Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lip - Smacking Dry Tomato Pickle

     I could eat any kind of pickle day or night but I don't since all pickles add considerably to my daily salt intake. Moderation is my mantra..... sigh. So I have a few faves, Amma's nimbu achar, an Aunt of mine makes a superb lemon peel chutney, vegetable pickle in masala and mustard oil, sour raw mango achar, green tamarind thokku, midi - mavinkai pickle in brine, just to name the ones that have me salivating right now. My favourite is this Tomato Pickle made from a borrowed and improved-upon recipe.


Tomatoes (firm, a little under-ripe) - 1 kg

Salt - 5 tsp
Organic, Cold-pressed Oil (any kind) - 5 tsp
Turmeric Powder - 3 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 3 tsp
Cinnamon stick - 1" piece
Cumin seeds (Jeera) - 1 tsp
Red Chilli Powder - 1 - 2 tsp
Cloves - 2 pcs
Asafoetida - a pinch
Garlic (optional) - 2-3 cloves

Before you even start planning to attempt this recipe - be sure of your weather forecast - you need direct bright sunshine giving heat for at least 3 days. If the weather becomes muggy and humidity increases, you might wind up with a fungal growth instead of nicely dried tomato. So the best season in Karnataka to do this is end of Jan through Feb, dry summer. In TN, it would probably be April - June. 


1] After washing and cleaning the tomatoes thoroughly, check to see they aren't bruised or damaged in any way - even a slight amount of rotting could result in spoilage.

2] You can use either naati (round) tomatoes or hybrid ones (oval in shape). The naati variety is sourer but also has more moisture. The hybrid has less water content. A way to balance the end flavour is to use half a kilo of each. 

3] Cut each tomato into half, remove the core (green stem end) and slice into thin slivers. Arrange the slivers (1 kilo worth) in 2 large steel plates. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the entire quantity. You can mix it in by hand but this is not really necessary. If you're using garlic, this too has to be sun-dried - chop the garlic finely and spread in a small separate plate.

4] Place these plates in a location which has good direct sunlight for at least 8 - 10 hours daily (unblocked by shadows). Bring the plates in as soon as the sun dips and store in a cool dry place. It will take at least 2 - 3 days of sun-drying for all moisture to evaporate. This dried tomato can now be pickled.

5] Remove all the dried tomato into a bowl, add the turmeric powder and mix it in so as to coat the whole quantity. If you're using the dried garlic, add it in now. Whip this in a blender for half a minute to achieve a rough paste texture.

6] In a small pan, roast the fenugreek (methi) seeds, cinnamon, cloves and cumin. Powder this spice mixture.

7] Heat the oil in a kadai on medium flame for 2 minutes, add in the tomato paste and stir well, ensuring the paste and oil blend thoroughly. Add the asafoetida, roasted spice and red chilli powders and mix well again.

8] Oil will not separate out since I have suggested only the bare minimum to preserve this pickle. Cook till you can smell that it's done - the tomato will have a cooked aroma and flavour.

9] Store your pickle in the coldest region of the fridge to preserve it for a longer time. It probably won't last beyond 2 weeks because you'll want to taste it every day!

      If you're stuck with monsoon weather but really want to make this, there's an instant version.......

     Just heat 3 tsp of oil in a kadai on a medium flame, add 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds, when it splutters, add in a pinch of asafoetida and 1 tsp of turmeric powder.You need only half a kilo of chopped tomatoes which has to be added in at this point. Mix well and cover to cook for 5 minutes. 

     Follow step 6 of the above dry recipe. Remove the lid, keep stirring so as to evaporate the water content of the tomatoes. Once the tomato pulp starts sticking to the pan, it is time to add in a tsp of salt along with the red chilli powder and roasted spice powder mix. 

     Blend well, the entire paste will thicken and leave on the flame for a couple of minutes. Again, oil will not separate out but the end product will look glossy. This instant pickle will last for a few days in the fridge. It is an ideal accompaniment for rotis, dosas and idlis.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

4......Ten Ways to Raise a Nutritionally Aware and Responsible Child

     ‘My child has no self control when it comes to food’, ‘If there is junk food, my child is the first one to choose the unhealthiest thing available’, ‘He/She throws tantrums in the supermarket especially in the sweets and snacks aisle’, ‘Feeding my kids is a constant struggle as they complain the healthy food I make doesn’t taste good’.

     Are any of the above statements true for your child(ren)? It might be easy to place the blame on the TV ads, their friends, what other moms serve at friends’ homes or the kind of food available at the school (or even college) cafeteria. The fact is, you as a parent are responsible to empower your kids to make healthy food choices for themselves. This ensures they take care of their health and wellness even as adults and pass on this education to their children.

