Nov 30, 2017

Book Review: A House For Mr. Misra by Jaishree Misra

I love Kerala for its delectable cuisine, beautiful sunsets, backwater rides, eye-catching greenery and friendly Malayalis. Whenever I plan a vacation, my first instinct is to set off to Kerala. So when the synopsis spoke about “Malayali way of life”, I was curious about this book.

A House for Mr.Misra” talks about the personal story of the NRI couple - the author and her husband to build a beach house near Trivandrum. Their struggles and challenges in various forms to get the house constructed form the crux of the story. Right from buying the plot, getting the required approvals, negotiations and hassles with architect and builder, dealing with cryptic coastal regulations, neighbour’s taunts to random strangers throwing silly tantrums, the story could have easily slipped into a serious tone. But the author has made sure to bring out humour in every challenge faced.

The narrative is hilarious, well supported by witty phrases which along with interesting twists and turns, makes for a delightful read. The author’s command over the language reflects so beautifully throughout the book. And the challenges she faces are quite relatable - be it the conversations at a Government office, crowd gathering to watch over random fights between two parties, loopholes to circumvent rules and regulations etc.

Here are a few lines that I found very funny:
“The ceiling fans were so massive, that they would have put jet engine propellers to shame.”
“I was clearly one of those awkward customers that she and her colleagues moaned about at the water cooler"
“I had picked up enough Malayalam to read cinema posters and bus boards, only so slowly that the bus was usually disappearing down the road by the time I’d worked out its destination”
And the one on “Lungis” that cracked me up - 
“How this ensemble ever survives a film fight sequence without falling right off is one of gravity’s biggest unsolved mysteries and one that Malayali men the world over guard fiercely” :-)
A short, easy and fun read is what “A House for Mr.Misra” is all about.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Nov 29, 2017

How to cook indigenous rice varieties

Being a South Indian, rice has always been a staple in my diet since childhood.  Though it was hand-pounded rice in the early days, my family switched to the fully-polished silky white rice, just like everyone else in the country.

Because of my PCOD related issues, I started looking for alternatives to rice. I turned towards millets regularly since 2013-14. I didn’t move away from rice completely and tried to include millets atleast 3-4 times a week. 

Around the same time, I also started to look for rice varieties that are healthy, native and have a low glycemic index.

The popular opinion that’s been cleverly crafted to spread fear of diabetes is “avoid rice”. Many of us switched completely to wheat, a grain which is not locally grown in South India. Some of us even took a step further and switched completely to oats and quinoa, both of which are not native to India.

As I mentioned in my earlier article on rice, India had more than a lakh varieties of rice till 1970s and now there are hardly 6000 varieties available. Many farmers are currently trying to revive some of the native varieties of rice.

They are extremely nutritious, high in complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They are suited for local weather conditions and are pests resistant, making them naturally organic. So double win, both for our health and for our ecology. A kilogram of any of these rice varieties range from Rs.80-Rs.150. Yes, they are slightly more expensive than the polished white rice (around Rs.50-60 per kg) BUT way cheaper than the hyped-up, imported quinoa (around Rs.900 per kg).
 The more we embrace such native, indigenous rice varieties, the better the availability and price. 

Let me share the varieties of rice I have tried and their cooking procedure. I hope to keep this post as a one-stop reference on indigenous rice varieties. So please bookmark it and share it with your friends. I have included the actual pictures of meals cooked using these rice varieties, so you get an idea on the colour and texture.

1) Kichli Samba rice

Suited for variety rice preparations like lemon  rice, pulao or biryani. This is a perfect alternative to polished basmati rice. It gives a brilliant aroma while cooking and a nutty flavour. High in fibre and B vitamins.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 10 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame. 

If making the pulao or biryani in a pan, use 2.5 cups of water and cook covered in low flame for 5 minutes.

2) Poongar rice

I have tried the boiled rice variety. It is very beneficial for women and helps to correct hormonal disorders. Very filling and tasty. Can be had with sambhar or rasam.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 30 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2.5 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 5 whistles in medium flame.

3) Seeraga Samba rice
This is my most recent find and my family looooves it! My daughter goes for 2nd or 3rd serving when I make a peas pulao or veg pulao with this rice. “I love this rice, Amma”, she says. 

Very flavourful, easy to cook. More tastier than basmati rice. I guarantee you that the aroma will take your biryani to a different level :-)

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 10 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame. 

If making the pulao or biryani in a pan, use 2.5 cups of water and cook covered in low flame for 5 minutes. 

4) Kullakkar rice

This red rice variety is extremely filling. High in zinc and iron. This rice takes a little longer to cook but very tasty. Has a nutty texture.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of hot water for atleast 1 hour.
Pressure cook for 8-10 whistles in medium flame.

5) Matta rice
This rice is unique to Kerala cuisine. I use the boiled rice variety and goes well as part of a South Indian thali.

It is quite filling and you may not eat as much rice as you would normally do.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 1 hour.
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 6 whistles in medium flame. 

