Tag Archives: Food

Uppa is Made of Momos

Uppa calls it the Mainland. For most people living outside of South Asia, India is nothing more than the mainland. India’s recognizable triangular shape is just a part of the story.

Uppa’s India snakes into the Himalayas, toward the North-East part of the subcontinent. Not only does it touch China, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar but it is also home to hundreds of thousands of individuals who despite being ethnically and culturally very diverse from other parts of India, are Indian citizens.

She comes from one of the many tribal communities that fill this northeastern region of India. Not long before the spread of COVID-19, she migrated to the United States and has been living in New York City. When I asked about her transition to the United States, one of the first challenges she brought up was just how difficult it is to get the foods she craves. Her story, her life even, is, like many of ours, defined by her access to and emotions around food. 

Despite these challenges, Uppa still takes great pride in her favorite meals and often grows nostalgic for them. Living in the U.S., she particularly misses momos: a quasi-dumpling from Northeast India and Ladakh. Think gently masala-spiced meat and vegetables, delicately rolled into a delectable, far-less processed and certainly less sickly-sweet Hershey kiss package, steamed or flash-fried in jumping, shimmery canola oil over a wood fire or massive gas burner that will surely burn your eyebrows off if you stand within six feet of it! Served on a flimsy piece of tinfoil, these bundles of joy are often viewed as a Delhi-street food staple. Bumble some broken Hindi phrases like bahut accha (very good) or svaadisht (delicious) to the momo-wala (momo seller) like the foreigner you are and he may even slip you an extra one!  

But when Uppa spoke of the momo, this simple meal became something far more poetic and perhaps a little less sweat-inducing… 

Far from being fast-paced or born on Delhi’s sweltering streets, momos are slow, delicate, and almost like family to Uppa. She describes them as a painter might describe a long-lost piece of art. It is about the family connections and the creative process, not just consumption. Respecting this process is just as important as the bite of momo itself. 

“Momos are not a one-person task. It becomes a family thing. Like everyone is doing their bit… One person is making the dough… I tried making them on my own but when my mom makes them, they remind me of happy times.”

While I might try to make dumplings at home merely for the fun of it, Uppa seemed hesitant to try preparing them during her time in the U.S. Why make something when there might be a missing ingredient or spice made by an unfamiliar company? Why make a momo when half of its taste comes from mom’s expertise, the other half from Dehradun’s fresh green chili? For her, the U.S. momo will inevitably be lackluster.

“Momos are a treat, they were a happy occasion food. Okay, you were sick, you just got out of being sick? Let’s make momos.”

Aside from her anxiety about differences in taste, it seems that Uppa’s craving for momos is also connected with her love for her community. The people, the place, the experience: these are the modes through which food shapes who we are. 

“I look at food slightly differently than a lot of people. Coming from a tribal community… our food is definitely different from the mainland. Food is best when it is still in its natural essence… not changed at all like the mainland’s cuisine.” 

For many people in the U.S. and Europe, India conjures up images of colorful chalk, deep dishes of buttery, oily chicken, elephants, and a flyer asking them to “feed the children.” These sentiments are particularly apparent in the ways people think about food. Food constructs Uppa’s identity as much as her swanky clothing choices, move to New York, or upbringing in the Himalayas. 

“India is so much more than just kebab and naan. If people only just opened themselves up to more than what just the stereotype of Indian food is in the west, they would see that Indian cuisine is so diverse, it’s amazing. I definitely think the west needs to open up its mind to Indian food beyond kebab and biryani.” 

Uppa, like all of us, identifies with the differences, the nuances of her place, her food, her people. The mainland of India, despite its diversity, feels too homogenous to encompass her preferences. The momo is a journey to Uppa’s world and an understanding of herself. A journey into her upbringing and identity. It captures the essence that makes Uppa.


Dan Soucy currently supports refugee resettlement and advocacy efforts throughout New England as a case manager and employment specialist with the International Institute of New England. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University where he conducted oral history interviews with South Asian migrants to the United States. Dan has also studied, lived, and worked in various parts of India for 2 years. 

A Tale of Two Valleys

Whew.

For the next year, my ability to Google will be ensured by the fact that roughly 200,000 people across 50 countries are working from home.

And, I can like your Facebook posts for, well, forever, because Mark Zuckerberg “guesses as much as 50 percent of the company’s 45,000-person workforce could be working entirely remotely in the next five to 10 years.”

These may be private sector decisions. But they impact the public’s understanding of immigrants and immigration. And that leads policymakers to value the Googler much more than the farmworker.

Look, as COVID-19 cases keep growing across California, the state’s tech industry and its nearly 1.8 million workers in 2018 — with over 805,000 of those jobs in San Francisco and San Jose — is doing fine. Their companies are growing, their bottom lines look great.

And, with the exception of those on the sector’s retail or gig front line, most are working from home.

The breathless media coverage leads us to think that this is the new reality for most workers. It is not.

Among U.S. workers, 11 percent are employed in the agricultural and food sectors — almost twice as many as those who work in tech. Of the approximately 22 million full- and part-time jobs in the ag and food sector, about 2.6 million are direct on-farm jobs, and nearly 13 million are jobs in food service, eating and drinking places.

These workers are not earning six-figure salaries. And they definitely are not working from home. (If they are working at all.)

In fact, go about two hours east of the work-from-home Silicon Valley and you find yourself in the hot fields of the Central Valley where more than 250 different crops, with an estimated value of $17 billion per year, are grown. In total, the Valley supplies 8% of U.S. agricultural output (by value) and produces a quarter of the nation’s food, including 40% of our fruits, nuts, and other table foods.

Over 675,000 people work in the agricultural industry up and down the Central Valley.

In California, like across the country, these are the jobs that require workers to go to the “office.” But, for these workers, the office is a field, a farm, or a ranch where something needs to be planted or picked, cared for, or caught.

Everything surrounding these jobs puts people at risk. Sharing a ride to work, close quarters at the workplace, homes that do not afford any modicum of social distancing. As a result, the rate of positive coronavirus tests in the Central Valley could be as high as 17.7% — more than double the 7.8% statewide average over the last seven days.

While California works to get financial and medical resources directly to these agricultural communities, the federal government turns a blind eye. Under the CARES Act, both parents must have Social Security numbers for the family to receive relief. This makes entire families, including U.S. citizen children and spouses, ineligible for much-needed COVID-19 economic assistance.

This is a dynamic playing out in communities across the country. Immigrant families, even those with U.S. citizens among them, are going without any sort of relief.

These are trying times that require all of us to sacrifice. For some, the sacrifice is social distancing and working from home, while raising a family. For others, it is losing your job altogether.

And, for others, it is doing a job that is essential to the health of the country — but detrimental to your own health.

As we approach six months of this national crisis, it is easy to lose perspective and think that our own reality is the reality of others, to believe that our protection from COVID-19 is the same protection others have.

We begin to think COVID-19 is a disease “they” get. “They” did something to put themselves at risk. “They” were not healthy enough to fight off the disease. “They” live somewhere else, do something else.

Well, more than we probably realize, “they” are putting food on our table. And, “they” are most likely to be people of color and/or immigrants.

This lack of perspective leads the nation down a slippery path where economic and social divisions widen, where moral leadership is replaced by transactional leadership, where the bottom line is more important than people.

It’s a dangerous path that leaves the least among us without support — left to fend for themselves without health care or financial relief.

There is still time for the country to get off this path, and for Congress to ensure that all of us can access the relief and support we need.

The fact is that the skilled farmworker, documented or not, putting food on our table is just as, if not more, important to our lives and livelihood as the skilled engineer putting Google on our screens.


Ali Noorani is President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of Only in America. And, terrible golfer.

