Come winter with that nip in the air, and I would see dark red carrots in my grandmother’s kitchen. In no time, they would be all chopped up and I would see them drying in the sun outside.
My only memory of a pickle when I was growing up was of a pickle made of dark carrots, turnips and cauliflower - a winter pickle - which was my favourite. It would be made every winter when these special dark carrots were available. My grandmother knew that I favoured the carrots in the pickle and she would make it a point to add more carrots than turnips or cauliflower pieces….only for me. These were the small things that told me how much she cared and loved me and that’s all I sought at that age. She was our centre and we were hers.
I would wait for days for the pickle to mature in the brown and white jars in the winter sun – these jars were used for pickling every winter - waiting to see the rich pickle to adorn our table!
Once the pickle was ready, it would be stored in mini jars which were placed on the dining table and we could eat it as an accompaniment with our meals.
Though my grandmother was the disciplining factor in our lives, she would show her love in the most unique ways. Most of all, it was visible through her eyes …boundless.
As she would scoop out the pickle or achaar (hindi for pickle)onto my plate – she would make sure there were more carrots than the turnips and no cauliflower florets on her spoon. She would have a smile on her face waiting for me to comment on it and her pickling skills. This pickle is unavailable in the supermarkets so I had to wait for my grandmother to make it for me. I would savour this the entire winter as she would ensure it was plentiful to last the entire season.
Now, I have started to prepare this pickle since last winter, for myself … I do love the winters here in Dubai …the winter sun reminds me of the sun at home in Delhi, making me want to relive those moments of my childhood…to taste my grandmother’s love forever.
My grandmother’s recipe of Dark Carrot, Turnip and Cauliflower pickle (or Gajar-Gobi-Shalgam Achaar in hindi)
5 kg turnips, dark carrots and cauliflower
1 kg sugar
200 gms rye seeds, black mustard seeds
250 gms salt
50 gms kashmiri red chillies
50 ml acetic acid / glacial ,non medicinal , sirka
1 lt mustard oil
250 gms ginger paste
250 gms garlic paste
1. Cut the carrots , turnips and cauliflower into batons,rounds and florets respectively.
2. Heat the oil in a kadai(wok shaped utensil)and add the ginger and garlic pastes. Cook well.
3. Add all the masalas , sugar and salt.
4. Put the vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes and keep to dry.
5.Add the vegetables to the masalas.
6. Cook for some time and put all in a jar with the oil.
7. Keep in the winter sun for around 6 days to mature.
Relish with meals...
My Favourite Pickle ...
Winter carrots also bring another dish onto the table.. dark carrot halwa or pudding. I wouldn’t like carrot halwa when I was younger since semolina halwa would be on top of my list …but the carrot halwa was made at occasions too with lots of nuts and raisins.
This winter I picked a delicacy…Kali Gajar ka Halwa –, Sweet pudding of dark (black)carrots, this is a unique carrot pudding made only with dark carrots.
Legend has it that the Sikhs from Punjab introduced it to the house of the Mughals. The Emperors enjoyed its vibrant colour, flowery aroma, and slightly chewy texture, and it gained popularity far and wide spreading sweetness throughout the empire.
Halwa finds its roots in the Arabic language and refers to many dense or compact desserts. Originally halwa was either flour based or used various nuts with sugar, milk and butter to create a sweet gelatinous, or hardened nutty dessert. It is commonly believed that this kind of halwa was introduced to the settlers in India through trade with the Middle East and Asia Minor during the expansion of the Mughal Empire.
The Mughal Empire was spreading, and international traders were bringing in intriguing new goods for exchange, barter and purchase, and the orange carrot is said to be one such treasure. Carrots were originally purple in colour and were indigenous to Afghanistan for almost 5000 years. They came in colours such as red, yellow, black and white, but not orange, until the 17th century when the horticulturalists in the Netherlands decided to honour William of Orange, from the House of Orange, by creating an orange carrot. (Though many believe that it was a coincidence; and the orange colour was a mutation of the red and yellow carrot and had no significant link to the Royal House of Orange!). This new orange carrot was sweeter, prettier and of a non-sticky variety, making it popular amongst the cooks.
At this time, the Mughal Empire was at its zenith, a dynasty that was splendid and modern and looking for trade with the rest of the world. This orange carrot had already spread far and wide to Europe, Middle East, and of course, South Asia with the coming of the Dutch East India Company to the sub-continent in the 17th century.
The cooks in the subcontinent liked the new imported carrot and the sweetness that came with it, and since this was an era when new cuisines were being developed by expert chefs and connoisseurs, this kind of carrot seemed to be of a perfect variety to be tried as the main ingredient in the halwa, with sugar, milk and butter, sans the flour and nuts.
The province of Punjab apparently took an instant liking to it, and started developing innovative new recipes, sweet and savory. It was a vegetable that peaked as a winter harvest and its abundance in the glorious winters nudged the cooks to develop a hot delicious dessert best served any time of the day, before or after a meal, or as a side with chai or doodhpati. Gajar ka halwa was an instant hit all over the Indian subcontinent, from pauper to prince.
Kali(meaning black, pronuounced as Kaa-lee) gajar is not really black but of deep violet hue like a beetroot and is also used in Punjab for the preparation of kanji, a mustard and rock salt-laced palate-tingling appetiser.
250 gms grated dark carrots, gajar
500 ml whole milk
1 heaped tsp of ghee
2 nos. cardamoms
185 gms sugar
1 sheet silver sheet, varq
Cream to serve, optional
1. Put the grated carrots in a non stick pan on low heat and let some excess water evaporate for a few minutes
2. Add the milk and cook on high heat ,cover and cook till the carrots are completely soft.
3. Remove the lid,stir and mash to a puree with the back of a spoon, while the milk reduces.
4. When the milk has been completely absorbed , make a space in the middle , add the ghee and cardamoms and let them sizzle.
5. Stir the mixture till the ghee shows at the sides, indicating the water content has been reduced completely.
6. Add the sugar and stir it it melts and gets reabsorbed. Overcooking it will make the halwa chewy.
Garnish with silver leaves, arq and serve warm or at room temperature with cream.
Internationnally famous Gajar ka halwa is made with regular orange -coloured carrrots.