Now that we’re entering August, the clouds of the Indian monsoon have spread all across the subcontinent. Oftentimes they touch the surface as a gentle sprinkle, and with the cool breeze rises the desire for a warm cup of tea or coffee. At other times, they lash the ground incessantly and become unwelcome. Nonetheless, as the cloud cover and raindrops make way for the mostly shy sun, the first rays unwrap a dazzling gift from Varsha Ritu in the form of the varying shades of green.
Green in ways more than one!
Vast stretches of greenery; beautiful creepers on the outsides of homes and forts; and even the fresh, seasonal greens which, sparkling clean after getting rinsed in the rains, enter the kitchen.
Okra remains the Varsha Ritu all-star and a fond favourite of almost all of us. With the many recipes to its presentation, ranging from stir fry to crispy shallow fry to its blends with besan (gram flour) or curd, it pairs perfectly with the roti (Indian bread). Okra lovers also vouch for the taste in its union with lentil and rice, wherein they literally ‘garnish’ dal-chawal with crispy fries of okra, savouring a few with every bite.
Monsoon has its share of extremely healthy veggies too, in the form of beans, gourds and cucumbers. Bottle gourd reigns absolute for its health benefits and is used copiously in Southern recipes of sambhar and kuzhambu, along with thick curries made with gourd chops, tomatoes and spices in the North. Surprisingly, when slowly simmered in milk, flavoured with cardamom and garnished with nuts, this modest-looking vegetable turns into an exotic dessert.
The medicinal benefits of the bright green bitter gourd remain endless, and so does the culinary creativity around it. Some prefer putting its pieces into gravy, while others dig the shallow-fried karela with its fillings of spicy masala or cheese. Another popular seasonal crop is the pumpkin. Much like its other monsoon cousins, its recipes range far and wide, including the sweet and tangy pumpkin masala in the North and the spice-laden kootu in the South.
The monsoon also brings the new seasonal menu in ‘Varsha Ritu Khaasa’ at Royal Vega at ITC Grand Chola. Through 14th September (on Saturdays and Sundays), enjoy vegetarian delicacies prepared from fresh produce of the season and drenched with powerful flavours of spices.