Indian cooking is very deeply rooted in Ayurveda. Contrary to the impression the world has, Indian meals are not unhealthy; rather are very scientific in the use of herbs, spices, oils and different flavours. A traditional Indian meal is not heavy in oil and fat content; it’s loaded with flavour.
The first step of almost all our curries is chhaunk or tadka – herbs or whole spices added to hot oil. This is a simple extraction process where the essence of the herb or spice is extracted by throwing it in hot oil. The oil should be hot but not smoking; as that’s basically just burning, both your oil and the spices.
The aforementioned extraction is an Ayurvedic procedure, used extensively to extract essence of various herbs and flowers and roots. Most flavoured oils are prepared using this procedure. During the process of chhaunk, all the goodness of the spices being used gets extracted in the oil and later assimilated in every bite of the food.
The Spices are actually building your health:
The herbs and spices themselves are very good for health. For example, some spices/herbs used commonly in Indian cooking are curry leaves, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cumin, pepper, mustard, mint, turmeric, onion seeds, asafoetida, ginger, garlic and many more. Now I don’t need to spell it out, the health benefits of the above are very well known and a Google search will give you any information you need.
The Oils are very scientifically chosen:
The oils traditionally used in Indian cooking are mustard oil, coconut oil, cow ghee and sesame oil. All of these are very good for health. They have very high smoke points, thus fulfilling the “hot but not smoking” criteria fairly easily. The moment an oil begins to smoke and burn, it degrades into very harmful compounds. Oils with high smoke points can tolerate high temperatures without burning and degradation and hence are great for chhaunk and for frying as well. Most of these oils/fats are unrefined and raw (virgin) and hence there is no removal of the good trace minerals, which is a side effect of refining.
Curd and Buttermilk are not just for taste:
Curd and buttermilk also have a special place in authentic Indian cuisine. Quite a few recipes use curd as a base. The beneficial bacteria in curd are a godsend for digestive and gut health. Buttermilk, flavoured with herbs and cumin powder, is served at the end of meals as a digestive. In Northern India, curd is eaten with jaggery at the end of meals, followed by buttermilk or chaach. In southern parts of India, meals are always concluded with some curd and steamed rice mixed together. Both rice and curd are easy to digest and cool down the heat arising in the digestive tract from the spices.
Food builds your body, consume before it outlives its utility:
Ayurveda suggests that vegetables be eaten as fresh as possible, because it believes in the “death” of food. Vegetables are a part of the plant broken away from the body and are alive for a very short period. It’s best to consume them as fast as possible so that they are fresh. “Dead” food does not contribute to building your body or immunity or strength, it only satisfies your hunger. In a way, Ayurveda indirectly promotes the sustainable practices of buying locally and growing your own food!
An Indian thali is not just an assortment of curries:
Ever felt full but not satisfied with your food? That is what Ayurveda cures, by providing all tastes in every meal so that your meal is balanced not only in nutrients but also in tastes. A traditional Indian meal, deep rooted in Ayurveda, has all tastes – salty, sour, heat (the sensation arising upon eating chillis), astringent and sweet. A well balanced Indian thali always has pickles and sweets in small proportions to balance the palate. This way you feel satisfied with your food and avoid overeating.
Flavours and taste can be infused in food without drowning it in oil. The authentic Indian cuisine is extremely healthy, loaded with nutrition and taste, and backed by the ancient science of Ayurveda.
If you find it difficult to infuse flavours with low oil content, follow my version of the well known recipes and you’ll definitely marvel at the result. Food does not need to be fat-laden to be rich and tasty. If you follow the science that is behind Indian cooking, you will realise that less is more.
Many more low fat and yummy recipes to come on the blog, stay tuned!