Winter is nigh upon us as September turns to October and verdant Islamabad turns ochre, burgundy and gold –thanks to the lovely Sapium that fills the Federal Capital and its surroundings with beautiful colors. For many, frosty weather will bring the promise of steaming Kashmiri Tea, while for the more privileged it will herald evening barbeques and bonfires.

As winter sets in, so do hand pushed carts selling peanuts and ‘gajak’ – a confection made from sugar and sesame seeds. This is also the time when dry fruit merchants begin feeling upbeat in anticipation of profitable business. Chicken Corn Soup stalls crop up all over the city selling their version of this Chinese recipe along with our very own traditional ‘yakhni’.

Winter brings culinary joy that bridges social barriers, as menus begin featuring ‘trotters’ or ‘paye’, ‘Nihari’, ‘Haleem’ and ‘Harisa’. Though these delicacies are available round the year, it is in cold and chilly weather that they assume top spot as traditional foods. There are certain norms however, which must be observed in order to fully savor these exciting dishes. For instance true ‘Nihari’ is made from prime beef and no other meat. It is cooked overnight over low heat in a ‘deg’ that is embedded in an earthen or brick platform. There are some who claim that this cooking pot is never cleaned and fresh ‘Nihari’ is prepared with remnants of the previous day. I do not endorse this notion as I have seen one of the most celebrated ‘nihari’ outlets in ‘Paisa Akhbar’ Lahore spend a lot of time and effort in thoroughly cleaning its ‘deg’ before cooking. The word ‘Nihari’ means ‘morning’, which accounts for the reason that food connoisseurs recommend eating this great dish for ‘brunch’. While I fully subscribe to this view, I will take the liberty to add that a good nihari meal is not complete unless followed by a good afternoon siesta.

Trotters or ‘Paye’ are a curry made from the hoof end of goat or lamblegs. Some people prefer to add the skull end of the animal to the recipe renaming it as ‘SiriPaye’. This dish is best taken for breakfast or brunch and the recommended way of doing this is to consume it with ‘naan’ – and not in the normal oriental manner. The ‘naan’ must first be broken up into small bite sized pieces and then soaked in the ‘paye’ curry to be ingested in copious quantities using the five digits or a spoon.

‘Haleem’is prepared by cooking and then blending a concoction of whole wheat, lentils and beef. The more traditional method of preparing this spicy and filling food is to first roast the wheat grains before mixing them with the other ingredients. We have somehow mutated this dish by eating it with ‘naan’, but this is not the way ‘halim’ should be taken since it already has an ample quantity of wheat grain in it. The correct and traditional practice therefore is to eat it, garnished with ginger, green chilies and lime, right out of the plate with a spoon.

‘Harisa’is a Kashmiri cousin of ‘halim’. Very popular as a breakfast item, it has strips or pencil thin ‘kebab’ like stuff made from minced meat, mixed (not blended) in it. This is a very comprehensive and rich dish, which should preferably be topped with steaming cups of Kashmiri Tea.

There can be no better ending to this week’s column than an ode to the pink milky concoction affectionately known as Kashmiri Tea. Now the tea served at roadside stalls and weddings is nothing short of a parody that ‘insults’ this royal beverage. A pedigree cup of Kashmiri Tea is served after going through a long drawn procedure that includes pouring it repeatedly between two containers till it turns a deep pink color. Combine a hot salted bowl of this tea with a crumpled ‘bakarkani’ or a ‘kulcha’ and you have the perfect beginning of a cold winter day.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.