Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thought of Food 2: Desi Tabbouleh for Nerds (and +65s)

The demography of the recently upwardly mobile section of highly trained younger generation, aspiring once upon a time to be computer nerds, and now pursuing a mostly clerical software profession far outside their line of training, shows a certain unnecessary bulge in inappropriate parts of their bodies. One of their problems is that, after they return home after a long and tiring day of activity at different levels of sense and sensibility, they have to cook and cook fast. There are plenty of reasons why fast cooking has to be avoided. Ask the terra-madre people. There is also possibly convincing arguments why slow and prolonged cooking should be avoided. I have added this at the end.

In Pune, I find that the growth of the bulge is particularly true for non-Mahrashtrians. One may think that this may be so because of the very healthy lentil (mainly sprouted) and bhakri roti meals that the Maharashtrian families have. It could also be because of the family care and attention that the local Puneites get from their homes. However, I find that Maharshtrians outside Maharashtra are usually as trim as Shivaji may have liked them to be. So I guess that it must be in the Maharashtrian food that the secret of the slim tough body of the Marathi manoos lies. The average Maharshtrian spends little time on his cooking.

With the notion that what is good for the young Marathi (if not Maharashtrian) should also be good for young nerds as well as the plus sixty-fives, I am proposing a recipe for a salad which could solve some problems of the bulge and some problems of cavities in the soul.

I have borrowed some of the ideas from a Kosher Tabbouleh salad made from what they call bulgar and what we call daliya and the common man calls broken wheat. The bulgar is soaked in cold water for a few hours and then mixed with various non-non-healthy and standard ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, garlic, parsley, mint, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil, tossed and served. The dish is easy to make and when taken with bread of the pita variety made a wholesome and simple meal (for Jews) without requiring a flame. It could be stored easily for a few days in the fridge and new ingredients may be added to rustle up different salads in a few minutes on different days. One could contentedly sit with it in a bean bag in front of the television and spend a few half-hours chewing and savouring every ingredient with or without company even in the evenings of a week-day.

Instead of bulgar, I have used a mixture of full wheat (preferably of the organic variety available easily from Navdanya outlets) and ragi (finger millet) as the starting base. I have also made various other substitutes of the desi Indian kind --- one advantage may be that one need not be dressed formally when eating Indian varieties at Indian homes. Half or most of the fun in eating western food is what one gets with an association with western images (mainly virtual). For the +65s, at least, this is not necessary unless one is exceptionally young-minded.

The basic ingredients are
Nachni, or Ragi or Finger Millet and wheat in desired ratio : one cup
Santara or KamlaNeboo (mandarin): one whole fruit
Moong daal : one table spoon
Bengal gram or chana daal: one table spoon
Spring onion: 6-8 stalks
Spring garlic: 4-5 stalks
Spring fenugreek: several
Tomato: five to six
Cucumber: two
Mustard Oil: 1-2 table spoons (in winter)
Lemon: one fruit
Green chillies
Flax seed: half – one table spoon
Coriander seed: 1-2 table spoon
Coriander leaves: A handful

The procedure is as follows:-
i) Whole wheat and ragi are taken in the desired ratio. In this case I took 1:9 wheat is to ragi by volume. Ragi is at first difficult to chew and it may be preferable to increase the relative quantity of wheat. I think more than 1:1 ratio of wheat : ragi would be less than optimal. A cupful of the ragi-wheat mixture is soaked in water overnight, and then allowed to sprout by draining off the water, tying in a wet cloth and allowing the water to drip or strain off by hanging the tied cloth. The time to sprout (as in fig 1 left) depends on the ambient temperature and may take up to two-three days in cold Indian weather conditions.
ii) The recipes for Tabbouleh salad usually require olives and olive oil. These are now commonly available in India and one may use them. Loose-skinned santara orange (Maharashtrian) or kamla neboo (Bengali) (Fig 2b) is my replacement for olives. The moong daal, bengal gram, orange peel (half of the peel in this recipe), cut green chillies (Fig 2 right bottom) and the orange pods are cooked with one-teaspoon of water and some salt to taste (half to one level teaspoon).
iii) Dried coriander seeds (more the merrier in my case and can be used by handfuls if one so cares or dares) were soaked in water overnight.

iv) I find the addition of flax seed (native to India and available as jawas in ordinary shops at one-third the price in health-food shops) adds immensely to the flavour.
v) In the markets of Pune you many times obtain tender methi (fenugreek) green sprouts (see inset of fig 3 right). You also get plentiful of spring onions and spring garlic (fig 3 right). Chop it up to your heart’s content

vi) Tomatoes and cucumber (fig 3 left) are also chopped. Cucumbers should not be peeled (especially if the skin is appropriately bitter enough to make you feel like a saint), but I peeled it in this case.
vii) The various ingredients are mixed together and tossed in a salad bowl after squeezing out the lemon juice and adding a generous tablespoon of the appropriate oil (mustard oil in this case). In the picture (Fig 4) I have added some lettuce leaves for decorative purposes.

