Friday, December 19, 2014

Incorporating millets into your meals

As 2014 draws to a close, I want to write about an important change I made this year. Being a South Indian, rice has always been a staple food on my plate for years on a daily basis. Though I used to take wheat in the form of chapatis or bread, the proportion is less as compared to rice. Having been aware of the fact that excess consumption of white, unpolished rice (which is a high glycemic index food) potentially leads to diabetes, I was looking for healthier alternatives. I tried broken wheat as a direct substitute for rice but somehow I didn't like it (though it turns out yummy in the form of a kichdi).

I stumbled upon millets and their health benefits through this blog. I also read in another article that millets used to be the regular food (rice reserved only for special occasions and festivals) during our great grandparents days.

There were 3 challenges that I had to surmount in order to make millets a regular feature on my plate:
1. Sourcing them
2. Learning how to cook and what to cook
3. Liking the taste

After a year, I'm glad I have managed to tackle all of them. I'm sharing my experiences below, which would be useful for someone planning to venture into millets. Take this as a Millets-101 course, if you will :-)

Please do keep in mind that anything in moderation is the key. Don't switch completely from rice/wheat to millets. Ensure you mix them up in a week. I have been consuming millets 3-4 times in a week, along with rice / wheat / beaten rice on other days. If you have thyroid issues, do check with your doctor before starting millets.

There are multiple varieties of millets available, the popular ones listed below:

  1. Foxtail millet (thinai in Tamil)
  2. Kodo millet (varagu)
  3. Barnyard millet (kudiraivali)
  4. Little millet (saamai)
  5. Finger millet (kezhvaragu or ragi)
  6. Pearl millet (kambu or bajra)
  7. Proso millet (panivaragu)

Each variety has different proportions of proteins, iron, calcium and other minerals. They are high in fibre too (which makes them a low glycemic index food). I usually stock 500 gms of each variety and prepare them in rotation, so I get all the individual benefits.

Millets have become quite common in Chennai and I have been able to procure them from rice mandis and organic stores. In Bangalore, you can easily get finger millet and pearl millet from any provisions store. You can also check out organic stores or visit one of the Green Bazaar events.

You can also order online from Dhanyam organic store. Town Essentials has foxtail millet and finger millet.

I usually make one of the first 4 millet varieties listed above in place of rice for lunch. Cooking them is simple. Take 1/2 cup of the millets, rinse well. Keep them in a bowl with 1 cup of water. Cook in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles. 1:2 is the ratio I follow and it comes out well. It can be mixed with sambhar, kuzhambu, dal fry, rasam or curd.

You can also make breakfast/dinner dishes like idli, dosa, oothappam, pongal or adai with millets. Payasams / sweet pongal dishes turn out yummy too.

This is the proportion I follow for idli / dosa:
4 cups of one specific millet
1 cup of urad dal
1 tsp of methi seeds

Soak urad dal and methi seeds together for 4 hours.
Soak millets separately for 4 hours.
Grind urad dal + methi seeds together into a thick batter. Then grind millets coarsely.
Mix both these batters together.
Add salt and leave it to ferment for 8-10 hours.

You can also try with 2 cups of millets + 2 cups of idli rice instead of 4 cups of millets. The dosa made with this proportion comes out well and there is absolutely no taste difference when compared to regular rice dosa.

Thanks to many food bloggers, you can find many millets based recipes when you google it (also check in youtube).

Finger millet or ragi is an excellent source of calcium. I usually add a few tsp of ragi flour while making chapatis or mix the flour in dosa batter. The same technique can be tried with pearl millet flour too.

You can also make a healthy, wholesome ragi porridge for breakfast.

4 tsp of ragi flour (if you can make/get sprouted ragi flour, even better)
1 tsp of jaggery
1 cup of water
chopped almonds and walnuts.

Take ragi flour in a pan. Lightly dry roast in medium flame till nice aroma comes (in 3-4 min).

Add water and whisk well. Let it boil. Once it thickens, switch off. Add a tsp of either palm jaggery or regular jaggery, warm milk and mix to your required consistency. Garnish with chopped almonds and walnuts.

I find very little difference in taste when it comes to idli/dosa made with millets. As for substituting them for rice, you start to get comfortable after a few times. So keep trying!

I have noticed that my weight is in control and I feel light after a millets based meal. It doesn't give you the "full" or bloated feeling. You also tend to eat less quantity as compared to white rice.

