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November 26, 2013

Yesterday, I was listening to a talk on spices at a seminar and thought to myself – how lucky we Indians are, to have such a wide variety of spices in our cuisine.  It’s hard to imagine an Indian kitchen without turmeric, ginger, garlic, mustard, cumin, coriander and many other spices.

Spices not only aid digestion but also have a protective effect on health.  The innumerable antioxidants present in spices guard us against a host of diseases.  However, this protective effect is possible only in tandem with a healthy lifestyle.  Several studies have been conducted in India on spices and health.  Turmeric, ginger, garlic and capsaicin (which is the active component in chilli peppers, capsicum and other foods of the same family) have found to be beneficial for many health problems.

Contrary to popular belief, spices do not cause ulcers by themselves.  Although spices offer benefits in healthy people, there’s little they can do in those who already have a disease condition.

Do continue to use spices in your cooking.  Don’t forget to season your dishes!

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November 18, 2013

A health cookery competition, a recipe demonstration and a related nutrition talk got me to visit Pune last week.  The participants enthusiastically showed off their culinary skills and were supported by their friends present in full force.  The judging panel comprised of a chef from a star hotel, a food connoisseur from the company and myself.  The unanimous choice for the first prize was “Maharashtrian Tadka Biryani” made by Deepika Hublikar and Arti Deore.  They have shared the recipe with all of you, so thank you, Deepika & Arti.

MAHARASHTRIAN TADKA BIRYANI

Ingredients –

  1. 1 cup flattened rice (beaten rice / poha / rice flakes)
  2. Himalayan rock salt (Saindhav salt) to taste
  3. Masala 1 – 1 star anise , 1 cardamom , 1 cinnamon, 2 cloves,  1 tsp black cumin seeds , 1 bay leaf
  4. Masala 2 – 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp red chili powder, 1 tsp powdered fennel seeds, 1 tsp kasuri methi, 1 tsp turmeric powder
  5. 1 tsp ginger and garlic paste
  6. 1 tsp chilies finely chopped
  7. 1 tbsp curd
  8. 1 cup vegetables (chopped & boiled) – carrot, cauliflower, mushroom, french beans
  9. 1/3 cup chopped tomato
  10. 1/3 cup chopped onion
  11. 1/2 cup paneer (grated)
  12. 1 tbsp unsalted fresh butter
  13. 2 tsp lemon juice
  14. Garnish – coriander, mint (pudina)

Method of Preparation –
Rice preparation

  • Take the flattened rice and soak it in water for few seconds.
  • Heat the pan, melt half the unsalted butter in it, add Masala 1 and sauté for 2-3 mins. Add soaked flattened rice and sauté for 5 mins until the rice gets the flavor of masala. After 5 mins remove the rice from the flame.  Add Masala 2, salt, lemon juice, mix well and keep aside.
  • Heat some coal on a flame.  After the coal is heated keep it in a bowl. Add few drops of ghee on the heated coal. Keep the bowl with the flattened rice prepared above the coal and cover it with a tight lid so that the rice gets the flavor of coal smoke.

Veggie Layer

  • Heat the remaining unsalted butter in a pan. After the butter melts add 1 tsp cumin seeds and ginger-garlic paste, and after a few seconds add finely chopped onion. Sauté until the onion turns brown.
  • Add chopped tomato and sauté it until the mixture thickens. Add curd and mix well.
  • Add turmeric powder, fennel seed powder, chili powder, kasuri methi and mix well. After a few seconds add boiled vegetables, salt, garam masala, paneer & sauté for 2-3 mins.

Layers

  • Cover 1/3 part of bowl with veggie layer and spread evenly. Add rice layer and garnish it with paneer, coriander and pudina. Prepare 1 more such layer and garnish your dish with coriander, pudina and baked onion rings.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film. Make some holes to the film and heat in microwave for 5 mins.
  • Serve your dish immediately after heating and enjoy your meal with some raita or curd.
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November 7, 2013

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with Sindhoor Pangal, a Canine family Coach & Behaviorist educated in Norway.  Her adoration for dogs took her overseas from Bangalore to learn and understand canine behavior and to help other dog-owners and dogs in distress.  She’s probably one of the very few such professionals in our country. 

Her work involves demystifying the communication between dogs and humans.  Dogs can read human emotions and are great at identifying what makes us happy.  They also offer us solace when they sense our sadness or stresses.  But we are not in a position to receive this either because we are incapable of reading them or we are not in a mental position to do so.  When their efforts fail, the dogs get stressed.  So, in a way, they are reflecting our stress.  This is when a canine behaviorist steps in and identifies the real problem.  This can perhaps help to discover our own stresses and lead us to a path of de-stress.

No wonder, dogs are called ‘man’s best friend’.  If you are a dog lover or if any of your family members, friends or neighbours own dogs, you might want to contact Sindhoor Pangal.   She also runs classes apart from offering consultations.  For more information go to her website http://about.bangalorehundeskole.com/

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October 29, 2013

Last Saturday, Food Lovers magazine had invited me to speak on Nutrition & Health as a part of their Food Fiesta celebration at 1 MG Mall.  One of the questions raised by the audience was “Is salt necessary for the body?  What if we don’t take salt at all?”

Salt (rather, sodium) is needed for the body.  Sodium is required to maintain the fluid balance and to transmit nerve impulses.  Salt being the best source of dietary sodium, it is required in small amounts on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, the average daily intake of salt by an Indian far exceeds the limit set by nutrition experts.  Last year, WHO issued guidelines for sodium intake even for children.  This indicates that most people are eating more salt than necessary, and by reducing the intake of salt we can reduce the risk of cardiac related health problems.

Sodium is not only added to cooked foods in the form of salt at home but is also present in processed foods.  Here are a few tips to cut back on sodium / salt intake –

  • Include more fresh vegetables and fruits in your meal plan.
  • Reduce or remove salt from recipes wherever possible.  Eg – don’t add salt to rice while cooking it or to chapati while kneading the atta.
  • Restrict the use of sodium-laden foods foods like soy sauce, cheese, salted butter, pickles, salt biscuits, etc.
  • Replace some of the salt in the recipe with herbs and spices to flavor foods.
  • If you wish to use salt substitutes, check with your dietitian.
  • Read labels while shopping.  Mono sodium glutamate, baking soda, sodium citrate, sodium nitrite and so on, are all sources of sodium which can increase the total sodium intake.
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October 18, 2013

Many stories and anecdotes surround mono sodium glutamate which is commonly referred to as MSG.  Headache, sweating, burning, pain, weakness, nausea, etc have been associated with the intake of MSG although research has yet to prove the connection.  Commonly termed ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ because people believe that the symptoms appear after they have eaten a Chinese meal, MSG is commonly used in many Chinese dishes.

MSG was first discovered in Japan more than a hundred years ago.  Today MSG is used in processed meats, canned vegetables, sauces, soups, apart from Chinese cooking.  The US FDA regards MSG as safe for consumption but mandates the ingredient to be listed on the food label.

People on a sodium-restricted diet will need to restrict or avoid the use of MSG because of its sodium content.  Also, if you have a reaction after eating food with MSG, it’s best to avoid MSG in your food.

As of today, MSG is not considered harmful, but we don’t know what research will tell us some years later.

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