Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dadima No Varso (Guest blog by Rushina)

Indian Grains Month, a campaign that ran whole of October on my social media channels, has been a small step towards increasing awareness and encouraging people to reroute their culinary preferences to what's good and inculcate more millets into their diet.
Sharing more thoughts on the same, Rushina Ghildiyal happily agreed to contribute her thoughts on her experience with indigenous grains. A friend, mentor and co-foodie, Rushina has been my partner in crime in many a culinary ventures. She's one of the pioneer bloggers of our country and blogs at

Rushina's passion for discovering and rediscovering heirloom recipes and tracing their roots shows in her work. Here's her write-up on her brush with Barnyard Millet...

DADIMA NO VARSO (Grandmother's Legacy)
Guest blog by Rushina Ghildiyal

            As a child I remember looking forward to days when my Grandmother observed fasts. Unaware of the religious connotations of her fasting, my only focus was what she ate when she sat apart from everyone for her one Ekadashi meal of the day. And eagerly waiting for leftovers! Because they were far more alluring than the usual daily fare of RDBS (or roti, dal, bhaat, subzi).  I think at some point she figured this out, because the leftovers doubled in quantity! The dish that had my attention? Ghensh, a savoury porridge like dish made of a millet, also called Moriyo in Gujarati.

    I remember watching our Maharaj make Moriyo (before he started cooking the rest of the meal for the family) on those days. A small kadhai would go onto the gas. In would go some ghee. When it was hot, cumin would be added, furiously crackling as the kitchen filled with that magic aroma of spices and fat coming together. Green chilli would go in next, spluttering as it let of its fire. But soon, buttermilk (or a thin yogurt solution) followed, cooling, gentling the spices and settling things to a slow simmer. The Moriyo and potatoes would be added, and the whole slow cooked till the grains were turgid and the potatoes tender and moreish having absorbed the green chilli laced sourness of the yoghurt. As I write I remember the distinct spicy lactic sourness, a flavour profile that was unforgettable!

So, imagine my surprise to find it again, years later, in Garhwal as Paleu made by my husband’s Nani. A dish of Jhangora cooked in buttermilk or yogurt in an iron kadhai and eaten as either a sweet porridge with sugar or a savoury one with Hara namak (a flavoured condiment made by pounding green garlic with salt and green chillies). The composition was a little different, but the flavours were almost the same!

But a bit of research and connecting of dots and it was not so surprising. Moriyo and Jhangora are both strains of a millet species collectively called Genus Echinochloa, commonly named Barnyard millet, a species that has been part of the traditional Indian diet for centuries! Millets are mentioned in some of the oldest surviving Yajur veda texts and the consumption of Barnyard millet, (called Aanava at the time), goes as far back as around 4500 BC. Its use spread with the dissemination of Indian cuisine and is today used across the country, and came to be known by many local names. From Samvat Ke Chaval in Hindi and Jhangora in Garhwali, to Vari Che Tandul, Varai or Baghar in Marathi and Samo or Morioyo in Gujarati, to Kodisama in Telugu and Kudirai Vali in Tamil.
Although traditionally consumed as a regular part of the daily diet in many regional cuisines, today 
these tiny round grains are predominantly associated with fasting meals. During fasts, tradition calls 
for consumption of a limited selection of ingredients, of which Barnyard millet is one that is allowed
and therefore used as a substitute for rice in rice-based dishes since it is a traditionally foraged food 
that is easily digestible. The fact that it has low GI has also seen it being adapted as a diabetic friendly food.

But here’s the thing. Barnyard Millet should not be relegated to fasting days and special diets! 
We should all be eating more of it and other ingredients, like our Grandmothers. 
Millets have been the major staple food our diets for centuries. In fact, until as recently as 50 years
ago, they were a major grain grown by us, and an integral ingredient in our local food cultures. 
The Green Revolution and the promotion of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat during the 1970s and a growth in prosperity brought aspirations cause millets to be perceived as “coarse grains” that did not fit into more sophisticated diets, causing them to be displaced from food basket.
Which is ironic, because it is its “coarseness’ that makes it good for us! 
With a ‘sophisticated’ flattened diet that consumes just rice and wheat, and a handful of supermarket shelf vegetables, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are losing out on something extremely valuable. Our food diversity. And the critically important, richly varied, nutrients that the diverse diet of our ancestors provided.
Because while we focused on what Barnyard millet does not have, we forgot what it DOES have. A 100 gm of barnyard millet contain 11.9 gm of moisture, 6.2 gm of protein, 2.2 gm of fat, 4.4 gm of minerals (one of the highest value among grains), 9.8 gm of crude fibre, 65.5gm of carbohydrates, 20 mg of calcium, 5 mg of iron and a high level of phosphorus at 280 mg. That’s a lot of really good stuff we are missing out on! My Grandmother and yours would agree!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Changing with the seasons