Start off 2015 with a commitment towards your health, by including millets and other grains in your plate.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. Happy to help!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book review - Aaraam Thinai by Dr.G.Sivaraman

Thanks to a FB post shared by a friend, I came across this inspiring talk on the importance of eating local foods. The speaker Dr. G. Sivaraman who is a Siddha doctor spoke with passion and conviction. Many of his talking points resonated with me and thanks to Google, I researched more about him and his work. I stumbled upon his book "aaraam thinai" during this research. Apparently, he had written a series of articles in Ananda Vikatan tamil magazine, which has been compiled into 2 books.

During my recent trip to Chennai, one of the top items on my agenda was to purchase these books. The book shop near my home had only the first volume which I bought instantly, came home and started reading one evening. Little did I know I would get so hooked onto this book, that I ended up finishing it in a day. Each article is filled with profound insights on traditional food practices which we have forgotten or lost track completely in the era of modernization and globalization. 

After finishing the book, the first thought that came to my mind was "Wish this book had a English translation. The material is so relevant to anyone in India that it has to be shared irrespective of language".

The author has shared numerous insights on the nutritious benefits of small grains (millets) and unpolished rice varieties. He has shared a few recipes too. I have started to include millets regularly in my meals since the beginning of this year. I'll write a separate post on that soon.

Excess use of plastic, processed and packaged foods and shifting away from local foods are the main causes of increasing lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. We have to consciously incorporate local seasonal vegetables, Indian spices, green leafy vegetables, unpolished grains and pulses etc.

Apart from food practices, the author also talks a lot about how different forms of pollution is affecting our health and has also resulted in severe environmental issues. A definite eye-opener!

I plan to read it again and implement the principles/ideas suggested in my life. Hope to share my experiences regularly through this blog. I also managed to search around and get the second volume. They are available in amazon too.

If you can read Tamil, do yourself a favor and buy these books. You will not regret it. It's high time we understand our roots and don't let multinational corporations dictate our daily meal plans.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Book review - God's own office

I stumbled upon this book through Sheroes tweets and got intrigued by the title. Having been working from home for the last 1.5 years, the concept of the book piqued my interest levels. One of my goals in my bucket-list is to work from a village for a year (hope to achieve this soon!). These multiple trigger points led me to purchasing this interesting book.

The author James Joseph has shared his experiences of how he managed to deliver global work responsibilities for Microsoft, living in Kochi, Kerala. The good part about this book is that he doesn't jump into the dos/don'ts of working from home in a preachy way. Rather, he has taken the time to set context based on his life journey - achievements and disappointments of building his corporate career and learnings and inspirations that guided him on the way. The little anecdotes he has shared are interesting and sets the tone for "Why work from home-town?".

Quoting a couple of the snippets I really loved:
"There is equal satisfaction in being a big fish in a big pond and a small fish in a small pond, the former for the professional intellect and the latter for the spirit"
I can totally relate to the explanation he has shared when he compares Bharati (love for knowledge) and Dhanrati (love for wealth).
"Bharati is like riding on an elephant - slow but secure. Dhanrati is like riding on a cheetah, faster than anyone else. We all agree it is Bharati who got us Dhanrati. However, our children are deprived of Bharati and are riding the cheetah with us"
Regarding the tips he has shared to make work-from-home effective, I found the ones on backup, sound-proofing and two doors of separation to be very useful to me. I have often heard of the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" doing rounds when you work remotely. James has shared some useful pointers on how to prevent such scenarios.

When you decide to shift back to your home town, there are other practical implications that can impact your family, especially children. James' insights around living harmoniously with local community and nature, selection of right schools, bringing up with international exposure etc are valuable to keep in mind. The one particular point which was unique and insightful in this regard was related to funerals. One of the quotes that I found thought provoking -
"Immigrants must have a pet with a life expectancy must shorter than yours; else your kids won't know what to do if something happens to you".
If you have the slightest inclination towards working remotely, then this book is a must-read. It's anecdotal, easy-to-read and full of practical tips and suggestions on how to make it work, both for you and your employer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The "No-TV" life

It's been more than 6 months since we canceled our DTH subscription. For those of you who are thinking of going down a similar path, let me share with you how this decision has positively impacted me and my family.

Early this year, hubby dear stopped watching TV. I used to watch a few serials in Star World / Zee Cafe or amble around, watching back-to-back recipe shows in Food Food. I get this time ONLY when the little one is asleep or when she is playing.  She used to watch her rhymes DVDs back to back the whole evening. We hadn't exposed her to Cartoon Network or Pogo channels.