     The good thing is that implementing the advice below is not difficult. It does start with your willingness (plus your spouse’s and other family members’) to walk the talk. This won’t work if you make a face while eating your greens and expect your child to love them without question. Good nutrition is good for everyone not only children!

     Here are ten pointers to enable them to make healthier choices all by themselves:

1] Let them choose what they want for meals and snacks – teach them the different components of a balanced meal and leave it to them to decide which items they want. The catch? Give them only healthy options! It may not work to give them a choice on a daily basis – get them involved in planning a weekly menu so that you can shop accordingly. Before you do this, you have to teach them the basics of planning a nutritionally balanced meal. Also, keep only healthy foods at home so that those are all they have to choose from – be consistent – don’t buy the unhealthy stuff or allow those that come as gifts to linger in your cupboard / fridge as snack options – give everyone a little bit and dispose of them. Better out than in.

2] Educate your kids before you take them shopping with you. Teach them what ingredients and nutritional components of foods are potentially healthy or unhealthy. Take it one step further to explain how unhealthy ingredients damage our body. Make the whole experience of selecting food a game for them – they get to look at the nutrition labels and choose healthier foods. Start with the relatively healthy foods and end in the snack aisle – they will get the picture. Explain how fresh produce (fruits, veggies, etc), packaged grains, pulses, spices, etc. don’t need labels since their healthfulness is unquestioned. Natural foods are always best.

3] Have them grow something – it could be coriander leaves in one flower pot on the balcony or a whole kitchen garden. Teach them about how much time, energy from the sun, nutrients from the soil and water it takes for the seeds to sprout and grow. Telling them not to waste food because there are other children who go hungry might be a tough concept for them to grasp. When they see how much effort it takes the Earth to produce just one sprout, they will be more likely to clean their plate.

4] Enlist their support in the kitchen. Young children must not come near an open flame or touch dangerous objects such as knives, grinders, mixie blades, peelers, etc. Instead, they can help with mixing, stirring, sandwich making, kneading, washing dishes, etc. Older children can be taught all processes and to be safe while in the kitchen. Always supervise when children are in the kitchen. Teach them about the function and health benefit of each ingredient that goes into making a dish. Start with their favourite foods to get them interested. Children will readily eat anything they had a hand in preparing.

5] Most school curriculums nowadays include food and nutrition topics – sometimes even both theory and practical classes. Correlate what they are learning there with it’s application at home. They will pay more attention in class and appreciate the value of what is taught. Retention improves as well.

6] Inculcate a culture of deferred gratification at home. Have them develop patience with respect to food. Children who have this capacity to wait are more skilful at choosing the healthier food when faced with temptation and are not likely to give in to cravings or binge. While planning a menu with your kids, keep their favourite dishes for the next weekend. Thus they learn to patiently anticipate this feast. With unhealthy food that they prefer (cupcakes / cream biscuits), tell them when you buy it (albeit rarely) that they can have it for their evening snack. Again, your children anticipate their enjoyment which is enhanced because they earned it. It is important while teaching them to defer their gratification to honour your word at all times. This builds trust and reinforces the lesson.

7] Don’t make food GOOD or BAD. Choose words like ‘healthy / unhealthy’, ‘powerful’, ‘energizing’, ‘nutritious / non-nutritious’, ‘body thanks you / doesn’t thank you for eating......’, etc. Teach them the meaning of these terms as well. Unhealthy foods can be enjoyed in small quantities and infrequently just so long as children know there are consequences to their body. Remember never to compare taste or flavour of healthy versus unhealthy foods. Explain that these flavours are just different and teach them to appreciate flavours of natural foods and spices. Taste is fleeting anyway. Food stays in our mouth for hardly a minute but then the body has to deal with it for hours, days, weeks or even months.

8] Try not to BAN or FORBID foods. This only makes the idea of the banned food (not the food itself) more appealing. Similarly don’t label foods as ‘treats’ or ‘rewards’. It’s OK to use words such as ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ or even ‘yummy’ to describe foods but definitely teach them that foods they like are not necessarily something their ‘bodies will thank them for’. Bottom line: don’t use food as reward or punishment and don’t use bribes just to get them to eat.

9] When eating out, create a game of choosing healthy options from the menu. First job is to select a healthier place to eat out such as Subway or that new soup and salad joint. Point out the various nutrients they will be consuming and assess how much oil / fat or sugar will be in each item. When you take them to a pizza or burger joint, do the same thing and compare the nutritional values - they will then understand why this fast food is only an infrequent experience. Even these joints nowadays serve salads and soups – ensure that you, as parents, choose healthily too!

