The Unbelievable Lightness of an Indian Meal

May 22, 2007


Unless deep fried or cooked in lots of ghee a typical Indian meal is low calorie most of the time.  

What is included in a typical Indian meal?  

1. Plain boiled rice. You can cook the rice in lots of water then drain the excess starch and cover and continue to cook the rice in its own steam at low heat until ready. Or you could cook rice in twice as much water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and continue to cook until done. This will have more starch and calories than the first recipe. Or, you could make a pullao which would mean adding ghee, meat or vegetables, and of course calories.  

2. Wheat flat unleavened bread. This is cooked in the form of chapatti, and the dough for that is made with nothing less or more than water. Light and deliciously aromatic, it acts as its own appetizer. Or, you could make a paratha (adding ghee and or shredded or mashed spiced vegetables) or a puri (deep frying in oil or ghee) and of course these are not as light or low calorie as a chapatti.  

3. Next, at an Indian meal you would have dal. Here once again you could make a light dal with a touch of ghee as a final garnish. Alternately you could sauté onions ginger and garlic in dollops of ghee and crown the dal with that glorious finale. It really is up to you. Both dals are delicious, but you have to decide where the meal goes from delicious to decadent. 

4. Vegetables. What the discovery of Indian cuisine has done for vegetarians, and what vegetarians have done to popularize Indian cuisine, is impossible to convey in a single post. No hard and fast rules exist as to how many tablespoons of fat you should add to vegetables. Some friends like to deep fry cauliflower before adding spices, they feel that the mere sight of water when cooking cauliflower ruins it. And, their cauliflower is grand, no doubt. On the other hand a friend has taught me to make cauliflower with cumin seed, mustard seed, ginger, sizzled in a dab of oil and I have to tell you it turns out fantastic.  

Some Indian recipes call for steaming but they are few and far between. I plan to do a post on steamed dishes. 


5. Finally, yogurt: that must have at an Indian meal, whether you are eating in the north south east or west. Well, what can I say about that? Yogurt is healthy enough in itself, particularly with acidophilus, and one can always use low fat yogurt to reduce calories. A Raita may not turn out as rich and creamy as it would with whole milk yogurt, but these are the choices one has to make. 

The spices and herbs used, as well as the method in which the ingredients are put together in Indian cuisine, are an amazing feat of virtuosity. It is a hot country for the most part and the diet has incorporated that fact into its repertoire; very little vegetable or animal fat is used, except when you have a feast or want to indulge.  

It is the recipe that makes the magic.  

Once someone asked me what I had had at a friend’s breakfast and when I said it was a scrumptious spread of cream of wheat with peas and curry leaves and cashews, and eggplant and spinach in chick pea batter, I could see that they were hard put to imagine how that combination could make any mouth water. 

India leaves the salvation of your soul and body entirely in your hands. The whole business of teaspoons of this and cups of that is alien to the culture which lives by approximation. Now of course the sweetness of unheard melodies has been quantified by cookbooks demanding precise measurements and Indians have fallen in line as well.  

Even so, it is up to you. Jaise karoge vaisa bharoge! Loosely translated: As you eat so shall you weigh! Just kidding! The correct translation is: As you sow, so shall you reap.  


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