Friday, May 11, 2012

Get out of the kitchen no sooner than you get in!!

Well, while that is technically not possible going primal/paleo will certainly save you a lot of kitchen time...think of all the wonderful things you can do in that time: plop some more on the couch, more tv time, more online blog gawking/shopping OR you can exercise, do some squats, pushups, jumping jacks, weights, play with your family/friends/pets, dig in the garden, read for an extra hour etc. So if you are a primal here is an example of time saving meals for 2 days (1 person).

Day 1:
Choco-berry smoothie, topped with 1 tsp cacao nibs.

Salad consisting of 2 cups chopped baby spinach, halved cherry tomatoes 2-3, chopped carrot 1, chopped cucumber 1, chopped boiled egg 1 and few chopped kalamata olives. Dressing was balsamic vinegar drizzled with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add a chopped green chilli if I have it.
Make sure you are using organic/seasonal veggies (all veggies need not be organic, as a rule of thumb the thick skinned ones can be conventional but for the thin skinned and leafy greens go for organic) and the real balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale).

Sweet potato "fries":
Pre-heat oven to 425F. Cut 2 sweet potatoes into match sticks (skin on if organic), toss them with 1 tbsp coconut oil/ghee, salt, pepper, rosemary (dried, 1 tsp). Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and stick in the oven. Cook for about 15-20 mins on each side. 
While the fries are baking, I made Mirchi ka salan: I used this recipe because its really simple and quick. Some modifications I made are as follows:
I halved the recipe because I only had 6 jalapenos.
Skipped the cinnamon (not a big fan) added 1/2 tsp turmeric.
Skipped peanuts completely and added macadamia nuts instead! Peanuts are legumes, not nuts hence best avoided. Macadamia nuts have a very neutral flavor and replace peanuts wonderfully in this dish, they also have the least omega-6 fatty acids amongst all nuts making them a tad bit healthier than others.

Dinner was half the fries and mirchi ka salan with a bowl of plain yoghurt (sprinkled with powdered cumin and rock salt).

Day 2:
2 boiled eggs (prepped night before) with 6-8 soaked almonds.

Leftover mirchi ka salan, sweet potato fries (were no longer crispy but tasted good) and carrots and cucumber.

Grilled shrimp (about 16 jumbo shrimp arranged on 4 skewers).
I marinated the shrimp for about 30 mins. While the shrimp was being marinated I made Beet  Tzatziki (If there is such a thing).
Take about about 1/2 cup shredded beet, add it to 1 cup whisked yoghurt (I used normal yoghurt, but if you have Greek yogurt that works the best). Add to it 2 cloves of garlic minced, crushed black pepper, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp chopped cilantro (mint or dill is used in the original recipe) and salt. Mix well and refrigerate it while you grill shrimp.
Methi sabzi: Roughly chopped methi leaves stir fried in ghee with green chillies, garlic, salt and garnished with shredded coconut.
Dinner was half of the shrimp, beet tzatziki and methi subzi, leftovers were next days lunch.

While this may seem little food to many, once you adopt the primal lifestyle you wont feel the need to eat as much as you did on a grain based diet. Do not worry, this is completely healthy because you are eating only as much as your body needs. By removing grains you wont miss out on any nutrients, in fact the above mentioned meals have more and varied nutrients than a grain based meal. If you work out daily you can up the carbohydrate content by adding more starchy tubers or veggies. I will post such meal ideas every once in a while and hopefully you will find them useful!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The changes we can make, let's start with Kale chips!

