Early this year, celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar posted a long video about millets as part of her ongoing health guideline series on social media. Titled ‘Eat a millet bhakri every day’, Diwekar spoke about the benefits of using millets (bajra) in daily cooking. Of course, Diwekar is not the only one talking about it.
Over the past few years, the importance of alternative flours, especially millets, has become widely known. While nutritionists started incorporating millets in the diet charts of their clients, a number of people are also keen on substituting regular flour with millets at their homes. Similarly, it has been a natural evolution for chefs across the city to use millets – a healthier and often tastier option - innovatively in their dishes. More often than not, the dishes aren’t complicated or fancy but just regular food items given a spin using healthy flour.
In an earlier interview, Delhi-based chef Anahita Dhondy - who has been actively working with millets - expressed her delight at the gradual but definite acceptance of flour-alternatives. She said, “I am really happy that there is a sudden spike [in alternative flour usage] and people are adding it in their daily diets. A number of chefs and advocates have been promoting it and thus, it is finally in the eyes of the public that this regional, indigenous, healthy alternative can be made super delicious.”
All in favour
There is no doubt that there are umpteen flour-alternatives available in the market. However, every chef has a favourite which he/she loves to experiment with. Take for instance; chef Vetri Murugan likes to use finger millets in South Indian delicacies. The head chef of Zambar, a restaurant with multiple outlets across Delhi-NCR, says, “My favourite alternative flour to work with is ragi or finger millet. I make dosa, idli, and hoppers with it.”
Talking about his favourite, Jatin Mallick, chef and co-owner of Tres (Lodhi Colony), swears by rye flour and cornmeal flour. Mallick also has a new-found appreciation for jackfruit flour. He mentions, “We make a cornmeal and vegetable loaf. It is super healthy, tasty, nutritious, and gluten free. It is not heavy on carbs and yet, it’s filling.”
At times, there’s nothing better than keeping it simple. Just like Punjab Grill’s executive chef Sareen Madhiyan. He has found that the best way to add his favourite bajra (pearl millets) flour is by making a regular chapati. The Bajra Missi Roti is a bread that’s favourite among patrons at his restaurant. Madhiyan says, “We add chopped green chillies and fresh coriander to the bajra flour while preparing the dough and make rotis with it. Bajra flour is the best option to be consumed during winters, and Bajra chapati goes well with saag and palak-based sabzi (curry).”
For quite a few years now, the butter chicken-loving Delhi population has started learning to give precedence to health. So they’ve clearly embraced the idea of chefs creating interesting dishes using flour substitutes. Mallick says, “We get a lot of enquiries for gluten-free breads and food. There are many people suffering from gluten allergies these days, and they’re trying to keep gluten away from their meals. Also, alternative flours are more nutritious and filling. Over the last few years, the need for it has increased.”
Murugan discusses that flour-alternatives can also help improve the digestive system. He says, “Studies have shown that the health benefits of ragi far supersede that of wheat. It is gluten-free, promotes heart health, the fibre content helps in improving the digestive system, and is a great substitute that aids in weight loss as well. Ragi is one such cereal, which does not need much processing and is good to consume. Thus, it helps in retaining nutritional value.”
Panchsheel Park-based nutritionist Ishi Khosla, mentions the versatility of millets, another popular alternative flour. Khosla says, “Apart from it being super-versatile, millets are also high in fibre, anti-inflammatory and hypoallergenic. They’re also gluten-free and low-fodmap.”
So the next time you visit a restaurant, pause a few minutes before ordering your regular bread. Choose alternative flour instead.