Healthful Indian Cooking : An Introduction to How Its Done in Homes


Recipe Books Often Indicate Usage of Lots of Oil in This Cooking; Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth. A Guide as to How It's Done.

It is probably a fact, universally true, that what passes for "home" type Indian cuisine, and say "typical Indian cuisine (as portrayed in recipe books)" are as different as chalk and cheese, or, should I say, cayenne pepper and sugar.

I grew up in a vegetarian household, and , in a land which was rich in the variety of seasonal vegetables that one got in the market. There wasn't a concept of "Indian fast food" , as such, in my childhood; but we immensely enjoyed and looked forward to
the various dishes that emanated from our family kitchen. Learning to live alone at the University in the US, required that I acquire some expertise in this cuisine, if I wasn't to admit defeat before the powers like McDonalds, Subways and KFC.

Recipes, as available in books often stress on stuff like stir frying the onions till the "oil separates on the side" etc, which is an immediate quick book-shutting-turn-off for someone looking for healthy meals.

So here are some tips from "home".

The oil is NOT the cooking medium, but it is more like a dressing. Here, you pour the vegetables into the dressing and stir instead of pouring the dressing on the veggies.

The basic "dressing".

You can use a lot less oil, if you steam the veggies , lightly prior to spicing them up. One of the things that works great for me is what is called a corn-cooker-steamer. I found it at one of the department stores ages ago, and it actually consists of an outer vessel, in which you put water, and and an inner vessel with a perforated bottom and sides, that fits in. This whole thing is like a foot high, and has a semi dome shaped lid that fits really well.

What I do, is cut and steam my veggies , simultaneously, in different small containers, inside this "cooker". I even cook my rice simultaneously along with these. The wonderful thing is, one doesn't have to cook everything at the same intensity as , say, in a pressure cooker. Cauliflowers need to cook little, where as certain beans take longer. But the good thing is, that unlike the pressure cooker, I can add and remove stuff from this cooker/steamer as and how required.

What you then do, is heat , say a couple of teaspoons of oil in a pan/wok/similar vessel. Do not allow the oil to smoke. Add half a teaspoon of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida (called "hing"). As the various seeds crackle, add 1 or 2 chopped fresh hot chili-peppers , and what are called curry leaves, available at Asian shops. Then you add half a teaspoon of turmeric. This is the basic dressing.

Sometimes, we also add fenugreek seeds. These add a mysterious slightly bitter tinge.

Not all spices are added simply based on taste. One must remember that hing or asofoetida, is known to help in digestion, and turmeric besides adding a vibrant color, has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Our ancestors actually defined the methods of cooking marrying science to taste; todays society, all over the world, as expected , has veered away from "marriage" and only retained the taste part.

Depending on what veggie is being cooked, one may now add, chopped onions, tomatoes, finely chopped garlic, slivers of ginger; it really depends on your taste. People in colder climates in India, often use a lot of garlic and ginger in their cooking. Once these gravy-producing things are added and nicely cooked, you add your steamed veggies, salt, cayenne pepper to taste, and also something called "masala" which is a spice mixture available in Asian stores. (Masala is actually a smart mixture of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, peppers, and star anise, caraway seeds and many other spices; roasted and ground finely). Stir the veggies nicely, cover and let simmer. Add a couple of teaspoons of water to loosen up the gravy and allow the veggies to marinate in the heat. Since your veggies are already cooked, your "curry is ready after 5-7 minutes of simmering.

These are eaten with plain rice, spiced rice, wheat tortillas, whole wheat bread , and anything you can think of , that can be used to wipe and slurp up the wonderful vegetable curry.

This method of cooking uses very little oil, keeps the taste very fresh, and can be cooked in a jiffy, if you have the vegetables steamed and stored earlier in the day in the fridge.

I often add a teaspoon of roasted ground flax seeds to the gravy mixture before adding the veggies. Its good for you, gives "body ' to the gravy, and tastes wonderful. Adding flax here , is NOT a traditional Indian thing. Its my innovation , keeping in mind, new information about health benefits that I learn.