Three years ago my Dad was here one moment and gone the next, that is exactly how it happened! He was diabetic and had suffered a mild heart attack about 6 years before this event, but the fact that he had even suffered from these conditions in the first place was surprising to us! He was a picture of health: as a former college level athlete and a strapping young man, everyone in the family admired his health and lean physique when most men were literally ballooning. At 35 years of age his diabetes was reveled to us and after initial shock my mom made appropriate changes to our diet, like cut sugar and starch consumption and cook with less oil. We already ate quite healthy, refined and restaurant foods were banned in the house unless mom made it herself. My dad too accepted these changes, he was never a fan of eating out, snacking etc. all he ate was three square meals with tea in the morning and afternoon. He followed exercise (walking, yoga) and his dietary restrictions strictly except the times he was traveling for work. This continued for several years where his sugar levels fluctuated but remained in control until the day he got his first heart attack. We were shocked again and it was confusing that how could someone who was following such a strict diet and exercise even suffer from heart disease. Since it was a mild heart attack he did not require an invasive surgery and was on medication only. My mom made further doctor suggested changes to our diet where she cut out saturated fat sources like coconut, ghee and cook with "heart healthy" Saffola oil! Yet six years later he was gone from a second severe heart attack! It was very confusing to me because I couldn't fathom how on earth could this happen, not "why did this happen to my dad thought" but why was it happening to him when we thought we were doing everything right!
I think now I know why, three years after he is gone! While a change to sedentary lifestyle is a big factor in poor health our current diet plays an even bigger role. The prescribed low-fat high-carb diet is getting us nowhere close to good health. Indian diet as we know is grain dominated (hence high in carbs) and poor in proteins (lets face its dals, beans, pulses offer paltry amounts of protein compared to animal sources); meats and vegetables are deemed as sides and the good fats are shunned due to a bad rapport. The "seemingly healthy" whole wheat chapati (sans ghee) and rice led to sustained high sugar levels in my diabetic dad's blood, anti-nutrients in "healthy wheat" were causing unhealthy-issues and grains being choc-a-bloc with the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid, caused continued inflammation in the body. The "heart healthy" saffola oil (or any seed or vegetable oil) which is full of the bad poly-unsaturated fatty acid was wrecking a havoc his arteries by generating oxidized LDL. These may not be the only reasons, but they were some of the major reasons. I know this now because I have been following a number of primal, paleo and whole health blogs! I sincerely wish I knew this information three years ago!
What I have come to realize is:
We don't have to have to live with diabetes, heart-diseases, arthritis etc.
We don't have to be plump/overweight/obese (which IMHO we have come to accept as a phenomenon that happens with marital status, age, job etc, its really not supposed to be that way)
We don't have to be confused/frustrated if the weight wont fall off or if we don't feel better in spite of eating "healthy"
This bring me to the title of today's post, I just want to point of the changes we can make so no one has to suffer themselves or for their near-dear ones. How to do that? "Let thy food be thy medicine", changing diet will win 80% of the war and exercise will fulfill the next 20%. 
1) Cut the sugar and grains: Specifically grains containing gluten, rice is okay to consume but its pure carbs so go easy. 
2) Embrace the good fats: Coconut oil/ cow-ghee to cook (olive oil is okay for salad dressing not for cooking)
3) Introduce meat in your diet if you can (grass fed-meats and pastured eggs specifically), for vegetarians eat lentils/beans/pulses that have been soaked (8-10 hrs in acidic medium) or sprouted. Dairy if you have to should be full-fat and raw. Fermented dairy is great!!
4) Eat all possible veggies you can, go easy on fruits. Eat a rainbow, more color = higher anti-oxidant level. 
5) Make exercise a necessity, not an option. Focus on complete body exercise (weights,  rather than cardio training.
I have already highlighted the above changes here.

Coming to the recipe, I was never big on snacking but did enjoy potato-chips if a bag was lying around me! Kale leaves can be quickly baked into delicious chips that have the same crunch as potato chips, but none of that accompanying bad stuff!! The key to making crunchy kale chips is that before baking them kale should be completely dry and add salt in the end after the chips are baked so that the kale doesn't release water! Kale is considered to be a nutritional power house, however when combined with coconut oil it helps in better absorption of nutrients. 

Based on recipe from Nom Nom Paleo
1 bunch red kale
1 tbsp coconut oil
salt and pepper for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350F. Wash the kale, drain and tear the kale leaves from the center ribs. Spread out the torn leaves on a kitchen towel and either air dry or pat dry completely. Once dry toss the kale leaves with coconut oil, such that all leaves are properly coated. Arrange the kale leaves in a single layer only on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for about 12-15 minutes till the leaves crisp up! Season with salt and pepper and enjoy the crunchy kale chips. Not that there will be any leftovers, but if you want to store them make sure that the chips are completely cool before packing them in an air-tight container.  

Other primal snacking ideas: boiled egg, avocado, homemade nuts mix (go easy on sweet ones), dark chocolate, celery sticks with almond butter. More ideas here.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medicinal practitioner or a nutritionist/dietician qualified to give medical or nutrition advice. My views are solely based on my research and observations from my own eating regimen and should be considered as recommendations, not as professional advice.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kadhi for the So(u)l and some crunch!

