A 12 year old jaipuri handpainted ceramic mason jar from the remotest corner of the highest shelf on my kitchen cabinet plunged to death yesterday! As I was brooming the pieces to safety, my son came to give me a helping hand. Allured by the colourful though broken pieces of a decade-old jar from my collectives, he asked what it was for. “It is a chutney jar”, I replied. His matter-of-factly response struck an old chord in me: “Why don’t you make chutneys?”
There are atleast 2 chutney jars in every Indian's house: one for that ingeneous spicy-tangy dip on-the-go and the other to soothe our sweet tooth. We are dysfunctional without chutneys and pickles. While pickles are high in oil and salt content and have to be consumed in extremely limited quantities, chutneys have an advantage of liberally occupying a large segment of our plates. I would confess that just typing this blog piece is hyper-activating my salivary glands and that is the power of these succulent preparations, which have anointed our culinary existence for umpteen number of years across all parts of India. Be it the good old south Indian breakfast idlis and dosas, or the effervescent parathas, mid day cravings or your favourite kabaabs, no time to cook up a dish to go with your rotis, or a lazy Sunday eve snacking, chutneys are always to your rescue!
When versatility and health tie the knot!
The most striking part of these lip-smacking delicacies is that they don’t come with standard recipes! The ingredients and preparation can be twisted from one kind to the other based on preferences and type of meals they are to go along with. But it is not all about the taste buds that chutneys talk about. They can be extremely healthy additions to our daily diet. Extremely low on refined carbs or saturated fats, and blended with a cheerful spectrum of spices, chutneys are unarguably by far the yummiest creations emerging from our kitchen counters! Certain key elements of chutneys existing from ages, like coriander, curry leaves, mint, methi, asafoetida, tomato, onion, garlic, tamarind, mango, indian gooseberries (amla), caraway or ajwain leaves, coconut, peanuts and roasted gram are bundles of nutritive goodness. To complement these classics, vegetables like carrots, beetroots and capsicum, to name just a few, have also crept into the ambrosial world of chutneys to carve their niches! Incorporation of green leaves renders chutneys abundant in chlorophyll and antioxidants. Coriander, mint, fenugreek and curry leaves are rich source of vitamins, iron, folic acid and essential minerals and since there are not cooked their nutritive value is also kept intact. The digestive benefits of gooseberries, asafetida, ajwain, tamarind and methi, good fats from coconut and peanuts, complex carbs from grams and other legumes, antimicrobial property of garlic, onion and ginger and the numerous benefits of spices added into them make chutneys win hands down! All rolled in one, with super-satisfied buds and super-soothed bowels, what more can one ask for!
But as every good thing in life comes with a disclaimer, our dear chutneys also carry a caveat: The salty and sugary struggle! We need to be extremely judicious with the quantity of these two flavours we give to chutneys. We usually undermine and overdo this aspect. Overenthusiasm often makes us add that extra spoon of salt and consume too much of those sweet chutneys, both being wickedly disastrous for our health! A slightly wiser option to exercise would be using a few dates for sweetening instead of sugar and perhaps a sprinkle of rock salt or black salt to get those extra minerals (although the sodium chloride level is same in all types of salts). Nevertheless, stay moderate with the salt while preparing, and minimal with the sweet one while eating.
What makes our soul cry out for chutneys?
Our meals are incomplete without something tangy and spicy hitting our palates. The craving for tang, sour and spice is as natural as call of nature and just the sight of chutney gets our saliva inundating our oral cavity! Ever wondered why? Ivan Pavlov’s dog gave us all our answers long time back! Our salivary glands get into action with not just the taste (unconditioned response) but even with the sight of sour and spicy delectables (unconditioned response). This Pavlovian or classical conditioning mechanism ensures provision of sufficient saliva to dilute the extremity of the flavour as well as to aid in bolus formation and digestion. Little did we know that there existed, such a profound connection between unflinching love for chutneys and our 8th standard science chapter!
Already noon? As I drool away to concluding this chutney chant, time to put the chutney jar on to the mixer and churn out some tantalizing savory to oomph up your luncheon!
We all have atleast that one vegetable from childhood etched in our memory that made us cringe but our mothers shoved down our throat mercilessly and successfully! My mother was an expert of disguising and plating the most obnoxious vegetables for meals. I have been bulldozed by Kamal-Kakdi curry so much that I can perhaps sketch the cross-section image of this lotus Stem with greater precision than I can draw a lotus flower! But from the time it seemed holocaustic to now when I cannot stop singing praises for it, this extremely underrated veggie has travelled right up my ascending colon to my heart!
