Most Indian cuisines require the use of spices, but now is the time to find creative uses for cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, cumin and turmeric. Try cinnamon and clove in hot drinks, and roasted and powdered cumin in Middle-Eastern dishes.
More common as a cooked vegetable in South Indian kitchens, try it in a simple thoran (stir-fry) or a pachadi (with dahi). Tastes good if it is boiled or steamed, and served in roundels as a salad with orange slices and feta, or as a borscht.
With red meat labelled food enemy No. 1, it features rarely in urban menus. If not completely off limits, the robust flavours of mutton, pork, beef, duck and even game are best savoured in winter. Cook it the desi way, with ghee and masalas. Or throw marinated pieces over an open grill.
Like biryani, oranges divide food purists. Some swear by the small, sweet, tight-skinned Darjeeling, others vouch for the fleshy Nagpur variety. The North-Eastern breeds too have their support bases. Candy the peel for Christmas cakes, cook up a komlalebur payesh, or use it in a salad or even a pasta sauce.
Notun gurer shondesh
This delicacy of chhana and gur needs to be sourced from Bengal; sweetmakers elsewhere don’t even come close to balancing the grainy milkiness of chhana and the earthy sweetness of fresh gur. Chefs experiment with notun gurer ice-cream and the like, but they aren’t a patch on the shondesh.
Now, this is a contentious one. Some mince pies actually contain mutton keema, but the real thing comes in flaky pastry cases stuffed with chopped fruit, sugar, spices and brandy and coats the palate in warm butteriness. Nahoum’s, the famed Jewish baker in Kolkata’s New Market, still makes the best ones.