      Eating seasonal and local are values I always emphasise upon. The world over, food patterns, food choices and food availability are typical indicators of seasonality. The stress on eating seasonal and local is not just to support the food ecosystem and our food sources (which of course is paramount), but simply because it’s a healthier lifestyle.
      Ayurveda ascribes a healthy balance of mind and body to seasonal choice of food. When you eat local, you are automatically eating what’s in season and hence working with the cycles of nature.
      As we start moving on from winter into spring time or Kapha season, changing weather patterns can disturb the body’s immunity and digestion.
Here's some pointers to tide through with good health:
 - Switch to lighter foods that are nutritious yet easy to digest. Fresh fruits and sprouts are good options.
 - Supplement your diet with exercise. Nothing substitutes a work out or any form of physical activity for a fit mind and body.
 - Raw turmeric is available in abundance at this time. Try a jhatpat kachumber with a simple seasoning or a kachchi Haldi ki subji. Turmeric has garam taseer and hence is a boon in this season. It’s also blessed with excellent anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
 - Same goes for Jaggery which plays an important part during Sankranti, but is also naturally nutritious. Its rich iron content fortifies and keeps the body warm.
Here's a recipe for you all to try:
Preparation Time: 15mins
Cooking Time: 20mins
Serves: 10-12 lemon size laddos
3 Cups Murmura/Rice puffs
1 Cup Jaggery, grated
4 tbsps Water
1 tsp Cardamom Powder
1/3 Cup Almonds, chopped (Optional)
1/3 Cup Pistachio, chopped (Optional)
1. Dry roast the murmuras in a pan till crisp.
2. In a pan, add jaggery and water, mix till dissolved. Let simmer and cook until it reaches a 2 string consistency.
3. Add cardamom powder into melted jaggery and mix well.
4. Now add almonds, pistachios and murmuras into it and mix well.
5. Turn off the flame. Allow it to cool for 1 minute but not more than that.
6. Wet your hands, take a handful of the mixture and shape into a laddoo. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
7. Make laddoos of desired size and allow them to cool down, they will harden.
Store the prepared laddoos in air tight containers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Let the festivities begin!

          Kolkata loves its food to the point of pride; Durga Puja especially is a time when the city puts out the best it has to offer, in all its finery. Ask any Bengali, or a food lover, even, what Durga Pujo means to them and you cannot miss that flicker of happiness in their eyes. The festival begins in full fervor on Sashti and culminates on Dashami. Time for pandal hopping, Notun Jaama and great food. (NB: This list isn't exhaustive!)
        It’s a rare Bengali breakfast that would be complete without the Phulko Luchi, the Eastern counterpart of the Puri, especially around Durga Puja . Made with refined flour, it’s slightly smaller than the normal puris and popularly served with either sweet or savoury sides, the more common ones being Alur Torkari or Cholar Dal. The taste of a true luchi is enhanced when fried in ghee. That might have got your calorie bells ringing, but remember, Pujo time is for indulgence!
       Radha Ballabhi is a match made in culinary heaven. It’s one of the omnipresent dishes in any important Bengali ceremony. It’s difficult to pass by a sweet shop and resist these stuffed delights, right off the wok as they are prepared by the Moira, or the traditional sweet maker. Much as they are a popular breakfast dish, they are equally enjoyed as evening snacks.
        Other snacks worth exploring at this time are the Koraishutir (Peas) Kochuri with Alu dum, the humble Alu chorchori seasoned with Hing and Golmorich (asafetida and pepper) and the Tinkona (triangular) Porota with Chenchki (vegetables or lentils spiced with panchphoran), Vegetable chop, Kathi rolls and Dimer Devil, which is, guess what – Deviled Egg!