I am back with the sol kadhi (kokum kadhi) recipe I promisedKokum is a fruit native to the the western region of India. Kokum is actually the sun-dried outer cover of the fruit. It has a gorgeous pink color and is used as souring agent in curries, kinda similar to tamarind. Kokum is easily available in Indian grocery stores (sold as wet black kokum), I stock mine (from Malvan :) ) when I visit home or mom sends a parcel. Sol kadhi is made by mixing the kokum extract with coconut milk, flavored with cumin, chili and garlic. My mom generally uses half of the first extract of coconut milk with half of second extract coconut milk. I just use the canned coconut milk which is believe is completely the first extract (make sure the cans are BPA free). Kokum kadhi is generally paired with the heavy non-vegetarian meals as it helps in digestion but really it can be had on its own as well. If you dont have coconut milk on hand, you can leave it out and voila you have a very refreshing summer drink!

1 cup coconut milk
7-8 kokum (soaked for 30 mins. in hot water)
2 green chillies (hot like Thai bird)
1 large garlic clove  
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander (cilantro) leaves
a little jaggery
salt to taste

Using a mortar pestle coarsely grind chillies, garlic, cumin and 1tbsp coriander leaves. Fish out the soaked kokum after 30 mins and mix the ground mixture in the kokum water. Add coconut milk to the the kokum water with the jaggery and salt. Gradually dilute the kadhi to a consistency where it is not too think neither too watery. Check the taste such that it is a right balance between thee sour, sweet and salty taste!

Moving on to the crunch, since now-a-days I no longer eat chapati or rice (white rice is occasional affair) with my meals, I like to have a little crunchy sides along with the main dish and salad. Tubers are VFM of nutrition because they pack a lot of nutrients in very little calories! I have recently started making these sweet potato chips, not only do they taste wonderful they can be quickly put together as well. It is a very versatile recipe in that it can be used with any combination of tubers such as sweet potatoes, yams, colocasia root with any seasoning such as italian, lime-pepper, taco seasoning etc. I am posting the recipe that involves baking the chips, but they can be easily cooked on stove-top using a little extra oil (just don't use semolina).

1 sweet potato (thoroughly washed and scrubbed)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tbsp kasoori methi (finely powdered by rubbing between palms)
salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Slice the sweet potato to 1/4th inch slices with skin-on and dunk them in hot water for 10 mins. After 10 mins drain them into mixing bowl and add rest of the ingredients, toss well to coat the potatoes completely. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and stick in the oven on the lowest rack. Bake for 15 mins on each side, till done (brown spots appear on surface).

Amazing anda masala (Poached egg Indian style)

Turning primal has not only dramatically changed my health but meal prep has become a lot easier. This is a blessing because once I get home from work I only have less than an hour's worth of energy left to cook two meals (a dinner and next days lunch). Egg is the easiest to make on particularly lazy days. Pastured/desi eggs (from hens freely roaming outdoor) are rich in all the good-for-you nutrients unlike inhumanely raised factory-farmed eggs, they are delicious and buying pastured eggs means that you support small farmers who have chosen to do things the right way! I have been wanting to make poached eggs, but didn't want to eat them plain. So, I twisted my favorite mom's egg curry to resemble poached eggs. Its a very simple recipe and the end result is oh-so fabulous!

3 pastured eggs (two for dinner and one for breakfast)
1 tbsp butter (from grassfed cow's milk)
1/2 tsp jeera seeds
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 medium onion finely chopped
3 tbsp crushed tomatoes (I used canned ones)
1 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro for garnishing

Heat butter in a pan on medium-high heat. Once hot add jeera seeds till they splutter and then the ginger-garlic paste. Saute till slightly brown, then add the onion and cook till it turns deep brown (use a little salt to fasten this process). Now add tomatoes, all the spices and cook till the oil separates from the onion-tomato mix. Add salt (and check for the other spices) and water, till it has a fairly fluid consistency but isn't runny. When the gravy starts bubbling, spread it evenly in the pan in a single layer and gently add cracked eggs one by one on top of the gravy. Take care that the yolks remain intact, the whites will spread all over the pan, that is ok. Now cover the pan and cook for exactly five minutes, at this point the eggs should be coated with a thin white film. Turn off the stove, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

Today's primal dinner was anda masala (2 eggs), a small bowl of leftover spinach dal (made using moong dal) and carrot sticks.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yes...Indian Primal Appetizers!