i) The sprouted ragi may not be easy on the palate while chewing. One may soak the sprouted ragi in boiling water for some time.
ii) Instead broken moong daal and Bengal gram one may add baby corn and mushrooms
iii) Instead of peeled oranges olives may be added.
iv) Walnuts, raisins, pista, almonds may be added at different stages of boredom.
v) Pickled shrimp is a good addition when done in moderation.
vi) I usually add some home-made wine from aamla (Indian gooseberry), or mango and so on.
vii) Left over salad may be added to daal (loosely called lentil soup) when it makes a wonderful dish after boiling for some time.

The salad is preferably taken with whole-wheat phulkas. Good, well-set Iyer yoghurt from cow’s milk is a very pleasant accompanying dish. Bengalis should not add sugar to the yoghurt for this salad.

Some Food Wisdom (?)
i) The advantages of increasing the content of ragi (or nachni in Maharashtra) is that its nutrients are absorbed easily, it is easily digested by all age groups, and is very eco-friendly because it is grown without irrigation, pesticides or fertilizers. Sprouting ragi increases the bioavailability of its iron to 88%, because of which a paste from powdered sprouted ragi has been used for weaning baby away from mother’s milk.

ii) The rind of the santara fruit contains a oil of neroli which is used in eau de cologne; the juice contains as its major inorganic ingredient the citrate of potash. This orange is a blood purifier and appetiser while the peel is valuable for checking vomiting and preventing worms and also as a carminative (preventing gas, good for +65s). I have used the entire fruit cutting it in manner as shown in Fig 2b. The cellular pulp is indigestible but harmless. Instead of nuts the recipe uses soaked yellow moong daal (split and de-husked mung beans from which bean sprouts are made) and Bengal gram which is a valuable anti-diabetic food and its water extract increases glucose utilization. Green chillies have also been added (fig 2c). It contains Capsaicin which reportedly cause death of cancer cells (at least in rats), reduces amount of insulin required to reduce blood sugar.

iii) There is a difference between dry coriander and roasted coriander when pyrazines are formed as the main flavour. Pyrazine as part of pterin is found in folic acid. Folate is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells and is useful in periods of infancy and pregnancy as well as in anti-cancer treatment.

iv) Flax seed are thought to be known for more than 5000 years as flax plants are among the oldest fiber crops in the world. Flax seed adds an almond-like flavour due to the presence of aldehydes in the seeds. Flax seed contains omega-3 (double bond at the third carbon atom from the methyl group of the carbon chain) fatty acids as well as lignans which benefit the heart. Flax seeds are also beneficial for diabetics as it is supposed to reduce the blood sugar levels. Flax seeds contain lignin, a phytonutrient (general name for plant compounds which have health-protecting qualities), about one hundred times more than in wheat bran, millet, oats etc. A very interesting information is that raw flax seed (like the product of more than 2500 plant species) contains cyanogenic glucoside and usually also beta-glycosidase. They act together in the presence of a plant predator by breaking down to a sugar and a cyanohydrin that rapidly decomposes to hydrogen cyanide and an aldehyde. A similar mechanism is thought to be operative in anti-cancer protection mechanisms.

v) Fenugreek is a good appetizer, good for diabetes mellitus. It could be true that the healthiest (greenest) looking vegetables in Pune are grown from the waters of the dirtiest sewage. This is the reason raw salads are not commonly taken by the “native” populace. However, exotic salads and non-native vegetables available from fancy food shops catering to the ‘nerds” and +65s have their own share of exotic and carcinogenic pesticides and colouring matter. Given a choice I prefer the good looking local vegetables, once sufficient care is taken to clean them. I (+65) have not had an unusual share of this problem; actually, I rarely have a problem maybe because of the resistance I may have built up. Besides, bacteria are necessary (they call it healthy or good bacteria). Bacteria are being sold under the name of “probiotics”.

Energy economy of Cooked Food

The amount of usable solar energy that reaches the 10% of the unused land mass on earth per year is around 10^24-10^25 Joules. We may make an estimate of the total energy required to cook food for the world’s population of 5 billion assuming that one requires (on an average) the equivalent of boiling one liter of water per individual per day. This amounts to using about 10^17-10^18 Joules per year or roughly 10^14-10^15 watt hours per year. This would mean that that we would be using about a part per million of the solar energy simply for cooking food and about 0.01% of the present total energy requirement of the world. In economonically advantaged families we begin to use use much more energy for our food. It may not be much but every drop unboiled water helps in minimizing energy squandering. Saving on energy on cooked food becomes absolutely necessary and easily achievable since and other living beings do not depend on cooked food. But this is another issue.