Featured Image by Coolcaesar and licence here.

Original article can be found here.

“Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken”: GUAA

I’m Asian American. My dad was born in the British Territory of Hong Kong and my mom is Chinese-American. My mom was born in the Deep South, in Mississippi, and not many Asians lived there. My Po Po is from Hong Kong and my Gong Gong came from Canton, China, so my mom knows how to speak a little bit of Cantonese. I was born in California. My mom says we are Chinese but we also may be related to Genghis Khan!

When I was in preschool one time I got bullied because of the way I look. I didn’t know why. But now I understand. Diversity is like genes from your mom and dad. Genes control how you look like, your personality and the color of your skin. So of course, nobody looks the same. Even though our ancestors come from different countries, we are still American. At my school, in second grade, there’s this presentation called, “Global Us. The Global Us is a play about your culture and your identity. Students perform traditional dances and songs. Afterwards there is a potluck. Did you know that food can bring people together? Countries all have different types of food, and Americans eat almost everything. My friend Lucia loves sushi more than me even though she is not Asian! I did not grow up in the Deep South but I love southern fried chicken, catfish, and hushpuppies! Yummy. Italian pasta is like Chinese chow mein. Argentinian empanadas are like Dim Sum. French baguettes are like American sourdough bread!

The most important thing about being Asian American is that we are still American citizens even though our ancestors came from different countries. A lot of times people cannot tell where we are from because of the way we look. They may say something racist like “go back to your country.” I get very confused because this is my home. You may have heard that the Coronavirus has been spreading around the world. My best friend, who is white, said to me that some white people are scared of Asian people because the Coronavirus can be contagious. But she knows I don’t have the Coronavirus even if I’m Asian American.

But do you know what? A virus doesn’t discriminate against people who look different from other people. In a way, a virus can be a role model, because they don’t care whether people are Asian or not, they just infect anybody with lungs. Nobody should be bullied for the way they look. We all look different. Differences are not bad. Differences are special. We should be kind and include everyone. We can all get along. Everybody deserves to be treated the same. Finding things in common like soccer, ice cream, and Minecraft can build a bridge to make friends like sushi and fried chicken. Everyone in America should be treated fairly because we’re all humans. We all should really get involved to create a better community around the world.

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Katelyn Ho is a 2nd grader, whose essay “Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Lina Lee is a 2nd grader, whose artwork “My Beat To Our Rhythm” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Irani Cafes Influence Dishoom’s Cuisine

From Bombay with love

“The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that.” Julian Sands.

Dishoom is so much more than a cookbook. It is a walking serenade to South Bombay and it’s Irani Cafes. The refreshing, authentic, and passionate storytelling style of the authors, Shamil and Kavi, make this book a pure treat to all your senses. The vibrant visuals and descriptive narratives are bound to make your palate salivate. This 400-page walking tour guide starts off with a vintage map of South Bombay. The map highlights all the 34 places that you will be visiting through its pages. The book is filled with old black and white photos, overlayed with recent snapshots to provide a colorful canvas for this love story.

If you are not from Bombay, the city can overwhelm you. Shamil and Kavi ease you into the chaos and bustle, to settle you down with a backdrop of their childhood in Matunga, where they spent many holidays with their grandparents, near Koolar and Co., one of the oldest Irani Cafes. 

Dishoom Shoreditch, London

They introduce you to Chef Naved and his exquisite recipes that showcase their restaurant Dishoom in London. They also give you an overview of the fascinating history of Bombay from how it got its name to many an anecdote about different locales.

The migration of the Parsi community to Bombay is not well documented in most Indian history books. Parsi history usually starts and ends around their move from Iran to India to escape religious persecution and their settlement in Bombay. Shamil and Kavi give us a much richer treatise to the Parsi community.

Irani cafes were instrumental to the cosmopolitan culture of old Bombay. They were the very foundation in the hearts of our two authors, for their new restaurant venture, DISHOOM in London. Like they say, “We serve dishes in Parsi, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian traditions which all jostle on our tables for space.” Poetic indeed!

The book’s walking tour starts…

An 8 am breakfast at Kyani and Co. What a treat! Every Indian can relate to the nostalgia of dipping a pau (bread) into your chai (tea). I stopped reading at this point and made myself a cup of masala chai, just to take in that memory. 

Chef Naved starts us off with some simple recipes like the Akuri (Parsi scrambled egg) and the Chilli Cheese toast which is the base for the Kejriwal (Fried Egg) – yes Kejriwal! 

Mr ‘Knock Out’ Zend’s Yazdani cafe and his simple Brun (Bun) Maska dipped in hot chai will make you drool for more. “Dip the brun into the sweet chai, allow the butter to melt slightly and put in your mouth for an immediate, simple, and true delight.”

We feast ourselves with chicken berry pulao and salli boti (meat curry) at the legendary Britannia, in the presence of its famous owner Mr. Boman Kohinoor

“In a place as hectic as Bombay, the allure of Chowpatty is clear. Here you can partake in the serious business of idle pleasures. A gentle stroll on Chowpatty at sunset, with plentiful snacks.” Sink your teeth into a piping hot pau (bread) bhaji or a spicy bhel (puffed rice), or the ever famous vada pau, the iconic Bombay street food. Wet your lips with the falooda (sweet dessert) and kulfis (ice cream) and end your cravings with Sharma Paanwala’s paan (betel leaves) to digest the day’s symphony of dishes in your system. 

Get back on track with Kala Ghoda’s Trishna for the finest butter pepper garlic crab.

Walk down to Mohammed Ali Road, past a spectacular array of food stalls and antique stores. A notable pit stop for a meat lover is the Surti Bara Handi. How can you miss Halim and Aamir’s Taj ice cream and Burhanpur hot, hot jalebis?

Not sure how much stomach you have left, but the tour hasn’t ended yet as it dives into the third dinner at the famous Bademiya in Colaba. The picturesque and flamboyant tossing of the dough by the chef and service on warm car bonnets, stays with you for a long while. 

After 3 heavy dinners it’s time to walk along Marine Drive promenade and gaze out to the sea. You will run into the famous Rustom and Co.’s ice cream parlor known for its seasonal flavors. 

The tour ends with an ode to the Taj hotel. Little did we know of it being the backdrop for the glorious and illustrious jazz scene of the 1930s through the Independence era of India. I love a good cocktail and the tipples section is clever and innovative with some interesting drinks like the Kohinoor Fizz, The Commander, and the Dhoble.

As whimsical and flowery as the descriptions in the book, the experience I had preparing the recipes brought me quickly back down to earth. Recipes that started off as a few easy steps evolved into a complex multitude of steps, that required different preparatory recipes, all infused into one large recipe. 

Some recipes are not for a novice cook. I recommend you read and prep all the sub-recipes before you decide to make a more complex dish. For example, the chole (chickpeas) has 2-3 sub-recipes that are found in different sections of the book. As a cookbook, it was a bit tedious to maneuver back and forth between the pages of this heavy book. 

Make sure to carefully read the serving sizes, as they vary from dish to dish, and are not consistent. I had to take a picture of the recipe and sub-recipes to make it easier to follow. I still have a lot more recipes to try out. What would have helped is a listing of all the dishes in the table of contents, or next to each section, to avoid the constant referring to the index page to find the recipes. Furthermore, the metric system measures in the recipes are not ideal for an American audience. 

Overall, this is a great gift for anyone who enjoys food, history, and stories. For all the avid readers out there, the recommended reading is an added bonus. The genuine voices of Shamil and Kavi along with Naved’s journey into making Dishoom a world-renowned restaurant is commendable. 

My journey with Dishoom

The chili cheese toast had a kick to it and with the masala chai was a delectable breakfast. 

