Category Archives: FOOD FACTS

Say no to white bread, eat potatoes in moderation

I tend to be very anti-white bread because I view it as a zero-benefit food, since it is made of white flour which offers no significant nutrients.

This also makes it a high glycemic index food, like potatoes. The risk from these as well as other high GI foods – which raise the level of blood-sugar too quickly – is described here and here. Both stories profile a recently concluded study that links the consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates to the increased risk of coronary disease in women.

The surprising thing was that the list of high GI-foods includes watermelon, which one might imagine is quite harmless, and brown rice, which one is always exhorted by most informed/medical opinion to choose over white rice.

Just goes to show that probably moderation is the key though with bread I believe it is best to skip the white variety altogether.

And the combination of bread and potatoes – which probably counts as double-trouble, in view of  the science- in bread rolls is what decided my mind against writing the recipe as I completed the post about this dish today morning !

The small bit of good news is that when I looked up “glycemic index” just now, I saw on the Wikipedia link that Basmati rice is listed under “medium” GI foods.

Phew !  That’s one less worry for an Indian kitchen !

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Mesclun

We eat this so often – it is my favorite mix of salad greens – that I thought it merits a mention here.

According to sources such as wikipedia and wisegeek, mesclun (“to mix” in the Provencal language of the south of France) is a mixture of young greens (i.e. harvested while they are young, for a great flavor)  and can include  dandelion leaves, sorrel, rocket or arugula, mache or lamb’s lettuce, other leafy lettuces, spinach, mustard, swiss chard, chicory, frisee and sometimes edible flowers such as rose petals and nasturtiums. The original mix apparently consisted of chervil,rocket, types of lettuce and endive mixed in equal amounts.

A delicate olive oil and lime juice dressing is all a mesclun-based salad needs, I feel, so that the fresh flavors of the leaves are not subdued.

http://www.foodreference.com/html/fmesclun.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesclun

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mesclun.htm

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Peanut Butter-The Good and the Bad

The girls – and, I must confess, Shri and I too – have taken to peanut butter in a big way in recent months.  A spoon of it on a crepe, or a slice of bread -or just heaped on the spoon ! -makes for a very satisfying snack. The girls sometimes have a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast now, with a glass of milk.

Hence this post, as  I try to find out whether it is all good or whether there are things about it we need to know.

It seems that trans fats, which are part of the problem  in all processed foods, are the chief villain here too. The mostly fat-derived calories are not such an issue – though eating this food in moderation would therefore be a good idea – because the fat in peanuts is supposed to be the good sort.

From the sources I have looked at so far, it looks like switching to an organic variety should allow us to continue indulging – but only once in a while.

http://www.goodschoolfood.org/mayo.shtml

http://www.peanut-institute.org/070303_PR.html

http://www.drmirkin.com/nutrition/N242.html

http://www.peanut-institute.org/070303_PR.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_butter

http://lowfatcooking.about.com/od/faqs/f/hydrogenated.htm

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/4/T043600.asp#T043602

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Getting to grips with Jowar/Bajra/Ragi

Neelam asked some weeks ago if I knew whether ragi flour is available here. That was the first time I actually looked for the French – or indeed the English – name of this flour since I have never cooked with it.

Turns out it’s called finger millet in English and eleusine cultivee, coracan or koracan in French.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger_millet

She has also been trying to find out about jowar and bajra, two other very healthy grains that are popular in India but which I have no experience of.

While bajra is another variety of millet – pearl millet in English, millet perlé in French – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_millet ,

jowar, I believe, is a variety of a group of grasses/cereal crops called Sorghum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_sorghum

I believe millet is very rich in calcium and that’s the reason I remember Harshini used it a lot to make baby food for Kavana.

Now to start the search for these flours here. It would open up whole new possibilities for our daily bread, so to say !

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Vegetarian for a Day…

While I don’t think I am for cultured meat (which is what the story below is about), the first video there , which shows how they separate those poor little chicks from their shells on a separator tray, makes me think about becoming a vegetarian; or at least that I must never again buy industrially produced chicken

http://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2009/11/18/how-in-vitro-meat-works-creating-meat-without-killing-any-animals/

This reminds me of how Noor declared some months ago that she was going to become vegetarian.

The girls were watching me skin pieces of chicken, before I marinated them in preparation for  tandoori chicken that I was planning to make for dinner guests the next day. The sight of a little bit of blood still visible on the leg pieces seemed to affect Noor enough for her to make this statement.

She actually resisted eating the chicken with the rest of us the next day, and even the day after that I was unable to tempt her with the leftovers.

Since then,  though she has gone back to her meat-eating ways, every once in a while she does state her intention to become a vegetarian one of these days.

