On the event of India’s 70th Republic Day tomorrow, I considered scanning through various food habits and diverse food preparations in India and write about the most healthy food choice from our country’s varied assorted cuisines.
Indian food is usually considered to be ‘rich.’ That term comes from the use of generous quantity of dryfruits in some parts of the country or copious use of ghee and oil. But irrespective these rich ingredients, food preparations are largely influenced by geography, climate and culture thus justifying their use in different parts of the country (such as dry fruits keep the body warm in a cool climate hence, largely consumed in North Indian cuisine).
With so many states and their various foods, let’s begin the journey from North India and touch up on some of the healthy selections from countless cuisines in India-
Jammu & Kashmir- The ever refreshing Kawha an intricate blend of Indian spices, consumed as a hot beverage is our very own traditional detox tea honed to perfection. Though most of the Kashmiri preparations revolve around Rice however, the ‘Hak’( which is a green leafy vegetable found in the beautiful valley) is a healthy delicious kashmiri dish either cooked with mutton or fish or can be had by itself. And the walnut chuntey can be used as a delicious salad dressing or a dip or just an accompaniment with the meals.
Punjab- Sarson ka saag is certainly one of the most delicious and healthy preparation in Indian cuisines. It is usually accompanied with Makai ki roti (although I am not an admirer of makai considering the glycemic index), one can always replace it with any other cereal. Furthermore, the extensive variety of pulses in the daily routine (the restaurant cooked dal makhani and paneer butter masala is not a daily routine) but consciously prepared rajma and chola helps to bulk up fibre and add proteins to the diet along with taste. Also, cooking methods used here such as tandoor and grilling are an excellent form that cooks the food fast, with less oil and seals in all the nutrients.
Haryana- The cuisine of this state may not be famously seen in restaurant menus, but the combination of Matha (which is the local name for buttermilk) along with bajra khichdi, is a healthy nutritious mishmash.
Rajasthan- Rajasthani cuisine is historically and traditionally formed from it’s geographical location having limited resources for growing fresh vegetables in the desert land. Ker-sangri is one such under-rated commonly cooked preparation of Rajashtan. It has a distinct flavour and taste along with being rich in Vitamin C and is best consumed with a iron-rich bajra roti.
Gujarat- Gujarati cuisine is primarily vegetarian and distinctively sweet in taste. This cuisine represents modern style of cooking with traditional recipes giving rise to some very healthy preparations. Such as using steamers to make protein rich dhokla from variety of dals or microwaves to make jowar khichu (a high fibre dish made from jowar and vegetables). The routine cooking involves lentils as a common preparation of which Osaman is a high protein low calorie tasty dal which can be had as a soup. Although, fried snacks are common with the Gujaratis like fafda and muthiya, the cuisine offers many low calorie snacks and one of my favorite is the crispy Khakaras (make sure you give it a try!).
Assam- The cuisines in the North Eastern states of India are a mixture of unique styles with cultural influences from neighboring states. Predominantly rice paired with meats and fish are the main ingredients for all preparations. However, from the Assamese cuisine Pitika is a signature dish (it is a mashed preparation which can be made with roast vegetables) making it fibre rich and Sewali Phool, which has high medicinal value and is used to make bitter sweet curries.
West Bengal- Fish is undoubtedly a well-known obsession for Bengalis. Although there is nothing more delicious than fish curry with rice followed by scrumptious Rasgolla and Sondesh, Bengali cuisine does offer nutritious options to select from. Machher Jhol (is wok fried fish with bengali spices), which can be had by itself minus the rice. There are interesting cooking styles to prepare fish such as ‘Hilsa’ which is wrapping the fish in pumpkin leaf which releases more flavors using minimal oil. Another unique ingredient commonly found in Bengali cuisine is Bamboo Shoot. They are rich in protein and has countless medicinal values.
Konkan Belt- The costal district of India includes Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. The states of the western coastline overlap in many flavours but are still distinctively different and unique.
Maharashtra- Maharastrian cuisine ranges from being mild to very spicy keeping cereals and lentils as the integral part of cooking. Zunka Bhakar defines itself as a complete meal. It is a mixture of protein rich dals and high fibre jowar, packed with lots of flavour. Similarly is Thalipeeth, a mixture of cereals and lentils with additional spices and rolled out like a chapatti. It can be had with the famous Maharashtrian garlic chutney or with Baingan Raita (this may not sound delicious, but try it before you judge the combination of aubergine with yoghurt).
Goa-Seafood, rice and pastes are the main ingredients of Goan delicacies. Abundantly available fresh fish marinated with spices, steamed or grilled and served with mild to very spicy pastes is the healthiest option of this state.
Karnataka-This states cuisine is largely influenced by the neighbouring states. Though Bisi Bele is a famously known rice preparation, some of the nutritious options of this state are Kosambari, a moongdal preparation which is a delicious salad option and Majjige Huli (a cucumber based preparation) served with curd is low calorie and easy to digest.
Kerala & Tamil Nadu- Abundantly available coconut in this state dominates its usage along with rice in most of the preparations. A wise choice from this cuisine would be Appam and Idlis (a complete food made of rice, dal and coconut) if had with curd will make a wholesome meal.
Andhra Pradesh- This spicy cuisine is has some finger licking preparations which enhances the taste of the dishes.
Every cuisine will have a range healthy & unhealthy options. The challenge lies in selecting the best options to eat. Obvious preparations to avoid are butter chicken, pakoras, samosas etc. and it’s really not that difficult. But there are lots of other options that are delicious and healthy like mentioned above. Helping you select some of the best meals from every cuisine is my tribute to this vast diverse country.
Happy Independence Day!