The Mattar Paneer was tasty, but needed a little more cooking to soften the frozen peas, as they stood out without soaking into the onion- tomato masala with a gentle simmer of 5 minutes and cook time of extra 10 minutes.

The Murgh malai recipe was a classic hit. The juicy thigh meat with two marinades was well worth the effort. 

Pau bhaj – I made this for my Bombaite nephews and nieces who grew up eating vada pau and pau bhaji. Their consensus was that it was a little sweet and westernized. Maybe what it missed was the ginger/garlic green chili paste?

The warm pineapple and black pepper crumble was a huge favorite especially with some vanilla ice cream on top. 

The East Indian Gimlet – used a homemade lime cordial. 

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Praba Iyer is a Chef Instructor, Food Writer, and cooking judge. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for Venture Capitalists and Tech Companies in the bay area. She teaches Thai, Mexican, Pan Asian, Indian, and Ayurvedic cooking classes. Praba is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She was an Associate Chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. 

Robots Making Rotis

Pranoti Nagarkar looks across the kitchen counter at her partner Rishi Israni. Gosh they had come a long way. 2008 was a distant memory when they had fought about who was going to make the hot roti flatbread for dinner. Pranoti, who had rolled rotis since the age of 8 under her mother’s eagle eye in Pune, seemed to have perfected the dance of adding water to the flour, pinching the dough to check for the right consistency, adding just a drop more to ensure the dough was soft and yet not too soft, and then letting it rest for ten minutes for the gluten to set in before balling it into just the right size balls to be dusted with flour and rolled into perfect sized discs, not too big and not too small.

It was always a combination of science and art that ensured that the discs when they had been heated on side and then flipped over would release the steam and fill the roti into little balloons. The little balloon would float from the black iron skillet onto the plate of the diners. It was not always that the discs popped up and fluffed with pride. They were coaxed along with a dab of cloth here and little nudge there to ensure that the steam filled every corner of the roti.

Pranoti calculated she was spinning out at least 3000 rotis a year making two rotis per family member once a day . Dishes may change but the roti was a constant companion to all dishes. The tedious repetitiveness of the task done every single day in the household got to her.

If the clothes have their washing machine why don’t we have a robot to make the rotis for us she thought. Being an engineer and a problem solver with a desire to be an inventor she set about solving this problem. As a mechanical engineer she had worked as a designer and had taken an idea from a sketch on a paper napkin to production. She decided to give this a go. It was not going to be easy. Pranoti knew and understood the pain and skill of making the rotis and getting them to puff up. It would be a tough problem to solve.

Pranoti looked objectively at the problem. Rotimatic was not just a collection of moving pieces, she needed Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that would prod the dough and check its smoothness just as Pranoti did in the kitchen. In order to marry hardware with the perfect software she turned to her software engineer husband Rishi Israni.

The Rotimatic was now ready and working in her kitchen.

What she did not bargain for was the challenges of entrepreneurship. Once she had designed the product she had to sell her vision to investors most of whom were male and did not have first hand experience of dealing with the pain of feeding rotis to a family. She soon realized the challenge of fundraising and marketing. Different users and their varied expectations took her by surprise.

Investors needed to be convinced that not only did the product solve a problem but also that there was a market for it. In 2013 they floated a video showcasing the product on to the Internet where it was picked up like hot cakes or shall we say hot rotis. 3 million views in the first month and 200,000 signups up for the product led Pranoti and Rishi to offer the device on a pre-order of $59 initially only to the people from the United States. $5 million worth of Rotimatics were sold within 7 days.The overwhelming response forced them to stop taking any more pre orders.

This was an important metric for the Silicon Valley venture capitalist investors who gave them $12 million to meet this order. Manufacturing started and in 2 years the order was delivered. A long email list had grown in the meantime. In 2018 another $22 million was raised.

So far 70,000 machines have been sold and 78 million rotis have been made. Silicon Valley has 45,000 Rotimatic users. It is available for purchase only online on their website and now Amazon, mainly in the US, Canada, Australia, Middle East and United Kingdom. It is not sold in India and yet 2000 Rotimatics have made their way to India via Singapore.

Masala Egg Rolls by indiansimmer.com

“Customer loyalty is very high. Once a Rotimatic user, always a Rotimatic user,” says Pranoti. “It is not an impulse purchase that is transitioned to a shelf in the garage. People who have it use it frequently.”

The Facebook group, Rotimaticowners, has 20,000 members who share recipes. Recommended lists of attas have been given but users add protein, masala, spinach etc and Rotimatic adjusts the dough as they go along. Artificial Intelligence steps in with tactile sensing to tweak the dough. It adds flour or water in real time to make the right consistency of dough.

Not just wheat rotis but pooris, bajra rotis, gluten free rotis etc can now be made. New recipes are seamlessly downloaded onto the machine via wifi. Servicing the machine is easy as it is done through the cloud. Wifi connectivity helps 24×7 customer support. Additionally the app tells the user how many rotis have been made, calories consumed and time saved.

The job of an entrepreneur is never done. Besides working on new recipes offerings co-CEOs and founders Pranoti Nagarkar and Rishi Israni are now working on the evolution of their business model.

Ritu Marwah is a senior writer whose articles and awarding winning stories are awaited with great anticipation by her readers. 

What’s Behind My Mother’s Obsession with Food?

“What did you eat today?” my mother, Sarada, begins her phone conversation with my twenty-three-year-old daughter in New York. When my daughter explains that she made rasam and sautéed cauliflower over the weekend, Sarada’s face lights up. Later she tells me she’s happy that all her grandchildren love rasam, a staple broth from the south of India.

Eighty-six-year-old Sarada immigrated to America in her 70s, and finds equanimity performing activities and engaging in conversations that hinge around food. When she meets people she doesn’t know, she connects through food conversations, often recalling the piquant tastes of her youth.

Familiar flavors act as a barometer to her moods, often alleviating the stress of adjusting to a brand-new environment and she looks at food as the one constant in her new life, which she uses to bridge the gap between her past and present. 

More importantly, when Sarada does not have access to familiar foods, she displays signs of acute emotional distress, appearing physically drained and listless.

Sarada, waiting for her order at Saravana Bhavan, a south Indian restaurant

Eating—A Social Event

Sarada entrenches socialization in the act of eating. It is true that in most cultures, meet and greets occur around food: we go to restaurants for dinner, have potluck get-togethers and have affinity gatherings where food is conspicuously on display. Sarada, who re-contoured her physical, geographical and cultural spaces later on in life, finds that she is unable to participate in these social gatherings because unfamiliar food becomes alienating. 

What complicates the Indian experience is that the cuisines of the different regions are distinct, right down to the staples and vegetables. Southern Indian cuisine uses rice, tamarind and coconut gravies, which differ from the wheat breads and tomato-onion-ginger flavors of the north.

A typical south Indian meal Photo courtesy Jay Jayaraman

As she ages, Sarada has become more and more particular in her dietary needs, eschewing food that is not from her home state of Tamil Nadu in India. This has affected her socialization patterns, limiting her and isolating her, even within the Indian American community. 

And she’s not the only one who feels this way. 

What’s On Your Palate?

With over a decade of experience directing Stanford’s Aging Adult Services program, Dr. Rita Ghatak, a gerontologist and psychologist, is the associate director of Optimal Aging Center, and—along with her husband—is a caregiver for her father-in-law, Gopala Pillalamarri. She observed that her father-in-law’s biggest preoccupation is food, particularly food from India’s  southern state of Andhra Pradesh, well-known for its tamarind and chili flavors. 

