Over the past few weeks, I have been surrounded by youngish people gripped with some sudden illness, resulting in calls from concerned spouses/girlfriends about what they should feed their male partners now that they have been certified ‘sick’. Pity I don’t get those kinds of calls from as many concerned men asking me about what to feed their women. I have lots of answers to that one. The ‘sicknesses’ in question range from various coronary-related problems to inflammation of the pancreas, diabetes and cholesterol. The other emerging health problem is allergy to ingredients such as MSG, or ajinomoto (which I have, and which means I cannot eat in most Chinese restaurants), artificial colour and flavour (which exists in most processed foods), wheat or gluten, and more commonly, lactose, which means no to any dairy products.
All this, to my mind, has been caused by a combination of things—gradual build-up, past excesses, bad eating habits, increasing amount of artificial rubbish in our food which gradually breaks down any immunity we have built, pollution, lack of exercise, lack of leisure time and, of course, the biggest culprit of them all, stress. How to make a restricted diet interesting seems to be the stumbling block. The eternal debate of taste versus health. I think it is definitely possible. It requires awareness and a dash of creativity, things which, unfortunately, most hospitals and many doctors lack. They tell you what not to eat, but aren’t very helpful when it comes to making what you can eat more appetizing or enjoyable.
Soya is a good ingredient to start including in your diet. My children love flavoured soya milk. Soya beans and flour have started appearing in supermarkets. Tofu, or beancurd, has been on the ‘right things to eat’ health list for many years. It is made from crushed soya beans in the same way that paneer or cottage cheese is made from milk. Soya beans are soaked to soften them, then ground with water into a puree. This is then boiled and the curds and whey are separated. This is the way tofu has been made in the East for more than 2,000 years. In fact, tofu is one of the oldest ‘processed’ foods known to man.
Tofu was earlier considered either an exotic Asian food, or ‘hippie food’ from the 1960s. Only recently did it finally graduate to the ‘serious nutrition’ category. It is said to have cholesterol-lowering and cancer-fighting properties, is low in fat, completely vegetarian, dairy-free and high in protein.
The downside is that it is pretty bland to taste and boring to look at. You can use it much in the same way as paneer. You can also puree it into a milkshake and use it in desserts such as a cheesecake, instead of cream cheese or curd. I came across a fantastic book a few years ago called The Art of Tofu, by a smiling Californian “health food chef to the stars”, with vegetarian recipes for tacos, soups, cakes, burgers and shakes. This inspired me to come up with a few of my own. Here is one I make often. It is a dip, which is as creamy as they come, with hardly any calories and all the taste. It is great to serve at parties or to have around for what I call ‘emergency entertaining’. It is the perfect recipe for today’s aware, global gourmet.
Tofu & Tahini Spread
A fabulous, healthy, low-cal dip and sandwich spread
Makes 2 cups
250 gm tofu
½ cup tahini *
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp white miso **
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp drained capers
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1/4 cup finely chopped red or green bell peppers
Put all the ingredients, except capers, celery and bell peppers, in a food processor and puree well. Mix the capers, celery and bell peppers by hand. Chill for one hour before serving. Makes a great dip served with raw vegetables or as a healthy salad dressing. It can be refrigerated for three to four days.
* Tahini is a paste of ground sesame seeds. An Indian brand, Dakhni, is available in many supermarkets. Else, buy an imported one, which comes from West Asia.
** Miso is fermented soya bean paste, which is a vegetarian substitute for stock and used as a base for Japanese soups. It is available at the INA market in Delhi, health food stores and anywhere you find Japanese ingredients.
(Write to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org)