In India, vegetarianism is very much a cultural and religious tradition. It’s also a place where rice is a staple food enjoyed in everything from entrées to dessert. The blending of spices is also essential to Indian cooking; you need to first become an excellent masalchi, or spice blender, before you can become an accomplished cook.
A few weeks ago, I took a class in Indian cooking from my friend Madhu who’s also a talented chef. Together, we made Garam Masala, Aloo Masala (a potato curry), Chicken Curry and Nann, an unleavened, baked flatbread.
Not surprising, everything was delicious, but there was another perk: Each entrée came packed with health benefits. That’s because many herbs and spices have more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables and most spices are loaded with disease-fighting properties. For example:
- Cinnamon is anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, and it may help boost brain function and control blood sugar in people with diabetes;
- Cumin is an excellent source of iron, and it aids digestion and it has cancer-fighting properties;
- Coriander is sometimes referred to as an “anti-diabetic” plant, because it helps control blood sugar. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and it helps lower cholesterol;
- Ginger contains gingerol, a compound that’s thought to relax blood vessels, stimulate blood flow and relieve pain, and
- Tumeric is a potent anti-inflammatory which scientific studies have found is just as effective as drugs like hydrocortisone and Motrin.
To share a bit of what I learned from Madhu last week, I’ve posted her recipe for Vegetable Pulao. It can be adapted using your favorite vegetables or some you may have leftover. The dish takes less than 20 minutes to make, and it’s among my favorite “go to” recipes when time is tight, and I’m in a hurry. Why sacrifice good nutrition when you really don’t have to? Enjoy!
4 T vegetable oil
2 T cumin seeds
4 bay leaves
1 C cauliflower florets
1 C matchstick carrots
1 C green peas
2 heaping T turmeric
Salt to taste
4 C cooked basmati rice
2 T lime juice
1 C chopped tomatoes
1/2 C golden raisins
1/2 C cashews
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 cup Paneer (Indian cheese)*
4 lime wedges
*If you don’t have Paneer, use crumbled Feta cheese.
- Heat the oil in a large pan, add the cumin seeds and sauté until fragrant, or about 2 minutes.
- Add the bay and curry leaves and sauté another 2 minutes.
- Add the cauliflower and carrots and sauté until tender, or about 5 minutes.
- Add the green peas, stirring to combine mixture.
- Next, stir in the turmeric, salt and rice. Mix well to combine, until the entire dish has an even, yellow color.
- Add the lime juice and stir well. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, toss together all the garnish ingredients except the lime wedges.
- To serve, divide the rice mixture evenly among 4 plates, then top each of the 4 plates with the garnish, placing a lime wedge on every dish.