I have a puzzling relationship with winter. It's the time of the year when my nose and sinuses seem to be revolting weather, and yet the sudden nip in the air that turns us homeward is one of my favourite feelings in this world. With winter comes the finest fresh produce, bringing good food and warmth of cooking and sharing a meal with loved ones.
Amidst all the harvest that thrives in winter, carrots, peas, cauliflower and seasonal greens hold a special place in my heart.
Growing up in Odisha, I relished mother's gajar (carrot) ka halwa during the winter months, and I still love the version she makes. It's a dessert made almost everywhere in India, with carrots and milk slowly cooked over an hour and garnished with cashews, raisins and pistachios with a good drizzle of ghee to extend its self life. However, I witnessed carrots being celebrated as a vegetable in its own right only when we lived outside Odisha. Back in our hometown in the state, mother would readily add carrots to dals or a mixed vegetable dish, but not as a singular preparation of its own usually.
During the four years of living in Bihar and Jharkhand, my family had many acquaintances from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab, and all these north Indian families made a scrumptious sweet and savoury ensemble of carrots and peas in winter. Freshly harvested red carrots and green peas sautéed in hardly any spices and smelling divine! Mother, who has always been inculcating food of every place we lived in our meals also started making this dish. We would gather on the terrace of our home and peel bags of peas, basking in the sun, bantering and sharing some quips. Father would regularly move a trail of pickle bottles and jars on the side to let them have ample sunlight and neatly set all our sweaters on the cloth line. A big batch of peas was cooked with carrots, and the rest was stuffed into flatbreads or added to fresh winter potatoes and made into stews—not quite common in Odia households but we enjoyed it. My eldest sister would grate a carrot or two and give up while mother and the middle sister piled up heaps of shredded carrots for the halwa.
When I was 18 and left home to go to Bombay for higher studies, I lived as a paying guest with an old Punjabi couple. Although winters in Bombay are rather mild, Aunty A would still make the typical carrots and peas dish of the season and narrate many tales of her childhood in Karachi, the pre-partition days of India and her life in Bombay after the partition of India in 1947. It was a sight to watch her cook and talk at the same time. I would help peel all the carrots and peas, and she would douse them with water in a deep vessel to clean any remnant dirt. "Shehron mein khet nahi hain na betaji, mitti bhi zyada hai. Pind mein baat alag hi hoti hai", she would account. "There are no farms in the city dear one, dirt is more. It's a different story in the villages."
This amalgamation of carrots and peas is more than a mere dish. It's an exemplar of how families eat seasonal produce and enjoy it with loved ones in the comfort of their home and hearth. A family gets together and sorts the batches of fresh produce brought from the market or harvested from the farms, and everyone plays a role to use the cleaned and assorted veggies. Simple meals made of seasonal ingredients are served and savored with love, and it goes without saying that such food is abundantly nutritious and wholesome.
The small town girl in me adores this preparation of carrots and peas, and no matter where I live, I make sure to cook it when summers bid adieu. In Canada, come December or late November, when snow starts paying us visit and the driveway looks like a miniature white hill and the markets start filling with gorgeous vegetables, I stir this beauty up and patiently wait for the sun to show up on the coldest days! The joy of eating this homestyle carrots and peas and watching the flakes of snow drift outside is unparalleled, and reminiscent of those winters of my childhood.
Make this easy sauté of winter carrots and peas with everyday spices and see how something so basic can taste so delicious! I like it best with some paratha, but it goes really well with some dal and rice too. You can even layer it between two toasted slices of bread and eat—one of the other ways I love eating it!
Although frozen peas are available throughout the year, this dish tastes best with fresh peas.
Peas cook slightly faster than carrots, so cut the carrots almost the size of peas. Choose slender carrots so you can cut small roundels which will be similar to the size of peas. If you get thicker carrots, dice them to smaller pieces.
Both peas and carrots have an inherently sweet taste, and the idea is to preserve that flavour in the dish. So, avoid overpowering the dish with a load of spices.
I use a tiny piece of an onion in this recipe, and I strongly recommend not going beyond that. Too much of onion will dominate the flavour and interfere with the dish's original essence.
I like adding some whole spices like cardamom, peppercorns and cloves as they help enhance the fragrance and balance the sweet tone of carrots and peas, although you may skip them totally.
4-5 small to medium sized carrots
1 cup green peas
2 tbsp oil
1 black cardamom
1 tsp cumin
1/2-inch ginger, finely chopped and pounded
1-2 green chilies, chopped
1/4 of an onion finely chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 small tomato finely chopped
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp coriander powder
1 wedge of lime
few fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp ghee (optional)
In a wok or kadhai, heat oil at medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cardamom, cloves and peppercorns and let them become fragrant. Then, add cumin, ginger and chilies. Sauté everything for a couple of seconds, and then add the onions.
Toss the onions until they turn pink, and then add turmeric, red chili, asafoetida and coriander. Sauté until the dry spices are cooked well. This should take about 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and continue mixing. Once the oil starts separating from the mixture, add the carrots and keep tossing everything for the next 5 minutes. You may add splashes of water and turn the heat down a bit if anything sticks to the wok or kadhai.
Now add the peas and salt, and give a good mix. Add about 1/4 cup water, cover the lid and cook on low heat until the vegetables are cooked through. It should take about 12 to 15 minutes. Open in between and keep checking the veggies.
Open the lid, and add ghee if using. Turn off the heat. Squeeze the lime wedge and garnish with coriander leaves.