After turning primal I have come to realize that it is difficult to eat healthy when you are out traveling and it takes some serious effort to eat so! This weekend I attended a potluck party where I was determined to make my dish primal, so I opted to make these appetizers, stuffed jalapenos and grilled shrimp. They were easy to make, less time consuming (I didn't want to spend a good deal of time in the kitchen) and turned out to be hit with everyone! One thing common in both these dishes is that I used the broil mode of the oven to cook them, I don't know the exact technical differences between broiling or grilling, but imho broiling gives the closest effect of grilling indoors! It does generate a lot of smoke indoor so be prepared for that smoke alarm!

Stuffed Jalapenos
This appetizer is not completely primal because it includes chickpea flour, Indian chickpea flour is usually made after hulling and splitting the beans, which are then roasted and ground into flour this takes takes care of anti-nutrients concentrated in seed coat. Stuffed chillies make a regular appearance in my mom's kitchen during chilli season but I couldnt remember the recipe very well and didnt want to call her at an odd time, so I made them based on this recipe from Jugalbandi. I modified the recipe by completely skipping the tempering step, but the tempering can added to the stuffing before filling in the jalapenos for added flavor. One important lesson I learned while making this was 'ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES WHILE HANDLING JALAPENOS' yes it needs to be yelled out because after I was done stuffing the jalapenos, my hands burned for over two hours! This in spite of having oiled my hands with coconut oil!! It was only after I applied some after-shave lotion did I feel better! Moving on to the recipe, it serves 20 people or so but can be easily halved for less number of people.

30 mid sized jalapenos
2 cups besan (chick-pea flour available in Indian grocery stores)
1 cup grated coconut (I used frozen)
1 and 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
5 Tbsp sesame seeds toasted
1 tsp turmeric powder
Juice of one lemon
1tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Wash the jalapenos well and pat them dry. Chop the tops off, make one slit lengthwise and remove the seeds and pith from inside (particularly important if that jalapeno variety is hot), keep aside. Roast the besan on medium heat till it gives off a nutty fragrance and becomes slightly dark in color (this can also be done in the oven at 350F for 10 mins). Once the besan is well roasted add coconut, cilantro, sesame seeds, turmeric, lemon juice and salt, combine everything till well mixed. Now using the olive oil make a stiff dough such that if held in a fist tightly it holds shape, use olive oil only as needed by adding little at a time. Now stuff the jalapenos with this dough and line them on a broiler pan. Brush them slightly with oil and broil them till the surface is charred. Once done flip them and let the other side cook. These are done quickly, they require only about 5 minutes on each side. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro and serve hot.

Grilled Shrimp
This is another fairly simple recipe, all I did was marinated the shrimp in green cilantro-mint chutney and broiled them. The key here is marination time, the longer you marinate the better they will taste.

40 jumbo shrimp (wild caught)
2 cups packed cilantro
handful of mint leaves 
10 cloves of garlic
1.5 inch ginger piece
10 green chillies (I used small ones)
 3 tbsp lime juice
1tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Clean and de-vein the shrimp, pat them completely dry. I left the tails on, you can choose to remove them. In a blender or a spice grinder make a thick-smooth paste of the rest of the ingredients using olive oil only, do not add any water at all. Marinate the shrimp in this paste for a minimum of 30 minutes (overnight is preferred). Before cooking, thread them on pre-soaked bamboo skewers and arrange them on a broiler pan. Brush them with olive oil, broil them for about 8 minutes on each side till the marinade has dried out and appears very slightly charred. Keep a close eye while in the oven as they get cooked very fast. To serve, arrange them on a plate, sprinkle some lemon juice on top.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Indian coastal style green chicken curry from my memories

