Chef Navneet Singh On Flavours Of Lohri, Reviving Lost Recipes
Image Credit: Chef Navneet Singh, Welcomhotel Amritsar

Known for its gorgeous golden fields, vibrant culture, scrumptious cuisine and uplifting spirituality, Ambarsar (Amritsar) is a historical city that has inspired many generations for creative pursuits. Chef Navneet Singh, the Executive Chef at Welcomhotel Amritsar, is a testament to it. He is a seasoned culinary professional who keeps traditions close to his heart. Singh often believes native foods are custodians of our ancestry. As he talks with us in an exclusive interview around Makar Sankranti, he throws light on the local narratives. The harvest festival of Lohri falls on January 13. Food is the most essential aspect of Lohri. Five rivers, dense flora and fauna have significantly shaped Punjab's cuisine and food culture. Amritsar is the most extraordinary celebration and reflection of Punjab's cultural melting pot. Cooking, feeding and sharing recipes are an integral part of the spiritual element of this holy city. When the mention of the array of iconic dishes of Lohri, Executive Chef Navneet counts Sarso ka Saag, Makkai Roti, Til Bhugga and Khajoor as traditional delights. 

Further explaining these culinary fares, Chef Navneet describes, "It's believed that the term Lohri comes from the word "Tilohri,' i.e. 'til' (sesame) and 'rorhi' (gur). Hence, these form the main ingredient in many dishes and sweets made during this festival. The bonfire is called bhugga, and the sweet, Til Bhugga, is named after it."

The seasoned professional advises that while making Til Bhugga, the ratio of sesame, sugar and Khoya should be 1:2:2. Sesame seeds should be dry roasted and grounded. 

Elucidating about Khajoor, Executive Chef Singh shares that it is made by frying flour in ghee. It is sweet and travels well. And it did in the past from the bylanes of Amritsar to Lahore. However, it now remains privy to the people of Amritsar. 


What made you get into this industry?

Being born and brought up in Amritsar, in a Punjabi family, has been highly instrumental in making me the foodie I am today. I've always loved cooking and trying new recipes. I left an education in medical studies (pursued until 4th year) and entered the culinary field. The kind of support I got from my family has been tremendous, and they encouraged me to start my culinary journey. That was when I joined IHM Bangalore and started pursuing my dream.

What has been the most rewarding experience as a chef? 

Every day in the professional kitchens, helming the culinary responsibilities and my team, is a rewarding experience. As a chef, one comes across a plethora of new ingredients and the stories that accompany them. Engaging in the craft of cooking these ingredients brings me so much joy. We meet so many people from varied backgrounds. To cook according to their taste preferences and satisfy their cravings has been one the most cherished rewards I have received as a chef.

How do you keep yourself inspired in your cooking?

Every person has a different definition of what good food is. As a professional Chef, understanding their psyche and meeting (and often exceeding) their expectations give me an immense sense of fulfilment and motivation.

Which food do you prepare the best and why? 

One dish closest to my heart is Saag Meat, specifically my grandmother's recipe; I have grown up eating that since my childhood. It has the best spinach and succulent goat meat, perfect for winters, and a combination designed to keep you warm. Cooked in desi ghee, it epitomises special care and attention to detail, which is why it stands out.

What is your observation on the unbeatable importance of traditional food during major Indian festivals, including Lohri? 

Every food has a science attached to it. Our traditional dishes are the best example of that. Their ingredients depended on factors like availability, the geography of a region and the seasons. To explain that let's take an example of the Lohri festival in Punjab, celebrated during peak winters. 

Dishes like Bhugga and Punjiri are prepared only during winter. There is a reason behind it. The key ingredient is nuts, cooked in ghee. Consuming such foods keeps the body warm during extreme cold. The food choices of people from even half a century ago have relied on being traditional, regional (local) and seasonal, giving them the proper nutrition for the respective season and keeping them healthier than today's average adult.

Is there any special arrangement which can let an epicurean taste the regional dishes in one place?

WelcomSthalika, a platter with regional dishes of Amritsar, Image Source: Welcomhotel Amritsar

WelcomSthalika at Welcomhotel Amritsar is an assortment of native grubs on a single platter offering a glimpse of the region's most cherished delicacies. This Sthalika consists of treats like Amritsari Palak Vadiyan, (Spinach cooked with lentil dumplings), Kadhi Pakoda (tempered yoghurt with onion gram flour fritters), Doodh Waala Kukkad (Chicken cooked with milk and spices), Dal Maanh fry (Black lentil cooked with onion and garlic), and Punjabi sweet Lassi along with many other accompaniments.

Is there any lost Lohri recipe that you want to revive?

I would love to revive the use of millet in our everyday cooking. One thing which Punjab has lost is using Kodo millet or the Kodra. The use of this millet goes back to the era of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, but with time this millet was lost in oblivion. 

The dish I want to restore with this millet is Kodre Di Churi. This is made with Kodre ki roti, jaggery and pure ghee. This millet has its own health benefits and is the perfect food for this winter season, which I would love to revive during this beautiful Festival of Kites, Lohri.

On this note, I would like to share the recipe for a traditional dish using kodra. 

Kodre Ki Khichdi

Kodre ki khichdi with ghee, Image Source: Welcomhotel Amritsar


  • 3 cups kodo millet
  • 1 cup moong daal
  • 1 cup vegetables (carrots, beans, green peas & potatoes)
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp jeera
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.5 tbsp garlic chopped
  • 1" piece cinnamon
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • 1/3 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • Salt to taste


  • Soak the kodo millet for at least 4-5 hours & the daal ½ an hour.
  • Now wash them well and drain the water.
  • Cook kodo and daal separately in a cooker 
  • In a pan, heat ghee, and add jeera, bay leaf, cloves, and cinnamon.
  • Blend in garlic and sauté it till they turn golden in colour
  • Add onion and sauté till translucent
  • Add the mixed vegetables and sauté
  • Add tomatoes and cook them on slow flame till they turn mushy
  • Once done, add the spices
  • Now add the cooked kodo and dal
  • Mix well, add about 1/2 cup water and pressure cook for a whistle.
  • Open the cooker after the pressure is released

Stir and serve with some more ghee garnished with freshly chopped coriander leaves.