While living in India, Pillalamarri, a former journalist, seldom went to a restaurant, preferring home-cooked meals. And on the rare occasions that he did go to a restaurant, it would often be to a restaurant serving the same dishes he was used to eating at home. 

He moved to California to live with Ghatak and her husband in the ’90s, along with his wife. While she was alive, his wife regularly made food that satisfied his palate. At the time he would go on long walks with a cohort of older immigrants and seemed to have adapted to his new country. After his wife’s death, he began to gradually decline, socialized less and less and became increasingly insistent on eating foods that he’d enjoyed for most of his life. 

“[Ghatak] makes Bengali food, and I taste it once in a while, but I don’t like it much,” Pillalamarri said, with an apologetic grin.

Other Cultures, Similar Stories: Give me kimchi!

Eighty-seven-year-old Korean American Chang Song Lim lives alone in an apartment close to Boston. Lim came to America in 1989 and his first job was as a factory assembler in Springfield. Within a year, the factory closed down and he was laid off. With his limited English skills, Lim has had to work many odd jobs, including dishwashing and cleaning. 

Once he retired, Lim signed up for the government assisted meal service program. He had to choose from American, Russian, Italian and Chinese offerings. Figuring that Asian food was the closest to his Korean palate, Lim opted for Chinese. “It’s a different taste, a different style,” he told me. His body was not used to this type of food, Lim explained, adding that it was causing a serious problem for him. “I’m very skinny right now and I’m indirectly killing myself. I just want kimchi,” he said, the stress clearly audible in his voice.

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“Older ethnic immigrants face greater challenges in alleviating their loneliness and social challenges because of their language and cultural barriers and small social networks,” said Megumi Inouye, a researcher at George Mason University, at the Gerontological Society of America’s (GSA) annual conference this year. 

In a longitudinal study of a senior immigrant Japanese woman who was in long-term care in Boston, Inoue quoted the husband saying that his wife wasn’t eating much and had little appetite. But when a volunteer interacted with the woman, she asked the volunteer to “spend more time and bring Japanese food along.” 

A slide from Megumi Inouye’s presentation at the GSA 2019 Scientific Meeting

A Rising Trend

With the steady pipeline of older immigrants arriving and aging in the United States—in 2010, more than one in eight adults, 65 years and older, were foreign-born, according to the Population Reference Bureau—it’s critical to have conversations on what drives the emotional health of immigrant seniors, since emotional health affects physical health, and both these have economic costs associated with them. 

And even among the foreign born, the older Asian population is growing definitively. Dr. Vyjeyanthi S. Periyakoil wrote in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (May 2019) that the older Asian American population is “projected to quadruple from 2 million in 2014 to 8.5 million in 2060. This ethnogeriatric imperative underscores the great and growing need for healthcare services that account for the cultural beliefs and behaviors of older persons.”

It’s evident that Sarada, Pillalamarri and Lim are part of a broader pattern among Asian and South Asian seniors. As an index to policies on older immigrant adults, it helps to examine how and why enjoying the food served becomes critical in staving off feelings of alienation and unhappiness. 

The Science Behind It

Mai Takase, a Japanese researcher from the University of Tokyo, along with Tomoki Tanaka, Hiroshi Murayama and others conducted a study investigating the connection between food enjoyment and social connections among seniors. Displaying the work on a poster at the GSA conference, Takase explained that they interviewed 190 residents at an assisted living facility in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. Questions were asked about meal enjoyment, social engagement: Do you enjoy the meals? How many other facility residents (not a family member) can you talk to about your private life with ease? And the risk of depression was assessed.

The findings indicated that meal enjoyment was critical to emotional health, even if the senior had an extensive social network. “There was a higher likelihood of depression among those who did not enjoy the meal,” summarized Takase.

In a follow-up study at the same assisted living facility, the same group of researchers looked at whether eating with others, as compared to eating alone, in connection with enjoying the meal, had any influence on the respondents’ emotional moods. The subjects were broken into four different groups. Those who enjoyed the meals and ate with others; those who did not enjoy the meals, but ate with others; those who enjoyed their meals but ate alone; and those who ate alone and didn’t enjoy their food. 

The figures were extracted from the Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, published on 9/12/19 https://doi.org/10.1080/21551197.2019.1662356

Takase explained that while cross-sectional studies found that seniors who eat alone are more likely to be depressed, this particular study concluded that not enjoying the meal was a significant contributor to depression, regardless of whether it was consumed alone or with others. “Our findings indicate that the feeling of enjoyment (a subjective aspect of dining style) is an important factor of eating in assisted living facilities: not enjoying meals may be a major risk factor for depressive mood,” wrote Takase.

Aligned with these conclusions, Sarada, Pillalamarri and Lim’s focus is not necessarily on eating with others, but enjoying their meals. Sarada consents to eating in company only if she is assured that the food being served is what she knows and likes. It’s evident that food desires reinforce cultural identity and drive cultural and emotional stability for these senior immigrants.

In contrast, there are other seniors who show remarkable food, cultural and social adaptability. So, it’s perhaps interesting to understand why that is the case.

“I’m not fussy about food”

Sita A. celebrated her 91st birthday recently. She has been living in New York with her daughter, Ashwini, since the 90s. Sita grew up in Coorg, a hilly town in the south of India. Her mother died eleven days after Sita was born and she was reared by the family nanny, Somaiya, who had three children herself. Somaiya was an excellent cook and Sita remembers breakfasts of akki roti with jams and chutneys and dinners of pork, chicken or mutton curry with rice and steamed accompaniments of jackfruit or bamboo shoots. 

Later, when Sita moved to Chennai, a busy urban city, to raise her daughter on her own, necessity drove her to improvise. “It was tough being a single mother initially with no proper income,” she said. But she found her feet, selling her jewelry and finding a job. This gave Sita the training to adjust to new situations she encountered, particularly as she aged.

When I was a college student in Chennai, I used to visit Sita at her studio apartment down the road from my college campus. I recall once sharing her simply prepared dinner of soy nuggets and tomato soup. The taste of that meal has far outlasted the flavors of any meal I’ve had since. 

Sita moved in with her daughter and son-in-law in the late ’80s and readily adapted to the places they’ve lived in, including France and Scotland, where she built a strong network of friends.  

“I’m not fussy about food,” she told me when I visited her in upstate New York. She went through her daily food regimen with me, mostly stressing the time of day that she has her meals and how important her tea is to her. She enjoys eating with the family and is happy to sample whatever has been cooked, she said. I reminded her about her love for kohlrabi. “Yes, you know me well,” she agreed, “I love noolkol [kohlrabi] with mutton curry, and Ashwini makes it for me,” she said, the familiar tinge of pride infusing her tone when referring to her daughter. 

The Priya Living Experiment 

In the winter of 2015, my family and Sita’s family took a two-week vacation to the Bahamas. Sita agreed to accompany us on the vacation, but Sarada flatly refused. The idea of leaving an 82-year-old woman alone seemed irresponsible, so I signed up for a one-month stay for Sarada at Priya Living, a retirement community in Santa Clara, California. 

I took Sarada to check the place out. “Look, you’ll have your own apartment and you’ll be with others your own age. There’s a full kitchen, and you can make sambar and kootu.” She looked stubbornly unhappy and said she was not going to cook and that I’d need to figure out her meals. There was a little evening get-together that day and I introduced Sarada to many who welcomed her into the community with a warm word and smile. Beyond nodding politely, she sat without saying a word. 

Feeling perturbed, yet hopeful, I settled Sarada at her new place a few days before I was to leave and got a commitment from a young woman who lived a few doors down to check in on her at least once a day. 

When I called the first time, Sarada complained about how the place was too quiet. When I suggested she attend the daily meet-ups in the lounge, she said she wasn’t interested in meeting anyone. 