Then one Monday morning, when D had gone to her play school, we shifted the TV inside a closet. When she came back from school, she wondered where the TV disappeared. We were glad she didn't throw a fit. The TV was in the closet for nearly 5 months before we decided to bring it back to get some space. We own a 29" CRT TV which is huge and occupied the entire closet. The TV is back but the DTH cancellation stays put.

There were 6 positive outcomes because of this conscious change we made in our lives:

1) I started to sleep on time. We switch off from our devices by 9 PM and hit the bed by 10 PM. Earlier, I used to watch a thrilling episode of Castle from 11 - 12 which would make my mind active and disturb my sleep.

2) I have got back to reading regularly, mostly in the evenings and before bedtime. In the last 6 months, I have read nearly 6 books. For voracious readers, that might sound very less but to me, it feels like a big achievement!

3) We have also started to buy more books, given that we aren't spending money towards monthly DTH subscription.

4) Our dinner time has shifted from 9 PM to 8 PM. I started to cook dinner early these days since I don't sit in front of the TV, channel surfing in the evenings as I used to do earlier.

5) Both husband and I feel more focused and our minds are relatively calm.

6) We do puzzles together or read story books with D after dinner. So that way, we get to spend quality time with her. Earlier, it used to be "Masterchef Australia" time :-)

D still watches her DVDs on TV but the time has significantly reduced, as she is bored watching the same rhymes repeatedly. Hubby and I sometimes watch our FRIENDS DVD collection when we want to have a good laugh. Other than that, TV remains a spot where our furniture is pointing at :-) (What a line, Joey!!)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Venturing into baking bread

2014 - An important year as I knocked off one of the items in my bucket list !! To experience the joy of baking, to smell the aroma of butter wafting from my new convection oven and spreading warmth and comfort all around. I have been trying out different variations of cakes, muffins and cookies. Some experiments turned out really awesome while some were average. Fortunately, there hasn't been any disaster so far (Love you all, food bloggers for your perfect recipes and drool-worthy clicks).

Baking bread was the ultimate pinnacle I had set for myself. For some silly reason, I was very scared to plunge into baking bread. Maybe, it's because of reading so many recipes that I feared my pav bun would turn into a rock or my bread loaf would turn into a brick. Every time, I passed the aisle that had yeast in the supermarket, I would look at it in anticipation, only to walk away after a few minutes. Early Aug, I took the "bold" step of purchasing a small pack of "Active dry yeast". It sat in my kitchen pantry for another 2 months before I decided "Enough is enough, lady! Give it a shot". I added a goal in my Weekly to-do list - "Bake bread"

One afternoon, I pulled out a pav bun recipe from my bookmarks list and followed the recipe exactly. It came out so good to my surprise. I was elated and thrilled. Soft, light and spongy. I made a small batch and we ate the buns with jam.

Now the initial success gave me confidence to try out a basic sandwich bread recipe. Bookmarks to the rescue again, pulled out a bread recipe and baked this bread loaf a couple of days back.

Recipe adapted from: thekitchn

1.5 tsp active-dry yeast
1/2 cup (118 ml) warm water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2.5 cups of all purpose flour / maida

In a bowl, mix yeast, sugar and warm water, until the yeast is dissolved. Place this bowl in a warm place (I kept it inside my oven) for around 15 minutes. It should have frothed up by now. You will see some air bubbles. If you don't, then do not proceed further. Buy a fresh pack of yeast and try later.

Melt the butter, add salt and milk. Mix well. Add this mixture to the yeast mixture. Add 2 cups of all purpose flour and mix together. If you are not able to knead and it's too sticky, add 1/4 cup of flour at a time and continue kneading for 10-15 minutes. The dough should come together nicely and form a soft ball.

Keep this dough in a covered bowl in a warm place for 1 hour.

After an hour, the dough would have risen well. Punch the dough a little bit and knead for 5 minutes.

Grease a loaf pan with some butter/oil. Shape the dough into a rectangle, so it fits into the loaf pan. Press it lightly so it fits well into the corners. Cover the loaf pan with a wet cloth and keep it in a warm place for 1 hour. It should have risen to the brim of the loaf pan.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Carefully, remove the wet cloth. Apply a layer of milk on top of the risen dough.

Bake for 25 - 30 min. The dough will start to rise in the first 5 minutes but will take another 20 minutes to get the brown crust. Take it out once you see a nice brown layer on top.

Immediately, apply a layer of butter using a silicone brush. Let it cool completely before you slice them. Enjoy with a dash of butter and a sliver of jam.