6) Rajamudi rice

This red rice variety is native to Mysore region of Karnataka. It is easily available in many organic stores across Bangalore. This cooks real fast and can be had as part of a typical South Indian meal. It digests easily and can be given to children too.

No soaking is required.
For 1 cup of rice, use 2.5 cups of water.
Pressure cook for 4 whistles in medium flame.

7) How to cook Handpounded rice / semi-brown rice

I buy this variety of Sona Masoori rice from 24Mantra organic brand. This can be easily cooked and can be had with sambhar or rasam. It digests easily and can be given to children too.

Wash and Soak 1 cup of rice for atleast 15 minutes.
For 1 cup of rice, use 3 cups of water.
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in high flame and 5 minutes in sim flame.

8) How to cook Maapillai samba boiled rice

To cook this rice, either you can wash and soak it overnight or soak it in hot water for 2 hours before cooking. For 1 cup of rice, use 2.5 cups of water. Pressure cook for 4-5 whistles.It has a nutty, chewy texture. Extremely filling.

9) How to cook Thooyamalli rice

Soak 1 cup of rice for an hour. Pressure cook for 4 whistles with 2.5 cups of water. Taste and texture is very similar to Matta rice. If you like your rice to be white, yet filling with a small quantity, thooyamalli rice is a good option.

Nov 22, 2017

Superfoods are NOT easy shortcuts to a disciplined lifestyle

The Superfood mania is everywhere. The majority of the Indian urban elite seem to be searching for easy shortcuts to lose weight, to lose belly fat, to prevent lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol etc. 

The ads that portray messages like “drinking green tea 3-4 cups a day will help one to lose weight” are the perfect example of this trend.

The craze over olive oil started 3-4 years back and it is only getting stronger as days pass by. The recent promotion post by a popular food blogger where she recommends eating idli chutney podi mixed with extra virgin olive oil is the ultimate proof of how superfoods are being promoted to blend with Indian cuisine. The hashtag that’s been promoted is #IndianFoodLovesOliveOil

Eating olive oil everyday WILL NEITHER melt your body fat magically NOR will it prevent lifestyle diseases. These food bloggers are paid an exorbitant amount to promote such silly ideas. Let’s use our common sense, please!

The other superfood that has gained a lot of traction in the past couple of years is Quinoa, which I had written about earlier too. The popular Basmati rice brand “India Gate” has recently launched Quinoa (500 gms is priced at Rs.450). The promotional messages indicate that you can indulge in your favourite foods “guilt-free”.

I seriously want to ask if Quinoa has a sweet taste to it. Then how the hell can you indulge in bowls of halwa, JUST BECAUSE it is made with quinoa? Won’t the halwa need a sweetener like sugar or jaggery? Won't the halwa need ghee? Or do you recommend making it with olive oil? Maybe, the same food blogger will suggest this brilliant idea when the brand ties up with her to write promotional posts.

Another question for the maker of the ad that showcases burgers made with quinoa. The patties might be made with quinoa. What about the burger bun, the mayonnaise and the tomato ketchup that’s typically used in a burger? Are those made with quinoa too?

The ads send a message that you don’t have to do any workouts IF you eat quinoa. 
Forget about gruelling workouts to burn those extra calories! After indulging in a Burger #MadeWithQuinoa, kuch nahi karna padega! #IndulgeGuiltFree
Are people actually believing in such ridiculous messages?

Being fit and healthy is a daily task that requires discipline and willpower. Just because you are eating these expensive superfoods doesn’t imply that you can be a couch potato and expect magic to happen. Well, let me break the bad news for you - "Sab kuch karna padega - exercise, avoid junk foods, sleep on time, avoid stress, sab kuch"

Nov 17, 2017

Best sources of Fibre

Over the last decade, oats has gained immense popularity by riding on the “high fibre” bandwagon. Many of us have switched to oats for our morning breakfast. It has also been pitched as a food for the diabetic. Though we may not like the taste of it, we ended up making the switch because of the “fear” created by clever marketing. Apart from oats in the form of porridge/kanji, we started incorporating it in our usual idlis, dosas, chillas, dhoklas etc.

Fibre is critical in our diet to flush out toxins and to keep our digestive system clean. A fibre-rich diet gives satiety, keeps our tummy full for a long time, slows down the release of glucose, eases bowel movement and prevents constipation. The recommended total dietary fibre intake is around 25 - 30 gms per day. 

Many of us believe that our regular Indian cuisine is devoid of fibre and we had to rely on oats to meet the requirement. Is that true?  

Ever since we started 
- embracing store-bought bread for toast and sandwiches, 
- bakery products such as cupcakes, puffs and pastries, 
- street food in the form of samosas, noodles, bhaturas, pav bhaji and parotas, 
- stocking up on different varieties of biscuits and cookies to dip in our chai, 
our intake of refined flour / maida has increased tremendously. Refined flour is devoid of any fibre or nutrients.

The same story happened ever since we started eating fully polished white rice and basmati rice for our meals. These eating habits of the past 20-30 years is what resulted in low fibre intake and the repercussions which along with sedentary lifestyle led to India becoming the diabetes capital of the world. 

