The Lohri Thali

Picture by: PoppinsHotal/Subhayan Das
How it weds indulgence and health together in a delicious matchmaking
By Madhulika Dash

Earlier this month when Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, Chef-owner, PoppinsHotal, began putting the Lohri season thali, he made a pleasant discovery: the thali, even with its copious amount of ghee and loey (white butter) use didn’t only sit well with the #eattherainbow theme, which advocates seasonal, local eating, but was nutritionally balanced than just being indulgent.

It was a revelation how the body was prepped up to not only digest the rich food, but also use to evade seasonal illness and could perfectly work as the perfect seasonal change antidote for both the body, soul and mind, says Chef Gorai, who used the same principle to put together the thali for his guest, albeit, he confesses, “pairing down the amount of butter and ghee to suit the modern diners’ palate.”

Chef Gorai isn’t alone is praising the wondrous nature of a festive thali, Amritsar-born Chef Vikas Seth is equally awed by our ancestors deep understanding of ‘food as medicine’ to create a thali, which has “all favourites.”

The amazing aspect, says Chef Seth, “of such a thali – though Lohri doesn’t really have a thali but a melange of delicious things had over the day- is that everything has a reason for its existence, and it isn’t usually about just the taste, or the fact that the body craves for them especially during this time of the year.”

The best part, he continues, “that you will have at least two dishes that are your absolute favourite. And yet, it isn’t easy to overeat. The amount served somehow feels comforting and satiating.” So how did such a thali come to existence? The answer lies in the foundation of the festival itself. Sure, legend has it that Lohri was a celebration of good conquers the evil where Holika tried to burn Prahlad and was consumed by flame itself. Another tells about the legendary Dulla Bhatti, our very own Robin Hood, who rescued kidnapped girls from Mughals and returned them home with riches. 

But traditionally, it is a festival that marks two things: a good harvest and the turn of the season. And that was the basic platform on which the Lohri speciality were designed. Here’s a look at the significance of each dish – and how they added to our age-old philosophy of ‘eating for wellness’:

1. Sarson Ka Saag: A winter favourite, this dish though pays ode to the staple green of Punjab is made of several leafy greens that grows during this time, making it one of the winter’s richest antioxidant super-bowl. Imagine a bowl of it, which amounts to less than 113 kcal has Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Vitamin E, along with phytonutrients, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and manganese. It is in fact one of the richest edible sources of iron with enough fibre to process all the sweet things you may gorge during winters. What does it do in winters? Apart from rejuvenating your palate, it helps control cholesterol, while keeping the muscles and the gut in shape. Result, you rarely fall to the vagaries of seasonal change.

2. Makki Di Roti: Nothing spells ‘love’ than a freshly prepared Makki Di Roti served with a dollop of white butter. The very sight of watching them together can make someone salivate with sudden hunger pangs. But once inside the system makki or maize, given its low glycemic index, actually helps keep starvation at bay by releasing energy slowly, and in doing so also ensures that you don’t gain weight either. But the best part about makki is the warmth it provides the body, which is favourable in winters and during weather change. 

3. Gajjar Ka Halwa: If you grandmother has encouraged you to have not one but two bowls of warm gajjar ka halwa made with desi ghee, then it isn’t just her love but also her understanding of the food. Believe it or not, but agricultural wise, it is the time for sweeter carrots to come and thanks to the nippy winters works digests better in the body. Of course, as bonus, you get a good load of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and fibre – all digested with the help of ghee, the healthiest fat available.

4. Popcorn: Before popcorn or puffed corn became a mandatory treat at the movies, it was part of the harvest festival, given the quality of corn that came in the season. Each kernel ripened, and hand dried, would be ready to puff instantly when put in sand – one of our traditional way of roasting snacks. But what makes it a perfect indulgence this season is not only that is caloric-ally light (almost air light at 110kcal for 3 cups), but also because it comes loaded with minerals and vitamins. In fact, with a glycemic index score of 55, it is the best snack to keep you satiated, guilt-free.

5. Peanuts: Yes, it is an all-time snack, but in winters, when roasting and frying enhances Oleic acid and niacin, it becomes an effective antidote that keeps the brain agile and the serotonin in it keeps you happy – thus enabling you to get through foggy, low sunlight days. Little wonder, our parents and grand-parents call it the happy snack. Just the act of cracking it open is an effective stress booster.

6. Roasted Makana: Low in glycemic index, low in sodium, rich in potassium and magnate, crunchy and delicious – a few reasons to munch on a handful to keep BP and Cardiac stress under control.

7. Jaggery: Be it gur ka kada, or jaggery used for making the all-favourite atte ka halwa, jaggery, during winters, works as the perfect digestive pill that also helps in cleansing the liver of the toxins. A natural source of antioxidants and minerals like zinc and selenium, it boosts immunity as often acts as the first gate of defence to season-change vagaries like cold, cough, stomach upset and flu. However, given that one has to consume a good quantity of reaping the benefit, it is advised for winters.

8. Stem greens and root vegetables: Need that extra fibre to not get constipated because of all the rich fat consumed during the festival, then the bowl of stir-fried stems peppered with root vegetables are the perfect way to get it through. Apart from the antioxidants and the whole range of vitamins, a bowl of mixed greens with root vegetable actually helps detox the system.