevent the colds and flus and coughs one gets inflicted with, and also keep some really good honey on hand. Turmeric will keep the body balanced and build resistance."

As a final word, Prasad and Todiwala offer the following advice to other chefs and restaurateurs: "Regular market visits", says Prasad, are "certainly the best option. I would recommend some sort of a ‘seasonal chart' listing such ingredients. To those with limited time on their hands, the internet is a great source of foods ‘in season."

Todiwala says there is so much seasonal produce available these days, that there is no reason for chefs to lack inspiration.

He notes: "I think it is our duty and our obligation to ensure that we support British produce all year round. Chefs need to find out what they can find available locally and some of our rural restaurants do not realise the wealth they are actually sitting on and prefer to rather buy the same produce they have always been used to. Just ask local farm shops, ask your butcher or vegetable vendor and begin that way. You will learn a great deal.

You will be amazed at how much a small farmer will be happy to grow for you and if you get a few others together you can have exclusive stuff grown for your own little circle and thereby offer your customers a greater local choice."

 

Sample Winter Ingredients

Vegetables
Turnips, Wild Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash,  Cabbage, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Carrots, Celeriac, Celery, Leeks, Lettuce, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Shallots, Swede, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard

Fruits & Nuts
Pears, Apples, Avocados, Bananas, Blood Oranges, Clementines, Cranberries, Dates, Grapefruit, Kiwi Fruit, Lemons, Mangoes, Oranges, Quinces, Passion Fruit, Physalis, Pineapple, Pomegranates, Raspberries, Satsumas, Seville Oranges, Tangerines, Almonds, Walnuts

Meat, Poultry & Game
Grouse, Duck, Hare, Rabbit, Guinea Fowl, Mallard, Partridge, Pheasant, Turkey, Venison

Fish & Seafood
Brill, Bream, Cod, Crab, Scampi, Haddock, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Monkfish, Mussels, Plaice, Scallops, Sea Bass, Squid

 

Sample Winter Dishes

Starters
Rasam
Shami Kebabs
Samosas
Potato Cutlets
Onion Bhaji
Pao Bhaji

Tandoori
Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Monkfish
Tandoori Venison
Monkfish Tikka
Seekh Kebabs
Bharwan Aloo

Mains
Kofta Curry
Rogan Josh
Beef & Coconut Curry
Creamy Lamb & Almond Curry
Lamb Shank
Karahi Gosht
Prawn Balchao

Desserts
Tandoori Mixed Fruit with Cinnamon Kheer
Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)

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