Last week I made this pesto, my first, for dressing the fresh pasta we were planning to make later for the Simply Italian Workshop. I didn’t realise till I opened the blog that the previous post had also featured this little-used ingredient. The pesto is very good and I’m going to go ahead and share the recipe here anyway. Get your hands on native bhangjeera, many times cheaper than the nuts of the Pinyon Pine (some species of which are now threatened). It is also a great way to use up all that wonderful basil growing in your pots right now because spring will be over soon and the basil gone all to seed. It’s handy for making a quick sauce for pasta, to use in sandwiches, and also for spearing on fresh dinner rolls.
It got nippy and there it stayed, just nippy. Kashmiri people divide winter into three sub-seasons associated with the intensity of the cold. Right now, we are in the middle of the 40-day period of Chillai Kalan, the harshest part of winter that starts on the night of the winter solstice. It is followed by a 20-day long Chillai Khurd, and then it peters out into a brief 10-day Chillai Baccha, before the herald of Spring in March. Many of our festivals and rituals, as seen in our winter celebrations, are closely tied to a shared history with Persian Zoroastrian traditions.
In Punjab Lohri celebrations, with the ceremonial communal bonfire, mark the coldest night of Winter. Lohri, which was two days ago, on the 13th, came and went with nary a shiver. We were still walking around in the lightest of sweaters here in Delhi. It was far from the coldest night of the winter it is expected to be.
But, the morning after, the clouds rolled in. It hasn’t rained but the Western Disturbances, as they are called, have brought in some chill and the resultant cheer, to Delhi-winters. There should be snow in the mountains too!
I learned about this very intriguing ingredient only recently, on a work trip to Pithoragarh, Uttarakahand, two years back. I too wanted to know how much of a buzz it was going to provide. While it is borne on a plant more famous for its associations with the hallucinogen marijuana, the seeds are not psychoactive. They are, in fact, a commonplace pantry ingredient in the mountains.
The hemp plant, domesticated in China as far back as 2800 BC, is quite the wonder-crop and can be used to make rope, paper, fabric, biodegradable plastics, and even construction material. Did you know that the word ‘canvas’ is derived from cannabis? In the 17C and 18C it was a very popular crop, even mandatory in many states of the United States. In 1794 George Washington recommended, “Make the most you can of the hemp seed and grow it everywhere.” Till 1985 India had no narcotics policy. The NDPS Act enacted in 1985 under pressure from the USA still includes within it a special provision relating to cannabis that allows its cultivation for industrial purposes and for obtaining seeds.
Some people will warn you against eating it while others will tell you that it is another superfood that has all the 20 amino acids we need, in addition to the right mix of the fatty acids. But, if there is one thing I know about the magical properties of food it is that we don’t really know enough. We are only beginning to scratch the surface on how our health is tied to food and nutrition, hardly enough to make the kind of claims that science so frequently does. Just look at how we have flip-flopped over the last half-century on carbohydrates and fats. Unfortunately, in India too we have started to over-analyse our food, breaking it up into its constituent nutrients in an attempt to eat healthy. It seems to be a losing battle. I wish it wasn’t a battle at all.
I’m glad we had that poori-party when we did! All that frying, as it turns out, was not such a bad idea at all! I even went so far as to say I needed to eat more red meat! “Because food is not just fuel for the body, it is nourishment for the soul.”