The splendid and majestic Lotus, taxonomically christened as Nelumbo nucifera, is not considered glorious (enough to be crowned as our national flower) just flippantly. It is indeed one of the most remarkable plants, coming close to the coconut palm, every part of which provides us with a plethora of benefits. The lotus plant has been used as core ingredient of East and Southeast Asian traditional medicines and cuisines for the longest time possibly known. The flower and leaves, apart from their ornamental charm are used as tea infusion for soothing gastric disturbances and lowering blood pressure. Lotus seed commonly known as makhana is an abundant source of proteins, vitamins and minerals, and is an excellent snack option for weight watchers, diabetics and health-conscious. And the lotus rhizome, the stem right down till its root, is a not-so-popular but nutritionally rich food.
The rhizome is plush with dietary fiber but low on fat, making it an amazing food choice for keeping calories in check. A 100g serving carries only 74kcals contributed by 3g of proteins, 15g of carbs and 7 g of fiber. Don’t be surprised if your stomach and intestines gurgle a bit for the first time. It is the acids and gastric juices getting into the assembly line. You will soon be rid of any constipation or acid reflux problems. So, try out a bowl of crunchy lotus stem for super smooth bowels!
Each serving of lotus stem provides us with essential minerals like magnesium (23mg) and phosphorus (100mg) for maintaining blood sugar levels and DNA integrity respectively, and, potassium (556mg) and iron (1.2mg) for controlling blood pressure and red blood cell formation. Amongst other phytonutrients, zinc and copper also constitute a large percentage of its mineral repertoire. High potassium content of lotus stem counteracts the sodium flux and prevents retention of excess water and keeps your kidneys flushed. How more magnificently ironical can nature be for bestowing on a plant growing primarily in water, the ability to drain out yours!
Containing 44mg of ascorbic acid that amounts to 73% of our daily dietary value, we surely cannot discount out the vitamin C quotient of the lotus rhizome. Bite into these succulent stems and see your skin and hair growing as luscious as a lotus bloom!
Pyridoxine of the vitamin B complex is involved in a signaling cascade with neural receptors that influence mood and behaviour. So, if you have been thinking all this while that it is the lotus flower symbolizing peace and tranquility, you know now where the peace of mind actually ‘stems’ from!
The lotus stem, though very delicately flavored, can be transformed into amazing cuisines. From sautéed dishes of Japan and Chinese soups and salads to spicy Indian curries and chips, it has carved a niche for itself in more than half of Asia. The only care we need to take is hygiene. Since it is grown in swamps, it is harvested and sold muddy. It stickers along aggregates of aquatic microflora which can compete with the natural intestinal microbiota and cause acute infections. It should not be consumed raw for this reason. And since it is a pretty sturdy and versatile shoot, you can explore different ways to cook it.
India is home to an extensive variety of classical vegetation which often don’t get their due credit. Staying ignorant about or underusing their potential is plain criminal! Despite the abundance of goodness this pocketed stem carries, it goes unnoticed. And if this versatile handsome fellow doesn’t slam the beauty-with-brains category, then who else will?
Everyone is busy exasperating over our kitchen waste polluting the environment, but nobody is thinking about what lands on our table is doing to the same environment even before it turns into waste! Very few know while the rest are conveniently ignoring the harsh fact that the food choices we make have a massive impact on the environment. Food before reaching our kitchen goes through a laborious process of production, processing transporting, selling and storing. The time taken to complete this cycle determines the carbon footprint of your comestibles. Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a process associated with human activity. Be it a chemical plant or a crop, each process has its own carbon footprint. The food on our plate also has!
Eating ‘green’ may sound clichéd, but is unarguably the only way we can direct our efforts towards reducing the environmental damage, a lot already done and even more in the pipeline.
What is happening ?
Pesticides and fertilizers going into crops have skyrocketed. They may accelerate and maintain crop growth but ambiguously pollute air and water quality apart from posing serious threat to health of farmers and workers.
What can we do?
Choose organically grown crops. And even better, if you have the space, grow them! They not only are healthier but also taste good, devoid of the causticity of pesticides and fertilizers.
What is happening?
A large chunk of fertile forest lands are being converted into grazing lands to grow animal feed like soy, corn etc. for livestock and meat industry. Methane released from digestive process of ruminants like cow, goat and sheet has a large carbon footprint. Seafood too is a big benefactor of carbon footprint with the amount of fossil fuel burnt in open-ocean fishing fleets. Producing livestock for human consumption dispenses almost 15% of the emitted global greenhouse gasses.
What can we do?
Eat from the lower half of the food chain: vegetables, fruits, limited quantity of dairy and less of red meat will surely cut down on your bit of contribution to global destruction!
What is happening?
The mention of glamorous gourmet preparations undoubtedly makes us drivel in excitement. Imported exotic consumables and perishables like berries, nuts, greens use enormous energy resources for transportation, storage and most of them require high-end refrigeration. Needless to say, the carbon footprints left behind are gigantic.
All our frozen goodies are the real baddies wearing colourful capes of deception!
What can we do?
Go local. Clichéd again. But works amazingly; not just for your health but also for the environment. Opt for fresh, locally and naturally grown fruits and vegetables.