Before leaving I organized a daily meal program for her, a service that many others at the senior community center recommended. Sarada, however, didn’t care for the Gujarati (west Indian) food that was delivered. 

All the while, at the beach resort, while I was worrying about Sarada, I observed Sita taking to the new environment, making casual conversation with strangers, and tucking in to risottos and salads with nary a murmur of discontent. The day I came back home from my vacation, I went to Sarada’s apartment. I found her by the door, packed and ready to leave. She told me she’d started packing four days before I was to arrive. 

So what’s different about Sarada and Sita?

Sita and Sarada have different life experiences. Sarada grew up in Moncombu, in the state of Kerala and then migrated to Pandaveshwar in the state of West Bengal after she got married. Moving from the deep south to the north was traumatic for her, a young woman who’d lived a sheltered life, within the confines of her village. She found everything about the north Indian culture alien. Over the years, she began to adapt to her new environs. However, to be clear, she went from a small village in south India to a small village in north-east India. There was little in terms of restaurants serving non-local or global food options in these hard-to-access locales. And for most of her life, she had never been exposed to urban or western culture. These conditions inevitably shaped her response and reaction to brand new gastronomic offerings.

According to Ghatak, easing into a new food culture “depends on whether they tried different foods when they were in India.” Most often, in Ghatak’s analysis, it is those who’ve lived their lives in a particular way without traveling much or eating out who end up dependent on their palate for emotional stability in their new circumstances. In Sita’s case, her spirit of resilience was further enhanced when she had to negotiate a new city and circumstance on her own. 

One Solution? Food delivery service that’s culturally relevant

Take the Meals on Wheels program. The program is a federal initiative to help meet older adults’ basic food needs and to help them age in place in their own homes. Research by Thomas and Mor in 2002 has shown how the Meals on Wheels program has kept older adults with low care needs out of institutions such as nursing homes. 

Phil Ishida getting things ready for the day’s meal deliveries. Meals on Wheels SF (MOWSF) kitchen staff cook and package between 3,000 and 8,000 meals regularly. Photo credit: MOWSF

In a randomized control trial on home delivered meals programs on participants’ feelings of loneliness published in the Journals of Gerontology, the authors, Kali S. Thomas, Ucheoma Akobundu and David Dosa concluded that home delivered meals reduce feelings of loneliness. The reasons for this reduction, the authors surmised, include the daily or weekly social contact as well as the food that’s delivered. 

However, what the research failed to point out was what happens when seniors find the delivered meals dissatisfying. Essentially, what works for the native-born population will not necessarily work for the first-generation immigrant cohort. 

“It’s pretty unreasonable,” remarked Myong Sool Chang, editor of the Boston Korea. “Lim’s is not the story of one old man.” Korean American seniors are not accustomed to speaking English, and so it’s a three-fold problem. “There’s a language barrier, there’s a cultural barrier, and there’s no contact point to ask for help.” 

Food is a pipeline to mental and physical health and the lack of institutionalized culturally relevant options makes immigrant seniors very unhappy. 

Lim craves Kimchi and Korean food and it distresses him immensely that he’s unable to get it. 

Ghatak and Shyam luckily located an older immigrant lady from Andhra Pradesh in Milpitas, about 25 miles away, who prepares weekly Andhra meals for several senior clients. This catering service has plugged the food gap for Pillalamarri, much to Ghatak and her husband’s relief.

These days, Sarada is unable to cook full meals for herself and finds my experimental and less traditional cooking habits intolerable. So, a few months ago, when a friend told me about a south Indian food delivery service in the Bay Area called Mylapore Express, I decided to try it out. 

As I unpacked the containers that were delivered one Wednesday morning, Sarada eagerly read the labels aloud, “vadai more kuzambu,” “murungakkai sambar,” “lemon rasam,” “beans paruppusili,” “kathirikkai karamadhu,” “pavakkai pitla.” Her face flushed as she saw the bounty displayed before her and she told me how much she loves kathirikkai (eggplant) and pavakkai (bitter gourd). There was no mistaking the thrum of excitement and animation.

 

Murungakkai Sambar, Rasam and carrot kari from Mylapore Express

Jay Jayaraman, the founder of Mylapore Express, remarked about the number of people who mention their parents when ordering food from his business. He related the story of a customer’s parent who’d gone out of town and on the day that was scheduled to return, upon finding out the Mylapore Express menu, asked his daughter to save the kathirikai for him. Another texted Jayaraman: “We mainly order for my father-in-law. He is happy with such freshness and taste of the food. The keerai masiyal, mixed veg, kootu, aviyal (just to name a few) are the toppers.” As we finished our conversation, I told Jayaraman that his food delivery service maintains the emotional balance in our house, and he chuckled, assuring me that I’m not the only one. 

Typically, older immigrants have limited English proficiency, have weak ties to social institutions and little U.S. work experience, according to Judith Wilmoth of Syracuse University. Sarada fits the broad patterns of Wilmoth’s analysis. She arrived in the United States in 2006, became a citizen in 2013, has limited English proficiency, no U.S. work experience and is unworldly in most respects. But there’s little to nothing wrapped up in that description. 

Sarada is a nurturer who smuggles fruits into my backpack on the mornings she sees me rushing to make my morning train. She does the dishes when I’m too tired to do it. She feeds the family dog, and worries about my adult children’s eating habits. In small and large ways, she is an essential link in the chain of my life and her happiness strengthens me. 

It’s Wednesday and Mylapore Express has just delivered Sarada’s meals. I open the carton and begin taking out the containers. She comes rushing out of her room and asks excitedly, “what’s on the menu, this week?”

 

Jaya Padmanabhan is a journalist and author. She was previously the editor of India Currents. 

This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Nothing is My Favorite Meal of the Day

Let’s talk about one of my favorite meals….a delicious plate of nothing. Prep time is zero minutes and physical and mental health benefits are unlimited. Nihaal Karnik, a third year medical student at Ross University School of Medicine, writes about his personal experience and reviews some of the latest research on a topic close to my heart, intermittent fasting (aka IF).  Don’t miss some of my thoughts at the end on how I have used IF personally and clinically.

Overview
I just finished working from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Yup, the ever glamorous lifestyle of a medical student. The last meal I ate consisted of 2-3 hard boiled eggs I scarfed down as I ran into the hospital; because, even at 5 a.m. I am considered late for a day of work. I’ve arrived home only to see an empty fridge and realize no restaurants are open. I need to eat. I’ve read every blog post, seen every interview, and even heard from doctors that I should be eating every 4-6 hours. I mean I cannot possibly miss this meal, right? Not necessarily. Skipping a meal or two may not be the worst thing for me. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that missing meals (fasting) may be to my benefit.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) represents a unique approach to nutrition. The approach intends to burn fat and produce muscle when combined with a proper exercise regimen. The name underscores basic principles of the program: fasting for intermittent periods of time.

Research suggests a wide number of benefits: potential protective benefits against various cancers, fat loss, muscle building, curbing hunger cravings, as well as increased insulin sensitivity (refer to other posts on diabetes and insulin resistance). This article aims to introduce readers to IF while providing some basic background on the principles of this model. Hopefully this read encourages our audience to research IF and explore the possibility of incorporating IF into one’s own daily routine.

Basic Principles

The basic principle centers upon caloric restriction for extended stretches of time. The idea behind this is two fold:

1) It falls in line with ancestral diet principles and

2) Induces hormonal responses that promote fat burning, muscle building, and overall well being.

The majority of blog posts and literature surrounding IF introduce it to us in the context of paleo dieting. The average cave man did not always have a fridge full of food to satisfy his primal hunger. Instead he went through cycles of feast (eating) and famine (fasting).

