Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Pulse of Health!

There are two varieties of Bengal gram. The one developed in the Indian subcontinent is smaller in size with wrinkled black skin. The other, larger with pale brown skin, is developed in the Mediterranean and known as chickpea or garbanzo bean. In India, this variety is popularly called kabuli channa.

The name "Bengal gram" was given by the British because they first made its acquaintance in Bengal. But this pulse is of far greater antiquity. It has been found in several archaeological sites, two of the oldest being Çayonu, a Neolithic settlement in southern Turkey which existed from 7200 to 6600 BC, and Hacilar in south-western Turkey, dating back to 7040 BC. In India, it has been found in excavations at the Harappan site of Kalibangan in Rajasthan (3500 BC).

Like the rest of the family of pulses to which it belongs, the Bengal gram is an excellent source of both carbohydrate and protein, which are respectively the fuel and building blocks of the human body. But it is also packed with so many other healthful goodies that it can almost be a complete meal by itself. Moreover, the Bengal gram is the highest source of dietary fibre amongst all the commonly eaten foods in India, including cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, with one cup of boiled Bengal gram providing as much as 60 per cent of the daily requirement.

(Read more about this nutritious pulse in my book "How the Banana Went to Heaven)

My mum makes a very simple but very delicious dish with this channa (the firangis call it chickpeas or garbanzo peas)
Recipe -
1. Soak 2 cups kabuli channa overnight in water
2. Boil till cooked to a beautiful buttery softness.
3. Add juice from marble-sized ball of tamarind soaked in warm water for about 10-15 minutes
3. Add about a cup of water (adjust depending on how much "soup" you want, salt, 2-3 chopped, green chilies, 4-5 cloves of garlic
4. Simmer for about 2-3 mintues
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil, add 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/2 broken red chili. When mustard starts to splutter, add pinch of hing (asefoetida) and 5-7 curry leaves.
6. After a few seconds, remove from heat and add to the kabuli channa soup. Add a tablespoon or so finely chopped fresh coriander, simmer for another few seconds

Serve piping hot with plain steamed rice or chappati or hot buttered toast

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goddess Gourd

You wouldn’t think that a food that is more than 96 per cent water (another one of the white pumpkin’s Sanskrit names is kumbhaphala, meaning ‘waterpot fruit’!) would be able to pack in much in the way of nutrition. But like many other members of the gourd family (cucumber, watermelon, bottle gourd, etcetera) to which it belongs, the white pumpkin is loaded with nutrients. It is an excellent source of thiamine (vitamin B1) and a good source of niacin (B3) and Vitamin C. It also has good amounts of many minerals like calcium and potassium. And the fact that it has almost no calories makes it both the nutritionist’s and the dietician’s dream.

(For more detials, see my book )

This is simple, delicious curry that goes well both with plain steamed rice, roti or even bread.

White Pumpkin Curry

1/2 kg white pumpkin, deseeded, peeled and cut into 1/2 in cubes

For the masala

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon urad dal (black gram)

1 teaspoon cumin (jeera)

3 dried red chilies

3/4 cup fresh coconut

1/2 inch piece of tamarind

1/2 tablespoon of grated jaggery (adjust to taste or skip altogether)

salt to taste

For seasoning

1 tablespoon oil

3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 dried red chilli, broken into pieces

Pinch of asafoetida

7-8 curry leaves


Boil the pumpkin pieces in about half a cup of water till cooked. Roast the coriander seeds, urad dal, cumin and red chillies till you get a roasted smell and the coriander seeds and urad dal darken in colour. Grind into chutney consistency with the coconut and tamarind.

Add to the cooked pumpkin pieces along with salt, grated jaggery and a little water to make a curry and simmer over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Heat the oil, add the red chilli pieces and mustard. When the seeds start to splutter, add the asafoetida. When the stop spluttering, add the curry leaves. Remove from heat after a few seconds and add to the curry.

Remove from heat and serve with plain steamed rice

Friday, November 12, 2010

What’s in your child’s tiffin box?


The inspiration to write this piece came from a recent chat with my friendly neighbourhood grocer. I was asking him about the rapid proliferation of piles of ‘bakery items’ on his shop counter. Bread, buns, biscuits etc., - the sweeter, the better. He explained that he was only catering to market forces because increasingly the standard fare inside kids’ school tiffin boxes went something like this. White bread slathered with butter and a ghastly, maroon-coloured gooey substance that is euphemistically marketed as mixed fruit jam. (Hah!) And in case the whole thing isn’t sweet enough for your little darling, sugar is also sprinkled liberally inside!  The World Health Organization politely describes such hideous concoctions as ‘energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, (which) combined with reduced physical activity have led to obesity rates that have risen three-fold or more since 1980’. My less polite definition is “junk food”.

Or even more appropriately “poison”.