It may require an extra bit of effort but next time buy your stuff from a local market or directly from a farmer than dumping into the supermarket trolley. Not only will you help with your bit to cut down transportation footprinting but also are likelier to get fresher rations and greater satisfaction of helping a farmer get his/her due! Estimated by The Natural Resources Defense Council, that importing of fruits and vegetables contributes to smog-forming emissions equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from 1.5 million cars! If this doesn’t alarm us then what will?
Did you recently gobble up a pizza delivered from your favourite eating joint?
While you were busy counting the number of pieces you will lay on hands on, the carbon footprint of your pizza delivered has been already tabbed and accounted!
Based on statistical evaluations, a pizza restaurant on an average consumes:
All put together, it leaves us gasping for breath at the catastrophically whooping figure to deal with!
We are all the time talking about mindful eating. But mindfulness is significant only if it helps maintain both physiological and ecological equilibrium. As against a heap of cheesy pork pasta, a locally grown organic fruit or vegetable footprints far less on the carbon dioxide scale and can be sustained for longer periods as practice due to its availability, digestibility, compost-friendliness and health turnover!
On World Environment Day, put the first step forward. Stop your hands from pulling out that packet of frozen peas, visit the Sunday fruit market, ‘beef down’ you red meat consumption and instead of placing a home delivery order for your burger, walk down to the dining place tonight!
Going green puts a great responsibility on not just what goes off our plates but what touches our palate.
How often do you pinch your eyebrows and use the nearest support to get up from a grounded position? And by you, we assume, a normal 'un-ailing healthy' person. If your answer is quite often, then we have to unfortunately remove healthy from the paranthesis and all that remains is an 'unailing' not-so-healthy individual of you! Seeing young individuals unable to even get up from a chair without taking support, makes us wonder how miserably we have shelved health and fitness on the last rack of our priorities. Basic functional tasks like walking up the stairs, touching your toes or simply getting up in an upright position from a grounded one, they all pose a very important question to us: are we fit? Our strength doesn’t lie in the amount weight we plate onto the Smith machine, but in lifting our own weight with ease.
Fitness is a conglomeration of various parameters and there cannot be an isolated test to calibrate our fitness quotient, but there is one such test that has been around for a while but gained popularity in the recent times to access our basic muscle strength and coordination: The Sitting-Standing Test.
Designed in 2012 by Dr. Brazilian Claudio Gil Araújo, an exercise and sports-medicine expert, to assess muscle strength, balance and flexibility, this test evaluates your ability to sit on the floor and rise unaided, that is without using your hands, legs, elbows/forearms or knees for support. There are basically 5 ways of support we can seek during this activity: hand on floor, forearm on floor, knee on floor, side of the leg on floor and hand on the knee. You will surely relive your school days doing this because this activity comes with a scoreboard! These 5 support points form the basis of assessing your fitness level.
You are entitled to a maximum score of 10; 5 each for sitting and getting back up; and this is perhaps the only test you would have ever taken where you start with a full score, a perfect 10! But with every one support point you use, you lose a point on the your assessment sheet. Talk about reverse psychology!
Oh wait, that doesn’t end there. You can lose an additional 0.5 points for an unsteady and wobbly execution. Now talk about reverse psychology hung-over with performance pressure!
The good thing is that you are not assessed on your speed. You can choose to go slow or bolt up and down, as long as you are able to maintain your balance and not sacrifice that half a point on the altar of over-confidence!
Sitting and getting up seem almost effortless and involuntary activities, but the amount of hard-work that goes behind them, only your muscles know. And by muscles, we mean a lot of them, not just one.
The primary parts of our body that assist in sitting and standing and give us an erect posture are LEGS-our pillars, SPINE-the structural framework, and TORSO-our beam support.
Nobody is devoid of muscles. We all have every single muscle fibre genetically designed for Homo sapiens. But the strength, agility, flexibility and stability differs from one person to another. Foremost, we need to keep our muscles moving for them to function, and secondly, we need to constantly strengthen them in order to execute basic or advanced movements. Fundamental strength and functional training with or without weights, resistance exercise, yoga and cardiovascular exercises, are all essential in equity to provide strength, flexibility and balance to our body. It is incredible to see that the simplest of lifestyle activities can be such a crucial parameter to assess where we stand on our own fitness pedestral.
The Sitting-Standing test is a fantastic yardstick to assess us impartially. It may burst our bubbles and dishearten us once our scores are chalked out, but like may other touchstones life throws at us, this too shall show us the mirror and prompt us to get our shoulders to the wheels. It is undoubtedly a world full of traffic jams, unsatisfactory jobs, and relationship heartburns. But then we also see early morning walkers, laughter clubbers, gym lovers, sportspersons and yogis. For every couch potato, there is a triathlete and for every broken new year resolution, there is the new gym opening in the neighbourhood! The balance hasn’t been lost as yet. We need to derive our motivation from the active and shun passivity. Someone rightly said “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live in?”
It is not important to be a heavy lifter, but to be functionally fit, is indispensable. So keep your muscles roaring and your SST score soaring!
Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.