Winter and peanuts share a strong bond, or at least they used to once upon a time. As a girl I remember sitting on our terrace in Agartala with my sisters or in the courtyard at my grandparents’ place in Lucknow with my cousins, the winter sun on our back, shelling peanuts over idle chit chats. The warmth of the winter and freshly roasted peanuts, what an intoxicating combination it was!
Peanuts, commonly known as china badam in Bengali, is a popular winter snack. In the winter we would find vendors in every corner roasting whole peanuts in a huge iron kadai placed on the warm sand. Wrapped in old newspapers in small conical packs we would buy those peanuts for a few pennies, shelling them and popping the nuts in our mouth of lazy winter afternoons. Though I can’t figure why peanuts are china badam, there seems to be no connection with China and peanuts in Bengal.
Also known as the groundnut, goober (US), pindar (US) or monkey nut (UK), peanuts are one of the world’s oldest crops. The only nut that grows underground, peanuts were first cultivated in Brazil-Bolivia-Peru region about 5000 years ago. In the 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers shipped peanuts from South America to Asia, Europe and Africa. An American named George Washington Carver is considered to be the ‘Father of peanut industry’ as he researched and developed more than 300 other uses for peanuts and improved peanut cultivation. It is believed that Jesuit Fathers introduced peanuts to India in the first half of the 16th century. Portuguese got peanuts to Goa around the same time, their colony then. From Goa peanut travelled to China. Peanut cultivation is big in China and India today.
A popular on the go snack, especially in winters, roasted peanuts are enjoyed in parks, in a stadium during a cricket match or any other sporting event or during any outdoor activity. Called ‘time pass’ in Mumbai people munch peanuts or moongphalis in local trains. We Bongs also enjoy fried peanuts with our muri makha or chire bhaja. Chirer pulau (bong poha) is made with peanuts and boiled potatoes. Our delicious samosas have peanuts in them with aloo. In small restaurants or food joints, they put peanuts in biriyani as well. And of course, badam bhaja or fried peanuts with a cup of tea and beer!
Peanuts are very popular in Gujarati and Marathi cuisines as well. Guajarati’s use peanut in roadside snack Dabeli to Gujarati Dal. In Maharashtra, it goes hand-in-hand with another favourite sabudana. We also enjoy peanut chutney or salad tossed with roasted and crushed peanuts. And nothing can beat the sweetness of badam patti or chikki after a winter meal. I am a big fan of American peanut butter and Thai cuisines in peanut sauce as well.
We grew up munching peanuts, celebrated with them, gossiped other hot freshly roasted peanuts or china badam. These nuts bring so much to table, add to the flavour and the mood. And to forget the immense health benefits of peanuts. I sometimes wonder why Peanuts are considered humble at all!