Tag Archives: Turmeric

Eat Yourself To Health

Viruses are smart, they are masters of survival. They can hijack our body’s own mechanisms to live and multiply. During a productive infection, viruses hijack, multiply and destroy the cell that they call home for a very short time. Bacteria and parasites have also devised various intelligent and opportunistic methods of attacking the human body. To protect ourselves from these infectious agents, the immune system is the frontline of a preemptive defense, while some infections may be controlled by therapeutics. 

Vaccines are the most overtly and urgently effective route to control these infectious agents as they specifically direct the body’s immune defenses against these intruders in multiple ways. However, we can take the initiative to maintain a strong healthy baseline. In addition to stress alleviation and staying active, we can consciously incorporate a few things in our diet to hone our intrinsic defenses. One aspect of this could be accomplished with a few spices, herbs, and condiments that we are familiar with. 

Spices and herbs have fragrant oils that impart the flavors that we know and love, but they also pack alkaloids and other compounds which can have specific effects on the human body. Although detailed ayurvedic knowledge about the effects of these dietary inclusions exist, this article is meant only to raise awareness, and not delve into the depths of beneficial and harmful aspects of the few spices mentioned below. 

Black pepper

Dubbed the ‘queen of spices’ and ‘black gold’, pepper is native to the Malabar coast of Kerala, and was the original spice that fueled the European spice trade. It was the mainstay for introducing pungency and heat in Indian cooking until the Portuguese introduced chillis to India in the 16th century. Among other effects, pepper has antipyretic properties. However, another important property of piperine, an alkaloid in pepper, is to increase the bioavailability of other compounds. That is, it increases the absorption of other chemical entities that are by themselves not readily absorbed. This leads us directly to the next spice, turmeric.

Turmeric

Hailing from the ginger family, the root of turmeric is used as a spice with a familiar hue. In addition to imparting a rich yellow color to food, turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-infective properties. Curcumin, an alkaloid in turmeric, also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and has been studied extensively for its properties in ameliorating diseases, and in promoting general health. However, curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body, and combining its use with black pepper improves its absorption.

Tulsi

Otherwise called Holy Basil (appropriately called Ocimum sanctum in latin), tulsi is more associated with religious ceremonies and Ayurveda than with cooking. It is related to, but distinct from, the basil used popularly in Thai cuisine. I have often wondered why tulsi is not used in Indian cooking given its amazing flavor, but it appears its religious associations preclude its use in something as mundane as food. Tulsi is an adaptogen, in addition to having several other medicinal properties, including antibiotics, and blood pressure control to name a couple. As an adaptogen tulsi is advocated for general wellbeing and stress reduction. Tulsi when added to tea imparts a soothing flavor, and occasionally adding a couple of fresh leaves (for those of us who have a plant at home) or a pinch of dried tulsi leaves while brewing a cuppa makes for an excellent beverage.

Oregano

Since we are in the age of fast food, and Italian food can be a popular healthy option, oregano is a spice that we are all familiar with although it is not commonly used in Asian cuisines. In terms of flavor, it is a close cousin to ajwain belonging to the cumin family that is used in Indian cuisine, but the plants are not related. Oregano packs an intense flavor and has several essential oils, including thymol, which are thought to be antiseptic among other properties. Oregano can also be taken for general well-being, and both tulsi and oregano can potentially boost the immune system. Not surprisingly, they belong to the same super-family of fragrant herbs, Labiatae.

Garlic

The medicinal properties of garlic were known to several ancient cultures, and its health benefits are thought to range from digestive to respiratory and circulatory systems but, of current relevance, it is anti-microbial. The pungent odor and taste of garlic are due to sulfur-containing compounds that are released when it is cut or crushed, and the best known of these is called Allicin. In addition to being anti-bacterial, allicin is also thought to have anti-viral properties. Other members of the garlic family, including onion, share the same compounds, but in reduced amounts.

This article is not advocating the ingestion of these spices at the level of a therapeutic or dietary supplement, but only regular inclusion of these as spices in day-to-day cooking. It is also not an exhaustive list of all the benefits these spices are thought, and known empirically, to confer. Several other spices and condiments that we are familiar with also have beneficial health effects: cumin (jeera– anti-parasitic), ginger (anti-inflammatory), fenugreek (methi seeds– anti-bacterial and laxative), yogurt (pro-biotic), cardamom (blood pressure control), cinnamon (anti-microbial), green and red chillis, and so the list goes on. Finally, it should be mentioned that cooking could destroy a percentage of the active principles and the ensuing health benefit, and frying (including seasoning or tadka) would inactivate a higher percentage.

