The Punjabi platter

December 2016

By Naini Setalvad

The average Punjabi food is nutritious, and reflective of the agricultural richness and diversity of the state, says Naini Setalvad


 When you think of Punjabi cuisine, heavy dishes like paneer makhanwala, chhole bhature, or butter chicken immediately come to your mind. However, this is not the food eaten in average Punjabi homes; the daily fare is quite simple and health-friendly. But first let’s learn a little about the agriculture in Punjab.

Punjab is a highly fertile region of India. It is also known as the land of five rivers; namely, Jhelum, Sutlej, Chenab, Ravi and Beas. The name Punjab is a combination of two words where ‘Punj’ means five and ‘Aab’ means river. The primary crop of Punjab is wheat. Almost two per cent of the world’s wheat is grown in Punjab. No wonder Punjabis eat a wide variety of rotis; from phulka to kulcha, paratha, nan, tandoori roti, roomali roti, puris, bhaturas and matri. Which explains why Punjab is known as the bread basket of India.




Punjabis also grow grains like maize (makki),  pearl millet (bajri), sorghum (jowar). Even though rice too is grown in the state, plain boiled rice is rarely consumed, except by patients. Mostly, rice is tempered with cumin, or made into a pulao with saffron and green peas. Tarka rice, which is rice sauted with onions and cumin in cow’s ghee may be eaten with rajmah curry or yoghurt curry on holidays.  Punjabis also enjoy a wide variety of pulses. The popular ones cultivated and eaten in the land are rajma (kidney beans), kabuli cholay (chickpea), chana dal (split small chickpeas), mah dal (whole urud dal), rongi (black-eyed beans; chowli), arhar (pigeon peas), moong dal, (yellow lentil) mattar (dried green peas) and moath. As a matter of fact moong dal is quite a staple in their diet. It is a good source of protein that does not raise your cholesterol levels.

Punjabis love their fruits. Be it apples, pomegranate, jamun (black plum), phalsa, baer, malta, sweet lime, mangoes, plums, watermelon, or cantaloupes. It is quite common to consume them after meals to satisfy your sweet craving.

A huge variety of vegetables are grown and eaten by Punjabis.  They include cauliflower, cabbage, brinjal, okras, white gourd, carrots, radish, spinach, fenugreek, french beans, ash gourd, bitter gourd, drumstick, cluster beans, round gourd, turnips, onion, mushrooms, and capsicums to name a few. The pride of Punjabi cuisine is sarson ka saag (mustard leaves mash) with maize flour rotis and white butter, a hearty dish which is mostly eaten in winters. Yams like sweet potatoes and jimikand (purple yam), and kathal ( jackfruit) too are relished in the cold season.

The main ingredients of Punjabi dishes are ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes. The spice level in their food increases or decreases depending on the dish. Healing spices like cinnamon, clove, pepper, bay leaves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamoms, fennel seeds, pomegranate seeds are an integral part of their cooking.

The cooking medium is mostly cow’s ghee. Dairy products are very popular in Punjab, right from milk, curd, buttermilk, paneer, cow’s ghee, and white butter which are considered good quality fat.

Punjabis are very fond of non-vegetarian  food too, and eggs, chicken and mutton are consumed regularly.

A Punjabi daily diet can easily be made healthy. The key is to increase vegetables, reduce grains and switch to more vegetarian protein.

Simply begin the day with a glass of water, followed by a breakfast of paratha stuffed with cauliflower, radish, or onion, cooked in cow’s ghee and served with white butter in winter or raw mango pickle in summers. During winters mango pickle can be replaced with a combination of fresh turmeric, ginger root, fresh green chilli, garlic, cauliflower or turnip marinated in lemon and salt, with a glass of carrot juice mixed with mint and ginger added to the fare. Thus you get a good dose of vegetables. At times in winter the breakfast can easily be a vegetable paratha served with an egg omelet generously larded with onion, tomato, capsicum or mushrooms.

The lunch platter in summers could consist of a salad plate full of thin slices of onions, tomatoes and cucumbers with lime wedges, and fresh green chillies, a cooked vegetable, and any pulse like chick peas or kidney beans served with roti or rice and a glass of salted buttermilk.

Mid-evening snacking could comprise a handful of salted nuts, which Punjabis love to eat. Nuts are good quality fat which are essential for the body. During summers it could be fruit chat to replenish the sugar and salt loss due to excessive heat.

Dinner could easily be vegetables, a dal, a dish of paneer, chicken or fish accompanied with roti. Normally, Punjabis eat fresh water fish cooked in a light tomato gravy with minimum spices, or the popular tandoori style kebabs. The same food could be accompanied with a leafy green and vegetable soup in winter. For your sweet taste, fruit, dry fruit or jaggery could be had after a meal instead of high caloric sweets.

The Punjabis love their food. They are a hardy lot who live to eat, and you can easily enjoy their food if you choose intelligently.

Palak Raita


1 cup low fat curd

1 bunch palak leaves (spinach)

1 tsp green chilli paste

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp sesame seeds

2 tsp walnuts (optional peanuts)

1 tsp dates chutney ( khajur)

Black salt to taste

2 tbsps coriander leaves



o   Clean the palak thoroughly.

o   Finely chop the palak and coriander.

o   Stir the curd and add palak and coriander to it. Also add the green chili paste, salt, cumin seeds, dates chutney and walnut.

o   Serve chilled.


Bio: Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.

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