10] Send healthy food in their lunch box regardless of what their teachers or friends say. Empower them by making it a game to explain the health benefits of what they eat to those with less awareness. This builds self confidence and ability to stand up for themselves and their choices and will come in useful later on in resisting peer pressure.

     Nutrition in childhood is critical not only for optimal growth but also for mental development which in turn determines academic and social success. Imagine all Indian families eating this way! Incidence of all chronic diseases would be drastically reduced and obesity would be a thing of the past. It all boils down to the healthy choices you make as a family.

This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

3......For Our Children

Where it all starts.....A HEALTHY PREGNANCY

     To look at the impacts of non-nutritive food consumption on health especially in children, we need to begin by looking at pregnancy itself – that’s where a lifetime of good or bad health is created for a foetus.

     When pregnant (whether you’re eating healthy or not) your foetus is drawing whatever nutrients it needs from your body stores. You both share a similar blood environment. So you can't eat whatever you want including health damaging foods and expect a healthy baby. Not only will you suffer from nutrient deficiencies, your baby will have to adjust to a nutritionally substandard rather than a nutrient - rich environment which may have unwanted consequences too like inferior brain and bone development.

     Fortunately most women are now aware of healthy eating practices and are made aware through the public health system but what about the traditional practices of making ‘special’ items for pregnant and lactating women? These are mostly deep fried savouries or high fat sweets. 

     A pregnant woman may receive various food gifts from many people – is it OK to have a little bit each day? Absolutely not! The best policy is to ask for healthy gifts like fruits, dried fruits and nuts in advance. If such zero - nutrition gifts are received, distribute them amongst your domestic staff or donate to the destitute (it’s not healthy for other family members to gorge on them either).

     The danger comes from eating non-nutritive foods instead of nutrient - dense ones. Pregnancy is a physiologically demanding process and your baby and body NEED more nutrients than usual. If you are not focusing on consuming high nutrition foods at all times, chances are you’ll fall short. Supplements can only do so much and won’t prevent associated problems like pre-eclampsia (high BP), gestational diabetes, constipation, heart burn and haemorrhoids which consumption of zero nutrition foods can cause.

There is ongoing research into the impact of obesity in pregnancy which suggests:
  • Prenatal exposure to junk food flavours in amniotic fluid and then as an infant to breast milk may result in postnatal preference for junk food.
  • Gestational consumption of junk food may result in children being at risk for developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes in later life.
  • Maternal obesity before and during pregnancy may affect the health of the foetus and subsequently the child with respect to behavioural disorders like ADHD and Autism.
    Now this research does not provide conclusive proof but enough food for thought that we need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves if we are really willing to take a chance with the current and future health of our offspring.

    Plan your pregnancy and start getting as close to your ideal body weight and nutritional status at least 3 – 6 months before even conceiving. During pregnancy, ensure that you are following an extremely strict healthy, balanced dietary and exercise regimen – this is the least and best that you can do for your unborn! 


     Half of the impacts of zero nutrition foods consumption in children stem from the fact that they eat these foods at the expense of healthier ones on a frequent basis.

    Compare the healthfulness of a few biscuits versus boiled peanuts as an evening snack. The biscuits contribute some quantity of unhealthy fat and refined carbs along with sugar plus some harmful chemicals. The boiled peanuts on the other hand supply healthy fat, valuable protein, age and disease defying fibre, resveratrol, isoflavones, Vitamins E and B complex and many minerals. 

    If your child had biscuits instead of the boiled peanuts, he lost out on the boost to his all-round growth, metabolism, immunity and cognitive development (resulting in lower IQ)! These aspects are the main cost of feeding zero nutrition foods instead of nutrient-dense ones to your child.

Research has indicated the following harmful effects in children:
  • May contribute to aggressiveness and behavioural disorders.
  • Increases risk of lifetime asthma prevalence. In several studies there was a strong link between high fast food consumption and more attacks of asthma and wheezing. The respiratory system in children is highly susceptible and needs to be strengthened through good nutrition. Conversely, a high intake of fruits, veggies and fish corresponded with low incidence of asthma in children
  • Heart Disease. The stage for cardiovascular conditions in later life can be set even in toddlers due to empty calorie consumption.
  • Insulin resistance is caused primarily due to abdominal obesity (a common occurrence in children eating convenience and fast foods often). This condition leads to deterioration of pancreas function (this organ makes and secretes insulin), leading to Type 1 Diabetes. The cases of children with this disorder are flooding in and no points for guessing the culprit.
  • Digestive disorders, the most common one being constipation, in turn leading to more serious bowel conditions in little ones. Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can also result.
  • Development of food allergies and other conditions due to many harmful chemicals ingested.
  • Metabolic Syndrome – a constellation of risk factors – abdominal obesity + insulin resistance (high blood sugar) + abnormal lipid levels in blood + high blood pressure. Children with even three of these symptoms are said to have the condition and have increased risk of diabetes, heart and kidney disease at a young age itself. to inculcate healthy food habits in children.

