Every Cuisine has a particular way of cooking & the ingredients used are based on what the region produces. When you first begin to cook Indian style foods, one thing that makes an impression is the number of spices in some recipes. Some of these spices are indigenous like black pepper and Cardamom & some were introduced by traders and invaders like chile or fennel. The style of cooking in India differs from region to region. Most recipes use basic spices like cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida, turmeric & chillies. There is an ancient science called Ayurveda, a holistic approach to health, in which some spices are known to heat the body ( cinnamon) , some to cool ( garlic), some as digestive ( asafoetida) , and some as antiseptics ( turmeric) , and so on. In this page I will try to share such interesting facts about the different ingredients or recipes from Indian as well other cuisines. I will appreciate if you all can share anything related to this topic on this page.
1) Spice up your life!
When we think of “Spices” we relate it to “Flavour”. Did you ever think that they might save your life? Here are some interesting facts about spices- A growing body of research indicates that many spices can help prevent cancer. Turmeric the bright yellow indian spice has anti-inflammatory & antioxidant properties believed to be particularly useful in fighting colon and breast cancer. Well that explains why grandma’s remedy for cough, a glass of warm milk with turmeric, helped us. Saffron, a fragrant yellow herb used in rice dishes, may be able to slow the growth of tumour cells and decrease damaging effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. Worth trying but might be expensive ! Rosemary is a cox-2 inhibitor, meaning it can block an enzyme that makes cancer cells grow stronger. Ginger contains the active ingredient -gingerol, which has proven to be effective in slowing the growth of human colorectal cancer cells. Of all the culinary herbs, oregano ranks highest for antioxidant content. Other antioxidant containing spices and herbs include dill, thyme, garlic and peppermint.
2) The power of Microbes-
I recently posted a recipe of “Amboli” & that triggered my thinking process about fermentation. We all use this method in our kitchens to make “dosas” “Yogurts” even “Pickles ” too! Here is some information about what this process is about & its benefits on our health. Fermentation in food processing typically refers to the conversion of sugar to alcohol using yeast under anaerobic conditions. That means we are ingesting microbes! How awful does that sound? Not if you think that we live in a world of microbes & if you get a chance to look inside us then you will see that our intestines are a perfect microbial farm. The bacteria found in our intestines are the good bacteria which will fight of many harmful bacteria & protect us from infections. These useful bacteria are called as ” Probiotic bacteria.” The bacteria found in yogurt called as “lactobacilli ” produces several substances while fermenting milk, including acidolin, acidophillin, lactobacilin and lactoacidin. These substances have been shown to inhibit pathogenic bacteria, such as salmonella, while leaving other lactobacilli and human cells unharmed. These antibiotic agents are found in fermented milk but not always in a probiotic pill. So “A cup of yogurt a day keeps the doctor away!” thats the new mantra.
Food fermentation produces essential amino acids, essential fatty acids & vitamins especially Vitamin B-complex & Vitamin K. It also decreases the cooking times and fuel requirements. However overheating of fermented foods destroys the probiotic bacteria so its more beneficial to eat fermented milk products than any “idlis” or “dosas”.
Today we tend to opt for store bought products which are artificially flavoured & with fewer health benefits. Hence there is need to supplement our diet with fermented foods. So lets get started here, I would appreciate if anyone of you have recipes to share which involve fermentation.
3) An interesting article-
While searching for something interesting about food & recipes I came across this article. It was pubished in the special issue with the Sunday magazine of ” The Hindu” a newspaper in India. Its written by Ruth Davidar who is a nutritionist & food writer. There are some interesting facts about Indian cuisine & why we prepare food in a certain way, how the ingredients react with each other etc. In India the younger generation is gravitating towards western cuisine , & is becoming more conscious about nutritional value of different dishes. I read recently that some restaurants in Mumbai have started stating the caloric value of the dishes on their menu as an option for people to choose low calorie diet. Thats good, but many of us are forgetting that the simple meal of “dal” “sabji” “roti ” & “rice” is still a wholesome diet in terms of nutrition & calories in comparison to eating “pasta” or ” noodles”.
The writer titled the article ” Why we eat the way we do” & this is indeed a good question which most of us who cook Indian food must have asked ourselves. Most westerners still believe that meat products are the only source of proteins & that must have put all the vegetarians in dilemma that whether their children are getting enough proteins. Its true that animal food are most likely to contain all of the essential amino acids which the body needs & can’t produce but the good news is that our simple meal of “rice & sambar” “rotis & pulses” compensates for this deficiency. The soundness of the indian way of combining food is receiving scientific recognition today. Another example mentioned here is the combination of “Aloo ( potato) palak ( spinach) the iron that is trapped in the spinach is released by the vitamin C found in potatoes so that our body can absorb the iron.
This article does provides an insight into the Indian way of cooking. So my friends who read this & have something to share about the other cuisines of the world, you are most welcome!
4) Chinese dumplings / Jiaozi –
We were in Beijing China for the past 6months and had a good experience soaking-in the chinese culture and experimenting the cuisine. There is so much diversity in the Chinese cuisine that every restaurant one tries out is different from the other. The most popular food especially in the Northern China is the Chinese dumpling or “Jiaozi ” in Mandarin. It is one of the important foods in Chinese new year. The shape of the Chinese dumpling is similar to ancient Chinese gold or silver ingots and they symbolize wealth.
Making the dumplings is a family event and a part of the Chinese culture. Traditionally all the family members get together to make dumplings on the New year’s eve and the New year starts with a breakfast comprising of the dumplings. They may hide a coin in one of the dumplings and the person who finds the coin is likely to have a good fortune in the new year. Normally the families prepare dumplings for a weekend meal and in Northern part of China it might be the only main dish of the meal. In the south of China dumplings might be served as one of the side dishes.
We had the oppurtunity to get together with our friends from Beijing and to learn how to make these dumplings. I must say that its an culinary art which can be mastered only through practice but nevertheless a fun experience . A family of 4 people might make about 120 dumplings for a meal as a normal adult can eat about 40 dumplings in one meal. So making dumplings is team work between adults and children.
In Beijing the filling inside the dumplings is usually pork with vegetables but shrimps, chicken or beef can be used as well . Iwill put up a recipe of dumplings on the blog soon.