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Také Sher Khaja, Také Sher Bhaji. That was the title of a story my mother told me when I was a child. The story begins with the scene where a wise, old ascetic and his young disciple walk into a kingdom they have not seen before. It is dusk; the city is bustling with activity, the people look prosperous and happy.  As they walked through the market they noticed something odd. The sweet flaky and rich tasting khajas, and the simple, uncooked bhaji both were selling for the same low price of one taka. The wise, old ascetic immediately says to his disciple that something very wrong and that they should leave this kingdom as soon as morning comes.

Why bring up a story from a long gone era?  How is it relevant today?  Look at the price of a doughnut and compare it to the price of a bunch of spinach–—yes, they have the same price! We need to look at food differently. Maybe you already know  that Indians around the world have the highest rate of heart disease. No one but you can make the choice of what you put in your mouth and how you nourish your body. What you purchase, how you cook it, and how often you eat, each of these decisions is made by you.

For a $1 you can buy a pound of apples which gives you four fruits for snacking or for the same price you can purchase a candy bar. How do you compare the two?  The apples give you dietary fiber, vitamins and complex carbohydrates—the candy, fats and simple carbohydrates.  The apples are too boring, you say?

How about sprinkling them with some chaat masala or adding some nuts on top of them? What? You are thinking, nuts are full of fats; and chaat masala, what will it do for my heart health? Here are some facts based on scientific research that may surprise you: Nuts are full of the type of fats that help fight heart disease (the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats present in nuts are thought to lower bad cholesterol levels) and some of those ancient spices in the wake-me-up, tasty chaat masala have antioxidants, which help heart health.

So now, in your mind, have the scales tilted more on the side of apples? The next time you are shopping or snacking, think about the cost-to-nutrition and cost-to-calorie ratios.

That was just about a snack, what about the full meals? All you need to understand is what foods will help your heart, and which cooking methods will not; once you are armed with this information, no can fool you into eating an unhealthy meal. Look up the list of cruciferous vegetables, protein-rich lentils and fiber-rich grains. Pick your favorites from this list and make combinations that you feel will work well together.

I come from a family that loves food. A lot of Indian families have traditions that tie-in special food for special events. When you mention healthy food, the immediate image that comes up in our mind is of dry, tasteless mealy food that one endures for the sake of one’s health. New research indicates that food can be rich and bursting with flavor and promote heart health. It is a question of putting together right proportions and cooking them in a manner that preserves or enhances the nutrient value of the food.

Once you learn the principles, you will be able to make the right substitutions for the traditional ingredients and that will enable you and your family to enjoy traditional foods on festive occasions and special days in a way that is healthier. Avoid peeling vegetables and fruits. Bake steam or grill your food instead of frying it. Use protein-rich ingredients that do not have saturated fats, or are low in saturated fats, such as nonfat or low-fat yogurts, nonfat or low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese, or soy milk, and tofu to prepare your desserts.

Utilize whole fruits as sweetening agents, and nuts to enhance the texture of your favorite dishes.

I should finish the story of the ascetic and his disciple. The ascetic left the kingdom next morning, but disciple did not listen to the wise ascetic and stayed on in the kingdom. He felt that the ascetic was not wise anymore and that life will be so much easier if he lived in this kingdom. Months went by. The disciple could eat all kinds of rich foods for very little money and he became quite fat as a result.

The kingdom was ruled by a king who made policy decisions on a whim.  If I remember the story correctly, this king had a thought that the fat people were a problem for the kingdom and he ordered that they should be rounded up and the fattest person should be hanged. And, you guessed it, the disciple was the fattest person in the kingdom!

Purnima Nandkishore is author of Amrit: Luscious & Heart-Healthy Indian Meals. Learn more at

South Indian Chutney with Peanuts and Cilantro


2 oz. cilantro (60 stems)
½ cup raw peanuts with skin-on
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons filtered water
1 tablespoon chana dal
1 tablespoon urad dal
1 green chili pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon canola oil

Items Required:
Vita-Mix or other 700 watt blender

Roast peanuts at 350°F for about 4 minutes. Let them cool down to room temperature. If you want to preserve the benefit of vitamin E, which is present in the nut and resveratrol which is present in the skins, use the peanuts unroasted.
Place canola oil in a  1-quart saucepan and heat at medium. Add the chana dal to pan and stir it for about 30 seconds or until it starts sizzling. Then add the urad dal to the pan and stir for about 1 minute or until they turn golden orange. Immediately transfer them to a plate to cool to room temperature.

Place all the ingredients in the blender cup, and then blend until smooth.

Time: 30 minutes; yield: 1 cup