I grew up in Mumbai (former Bombay) but my dad's family is from a small village on the western coast of Maharashtra called Malvan, he moved to Mumbai when he was in 10th grade. Malvan is no longer the village it used to be and has turned in to a tourist spot for people seeking a coastal alternative to close-by Goa. I have lovely memories from having spend every single summer vacation in the village which we all as a family looked forward to getting away from the city. A typical day used to be something like this: wake up early have tea and light breakfast, then make a beeline for the village lake to avoid later crowds, swim for 2 hours or so and then get trek back eating a light snack on the way. Have lunch after noon and then either nap or run around, play, explore, read in my gandma's farm all afternoon long. In the evening we used to walk to some local spots or the beach, dinner prep started early because everyone ate early there unlike in cities, I used to help mom in the prep then :) Post dinner we just sat around chatting (the real one not virtual one), played cards or star gazed (there was no tv)!! Ha...such was life then which I am so glad I got to experience!! We also enjoyed nature's abundance, during the summer it was the tastiest-of-all hapus mangoes, jack-fruit and sun-ripened cashew nuts from my grandmas farm! We also enjoyed lovely coconut products and fresh catch from the sea.There was something about the village air or water that made even simple meals taste exceptional!
This particular recipe is from the cuisine that is fairly typical of coastal region near the village. It is fresh coconut based (abundant in the region) making use of cilantro, mint and freshly roasted and ground spices. Make sure you use whole pastured (deshi) chicken, which is low in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, with all the organs and bones because that's where the flavor comes from. I enjoy this curry with a side of kokum kadhi (a kokum fruit based coconut drink, the recipe of which I have shared) and a small amount of steamed white rice.      

1 whole chicken (pastured) cut into bite size pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
1 + 2 tbsp Ghee
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp whole pepper corns
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 cup shredded coconut (fresh/frozen)
2 cups packed cilantro
4 green chilies (like thai bird)
5 leaves of mint
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp yogurt
1 bay leaf (Indian type)
1 large onion (or 2 medium) finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro and 2 slit green chilies for garnishing.

In a bowl take the chicken, make deep cuts in it using a knife, rub turmeric and salt all over it and keep aside.
Heat 1 tbsp of ghee in a pan at low-medium heat, when hot add coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, toss them around for about 30 secs and then add ginger-garlic. Fry together till the garlic no longer smells raw. (Spices should appear slightly toasted and ginger-garlic light brown, be careful not burn them.) Remove the pan from heat and keep aside to cool down.
In a blender add the coconut, cilantro, green chilies, mint, lemon juice, yogurt and the roasted whole spices. Grind them to a fine paste using water only as needed. Marinate the chicken in this paste for a minimum of 20 mins (or overnight for best results).
To make the curry heat 2 tbsp of ghee in a pan (can use the same one used earlier for roasting spices) on a medium-high, add the bay leaf and onions once the oil is hot. Stir around till the onions become golden-brown; add a little salt to speed up the process. Once the onions are done, lower the heat to a low-medium, add the chicken along with the paste. If any paste is sticking to the bowl, rinse it out with water and add that water to the pan. Cover the pan and cook till chicken is done all the way (about 20 mins.) Finally check for the salt content and adjust as per your taste. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro and slit green chilies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Breakfast smoothies

Since I no longer drink milk, what to eat for breakfast used to be my biggest question. In my pre-primal days I usually had coffee with toast or cereal in a cup with cold milk (Honey bunches of oats, almond was my favorite). I am always on a tight schedule (read late) in the mornings so I was looking for an easy and quick recipe. I now eat a varied breakfast (I will soon post other recipes) and smoothies are my favorite, not to mention that they can be prepared in no time. The recipes are in part inspired by Todally Primal Smoothies and the Fat Bomb Smoothie. I make these depending on the ingredients I have at hand. Both recipes are coconut milk based, coconut milk is full of saturated fat and medium chain triglycerides which are burned as fuel by the body. The first one is  a chocolate-berry based smoothie, remember both chocolate and berries are full of good antioxidants. And the second one contains almond butter which is again a good source of protein and fat.

Choco-berry smoothie
makes 1 serving
1/4 cup blue berries
2-3 strawberries halved
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 tsp raw local honey
1 cup full fat coconut milk
4-5 cubes of ice (optional)

Blend all the ingredients together in a  blender till smooth and serve in a tall glass, tada!!

Almond banana Smoothie
makes 1 serving
2 Tbsp almond butter
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 banana 
1-2 tsp raw local honey
3/4th cup full fat coconut milk
 4-5 cubes of ice (optional)

 Blend all the ingredients together in a  blender till smooth and serve in a tall glass.

You can make innumerable combinations of smoothies depending on what you have. They are quick to make and will keep you full until lunch time.