Makar Sankranti is a widely loved and celebrated Indian festival across the country. It is called by different names: Lohri in Punjab, Magh Bihu in Assam and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, but while every region celebrates it differently, the spirit is the same everywhere and the festival is synonymous with special food. Traditionally during Makar Sankranti (that signals the end of harsh winter and advent of warmer days) people celebrate with a range of traditional delicacies made with specific ingredients tailored to meet the seasons demand.
This is that time of the year when cold induced seasonal disorders like flu, cold and myriad respiratory issues are rampant. To keep these at bay, it is important to buff up their body from inside by feeding them naturally warming foods. There’s sound logic behind these traditional dishes.
Til, has a special place in Hindu mythology as it is said to originate from Lord Vishnu's body. But more importantly, it adds a warm crunch to the meals and the body - helps generate heat and keeps the internal body temperature from dipping - and is good for the heart and bones, too! That is precisely why snacks made with sesame take centre-stage during this time and til patti, gajak, and til ladoo (made with sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery) are eaten across the country. In Karnataka in fact people greet each other saying "ellu bella thindu olle maathadi" that translates to 'eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery, and speak only good.’ Just like their mates from another state, Maharashtra, with their ‘til gul ghya, goad goad bola’.
One hot tip is to add some grated ginger to the ladoos. It adds an edge to the dish and the compounds capsaicin, terpenes and ginger oil increase blood circulation to warm up the body further.
In Bihar, a dish called laai is very popular. This traditional Bihari dish is made with gur (jaggery), peanuts and puffed rice or roasted gram or roasted rice. In the crushed form, it is often paired with curd or milk and eaten for breakfast. In Himachal, a lunch of khichdi and gur is almost a staple during this season. Gur parantha and jaggery rice (with nuts) are also popular variations eaten around this time. Jaggery is a great choice as it cleanses the blood, boosts immunity, prevents free-radical damage and also protects against infections. Plus it is loaded with antioxidants and essential minerals like iron, zinc and selenium.
In fact, til and gur are prized in Ayurveda as two of the most winter-perfect foods that help to keep the body warm and increase the immunity too at the same time.
Bengalis love their payesh (a thickened rice and milk pudding), which is a close cousin of kheer made across north India. Sankranti payesh is extra special, because it is sweetened with date palm jaggery or khejur gur, which is available only during winter months. In Bengal, they also make the delicious dudh puli (coconut-jaggery stuffed dumplings) around Sankranti.
The combination of rice and dal delivers quality protein that delivers lasting energy, that is why khichdi is a must make in most households on this festival. This quintessential dish is easy to digest and is great for the digestive system, and thus helps combat the common winter problem - constipation effectively too.
You could always make this a healthilcious affair with Tata Sampann’s 6-Grain Khichdi which uses unpolished moong dal and semi-polished rice, which further helps retain the nutritional value of the food grains.
Ghee and nuts
They are traditionally known to offer protection from various winter-related ailments that is why pinni loaded with ghee, wheat flour, jaggery and almonds is the most indulgent sweetmeat in Punjab during Lohri. Similarly in Haryana, people indulge in Churmaa made with ghee, atta, and nuts. Nuts are high in minerals and essential fatty acids, they’ll help ward off cold and common flus. And ghee, a perfect warming food. It is one of the best things to include in your kitchen pantry this nippy season. In fact, the vital fatty acids it delivers help nourish and hydrate the (atypical winter) dull and dry skin.
Also seeds are naturally warming, and loaded with good fat omega 3, which help keep us healthy and also warm from inside. Plus this seed is a good digestive and helps keep winter constipation away. Flaxseed ladoos made with poppy seeds, flax seeds and black sesame are perfect to eat during this season.
Remember, you could always amp up the health quotient this Makar Sankranti and bring in the warmer days…with a little help from Tata Sampann’s wide range of pulses and ready-to-cook mixes.
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