Purple in Winter

Update as of 13 January 2010

Winter churns up some unusual food and drink. Take the case of the purple Afghani carrots, these deep purple carrots look like elongated beetroots, and are harvested in the cold months across much of north western India. The carrot is sharper in taste compared the orange English variety or even the reddish local carrot; so it never finds a place on the table as a salad or even in curries or the evergreen or ever-red popular gajar ka halwa – the local carrot cake. The Afghani carrot is either crushed into tall glasses and drunk as juice or diced and soaked in china jars with mustard and water to mature over a week. The matured water, kanji, imbibes the purple colour of the carrots and stinging taste of mustard and carrots to concoct a tangy drink that is at times used to spike the popular gol-gappa, thin flour pops stuffed with pulses and chutneys, or used as a soaking agent for vadas, fried lentil dumplings. The turnip also suddenly appears on vegetable vendor carts and the purplish white root veggie is bought to pickle with carrots, green beans, cauliflower and mustard. In the west, the purple yam turns up at the market, and Jain Gujaratis lap up this “root vegetable” since this tuber technically grows above the ground. The white version of this yam is a must at some festive feasts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu as they conjure up a multi-vegetable concoction that is eaten in many homes in late December. The abundance of the palmyra trees in eastern India brings the unusual jaggery that is tapped from the fresh morning sap of these trees. The tree climbers ascend the ribbed vertical trunks and place mud pots at the base of the palm frond stalks. They then make deep incisions in the trunk at night such that the sap trickles into the open mouth of the pots. Then these climbers return to climb the tree before crack of dawn the next morning to carefully lower the pots laden with sweet nectary sap. The nectar is then heated and turned into sweet molasses-like jaggery that is precious to the sweet loving people of Eastern India. The palmyras are also found on the western coast, and sap tappers collect the neera, palm nectar, which is then either served fresh to thirsty travelers or fermented into toddy for a later day.

The SENSEX explored different aspects of Indian Winter by going deep under the ground to uncover the D Boyz’ purple carrots, yam and turnips. The digging took the SENSEX down about 100 points during the first half or more, till someone noticed the palmyra tree on D Street. It was early afternoon, about 1:30 pm, but that did not deter the D Boyz to go sap tapping for their neera or toddy (I could not sniff the pot, so I don’t know) and they instantly climbed up the palm tree and partook of its offerings up there – pulling the SENSEX along to 17509 – 87 up.

Tomorrow, people in different parts of the country will celebrate – some will offer thanksgiving for a good harvest, while others will rejoice with their loved ones around bonfires, while the mystically drawn will take their holy dip at rivers and river-meets, and the sweet loving Indian will eat his heart out of the sesame seed and jaggery specialities and fly kites.

Happy Festivities … Cheers…


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