    This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

2.......Industry Always Eyes The Bottomline

     The Fast Food Industry has endured a lot of controversy – inhumane treatment of animals, using leftover animal parts in certain menu items, etc. These have not made any dent in their sales. If anything, business is booming going by the queues in local fast food joints. 

Smellvertising:  Ever walked past a fast food place and been drawn in by the aromas that waft out? Not only fast food chains but even bakeries and restaurants resort to deliberately dispersing the aromas of their kitchen to the area outside.      This aroma triggers cravings and hunger pangs, leading to more walk-ins and greater sales. 

Non-food ingredients:  Food chains in the West have been accused of including some pretty strange non-food ingredients – sand, wood, duck feathers, animal bones and hooves, beetle juice and fertilizer! All are suitably modified and used to impart specific textures and properties to ‘food’. How far this may be the case in India is debatable but given that most global food chains have outlets in our country (and we don’t have a reliable monitoring body for food safety) -these may be the norm here as well.

Doubtful Quality: The Food Processing and Manufacturing Industry is equally lax about public health when it comes to profits for their companies. Apart from failure to list certain ingredients or making misleading health claims, they may be using inferior quality ingredients to start with. Processed food products have undergone some form of chemical processing and also contain a cornucopia of chemicals to impart desirable properties to increase acceptability (and addiction). The burden of dealing with these sometimes toxic, synthetic substances then falls on our livers.

Lack of Social Responsibility: Let's not even go into the subject of how they pollute the environment, exploit resources and short change the farmers. Not every food company out there is harmful but most just do what is legally required. Most MNC food companies especially are more ruthless in these cases. Not only do they follow practices (here in India and other developing countries) that are banned in their country of origin, they may also be using imported genetically modified foods.

Look Twice: Ever looked at a nutrition label or a health claim and chosen a product? That's just what they want ... so that you'll believe these inaccurate descriptions and contribute to their profits. (Refer my earlier post on Nutrition Labels)

Mirages: Both of the above industries also indulge in heavy advertising to make it seem that their products are safe, tasty and even healthy. These ads are targeted mainly at children who can influence food-related decision making at home. But that’s a topic for another post.

Here's a screenshot of the article in the magazine listing Zero Nutrition Foods:

This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1.......Zero Nutrition Foods

     This article was published by Parent Circle in March, 2013 as the lead feature (available in news stands now) and was oriented towards child nutrition. I had written another one on the same subject for Life in Adyar for a more broader readership. I'm combining the two and hopefully this will make the educative impact  that I want it to.... it's a subject directly related to immediate transformation of current health status and prevention of future chronic disease. I'm breaking it into several posts as it is looooong.....


“Next time you pay for junk food, remember it will be paid for in two instalments; first in cash and then in your health”
                                                                  ----- Antonio Carillo 

     So what is junk food? Any food that does not deliver a significant quantity of a variety of nutrients and instead, gives mostly calories from fats, sugars and / or simple carbohydrates deserves this label. You’ve heard the term ‘empty calories’ – it was coined to describe these foods.

     Many people think that no food should be called ‘junk’. If they knew how, in reality, these foods are so processed and manipulated that they little resemble their original ingredients (and can’t even accurately be called ‘food’), they would change their mind.

     Ever since the term ‘junk food’ was coined in the early seventies, we have seen a global explosion in varieties available and consumption patterns. So obviously, this label is not working to alter people’s choices. 

     Let’s start calling a spade a spade and term them ‘ZERO NUTRITION FOODS’, ‘NON-NUTRITIVE FOODS’, ‘HEALTH DAMAGING FOODS’, ‘CHRONIC DISEASE CAUSING FOODS’, etc.  

     Don’t get me wrong, I have also consumed these – it’s impossible for anyone to completely avoid eating them – however, being aware of the consequences on my body enables me to say NO more often or, if not, consume these rarely in very small quantities.

     Consumption of ZERO NUTRITION FOODS in moderate quantities and regularly (even once a week) has consequences on the body.

  • Cause you to become addicted to the same kind of food, developing cravings and binge eating disorders
  • Lower your metabolism causing weight gain which in turn puts you at risk for chronic diseases
  • Are a burden on the liver and can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), and ultimately liver failure
  • Decrease the efficiency of your digestive system
  • Make you lethargic and may lead to mood swings and even depression
  • Lower your natural immunity resulting in frequent, small illnesses and infections
  • Increase inflammation in the body making you prone to heart disease

    A familiar sight at your local supermarket - the snack aisle.. be continued.