So, a periodic shot of rasam may not be a bad idea. In fact, variations on the theme of this thin soupy concoction are found in most Asian cuisines. Mix in different spices for variety: pepper, turmeric, lemon, cilantro, lemongrass, oregano, basil, neem leaves, garlic, red chilies, and others to complement your daily creativity and menu. It adds variety, in addition to providing an excuse for an excellent sinus-clearing aperitif! 


L Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar and at www.liyengar.com.

The Turmeric Is Gone

Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am. She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers. In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets. Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for. She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue. When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table. She takes a short nap.

Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm. One hour is all she needs in the kitchen. She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation. Fifteen minutes pass. You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little. You hear a crackling sound. Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion. Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it! Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelops you.

You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore. When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you’re not sure which. You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes. You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying; the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.

Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off. You hug her and wave many goodbyes. Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen. It is noon and you are hungry. You open the refrigerator, and see a plate of food she left for you. You smile.

You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been. You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print. You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these impressions was possibly created. You look at the culprit bottle, and find that it is devoid of any turmeric. You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.

Ratna Goradia is a writer who lives and works in Southern California. She was raised in Mumbai and is currently working on her first short story collection about growing up in India, reimagining childhood memories of innocence, adventure and joy. 

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

The first signs of spring are in full display. Never before have I been so welcoming of spring. This past winter was harsher than usual and experiencing it in our new home which is surrounded by trees only made it seem worse.  After an especially cold winter, I feel specially invigorated by the advent of spring! I enjoy the crispness in the air, the prospect of longer days and I look forward to seeing fresh vegetables in the farmer’s market. Nature always has its own way of quite literally springing tiny pleasant surprises urging us to take notice.

Our Sunday morning visits to the local farmer’s market have once again become a weekly ritual that I really look forward to. The soothing sight of fresh and vibrant produce complements the hustle and bustle and I feel tempted to buy everything that is arrayed in front of me!

When I head back home, I start thinking about how to prepare tasty, healthy foods that are easy to cook on a weekday. I try to experiment by completely reinventing the recipe or by making small changes like adding cumin seeds instead of mustard seeds.

Some vegetables have been used only in a particular way that I feel bored at the thought of having to make them using the same recipes. One such vegetable is the baby eggplant. I am sure there must be several ways of preparing them, but one dish that immediately comes to mind is Bharwa Baigan. (Stuffed eggplant)

Last Sunday when I picked up baby eggplant, I mentally swore that I would make something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Even though it is delicious, it is also quite tedious and time consuming to prepare. As I let my imagination play with these fresh baby eggplants, my aim was to come up with a recipe that was simple to cook and tasty. So here’s the recipe from my Sunday experiment with baby eggplant.


Achari Baigan
Yield: 3 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
Achari Baigan, Eggplant Dish
Ingredients
12 baby eggplants
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chili powder
3 tablespoons mustard oil
(You can use any oil for this)
Pinch asafetida powder (Hing)
1 medium onion sliced thin

Mix together:
2 medium tomatoes pureed
3 teaspoons sambhar powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp sugar to taste
Salt
2 tablespoons yogurt
½ tsp garam masala
Chopped cilantro to garnish

Steps
1. Make two perpendicular cuts in the form of a cross at the base of the eggplant. Sprinkle salt, turmeric powder and chili powder and massage the insides of the eggplants. Keep aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil into the pan and once it is heated, add in the marinated eggplants.
Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes till the eggplants are charred slightly on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it is heated, add in the asafetida and sliced onions.
4. Sauté till the onions soften and are pink in color (less than 1-2 mins). Now, mix in the dry masala with the tomato puree and add to the oil.
5. Add ½ cup of water and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes till oil floats on the top.
6. Then, add in the sautéed eggplant into the masala and continue to sauté till the eggplant is soft.
7. Now add in the yogurt, mix well and sprinkle in the garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Notes:
1. To reduce cooking time, add a little oil to the marinating eggplants and place in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. This softens the eggplants and reduces cooking time on the stove.
2. To make this dish look fancy, you can add a tempering of mustard seeds, asafetida and curry leaves at the end. It adds a touch of sophistication to the dish and yes, the extra love too.
3. I use mustard oil to make it typically achari (pickle-like); you can use any oil that you want.
Having experimented with eggplant, I was immensely satisfied with the results. It was all the more gratifying since I had finally chosen to do something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Serve it with plain rice and dal or some pulao. This is a must-make vegetarian dish for all who are eggplant lovers. Don’t be afraid to play around with the recipe and remember to always have fun experimenting!n
A science educator with an ardent love for experimentation in the kitchen, Jagruti writes about cooking in her blog The Turmeric Kitchen. To help popularize her otherwise not very well known East Indian heritage, she writes extensively about Odia food and about dishes that evoke nostalgia of her days growing up in Odisha.