Superfoods: Packing a Punch

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Indian superfoods are making a strong comeback to the kitchen and your plate. And going back to your roots has never been more exciting or tasty. Rediscovering lost grains and reaffirming your faith in traditional food is slowly but surely changing the culinary face of the country.

Past Perfect

The concept of superfoods is not new – just remember what your grandmother told you were good to eat. Simply speaking, they provide complete nutrition and have numerous benefits from a single source. Incidentally most superfoods are commonplace in Ayurvedic cuisine as well. “Fresh turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Turmeric is simple to cook with but to unleash its full potency it has to be eaten warm in a dish that contains healthy fats. If you’re using the whole root, peel the skin off with a peeled and finely mince as you would with ginger root,” advices Kapil Dubey, Executive Chef, The Den Bengaluru. Broken wheat or dalia is another indigenous food with high fiber content and a low glycemic index that ensures the glucose is released slowly keeping you active longer and avoid the craving to eat junk. Chef Manoj, Sous Chef, WelcomHotel Bengaluru adds, “people today are more aware about the long term benefits of these ingredients, which are healthy and everlasting then the unnatural (made in any laboratory ones) used as substitutes that are readily available and are easy to use and available, but have adverse effects on us.” India is a storehouse of nutritious ingredients which have long been part of our regional cuisines. “Some of these ingredients may now be termed as ‘superfoods’, but the fact is, we just need to get back to our roots and rediscover the same ingredients to follow a healthy diet,” says Varun Movva, Executive Chef, Novotel Hyderabad Airport.

Pic Conrad Pune
Pic Conrad Pune

Advantage Superfoods

While a lot of speciality supermarkets are stocked with superfoods, one look at their prices is sure to put you on the backfoot. However the Indian alternatives are not just much better (grown locally) but also cost a fraction of their fancy counterparts. Sunjay Ghai, CEO of Revofit and Co-Founder of Scootsy opines, “I think India has already been using these superfoods as a regular part of our cuisine with great results. Everyone has eaten drumsticks (moringa) in our sambhar, or ghee rice or food prepared in cooked oil or ragi rotis, etc. We are just now becoming aware that Daadi was way ahead of the curve. 2018 is going to be the year moringa as it is packed with nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, calcium, protein and is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-aging.” In fact these foods are a panacea for weight watchers too. Chef Ankit Malik of Anya Hotels, Gurgaon explains, “since ages, Phool Makhana has been used in religious ceremonies in India and is a popular ‘fasting’ dish.  Its health benefits are superior to those of dry fruits such as almonds and walnuts and it is a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fibre, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. High in fiber and low in calories, it enables weight loss.”

Being the Change

With Indians increasingly wanting to live a healthier life with stricter diets use of nutritive ingredients has become imperative. “Diets are becoming increasingly similar across countries and with more Indians being well-travelled, consumers are aware of the various healthy options available in the market hence it becomes vital for a restaurant to provide its patrons with healthy alternatives,” says Gurpreet Singh, Corporate Chef & Brand Head, Tappa. There is a renewed interest in some of the traditionally revered superfoods. As newer research is being done on the health benefits of some of these foods, they are being embraced more readily. “The Holistic Health movement, is also helping us make connections between more traditional, holistic and preventative approaches like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, which have focused on food as medicine and on superfoods that can add a health boost and reduce disease risk,” avers Manasa Rajan, Health & Wellness Coach at CureFit. Executive Chef, Hussain Shahzad at O Pedro adds, “our endeavour is to work with these ingredients whilst showing great restraint and letting them shine. We use kokum in our kitchen extensively for various applications at times in the form of a puree to make salad dressings or as a cold pressed juice to finish stir fry’s in place of lime/vinegar and the whole dried fruit as a souring agent in our curries.” Anshuman Bali, Executive Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar adds, “you could cook just as you would cook the recipe, with the exception of using a super food ingredient in lieu of what you would use otherwise. Few good examples would be the Millet Upma, Barley Halwa with Flax Seeds and Sweet Banana Lassi with Chia seeds.”

Phool Makhna - Anya Hotels
Phool Makhna – Anya Hotels

Health Matters

Again the concept of healthy food is often associated with food that is plain and boring but that is also changing. “The best way to utilize these superfoods is to include it in your daily salad intake as a salad base or they can also be added by creating a quick and fun salad dressing to perk up the taste factor of boring or bland salads. Alternately, we can also use these superfoods by incorporating them while preparing curries,” says Chef Ashley Nunes, Executive Sous Chef- Conrad Pune. Chef Gresham Fernandes, Culinary Director, Impresario Hospitality and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., adds, “these are best had raw over salads or cooked with the right techniques and combination.  Never over boil it or drain any cooking liquids.” The best thing about these superfoods is that they are very versatile. “You can do a variety of things with them by incorporating it into your daily diet. They can be cooked or just used raw in a variety of different ways. For example, moringa leaves can be sauteed or made into a pesto. Millets can be used as a substitute for rice. Jackfruit can be used as an excellent meat replacement,” explains Chef Chirag Makwana, Sous Chef, Toast & Tonic. Chef Partner Thomas Zacharias at The Bombay Canteen adds, “regardless of culinary application, it is important to choose techniques which are not only appropriate to the ingredient being used, but also which retain its integrity and nutritional value. For example, pure unadulterated coconut oil has a myriad of health properties most of which are lost if the oil is heated over a certain temperature.” It’s time to look into your backyard – your health is in your hands and is accessible too.

Tips to include superfoods in your diet

  • Roasted flax seeds and fox nuts can be added to salads for an additional crunch.
  • Simply cut and eat Amla with salt.
  • Add basil seeds to your glass of juice.
  • Replace sunflower oil with coconut oil while frying.
  • Add to wheat flour and create Moringa Theplas.
  • Create a low calorie dessert using lotus seeds instead of rice/vermicelli.
  • Eat a healthy Moong Dal Chilla.

 Superfood Checklist

  • Millets (ragi, bajra, jowar)
  • Amaranth
  • Turmeric
  • Amla or Indian Gooseberry
  • Sabja or Basil Seeds
  • Coconut Oil
  • Moringa
  • Lotus Seeds
  • Moong Dal

Broken wheat and Flax seed Porridge with toasted walnut – courtesy WelcomHotel Bengaluru

Ingredients   

  • Flax seed         10 gram
  • Broken wheat   50 gram
  • Skim Milk         100 Ml
  • Jaggery            20 gram
  • Walnut toasted  10 gram

Method

  • Take a heavy bottom pan with the milk add the overnight soaked broken wheat and bring to a boil. Now add the toasted walnut and flax seed in to it.
  • Continuously stirring, cook this on a simmer.
  • Add the grated jaggery and mix. Check the sweetness, remove and garnish with the toasted walnut and flax seed and serve hot.

This story appeared in the Mar-18 issue of Discover India here: Anchor – SuperFoods

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