There are various legends about the origin of Valentine’s Day. One such story goes: There was a Roman Emperor who thought that single men made better soldiers than married. men, so he outlawed marriage. Valentine was a priest who thought that this law was unfair and so married young couples secretly. The Emperor discovered what Valentine was doing, and had him put to death. Since then, Valentine has been made immortal by lovers all over the world.


Valentine’s Day is about love, not about gifts or rich food. In the United States, heart disease, including coronary artery disease, arteriosclerosis and stroke, is the major cause of death. Many factors contribute to cardiovascular disease including genetics and family history, and diets rich in saturated fat, cholesterol and refined foods. Genetically linked factors are difficult to control, but one can choose a healthy diet. The saturated fat and dietary cholesterol found in animal products are harmful, while whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and seeds and their oils provide anti-oxidants that are beneficial to your cardiac health.

Although this would suggest that most Indian people who are vegetarians must have a heart-healthy diet, this is only partly true. Even a meatless diet can be unhealthy if it is high in saturated fat, refined foods and trans fats. Here is a partial list of foods that are good and those that are bad for the heart.

Heart-Friendly Foods

*All fresh fruits particularly citrus fruits, berries and pomegranates
*Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard, collard and parsley *Fresh garlic and onion
*Whole grains, their bran and other foods with soluble fibers
*Beans and lentils (also daals)
*Nuts and seeds containing good fatty oils
*Unsaturated fats, olive and sunflower seed oils
*Oils rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as flax seed and hemp seed oils

The Villains

*Eggs, red meats, cream, cheese, butter, ice cream
*Saturated fats from milk, eggs, and most meats
*Trans fats hidden in many snacks and in hydrogenated margarines (read the label!)
*Deep fried foods
*Refined sugars, refined grains (such as white flour, white bread and white rice)
*Refined juices, sodas

Nothing is lovelier than making a heart-healthy meal for your loved one on Valentine’s Day.  

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.

Malabari Beet Curry

3 medium sized red beets
1 cup of beet greens or any leafy greens such as spinach or chard
1 big or two small red potatoes, scrubbed cleaned and cut in half
2 carrots, cleaned and cut into thin slices
3 tablespoons freshly made tamarind sauce using three pods of tamarind or juice of ½ lemon combined with a table spoon of water and a teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of minced or shredded fresh ginger root
1 fresh green chili, chopped small
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup coconut milk, fresh or canned
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Cut the stems from the beets, reserving one cup of beet greens. Rinse, drain and chop the greens, and set them aside. Discard the stems and the rest of the greens, or save them for soup stock. Rinse the beets and scrub them to remove any dirt but not too much of the exterior. Cut the beets in half. Clean and cut the potatoes as described above.

Place the beets in a saucepan with 2 quarts of water. Boil them for 15 minutes and then add the potatoes. Boiling them together for another 10 to 15 minutes until cooked but not too soft. Add the sliced carrots and boil for 5 more minutes. Drain and set aside on a platter.

While the roots are boiling, prepare the tamarind sauce (also available in your local grocery store). Remove and discard the crackly skin of the tamarind and the inner strings. Soak the pods in ½ cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Rubbing with your fingers, extract the meat and grit into the water. Strain the mixture using a colander with large holes or a vegetable steamer basket. The seeds and the membranes will remain in the sieve, and can be discarded. Set the tamarind sauce aside.

If you do not have tamarind, simply mix the lemon juice with sugar and set aside.

Cut the beets and potatoes into bite size chunks. Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan or wok over a moderate flame and sauté the onion for five minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute until fragrant. Add the chili and stir fry for 2 minutes more. Then sprinkle the cumin seeds over the mixture and roast them for a minute. Next add the chopped beet greens and stir-fry for another minute or two until wilted. Now add the boiled roots, lower the heat, and stir-fry the mixture for five minutes. Add the coconut milk, the tamarind sauce (or lemon juice mixture), turmeric and salt. Gently stir all the ingredients while they simmer. Taste and adjust for saltiness and spiciness. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with red rice.

Himalayan Red Rice

Many unusual varieties of rice, other than the usual white or brown, are available in health food stores. One such rice that is getting attention is Red Himalayan rice which contains proanthocyanidins, antioxidants which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and hyperglycemia in animals. Red rice contains fair amount of protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus which are all important nutrients for good health. Red rice is a whole grain that contains germ and bran. The germ has vitamin E good for the cardiovascular health and the bran is a good source of dietary fiber which is essential for healthy digestion. In addition to its high nutritional profile, red rice has become popular for its nutty texture and fragrant aroma.


2½ cups of water
1 cup raw Himalayan (or Bhutanese) red rice, rinsed and thoroughly drained
1 teaspoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon salt

In a heavy saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the rice. When the mixture returns to boiling, add the oil and salt and turn the heat down to medium. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and test to see if the rice is done by pressing a single grain between your fingers. The grains should be soft and the water evaporated. If not, cover the pot again and cook for five more minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water if necessary. When the rice appears done, turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for a few minutes before serving.

Arugula, Baby Spinach and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Both arugula and spinach are nutritious, with an abundance of vitamin A and iron. In addition, arugula leaves have a pungent, spicy flavor which complements this tart dressing.

2 cups of arugula leaves, rinsed and drained
4 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed and drained
1 cup shredded carrots

For dressing
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
3 tablespoons orange juice (freshly squeezed preferred)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs such as oregano and/or marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing by first extracting the juice from both fruits. Cut the pomegranate in half and using a manual citrus juicer, juice it in same way as you would an orange. You will obtain only a few tablespoons of juice as much of the crushed pits will remain on top, but you only need a few tablespoons.

Juice the orange.

Place all dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake well.

Toss the salad greens with the carrots. Drizzle the desired amount of dressing onto the salad just before serving. The rest of the dressing can be refrigerated for future use.

First published in February 2013.