           The Bhog or the community lunch is the highlight of the Pujo celebrations. It is Niramish or pure vegetarian. Bhog er Khichuri or Moong dal Khichdi is an important part of the bhog. Prepared in the Satvik manner, i.e, no onion or garlic and just the fact that it’s cooked for Bhog, it’s blessed with a flavour that can rarely be recreated elsewhere. Other dishes include the Mishti pulao, Labdar Torkari, a mixed vegetable dish, Chanchra (a drier vegetable dish); all this served with crispy fried bhajas or vegetable fritters on the side and the delectable Payesh and mishti to end the meal with. It’s interesting that typically, a sweet and sour chutney is served in the interim before the dessert fare to cleanse and neutralize the palate.
            From the Muri Ghonto or the Fish head curry served with rice, Ilish Pulao, the famous Kolkata mutton biryani, to Shukto, Doi Fulkopi (spicy cauliflower in yogurt), Lal Shaak bhaja (you guessed it right, amaranth fritters) and an interesting one made with grated potato, called the Jhiri jhiri or Jhuri Alu bhaja, there's a heady mix for vegetarians and meat lovers alike..

  No account of Bengali culinary offerings is complete without touching the sweet end of the spectrum. The Nolen gurer Mishti Doi or sweetened yogurt made with date palm jaggery and Nolen gurer Payesh are major attractions. 

Bijoya or Dashami sees more sweets, as togetherness is celebrated with sweets; Mishti mukh kora as it’s called. Komola Bhog, a saffron flavoured Roshogullah, Sandesh in all its variations, also Shor Bhaja, a sweet that’s deep fried in ghee and soaked in sugar syrup. This dish originated in Krishna Nagar, Nadia and is a labour of love. It’s made from the cream of milk called Shor. A baked variation of this dish also exists, called Sarpuria.

            The connection of food with the Divine is oft talked about and is a given. It’s indeed the power of faith, purity of mind and the spirit of cooking and eating together that infuses a magical flavour to any fare. So this Durga Pujo, go ahead and celebrate the festival of power or Shakti, victory of good over evil and discover the power of food in all its glory.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fasting - the science beyond

       That time of the year again when I start thinking fondly of pandal hopping. A mere recall of the Niramish bhog and my ever favourite Bhog er Khichuri, gets the taste buds salivating. Well, the feast is another story for another time. Let’s talk about fasting.
                We have long since established a scientific logic prevailing behind our socio-religious practices, be they at the spiritual or culinary levels. That includes the change in food patterns, as also fasting. Fasting or vrat in its varying degrees, from complete to partial abstinence is in itself, a scientifically essential detox for our digestive system.

       Take Navratri for instance. There are two major Navratris in a year (four in all). Both of these occur during major seasonal shifts – beginning of spring and autumn. These are also times when the human immunity level is at its lowest. Eating light and avoiding rich, heavy and spicy foods helps the body adjust to the new season naturally.
                That brings us to the importance of eating right during fasts. Getting plenty of energy and fibre rich foods while staying hydrated is the order of the day. Hence why there is inclusion of more millets as grain substitutes and not surprisingly so, considering that millets were an Indian staple in the days of yore.
                And it’s not just Navratri that highlights the significance of fasts. Similar science revolves around fasting on Ekadashi, the 11th day in the lunar cycle. Atmospheric pressure being the lowest on Ekadashi, makes it apt to abstain from heavy foods to sustain the mind-body balance. The concept is simple and similar for the most part. Eating light puts less pressure on the digestive process, helping the senses stay alert and active.
                So this season, while you observe fasts and enjoy the feasts, don’t forget to honour what your body truly needs.
Here’s a light yet energy rich recipe to try..
300 gms sweet potato - boiled, peeled & diced
½ green apple, diced
½ red apple, diced
Few spinach leaves, roughly shredded or chiffonade
Few Walnuts, roughly broken
1 tbsp chaat masala
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin seeds - roasted and powdered
2 tbsp yogurt, beaten
Lemon juice-to taste
Fresh Coriander, chopped
Fresh mint, chopped

1. In a mixing bowl add cumin seed powder, chili powder, chaat masala and lime juice and mix well.
2. Now add sweet potato, diced apples, spinach, walnuts and mix well.
3. Transfer to serving bowls and pour remaining seasoning on top.
4. Sprinkle the chopped coriander and mint leaves and serve immediately. Optional to serve with whisked yogurt too.