Indira’s reaction to the whole thing is more objective/prosaic. She said to me once, when she was 6 or 7 I think, “Well I am sure there are lots of chickens in the world and it’s not as if we are killing all of them !”

Spoken like the meat-lover that she is 🙂

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Pain de Sarrasin- aka Kuttu ke Paranthe!

Talk about it being a small world.

When I wrote recently about buckwheat crepes I had no idea that buckwheat flour , called sarrasin in French or ble noir, is the good old kuttu ka atta that is used all over India to make things like cheelas, paranthas and pakoras for people who are fasting for religious reasons and therefore not allowed to eat grains. But then I have never actually eaten anything made with this flour in India, nor indeed have I seen it, since in our home my Aryasamaji mother and dadi never observed any fasts for any festival or occasion. So, being only very vaguely aware of this flour,  I had never given any thought to it or to what it might be.

My good friend Priti wrote to tell me about it, after reading about the crepes here.

So when I made paranthas today, for the girls’ lunch, with the flour I originally bought to make the very French galette, it felt like I had taken the long way home, in a manner of speaking 🙂

sarrasin-paranthas-002

Kuttu ke Paranthe

I made the dough as I would for any other paranthas – with water but also with some crushed rock salt in this case –  then rolled out and cooked the paranthas in the same way too. I noticed that the flour had a tendency to get sticky so I added water very carefully, only a little bit at a time.

The girls, as they sat down to eat, sniffed at their plates and said, “hey but these smell like those crepes !”

I did tell them eventually why. And though they were evidently not too excited about this new culinary experiment, they did eat them, good girls that they are, without further comment, with some aloo ki subzi , a little pickle and yoghurt.

I have no idea how far from the original these are in taste or look, but they are good enough to eat that I would definitely make them again.

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Filed under Breads, Breakfast Ideas, Food Discoveries

Tej Patta (Malabathrum or Malabar leaf, NOT Bay Leaf)

All About Tej Patta on Foodista
I made peas pulav for lunch today, and when I added  tej patta (usually – and erroneously, it turns out – refered to as bay leaves by most Indian cooks) to the oil, I found myself wondering yet again how closely related it might be to feuille de laurier ( laurel leaves), a popular herb  in Mediterranean and other western cuisines.

I had always imagined that the two might be related, since they look quite similar. But it turns out that they are very different.

Tej Patta (tamalpatra in Sanskrit and Marathi and often called bay leaf or Indian bay leaf in English) is a tough, three veined, very aromatic leaf that is much used in north Indian cuisine . It does in fact come from a tree – the malabathrum -which belongs to the Laurel or Lauraceae family, as do the true bay/laurel trees (such as the Laurus Nobilis tree grown in the Mediterranean region or other laurel/bay trees like the California Laurel, Turkish Laurel etc.) whose  leaves – true claimants to the term “bay leaf “- are used in western cuisines.

The cinnamomum tamala (malabathrum) tree – grown in both the Himalayas and southern India – is, however, a different genus from that of bay trees, so it is inaccurate to term the leaves of the former as bay leaves.

The malabathrum tree is closely related to the cinnamon tree – they belong to the same genus – and the aroma and the fragrance of tej patta is in fact somewhat reminiscent of cinnamon. This is another way to distinguish between tej patta and bay/laurel leaves – the latter have a fragrance more like pine and lemon. Also, bay – or laurel- leaves are longer and slimmer than tej patta.

Apart from being an important flavoring agent in biryanis and many other meat-based dishes, tej patta is also used in the preparation of a Bhutanese herbal tea called Tsheringma. You can read more about its recipe, and the benefits, here http://www.itmonline.org/arts/bhutan.htm

and here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsheringma

I was interested to see that apart from tej patta, Tsheringma’s other ingredient are petals of the safflower plant. Since this plant is also the source of a cooking oil known to be heart-healthy, I am inclined to think that there has to be a sound basis to the benefits this tea is said to offer, according to  Bhutanese tradition.

The essential oils from the leaf were used in ancient times in India as well as other parts of the worlds for perfumes as well as for medicinal purposes. First century Greek texts mention these leaves as being a major export of southern Indian kingdoms.

Some research has found the oils to have an antifungal property.  Significantly, this property is not adversely affected by temperature or storage, so the use of tej patta in cooking would not diminish this effect, I guess.

Tej patta leaves are also used as a treatment for colic and diarrhoea.

Different parts of the plant are used in many Ayurvedic preparations.

Here’s where I learnt more about tejpatta

http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Cinn_tam.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_leaf

http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/bay.html

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/56673/bay-leaf

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Bay_Leaf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malabathrum

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnamomum

http://www.worldagroforestrycentre.org/sea/Products/AFDbases/AF/asp/SpeciesInfo.asp?SpID=18024

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