If there was ever a festival that celebrates the seasonality of produce, it’s Makar Sankranti – the first Hindu festival of the year that’s celebrated across India under various names. And this ‘bhogichi bhaji’ is just a beautiful way to commemorate this festival through food. The day before Makar Sankranti is Bhogi and it’s the day for the Maharashtrian farmer to show gratitude to Mother Nature for the generous bounty of the winter harvest.
What is Makar Sankranti?
Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival marking the end of the winter growing season. Bhogi is the day before Makar Sankranti when farmers worship Indra, the god of clouds and rain, to bless their harvest and bring them prosperity. This day, which always falls around the 14th of January, coincides with the beginning of the sun’s journey north; the lengthening of the days and a return to warmer weather.
What is bhogichi bhaji?
Bhogichi bhaji is a mixed vegetable curry of various seasonal winter produce. The sauce is made of tomatoes, onion and coconut. However, what makes the sauce special is the nuttiness of sesame seeds and peanuts. Don’t be tempted to miss these ingredients.
In the UK, I cook this curry with the local and seasonal produce available to me. And the traditional way to serve this is with sesame-laden pearl millet flatbreads called ‘til bhakri’.
What is the significance of bhogichi bhaji?
Bhogichi bhaji is the quintessential dish of Makar Sankranti. As well as celebrating a plentiful harvest it connects farmers and city dwellers alike to the land, the seasons and a tradition handed down for generations. It is an eagerly anticipated celebration of the winter harvest on a plate.
The addition of jaggery to bhogichi bhaji and the sweets that often accompany it reflect the custom of talking sweetly (with the enchanted phrase ‘tilgul ghya goad goad bola’) to family and neighbours during Makar Sankranti, a chance to begin afresh, rekindle friendship and live harmoniously.
Bhogichi bhaji is also very much a regional speciality of Maharashtra, with ingredients that we Maharashtrians love, such as sesame, peanuts and coconut.
Does this have to be a mixed vegetable dish?
There is a multitude of tasty produce bought in from the fields at this time of year and traditionally, a little of everything that is good about the season goes into bhogichi bhaji. A dish that features just one or two veggies would not do justice to the variety that our farmers provide for us after toiling through the winter months. For me Makar Sankranti and it’s food traditions provide a connection to a more sustainable way of life, one that we ignore at our peril.
Why do festivals like Makar Sankranti need to be cherished?
For me, Makar Sankranti and its food traditions provide a connection to a more sustainable way of life, one that we ignore at our peril.
At my ancestral farm, sustainable regenerative agricultural practices have been an integral part of farming for generations. In fact, they have always been firmly rooted in the indigenous farming community of this land. My grandparents followed practices like intercropping as well as crop rotation to increase on-farm biodiversity, break up pest cycles and balance out nutrient demands on the soil. These are just a few of the many regenerative farming practices they followed. It is thanks to them that, by the time Makar Sankranti arrives, crops on our farm such as jowar (sorghum), wheat, maize, sugarcane, a variety of beans and lentils, grown as part of the Rabi cycle are ready for harvesting. You can see, even our culture and festivals celebrate sustainability and seasonality.
Bhogichi Bhaji / Maharashtrian Mixed vegetable CurryCourse: MainCuisine: Maharashtrian, Regional, IndianDifficulty: Easy
This quintessential mixed veg curry is popular during the festival of Makarsankranti. It’s vegan, gluten-free, tastes spicy, a tad tangy and deliciously nutty.
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
2 tbsp sunflower oil
a pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 curry leaves
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp kala masala
1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder (adjust quantity to taste)
4 tbsp dry grated coconut
1 tbsp whole peanuts
5 cloves garlic
½ inch ginger
1 large onion (finely chopped)
2 medium-sized tomatoes (chopped)
35g (¼ cup) Indian green grams (harbara)
15g (¼ cup) chopped carrots
2 large potatoes (diced)
2 large Indian thorny aubergines (chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
90g (½ cup) frozen petit pois or peas
350ml (1½ cup) warm water
Salt to taste
- Start by toasting the sesame seeds. Once cooled, grind them coarsely and set aside.
- Grind the cumin, ginger, garlic and dry grated coconut to make a masala paste
- To make a temper, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed lidded pan and splutter the whole mustard seeds and asafoetida.
- Add curry leaves followed by chopped onions.
- Add the masala paste from step 2 and stir for a minute.
- Next add the legumes – green grams, peanuts, chopped tomatoes, and carrots. Stir and cook for 2 mins with the lid on
- Add the turmeric powder, kala masala and red chilli powder and stir
- Add the remaining vegetables – chopped potatoes, aubergines, green pepper and cook with the lid on for another 3-5 mins
- Pour in the warm water. Add salt to taste, and jaggery (if used).
- Cook for another couple of minutes with the lid on until the vegetables are almost cooked and then add the peas.
- Finally, stir in the sesame seed powder from step 1. Cook for a further minute and you’re done.
- You don’t need all the veggies enlisted in the recipe to cook this dish. Please use locally sourced and seasonal produce.
- The consistency of this dish is quite thick. Feel free to adjust the consistency with waster if you wish to make it runny.
- The nuttiness comes from sesame seeds and peanuts. Try not to skip that.