Childhood obesity is no longer something that we can look at fat American kids and sneer about. It’s a monster that is making itself very, very comfortable on the drawing sofa right next to your kids as they sit glued watching Cartoon Network or even worse, a saas-bahu serial. And in case you aren’t worried as yet, this should do the trick.
One in every 10 children in urban India is overweight. Recent studies at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have confirmed that childhood obesity leads to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver and gall bladder diseases and reproductive disorders, only to name a few. And as much as we’d like to blame it on all those “kurkure” ads needling our kids as to whether they’re “hungry, kya?” or peer pressure (“if Arjun’s mom can put chips in his tiffin box, why can’t you?”), the fault, my dear mummies and daddies lies squarely with us. For example, many times have you taken the easy way out and filled your kid’s school tiffin box  that jam sandwich or other such 2-minute nutritional horrors ? How much time do you spend getting your kids to eat healthy compared to what you spend on their  homework? Okay, don’t answer the question but  consider these facts.
1. A fat kid is a fat adult and an unhealthy adult.
What your kids eat today will determine what they will eat as adults because dietary habits and food preferences - which naturally determine nutrition - are generally developed in early childhood and particularly during adolescence.  80% of fat kids end up as adult fatties.
2. Kids have small stomachs…..
Look at your kid’s stomach. Just to remind yourself that they need to eat more often than you do. So snacks and school tiffin boxes are very important sources of nutrition
3. …..but big nutritional needs
It’s common sense, really. Growth needs extra nourishment. So children need extra of all nutrients but especially extra helpings of energy, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B, C and folate. 
4. Malnutritioned children aren’t necessarily poor and thin.
A study found that approximately 50% middle-income school children suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiency. So more important than how much your kids eat is what they eat.
Starting August 1st is World Breastfeeding Week - to impress upon us that this very first act of a mother is so important for the child that a recent New York Times article (‘Breast Feed or else… ‘)quoted a US Health department spokesperson as saying that just like it's risky to smoke during pregnancy, it's risky not to breast-feed afterwards! Because children who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their life grow up to be smarter, happier, healthier adults, protected not only from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers but also obesity.
But what does breastfeeding have to do with my our kids’ tiffin boxes? Well, for one thing, the words  ‘nutritious’, ‘nutrition’ etc., all have the same etymological mother which is the Latin word nutrire which means ‘to suckle’ or breast feed.  So, nourishment is the very first gift that we give our children. And what Nature begins so beautifully in breast milk, we must continue. Into each mealtime. And into every lunch and tiffin box. Because what we feed our children will determine their future as much as what kind of education we give them. And it is really quite simple. Nature has already done most of the work for us by providing us a limitless cornucopia of wonderfully nutritious and delicious foods. We just need to stir in a few teaspoons of imagination, simmer gently in a few cups of love and garnish with a few pinches of cunning to make good health go down.
So today, I present 2 simple recipes for kids’ tiffin boxes. They are simple, delicious and keep in mind that school day mornings are always a crazy rush, that it often ain’t easy making palak and milk go down…
Bon Appetit !

Scrambled Paneer Rolls
Calcium is a very important nutrient for children, especially for teenagers and girls because it builds healthy teeth and bones. Did you know that about 45% of the adult skeleton is formed during adolescence? Green leafy vegetables, potaoes, lentils like mung and channa dal and sesame seeds are excellent sources….and of course milk. Now, many kids hate milk, so milk products are good alternatives. Like paneer. Nutritious, delicious and very versatile – works as stuffing inside anything from parathas to sandwiches, as bhaji or curry or if you make the paneer at home from skimmed cow’s milk, just by itself, dipped in sauce or chutney. The bonus? Kids love it!
To make 4 rolls
4 thin rotis (you can use leftover ones)
1 cup of fresh paneer (aboiout 200gms) crumbled coarsely
1 small onion diced finely
Pinch of turmeric
Pinch of aesfotida
1 green chili (optional), finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
¼ piece of ginger finely diced
1 tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil and fry onions, ginger, chili, turmeric, salt till onions are just transparent and crunchy. Add panner and fry for another 30 seconds or so till the paneer turns slightly soft. Add corainder, stir and take off heat. Allow to cool. Warm the rotis slightly, apply a little butter. Place about a tablespoon of the scrambled paneer in the centre. Carefully make into rolls, tucking in both ends well so that the filling doesn’t fall out. Serve with tomato sauce or pudina chutney.

Popeye Dosas
Green leafy vegetables. Perhaps the only things as nutritious as fruits and excellent sources of antioxidants and micronutrients – especialy iron. Which kids need for healthy blood and muscle development and did you know that almost two-thirds of Indian children suffer from iron deficiency ? the way to get kids to eat them is to combine with other foods – add to dals, chapati dough, other vegetables like carrot, potato etc. Or then as these lickety-split quick and delicious dosas
To make 6-8 dosas
½ cup each of rice, wheat, chickpea and ragi flour
1 small bunch palak, wsahed cleaned and finely chopped
1 green chili finely chopped (optional)
Pinch of aesfotida
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
¼ piece of ginger finely diced
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients with water to make dosa batter. Make dosas. Delicious with just butter or tomato sauce or coconut chutney

Top 5 snacking habits to develop in your kids

1. Fruit – if you can get your kids to love fruit, more than half your battle is won. They are perhaps the most nutritious foods on earth. And it doesn’t have to be apples to keep the doctor away – mango, banana, papaya, pomegranates all do equally well.
2. Nuts – raw or just lightly roasted (peanuts)and without salt. Great sources of protein, the B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
3. Curds – a great home snack. One of the best sources of calcium, potassium and phosphorus, many of the vitamins B. But most of all, curd is a probiotic food which means lots of good, friendly bacteria to keep your little darlings’ digestive system happy and healthy! Jazz it up with mashed banana, boiled potato or even cornflakes or puffed rice and a dash of chat masala or pudina chutney. Or then, just serve plain…
4. Idlis, dhoklas and other such fermented and steamed snacks. Also probiotic food, but the cereal and lentil content make them excellent sources of protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients like the B vitamins, folate, calcium copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc etc
5. Buttermilk – fruit juices are great but cumbersome to make and often expensive. Buttermilk on the other hand is cheap,easy to whip up and like curd, fabulously nutritious.