Things like potatoes, beans, soaked garbanzos etc may be cooked in the pressure cooker , for savings of fuel as well as proper sufficient cooking.

An Indian meal is always incomplete without salad.

Unlike western meals, Indian meals are all served together, and not in several courses. There is a concept of a big plate in which cooked curries and veggies inhabit the right hand side and the "left" is dedicatd to salads, chutneys, pickles etc. The main center pieces are rice and tortillas. There are also some fried food items that are served as savouries. But a routine daily meal does not really indulge in these savoury items, which are made on special occasions.

Salad variety in India is mind boggling. Lettuce, cabbage, cauliflowers, several types of carrots, capsicums(green peppers), raddishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and what have you throw up a veritable rainbow of choices. Of course , onions are almost always used, except when contraindicated by specific diet or religious restrictions.

A typical salad would be, say carrots and raddishes grated and spiced with salt, ground cumin powder, mustard paste, finely chopped green chilies and coriander; all this nicely mixed with plain yogurt, and served. The mustard paste actually brings a zing in your nostril; a quick whirl of mustard seeds and lemon juice in the blender ensures that. The yogurt tempers this, and the concoction ideally sets off and cools the remaining rice and curry meal .

Almost any salad item may be mixed with yogurt and had as an accompaniment. A mixture of all the above salad items, nicely chopped (so they marinate in each others natural juices), with salt, pepper, a pinch of hing and squeezed lemon, tastes wonderful with tortillas, in between mouthfuls of exciting vegetable curry.

Occasionally one can also use the sort of "oil dressing" used in veggie-cooking (explained earlier) to pour on salad mixtures, to give a slightly more pungent taste. Unlike veggies, which you add to the cooking dressing, you pour this dressing on raw salads and stir well.

A cooked/baked , peeled and chopped potato , added to these salads, made in sufficient quantity, often suffices as a quick filling salad lunch.

Poppadums, which are usually served fried, need not always be served so. At home, we routinely roast the papads with tongs, on a fire. Roasted papads are more healthful and taste even more wonderful. Some people I know even roast papads in the microwave. However, this may not be so thrilling to those for whom the browning and aroma of roasting papad, causes a surplus of salivation....

A nice Indian daily meal is often accompanied by a lightly spiced , glass of buttermilk. This is thin in consistency, and gives a hint of ginger and green peper and coriander spicing. Some drink this along with their meal, and some drink at at the conclusion, a cooling nectar to wash down those hot spices, that may have just got the senses into an excitable state...

Rice in India is often accompanied by "dal", which is actually similar to pulses/legumes. This is out main protein source. Typically soaked and cooked with double the amount of water in a pressure cooker, the cooked dal is often simply mixed with your rice, with salt , a squeeze of lemon, a blob of some ghee(clarified butter)and relished with some typical Indian pickle, to add that hint of exciting spice.

Slightly complicated variations of dal involve addition of the "oil dressing: similar to the veggies; sometimes a mixture of various vegetables is added to this cooked dal, and the usual salt, cayenne pepper, and masala powder mixture is added, along with, a new addition - a bit of tamarind , preferably in soaked and pureed form.

A typical home cooked meal then would be rice, dal, veggies, tortillas, and a salad, with buttermilk. We don't really overdo the oil stuff ; and the tortillas are made fresh and "on line" , as such, from whole wheat dough.

In today's world, where everyone is in a hurry, and sit-down , lazy meals are a relic of a bygone era, people often make either rice , or tortillas for a lunch meal, but not both; as the satiety factor then allows you to proceed back freshly to work, instead of feeling like taking a wonderful afternoon nap.

Maybe you can get those recipe books out on a weekend, and cook a delicious Indian meal, and as a special case indulge in all the "rich" cooking recipes.

And keep wondering , whether the recipe needs to be "rich" or you need to be "rich" in health .


Page created by Frances Osborne Austin Texas