Tonight is the Punjabi Lohri festival. A celebration with ancient roots, it boasts numerous special foods. Today we’re bringing you a recipe for sarson da saag, a popular vegetable dish featuring mustard leaves and spices that is often eaten during the festivities.
No one is entirely sure when or why the Lohri festival began. As with many holidays celebrated today, it has ancient origins of a mysterious nature. The one unifying feature is that it is meant to recognize the winter solstice. It is thought that the ancient celebration of Lohri originally took place on the day of the winter solstice when the night is the longest of the year. The very next day began a trend of longer days and shorter nights, each slowly shortening by “the grain of one sesame seed.”
Today, Punjabis celebrate Lohri on January 13 and use it to mark the passage of the winter solstice. Lohri is one of three seasonal Punjabi festivals. Teej commemorates the rain and monsoon season and Basant celebrates the coming of Spring.
Lohri includes many elements that are common in ancient festivals around the world in honor of the winter solstice, including singing, dancing, music, feasting and a bonfire. One interesting tradition is similar to the trick-or-treating done on Halloween. The children go door to door on Lohri morning, singing and asking for gifts, including money or sweet treats. Sesame seeds are a popular gift because they signify the shortening of the nights to come.
In the evening, bonfires are lit and revelers gather to throw offerings of food into the fire and ask for blessings from the fire god, Agni. They feast on the traditional meal of makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag before the men begin the Bhangra dance around the sacred bonfire.
Lohri is a joyful, hopeful and exuberant time, a celebration of life. Enjoy this traditional recipe and infuse your dinner with the beauty and energy of the Lohri festival.
Sarson Da Saag
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
- 4 cups of fresh mustard leaves chopped
- 2 cups of spinach chopped (optional)
- 1 cup of bathua chopped (optional)
- 4 tablespoons of pure ghee
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 2-inch pie of ginger chopped
- 6-8 garlic cloves chopped
- 4-6 green chilies chopped
- 1 teaspoon of red chilli powder
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons of cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- Heat two tablespoons of ghee in a pan.
- Add onion and sauté till light brown. Add ginger, garlic and green chilies and sauté for a few minutes more.
- Add the red chili powder, mustard leaves, spinach leaves and bathua leaves and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes. Add salt and cook on moderate heat for ten minutes.
- Add cornmeal and a little water and cook till the greens are soft. Cool slightly and transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and process to a slightly coarse mixture.
- Heat the remaining ghee and butter in the same pan. Add the ground mixture and cook for five to ten minutes. Serve hot with makki di roti.
 Punjabi pockets warm up for Lohri bonfires – Times of India. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2016, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Punjabi-pockets-warm-up-for-Lohri-bonfires/articleshow/45839012.cms
 Know why Lohri, the bonfire festival, is celebrated. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2016, from http://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/know-why-lohri-the-bonfire-festival-is-celebrated-32358.html?page=2
 Lohri: The Bonfire Festival – Hindu Winter Celebration. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2016, from http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/lohri.htm