Incorporating an approach that keeps the body in between a fasting and fed state is a natural extension of our ancestral diet. Excessive feasting serves as a major contributor to the variety of metabolic symptoms that plague society, today.

Furthermore, hormonal changes govern IF’s effectiveness. The key hormone discussed here is Growth Hormone, a natural hormone that regulates metabolism and is released by the body during the following phases: starvation, extreme/intense exercise, and rest. It is involved in muscle synthesis as well as lipolysis (fat breakdown). Proponents of IF outline that fasting states induce the release of extra growth hormone—thus helping to promote simultaneous fat burning and muscle growth.

Potential Benefits
In addition to the obvious benefits of muscle mass development and fat burning IF has a number of potential benefits.

These may or may not include:
1. Satiety (feeling nice and full). This may seem counterintuitive but studies show even alternate day fasting (see more below) may promote satiety.
2. Diabetes. Promising research shows that IF may be an effective alternative to calorie restriction and weight loss to prevent diabetes. More research is pending and the authors themselves conclude more research is needed to make definitive conclusions. However preliminary reviews of IF as a way to combat diabetes are promising.
3. Help combat eating disorders by tackling restrictive eating and body image issues.
4. Cardioprotective (hearty healthy) benefits. New research suggests IF may even protect the heart and lead to weight loss.

Models of IF
The basic idea of IF may be simple enough. However, for those who may seem intimidated by the challenge of fasting, don’t worry. A number of IF techniques exist to appeal to beginners and experienced fasters alike.  Literature suggests most people may feel uneasy for the first 7-10 days. So, if you decide to partake in this new regimen do not be discouraged by mild irritability or uneasiness with the adjustment. Although the idea of fasting may be simple, readers often wonder what to eat during prescribed meal times. The theory of IF does not mean one can eat whatever they desire during his or her feast period.

Adherents still need to incorporate healthy eating habits (e.g. non-processed foods, loads of fresh veggies, and good hormone free/free range meat).

For instance, if I were to eat a meal or two during my feast window, it may consist of a huge spinach salad with grass-fed beef, avocado, and a healthy dressing. Or, I may decide to have some fresh fish with steamed veggies. The point is that the feast period does not mean one can instantly hit the closest drive thru window since there was a prolonged fasting period.

Below is a small list with brief descriptions of some of the more popular ways individuals may approach incorporating IF:

Alternate Day Fasting—One of the more popular methods. Proposed by Dr. Varady of the University of Illinois, the diet aims to offer patients a more inviting approach to fasting. Instead of incorporating a daily fast, the diet asks patients to fast every other day. Varady recommends 500 calories during one meal every other day. Her research, although young and ongoing, is quite promising. Patients who abided by this approach were a) more likely to continue this diet long term and b) actually restricted calorie intake on their regular/non-fasting days. Researchers theorize they restricted calories on non-fasting days since their bodies became adapted to the new approach.

12/12—A great approach for beginners. This simply suggests that patients have a 12 hour fasting window, and a 12 hour feasting window. A popular schedule may be to fast from 7pm to 7am.

18/6—A variation of the 12/12 model: here patients fast for 18 hours and feast for 6. One schedule maybe to eat only from 1 p.m.-7 p.m.

Occasionally missing a meal—Some people just listen to their bodies and skip a meal from time to time. Proponents of this model suggest not forcing a meal may help curb binge eating and be beneficial when periodically used.

Conclusions
Intermittent fasting represents a new way to approach caloric restriction. Although research concerning the metabolic benefits of this approach is promising, larger studies are needed to support clinical claims. Those interested in the diet should definitely research more about the topic. Combining this approach with a proper diet may offer individuals a way to achieve new body and metabolic goals.

So, at 10 p.m. at night I have two simple choices. I can go to bed and enjoy the potential benefits of my fast. Or, try to get a quick meal given the annals of conventional wisdom. As I mentioned earlier, it may not be a bad thing to skip this particular meal. Enjoying the perks of integrated fasts may make me a bit stronger, leaner, and hopefully a wiser medical student…though I guess the literature is still pending on that last wish.

Dr. Ron’s Clinical Insights on Intermittent Fasting
I am personally using and prescribing intermittent fasting for selected patients. However, many of my patients are coming in with significant micronutrient deficiencies and weight gain from under eating, overstressing and over exercising. Often these are women. I don’t initially recommend IF for these patients. I need to make sure these patients are well-nourished to replete these missing nutrients and we have to work on stress reduction and life balance which are top priorities. Eating more frequently may have to be initially implemented to replace key nutrients. Once we restore nutrient deficiencies and any hormonal and metabolic imbalances and patients start feeling better, they can then incorporate IF into their lifestyle plan. IF used in the right context can potentially increase lifespan and reduce inflammation. However, adding IF to a nutrient-deficient diet can make matters worse and I have seen inflammatory markers and body weight actually increase as a result.

For individuals who are eating a very high carbohydrate diet, adding IF may backfire since it can generate extreme hunger followed by compensatory binge eating. You need to first fix your eating habits, with a focus on adding healthy fats, proteins and more plants, which will act as a natural appetite suppressant. Once your body and metabolism are prepared, then IF can be used effectively. I have busy patients who generally skip breakfast already, thinking they are fasting, but then they overeat processed foods and excess carbohydrates later which worsens their weight and underlying health issues.

Finally, I highly recommend you fast with a purpose that goes beyond just weight loss and achieving ideal body composition. In most cultures fasting is a selfless act devoted to some higher spirit, rather than the somewhat egotistic pursuit of ideal body composition.  Just reflect on the list of fasts undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi if you need inspiration to selflessly skip just a single meal.  If the word “fasting” sounds too spartan, just call it “meal skipping.”

Try fasting for a departed relative, your favorite god, a specific life goal or higher purpose, etc. I personally have noticed that on IF days I can think more clearly, exercise longer and stronger, and meditate with greater focus. There are times I do use it for somewhat selfish purposes. For example, I use it strategically for important meetings and presentations as a cognitive performance enhancer. It beats caffeine or stimulants since its natural and you avoid the inevitable “crash” from stimulants.  If I knew about it in my earlier life, I would have used it for school exams. Today’s students flood their systems with sugar and caffeine…just think sodas, frappuccinos and energy drinks, which are staple fuels for kids today.

Giving IF a higher purpose will make it more effortless, will allow us to practice selflessness which all of us can benefit from, and in the end, you will still enjoy the physical and mental benefits.

Ronesh Sinha, M.D. is a physician for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who sees high risk South Asian patients, he blogs at southasianhealthsolution.org, and co-hosts a South Asian radio show on health.

First Published in 2015.

First Sari Parade Held in San Francisco

All photos: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

WomenNow organized a Sari Parade where over 600 participants walked down the streets of San Francisco, flaunting their culture and identity woven in five yards of grace.

The Sari Parade was held at the fifth annual Spring India Day Festival this June and this unique parade took place for the first time ever. Both events were free for all, resulting in an amalgamation of cultures tied together with dance and music. Lining the parade were stalls of food, clothes and jewelry similar to a street market in India.

The buzzing excitement of participants wearing Incredible India sashes, the dances along with live Dhol, and the colorful landscape of Union Square evoked emotions beyond a national pride. This truly was a showcase of India’s true colors and heritage.

Photo: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

The event was held in collaboration with Compassionate Chef, which works with the Tenderloin After School Program to help impoverished kids obtain the resources to become global citizens.

Notable guests in attendance included Mayor London Breed and the Consul General of India, Sanjay Panda.

