The humble urad dal is an aphrodisiac. A couple of bananas a day can lower blood pressure. Author and columnist Ratna Rajaiah’s interest in looking at such marvels from the Indian kitchen implored her to find out more about them. She has now compiled all of her findings into a book called Secrets of Health from the Indian Kitchen.
Rajaiah’s tryst with writing started with a Sunday column in The New Indian Express years ago. “My attempt was to go back to our roots. I covered a host of subjects, one of which was the need to reconnect with locally grown food,” she says.This caught the eye of her publisher Westland Books, and they approached her to write a book about it all. Each chapter is dedicated to a different vegetable, pulse or grain. It’s an extensively researched account of each of these things backed by evidence with references to scientific journals, in addition to books, magazines and newspapers.
Because we have stopped seeing value in indigenous food, we have let many ingredients and recipes fall into oblivion. Certain native ingredients have wondrous healing power but most of us don’t know about them. “Sadly enough, most information centres around new-age food, mostly a Western import. There is little initiative in India to research about local foods. Studies that have been undertaken, languish in obscurity,” says Rajaiah. That’s why through her book, she brings back lost ingredients and recipes, while listing their curative powers, especially immunity building ones.
Most recipes in the book come from Rajaiah’s mother. “Her sources included memories of my grandmother’s cooking and also the fact that my father being an officer in the Indian Railways, took her to various places,” she says.The Phataphat Brinjal Cutlets recipe came from Man Bahadur, the Nepali cook who would accompany her father on his official tours. The mode of travel was the train but an independent carriage was attached to the back of it, which had a kitchen.
It’s here that Bahadur created magic with his delicious cutlets and served them to the family. So many recipes were born out of experiences like these.While putting the book together, the author became cognisant of one important lesson: that the more you know, the less you know. “India is such a vast treasure house of all manner of wisdom. Mine is a quest to go deeper into its fortune,” she says.
Sweet Steamed Jackfruit Cake
- Parboiled rice, washed and soaked overnight: 250 gm
- Deseeded and cleaned segments of ripe jackfruit, the riper the better: 15-20
- Grated jaggery to taste
- Banana leaves washed and dried with the centre rib removed, cut into 15-20 pieces, roughly 15 cm x 10 cm each
- Grind the boiled rice, jackfruit segments and grated jaggery together (using water only if necessary) to a very thick, slightly coarse consistency.
- Place about 2 tablespoons of batter on a piece of banana leaf and fold into a ‘packet’. Repeat till the batter is used.
- Place all the packets with the folded side down on an idli tray and steam for about 10 minutes in a pressure cooker without using the weight.
Roasted Rice Dumplings
- Rice: ¼ kg
- Oil: 1 tbsp
- Mustard: ¾ tbsp
- Dried red chilli, broken into bits: ½
- Curry leaves: 7-9
- Asafoetida: A pinch
- Salt: 1 tbsp (adjust to taste)
- Grated fresh coconut: 2 tbsp
- Water: 2 glasses (about 1 litre)
- Wash the rice and drain out the water. Spread an absorbent cotton cloth over a tray and spread the drained rice thinly on it for about 3-4 hours till they dry.
- In a heavy pan dry-roast rice over low heat till the grains turn golden-brown and give a roasted aroma. Cool and grind to a coarse powder.
- Heat the oil, add mustard seed, dried red chilli and add curry leaves when the mustard seeds stop spluttering. Add roasted rice powder, grated coconut and salt, and fry for a minute till the ingredients are mixed.
- Boil water and add to the roasted rice-powder mixture slowly over very low heat, stirring constantly till the water is absorbed and you have a thick upma-like mixture.
- Allow to cool. Now take about two tablespoons of the mixture and shape into a slightly flattened ball. Repeat till all the mixture is used.
- Steam the balls for about 10 minutes in a pressure cooker without using the weight.
- Serve hot with ghee and coconut chutney.