Winter in Pakistan has its own pleasures – particularly foodie pleasures. Whether it’s creamy, salty Kashmiri Chai on a chilly night or juicy fat Kinoo (or kinnow, a type of mandarin orange – Ed), Pakistan has some fabulous winter treats. Punjabi sarson ka saag and makai di roti (mustard greens with corn chappatis) has become famous but every community has its own winter treats – such as the delicious Hara Lassan kay ladoo that’s a traditional Gujarati winter breakfast. The ladoos are served warm with a delicious smokey aubergine dip, fresh creamy yoghurt and crisp papad. Then of course there are all the yummy nuts and dry fruit, the chikki and the halwas that herald cold weather in our part of the world. We may or may not get to enjoy some thand (cold) this winter, but there’s nothing stopping us enjoying those winter treats.
Known to many as ‘Gulabi’ Chai, this is the quintessential Pakistani winter beverage. This traditional tea from Kashmir can be served on special occasions such as a winter wedding, dinners or even off a local street kiosk. Kashmiri chai is traditionally prepared with special tea leaves, cream and salt with a pinch of baking soda giving it its characteristic pink colour. Pakistanis tend to add a variety of nuts, cardamom and even a pinch of sugar (shock horror) at times. The process of brewing is longer than the time it takes for normal tea, but well worth the wait. The beautiful rose color of the beverage, combined with the milky flavor topped off with crushed nuts is the ultimate indulgence in these winter months.
2. Gajjar ka halwa
Although pethe ka halwa (pumpkin halwa) is also a popular winter treat, Gajjar Ka Halwa is probably one of the most popular traditional desserts in Pakistan. Although almost every household has their own recipe, gajar ka halwa is a combination of nuts, milk, sugar, khoya and ghee with grated carrot. Served hot in the winter months, it is extra delicious because of the bright red seasonal carrots which are must sweeter and flavourful than the orange carrots you find elsewhere around the world.
Winter evenings are just not the same without a bit of munching. A great alternative to fat inducing snacks like chips and slims, nuts not only have great nutritional value they taste great! The Tehla’s (road-side vendors) will have a great variety of roasted peanuts, pinenuts, almonds, cashew nuts, dried apricots, figs, and raisins. One of the best ways to have it is right off the tava, when the tehla wallay’s warm it in a special way. It’s the perfect mid afternoon snack, and gives you the extra energy you need right before an action packed evening.
Another delicious winter snack are the roasted shakarkandi (sweet potato) off the Tehla’s. The subtle sweetness of the shakarkandi is deliciously enhanced with chat masala and a tinge of lemon, giving the right kick to the roasted hot vegetable. You can also buy it from your local vegetable vendor and boil it at home, but for some reason it just doesn’t taste the same as the freshly roasted ones off the tehla. Another great way to have it, is to take the raw vegetable and cut it up into chips and roast them in your oven at home with a dash of olive oil, oregano, and salt. It is a great alternative to oily French fries.
5. Singhara – Water Chestnut
Ladies this is definitely one of those undiscovered ‘super foods’ that you need to start consuming. Singhara is the perfect food to form as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Classified as an ‘aquatic’ vegetable, it is not commonly used in Pakistani cuisine, but has numerous benefits for the skin and hair, as well as being good for pregnant women and various ailments. They are high in nutritional value, containing potassium, zinc, Vitamin B & E, as well as being low in calories and virtually fat free. This is also one of the few winter ‘vegetables’ that can be bought freshly cooked from street vendors in Pakistan. The crunchy texture and fresh mild flavour of water chestnut sets this vegetable apart. It does not lose its crunchiness on being cooked and can also be eaten raw or boiled as well as in a combination with a salad.
6. Pomegranates or ‘Anaar’
Known as the fruit of paradise, is a delicious fruit best consumed in its season. If you ever do get it out of season, there is the risk of it being very sour. However, if consumed at the right time the exotic flavor combined with the crunch of the seed creates an awesome mouth sensation. Anaar can be consumed on its own, further enhanced with a dash of chaat masala or can be mixed up with other fruits like guava and apples to make a fruit salad. Some like to have it in a juice format, but I find the taste to be too strong that way. I also use it as a garnish for various appetisers, salads and desserts, which not only adds a delicious zesty flavor but a festive sprinkle of red.
Widely known as the 3rd favourite flavor in the world after chocolate and vanilla, oranges contain a wealth of nutrients including Vitamin A,vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. All sorts of citrus fruits are in season in Pakistan during the winter months including musambi, malta, kinnow and fruiter ie sweet limes, oranges and varieties of mandarins. Freshly squeezed orange juice makes for an exotic addition to your breakfast, or it can be enjoyed as a snack at any time of the day. This is also a great time to stock up on some home-made orange marmalade.
8. Chikki’s and Till Ka Laddu– Sesame seed balls
I like to think of these as Pakistani candy, but with the added nutritional value of nuts. Chikki’s can be made with peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds or sesame seeds, and are coated with Gur (Jaggery) then cut into bars that can be stored for a longer time. They can be eaten as a snack between meals or served as an after dinner dessert. Personally, I love to have my chikki with a warm beverage like tea of coffee, the combination is simply delicious.
9. Sarson ka Saag
Although very popular in Punjab, desi food lovers in Karachi don’t get as much of this meal in comparison. Only harvested for a very short time, Sarson ka saag is made from mustard leaves (sarson) and spices, the process of making is a dedicated labour of love, time and patience. Accompanied by ‘Makki’ ki roti (cornbread) and served with a piping hot garnish of ghee or butter, this is a meal fit for a king.
You don’t have to wait for winter for this deliciously spicy, gooey curry but it’s fantastically warming in the chill of winter. The dish features cow or goat trotters in a fragrant, fiery curry that’s garnished with fresh ginger and coriander and eaten with hot naan.
Of course there’s also lots of year-round treats that taste even better in winter – garam garam samosay or pakoray with a spicy chutney, nihari or halwa poori for breakfast, or chicken corn soup with chilli chips…..mmm. Time for a snack I think!