Mayor London Breed gave an encouraging speech about how our different cultures and families bring us together, and how our different backgrounds are an important identity of the city of San Francisco.
A vast spectrum of participants from housewives, to models, Silicon Valley technology gurus, doctors, engineers, as well as representatives from every other professions were present. The vast spectrum of saris were showcased and every style of sari from traditional to modern, every type of drape, and every color were in attendance.
In the midst of the parade were demonstrations of how to drape a sari in various styles for everyone to learn more about what exactly a sari means to an Indian women.
The parade was sponsored by Incredible India! India’s official tourism agency, to showcase Indian tourism. Other sponsors include Zee TV, Rotimatic Singapore and Shasta India.

Yoga Day Celebrations and A Yoga App!

International Yoga Day is right around the corner, on June 21st, the same day as the summer solstice.

Doing yoga every day has many benefits for physical and mental health. Tracking these yoga habits can also prove beneficial. Here’s a way for you to start your yoga practice with a high tech way of keeping track.

Yoga Bharati recently created an app to help track your yoga practice. The app was created in accordance with their 2019 Yoga Yagna. The Yoga Yagna is a challenge to do yoga and track your yoga habits for 21 days, until the summer solstice, because it is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit.

Yoga Bharati will continue hosting the app even after Yoga Yagna is over.

The app is extremely easy to use, and with a simple click of the ‘I Did Yoga Today’ button, your exercise habits can be tracked.

Through the app and website, you can join a number of different groups based on which yoga habits you would like to track.The link below will guide you in how to use the app and the benefits of tracking your yoga habits.

https://yogabharati.org/yogayagna

Washington, D.C. also celebrated International Yoga Day. While the holiday falls on the summer solstice, June 21st, the celebration took place on June 16th at the Washington Monument.

The Indian Embassy in D.C. partnered with Friends of Yoga to give everyone, no matter their yoga experience or age, a chance to bring out their inner Yogi or Yogini.

Participants of the celebration were welcomed by Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who noted how yoga has been adopted all over the world. The Ambassador’s welcome was followed by a guided yoga session led by Dr. Moxraj, Teacher of Indian Culture at the Embassy of India. Afterward, an Indian food festival took place at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art. Your health and wellness are important, not only on International Yoga Day, so celebrate with us – but continue on with your yoga journey. And don’t forget to track your yoga habits!

Here are 3 videos to help you do the surya namaskar!

 

Summer Cookouts and Picnics

Summer Cookouts and Picnics

The idea of a summer cookout generally conjures a vision of meat on an open fire, but the joy of cooking and sharing food outdoors can be enjoyed by vegetarians as well. Among my fondest childhood memories of my village is that of farmers sitting around an open fire roasting freshly picked corn in the field.

Summer picnic basket
Summer picnic basket

Summer’s a perfect time to get together with friends to enjoy food that is cooked outdoors on a grill. The host need not feel isolated within the kitchen at home; instead all guests can help with cooking outside, adding to the feeling of communal sharing. Plan a varied menu that includes complementary dishes. It helps to familiarize yourself with your grill ahead of time, so you can avoid surprises at the event. Since grilled food is very hot, keep some oven mitts, potholders, towels and tongs handy. In your picnic basket, you can include
* water, juices, soda and root beer
* organic wine and micro-brewery local beer
* for the grill, purchase vegan deli items like firm tofu, tofu dogs, soy burgers and veggie burgers in addition to homemade deli items such as Tabbouli and Baba Ghanooj (recipes below).
* a variety of local and imported cheeses
* freshly baked bread, crisp-bread or crackers, with some gluten-free options
* gluten-free chips
Here are recipes for three Middle Eastern dishes that are perfect for your outdoor party.

Tabbouli
Tabbouli is a visual feast, a beautiful salad of bulgur and vegetables made with aromatic mint leaves and fresh olive-oil dressing. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week.

Ingredients
1½ cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
4-5 cups warm water
1 large bunch (2 cups) curly parsley, (remove stems)
1 cup fresh mint leaves (remove stems)
1 bunch scallions, chopped finely,with some of the green tops included
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into very small cubes (1-1½ cups)
1 red bell pepper or a fresh tomato, cut into very small pieces (½ cup)
Dressing
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
¼ teaspoon crushed oregano leaves, dried or fresh
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Method:
In a bowl, cover the bulgur with warm water and let it soak for 30 minutes.
Wash, drain and mince parsley and mint leaves; combine the leaves and vegetables in a large bowl. Drain the soaked bulgur completely by wrapping in a cheesecloth and squeezing out the water or take a handful of bulgur at a time and squeeze most of the water out. Add the drained bulgur to the bowl of leaves and vegetables. Toss all the ingredients gently to mix.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake or whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the desired amount of dressing to the bowl of tabbouli and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes about six to eight half-cup servings

Variation for Gluten-Free Tabbouli
Bulgur is made from wheat, but a gluten-free version of tabbouli can be made with rice and quinoa. Instead of using bulgur, use rice and quinoa. All other ingredients remain the same as above.

Ingredients
1½ cups water
¾ cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
¾ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained

Method:
In boiling water, add rice and quinoa. Cover and simmer over moderate heat for 15 minutes. Then, keep covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Prepare vegetables and dressing as discussed above. Cool the cooked grains by spreading them out on a platter. When they are cool, combine the grains with the vegetables, add dressing and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes six to eight servings

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs
Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Ingredients for marinade
.¼ cup balsamic vinegar, or rice vinegar for a milder flavor
.½ cup olive oil, or peanut oil if using rice vinegar
.¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
.4–6 cloves garlic, minced
.2 tablespoons fresh, minced herbs, such as oregano, basil, and thyme
Ground pepper, salt or soy sauce

Ingredients for kebabs
2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2 gold-bar squash, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2–3 yellow-fin or red potatoes, washed and cut into thin slices
1 or 2 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, cut into long strips
12 large mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
12 cherry tomatoes
16–20 oz. firm tofu, drained, dried, and cut into 1-inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients except for the salt or soy sauce. Add vegetables to the marinade bowl along with the tofu. Stir gently to be sure that everything is coated with marinade. Cover and set aside for an hour, or keep in the refrigerator overnight.

Method:
First, add the soy sauce or salt to the kebab bowl. Next, thread the vegetables onto skewers and place the loaded skewers on a platter. Save the leftover marinade. Just before grilling, baste the vegetables liberally saving the leftover liquid.
Place the skewers on the grill and turn them frequently so that all sides cook Drizzle the cooked kebabs with the remaining marinade and serve immediately.
Makes approximately 12 servings

Baba Ghanooj
Baba Ghanooj is a dip made from fire-roasted eggplant and tahini (sesame paste). You can roast the eggplants on an open fire outdoors, or cook them above the stove-top flame in your kitchen. However, cooking the eggplant in an open fire adds a special flavor and aroma that is hard to replicate indoors.

Ingredients:
1 pound (about 4 to 6) small whole eggplants, preferably Japanese eggplants, washed or 1 large whole globe eggplant, washed, dried and top knobs removed

Dressing:
3 tablespoons toasted or raw tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

Prepare the dressing ahead of time by whisking together all the ingredients except for the parsley and refrigerate.

If you are roasting the eggplants by the open fire, cook directly over the flame or glowing coals (without covering them with a foil). Turn the eggplants frequently using tongs, roasting to allow the skin to blister all over and crack. Remove from flame when the flesh is softened completely. Set them aside in a platter or a cutting board to cool.

After the eggplants have cooled down, remove the charred skin with your fingertips and mash the pulp. Add few tablespoons of the dressing at a time, stirring with a fork until a creamy consistency is formed. Garnish with the parsley and serve with bread or crackers.
Makes eight to ten servings.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco.

First published in August of 2017.