Is it possible to get our 25-30 gms of fibre from our regular Indian diet? Most definitely, we can.

Here’s the list of fibre-rich foods compiled from IFCT 2017:

1) If you haven’t started to include millets, it is the right time now. High in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Provides satiety through very small quantities, unlike store-bought atta or white rice. A gentleman once told me in my food stall when my menu had foxtail millet idlis, “I don’t know if I’ll like millets or not”. I so wanted to respond to him, “now how would you know that if you haven’t tried yet?”. Remove your mental blocks towards millets. If you are ready to try the imported oats and the super expensive quinoa, you can definitely try the local millets too.

2) The lentils and pulses we use in Indian cooking are high in fibre. A bowl of rajma along with barnyard millet will give you enough fibre for a meal.

3) Most of the traditional South Indian dishes use a few sprigs of curry leaves. It not only imparts flavour but has numerous health benefits - high in calcium, iron and fibre. These benefits can be realized ONLY if we chew those leaves.

4) “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” - I’m not sure if this proverb is true anymore, given the amount of wax and shine on the apples. Local fruits such as sapota/chikkoo, gooseberry/amla, custard apple/sitaphal and guava are nutritionally much superior and give you adequate fibre.

5) We don’t need expensive lettuce, zucchini and broccoli to stay fit. Our country vegetables such as broad beans (avarakkai), raw jackfruit, drumstick and cluster beans (kothavarangai) are rich in fibre, along with other vitamins and minerals.

6) When people with diabetes are asked to include fenugreek/methi seeds in their diet, it is mainly because of its high fibre. Traditional South Indian recipes such as sambhar or morekuzhambu call for a tsp of methi seeds as part of tadka. Vendhaya Kuzhambu, vendhaya dosai and vendhaya kali are almost forgotten recipes, that can help us to include methi seeds on a regular basis.

7) Most of the ingredients used in traditional Indian cuisine such as cumin seeds, ajwain/omum, pepper, sesame seeds, mustard etc are rich in fibre. It is INSANE to run after packaged foods and supplements to increase fibre intake, when our Indian cuisine includes food combinations and recipes that provide the required nutrients.

The key influencing factor behind the increased adoption of oats is the “high fibre” promise. To validate the authenticity of this claim, I checked out couple of popular oats brands.  
Quaker Oats - A single serving of 40 gm has ONLY 4 gm of Total Dietary Fibre
Saffola Oats - A single serving of 35 gm has ONLY 3.5 gm of Total Dietary Fibre

A single guava will give me more fibre (along with Vitamin C) than these brands of oats.  

It is appalling to see how we are being fooled by the brands and their advertisements. Eating a bowl of oats every morning for breakfast WILL NOT solve all your health issues. 

I'd suggest the following four steps towards better health:
1) Cut down on all maida based products completely. Stop buying bread and biscuits on a regular basis.
2) If you eat rice or wheat rotis, reduce the portion size and include more dal and veggies
3) Include millets atleast 2-3 times a week. There are so many varieties available. If one of them doesn’t agree or you don’t like the taste of it, try a different one.
4) Embrace local fruits and vegetables. The custard apples from the roadside cart vendor are more beneficial to our health than the imported wax-coated Washington apples from fancy Nature’s Basket.

Nov 13, 2017

Master List of Analysis of packaged / junk foods

Over the past few months, I have shared my analysis of various packaged/junk/ready-to-eat foods - their ingredients, nutrition information, preservatives, false promises and health claims. Thanks for the positive response and words of encouragement.

This post is a compilation of all such previous posts put together, so it is easily accessible for anyone new to my blog. I'll keep this list updated as I write more about new product launches in the near future.

Breakfast Cereals (9):

Health Beverages(15):

Health Biscuits(7)

Breakfast Staples(4):

Health snacks / ready-to-cook foods(12):
Infants/Toddlers/Kids focused foods(7):
Cipla's ImmunoBoosters

Packaged Juices(4):

Kitchen Non-Essentials(11) :

FAQs (Added on 10th May 2018)

1. If everything is bad, then what else should I eat?
I have answered the exact question in this blog post with a list of healthy alternatives.
There are plenty of options that are healthy and tasty. A junk food free pantry and fridge is totally possible.

2. You say that we need to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. But they contain pesticides too. What other options do we have?
I agree that fruits and vegetables contain pesticides. Going organic is the best option but not many can afford to make the switch. There are also trust-related concerns on how to validate whether a certain produce is organic or not.

One of the most important organs of our body is the “liver”, that helps in detoxification and flushing out toxins and chemicals. If we keep our liver in good condition, then my belief is that such toxins we consume from fruits, vegetables, air and water can be eliminated to some extent. 

To maintain our liver in the best condition, my recommendation would be to stay away from alcohol. I had written a separate post on why we should say No to alcohol. Please do check it out.
There are other foods that impact our liver - refined oils, white sugar based foods, excess consumption of high carb foods like white rice, maida etc. Eliminate them as well, in order to let your liver do a good job of detoxification.

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