Holi, the festival of colours, would be here soon and it is natural for our thoughts to turn to foods associated with this festival. For most of the revelers, the major culinary attractions on this day are gujia and thandai.
Gujia are crescent-shaped pastries packed with milky sweetness of mawa. Those who prefer a lighter sweet use desiccated coconut and suji as filling. To wash down the gujia and other savouries is thandai — milk thickened with almond paste, sultanas, ground melon seeds and enriched with cardamom, saffron and pistachio slivers. There are some for whom the real thandai must be laced with a good dose of bhaang. But let us not get distracted.
We were recently dumbstruck when a foreigner friend asked us, “You call this festival of colours, but why is all food prepared and served on this day lacking in colour?” We could only mumble that after frolicking with abeer and gulaal is over, we do eat yellow kadhi with chawal with a splash of red or green contributed by pickles or chutney. We admit this was a feeble response and have ever since been busy thinking about the colours of Indian food. It is surprising that people have not experimented with colours for a Holi meal. The only reason we can think of is that it is a boisterous festival and one is not inclined to labour in the kitchen for long hours.
On the contrary, our everyday thali at home is never monochromatic. Different bowls represent different colours — from green to red, brown, yellow and white. Green leafy vegetable, lentils and seasonal vegetables, like carrots and brinjals, delight the eyes with their colours. The colours are in full play in our drinks. Traditional thirst quenchers like phalasa, bael, gurhal and sandal display a range of colours, from violet and yellow to red and the emerald green of aam panna. However, home cooks as well as professional chefs are inexplicably inhibited about experimenting with different hues with the main course dishes. That doesn’t mean no one is experimenting.
Our cousin Nivedita Joshi is not only a committed vegetarian, but also likes to match the mood of the food with the occasion. Her Holi menu is both colourful and healthy. She suggests that we serve our guests green poories prepared with dough kneaded in palak or bathua and paired with sarson wale aloo in kasundi-laced gravy. Beetroot poriyal adds the red spectrum and orange is contributed by baby carrots stir fried in ghee. Add a tinge of black with black sesame seeds laddoos that can be prepaid in a jiffy. And if you have had too many gujias, you can try out a savoury Bengali jeero bhorta.
Those who feel like splurging can add a few more colourful dishes like tamatar ka kut from Hyderabad. Many of these dishes can be prepared beforehand and none requires special instructions. A bowl of thick sweet curd can provide pure white. And these are mere suggestions to inspire you to play with colours. Go, experiment!
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