 

 

 

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts (Balushahi and Dry Fruits Milkshake)

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts

Honey was man’s first sweetener. Honey was also an important condiment in medieval times. We crave sweets, as our stone-age forefathers have been deprived of it for centuries. Humans (Homo sapiens) evolved some 50,000 years ago, whereas bees were making honey 40 million years before that. Honeybees as a group probably originated in South East Asia. It seems they developed social behavior and structural identity similar to what we observe in modern honey bees, some 30 million years ago. Apis mellifera, known as the western honey bee, is a commonly domesticated species. It is believed to have originated in Africa and spread later to Europe and Asia. Honey was the staple sweetener in Europe till the 1500s. The name “honey” comes from the English word “huning.” In 1622, European colonists brought these sub-species to Americas. Cooking with honey was a mark of privilege and it was long used for preserving fruits whole or as a jam.
Cave paintings in Spain from 7000 B.C show the earliest records of bee keeping. Honey is also mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings from 2100 B.C. From available evidence, we know that humans have been collecting honey for 10,000 years. But the interplay between bees and flowers is understood much later in 1000 A.D.
The pre-historic cave paintings at Bhimbetka in India show men despoiling beehives built on rocks, perhaps around 6000 B.C. Even as early as the Rigvedic period (2nd and 1st century) the Rbhu brothers were credited with building artificial hives of reeds and straws. The Mahabharata (4th century B.C.) has references to apiary keepers, flower gardens and pollen yielding plants, indicating some degree of commercialization by then.
Bees were domesticated in artificial hives both in India and Egypt about 4500 years ago. The earliest record of bee keeping in Egypt is found in the Sun temple (near Cairo) believed to be erected in 2400 B.C. In 1800s, when archaeologists were working in Egypt, they found a large jar of honey, and found that it tasted perfect, even though it was thousands of years old.
Honey is truly an insect product of high nutritive value. The food value of honey may be estimated by the presence of about 80% sugar in it. One should not mistakenly assume that honey is only a plant product because the nectar, pollen and cane-sugar are all secretions from flowers. As they are digested by bees, it gets mixed with their saliva and it soon undergoes certain chemical changes due to the action of enzymes. At this stage sugar (sucrose) is converted into dextrose and levulose. At the same time some ingredients of bees are also added to the mixture and the water content reduces. The whole mixture is then collected in the crop until the honey bee reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive cell and is known as “Honey.”


Honey Dipped Balushahi
IngredientsBahulashi
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp. yogurt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. clarified butter
* ghee for deep frying
* Honey for dipping
Method
Mix all the ingredients together, except ghee and honey. Prepare smooth fluffy dough. Divide them into equal parts and shape them as you please. Now, heat the ghee to medium hot (not too smoky) and fry these balushahis to golden brown. Then, dip them in honey until it coats all over it. Serve chilled as a dessert.

Dry Fruits Milkshake
Honey Jar* 3 fresh figs
* 5 dates
* 5 almonds
* 3-4 cashew nuts
* 4-7 pistachios
* 1 large banana
* 2 tsp. honey
* 4 cups of organic milk
Method
Blend all the above mentioned ingredients together till smooth. Serve chilled in tall glasses.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com

First published in May 2017.

Euphoric Delights: Virtual hangout for foodie buddies

Cooking is a life skill. You have to do it whether you like it or not. But, if you are a member of the popular Facebook Group Euphoric Delights, you are probably clicking pictures of your freshly cooked meal to post it. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Even a regular Daal chawal has a place in here. Not only are you flooded with compliments and requests for recipes, but you begin to stir up new friendships. The warmth of a companionship across the glass screens of your computers /phones breezes into your life like the aroma of ghee when you prepare your favorite Indian dessert. It feels like these unknown faces suddenly have a place in your life.

This virtual group discusses everyday cooking, and becomes a wonderful resource to receive tips specially if you have moved out of your home country and are looking for how to make rotis on a glass top stove or how to ferment idli /dosa batter when you live in a place with freezing temperatures. You can also see the work of immensely talented home chefs who post pictures and recipes of beautifully decorated cakes, dishes for parties and a whole lot more.

Started in June 29, 2011 geared to attract those with a love to cook and love to eat, Euphoric Delights is now a virtual home away from home for members. Members not only share meal ideas and kitchen tips but also feel a sense of belonging.

To learn more about the evolution of this Facebook group, join me in conversation with Shalini Ramachandran, founder of Euphoric Delights.

Q) What inspired you to start Euphoric delights?

I am an unabashed foodie! I love to cook, and I love to eat. But you get bored with your own food very soon. The desire to connect over food, make new friends and mingle over food was the reason that prompted me to start the group.

Q) What’s been the best part of starting this group?

The best part has been connecting with people. Moreover, when I moved to the United States in the year 2001, Facebook was non-existent. It was not this easy to connect virtually. It was hard to make friends in a new country. Facebook opened this window for me and I welcomed it with open arms. Now the group has grown tremendously in size and my husband Mahesh Venugopala is also an admin as I need help managing it.

Q) Do you have formal culinary training?

No, I do not have any formal training. I have been trained by life. I am like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I would’ve never made it to culinary school.

Q) What are the challenges you have faced as the moderator/admin of this group?

This group is now huge, and it is an effort to maintain it. My husband is closely involved in monitoring the group and the content posted in it. However, there are many challenges that we face on a regular basis. The biggest challenge is that if a member’s post gets deleted, they take it personally. But I am a part of the power admin groups on Facebook where we discuss problems /glitches and work on solutions to deal with them. Another challenge relates to keeping the content of the group clean. For instance, I need to maintain resources that I can tap into and have volunteers who work in all earnest to regulate/block the members who post inappropriate /profane content.

Q) Tell us a little about ED Anonymous.

We have a special section in our group where abused women share their grievances. Sometimes it is just that they need someone to talk to. Sometimes their issues are serious. The identities of troubled women are kept anonymous and their posts are deleted soon to protect their identity. However, we do not offer any legal /medical advice. We only offer emotional support and reassurance.

Q) The engagement on your page has been excellent. What do you feel about it? Does it overwhelm you sometimes?

Absolutely! I had no idea that it would grow this big. But I believe that the engagement on the page is because the community wants it. People want to help each other out with cooking tips, easy methods of cooking a seemingly difficult recipe and so on. I owe the popularity of this group to the members, and the volunteers in the admin. team who are always working hard to keep this a clean, safe group.

Q) When you try a new recipe and it does not turn out well, what do you do?

Not every recipe is perfect. If a recipe fails, I will try something different next time.

Q) Do you plan to do something new/different in the group? For example, going live or asking the members to go live?

No, I am happy with the way things are going now. I am happy that I have been able to build a strong community through Facebook, a venture I started in order to connect with other foodies like me.

You do not necessarily have to be as talented as someone on the TV show –  to be a part of this group. Euphoric Delights is the perfect place to be if you are looking for a quick fix recipe, a question on how to organize your fridge, where to buy a specific Indian vegetable or just about anything else that concerns cooking good food. Even if you do not want to post anything, there is always something that you can learn by just being a part of it. So, if you use Facebook, take a peep into this group and you’ll always be surprised to see what’s cooking!

Euphoric delights

Surabhi Kaushik is an Indian writer, based in Charlotte North Carolina.
Her works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and parenting essays have been published in various websites such as yourstoryclub, halfbakedbeans, writer’scafe, perfection pending, herviewfromhome and India Currents. She is part of various writing groups and is closely associated with “Write Like You Mean It”, a writer’s group in Main library, Charlotte. She also leads a monthly Fiction Writing workshop and conducts writing workshops at various libraries across Charlotte, North Carolina.