It’s that time of the year again. The heat is gone, so have the rains, and the Commonwealth Games are something we refer to in the past tense (and thanks to the performances, smilingly). The festivities are upon us, as is the barrage of goodies. Dry fruits from the obsequious junior, mithai from the grateful client; drippy jalebis, creamy cakes and chocolatey goodness. Weather-friendly, occasion-friendly, the goodies come in great numbers and varieties, to seduce us in our vulnerable moments of joy, as we embark on the Great Indian Festival Binge.

Dollop of delight: Khajur Gud Basmati with Whipped Mascarpone at Indian Accent, by chef Manish Mehrotra. Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Stick to tradition

Most chefs and nutritionists say the healthiest way out is to stick to tradition.

Tradition No. 1 is that Diwali goodies are conventionally made at home. Home-made goodies are the best way to control the calories, as well as ensure the quality of the products being consumed, says Shikha Sharma, a Delhi-based wellness consultant. Vishal Atreya, executive sous chef, Imperial hotel, New Delhi, who is familiar with Ayurvedic cooking techniques, says, “A home-made kheer, for instance, is so much healthier than the greasy gulab jamun you’ll get in the market. Firstly, the ingredients in the kheer itself—the milk, dry fruits, rice—are way healthier than those in the gulab jamun (maida, concentrated sugar syrup). Plus, when you cook at home, you tend to go easy on the oil," he says.

Home-made sweets such as modak and sandesh use ingredients that are fairly harmless, says Mumbai-based Vishakha Shivdasani, nutritionist. “Sandesh is the Bengali sweet made with paneer, and modak is made with coconut. The calorific content is very low compared to other fried sweets, or ones with lots of cream/khoya like barfi," she says.

The rule of tradition also applies to Christmas cakes. Cakes made for Christmas have traditionally used honey and jaggery (and spices) because processed sugar was simply not available to the Western world as late as the 13th century, notes Prashant Anand, pastry chef, Intercontinental Eros, New Delhi. “These cakes and cookies are bread-like (and sans icing), and we should revisit some of these traditions when we’re looking for healthy dessert choices," he says.

Try to use natural sources of sugar in your desserts, such as honey, jaggery, fruits and Stevia. “Stevia is a plant which is a thousand times sweeter than sugar, and needs to be used extremely sparingly. Everytime you use Stevia, you are cutting down on the sugar," says Atreya.

The corollary to rule No. 1 is wherever you find a less fatty option, innovate. Skip the malai, go for low-fat mascarpone, suggests innovator par excellence Manish Mehrotra, executive chef, Pan Asian Cuisine, Old World Hospitality, New Delhi. “Mascarpone is as much fun as cream. You could also use hung yogurt or shrikhand for a fruit cream. If it’s cheesecake you’re after, go for the frozen variety made with yogurt as these are lower-fat options," he says.

The perfect balance

Mehrotra also suggests the “balancing it out" theory. “Every time you eat something sinful, balance it out with something healthy. This just lessens the harmful impact. Moderation is the key," he says. Instead of rasmalai, he suggests chhena payesh (small paneer balls in condensed milk). “Also, replace some of those milk balls with grapes. It’ll add a zing to it, and is healthier," he says. If you really crave gulab jamuns, have the small ones, and in a fruit salad. One of the dishes the chef devised during the recent Navratras was fresh fruit petit fours, cubes of watermelon topped with kaju katli. “Adding some fruits to a regular dessert just ups the nutritional content of what you’re eating. Instead of simply consuming sugar and cream, such options also give your body some essential nutrients. Watermelon, for instance, is rich in minerals," adds Shivdasani.

When you have chocolate, eat it with strawberries, almonds or figs. “Chocolate in itself is not harmful, in fact cocoa in moderation is extremely healthy," says Atreya. Stick to dark chocolate as lighter chocolate (milk or white) is the real killer, containing high concentrations of sugar and little else.

If you’re drinking, skip the caiprihoskha and go for a non-sugar drink such as gin and tonic. Avoid the huge slice of cake, go for the petit fours. “Reducing portion sizes, choosing healthier cooking techniques such as steaming, baking, adding some nutritional element to your diet and substituting sugar with natural sweet substitutes is the way to enjoy this season," says Shivdasani. So go ahead, indulge that sweet tooth. But don’t forget that natural sweetener.


Some of the city’s most innovative chefs dole out dessert suggestions that won’t harm you


Manish Mehrotra,

Executive chef, Old World Hospitality


25g ‘desi ghee’

1 black cardamom

A pinch of ‘saunf’ (fennel seeds)

1 bay leaf

2 cloves

100g date jaggery

150g basmati rice

20g peeled, roasted almonds

75g mascarpone cheese

10g fine sugar


Heat ‘ghee’ in a heavy-bottom pan. Crackle whole spices. Add 2 cups of water and bring to boil. Put jaggery and reduce to half. Cook rice separately till 80% done. Add jaggery syrup and cook rice on ‘dum’ for 5 minutes (keep 1 tablespoon jaggery syrup for plating). Add almonds. Whip mascarpone cheese and sugar together.

For plating, place the warm rice on a plate. Top it up with whipped cheese quenelle and drizzle with the remaining jaggery syrup. Serve with fresh fruits.

Also See Some Quick Tips (Graphic)


Prashant Anand,

Pastry chef, Intercontinental Eros


For the marinade

1 litre orange juice

150g honey

2 small pieces of ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

1kg fruits (of your choice)


Mix all the ingredients and give it a boil. Your marinade is ready. Soak fruits (pineapple, for example) in the marinade overnight. Serve with sugar-free ice cream.

Apple Cake

Vishal Atreya

Executive sous chef, The Imperial


5 slices apple, without skin

250g caster sugar

3 eggs

125g milk

114g butter

70g flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 vanilla pod


Melt butter with milk and vanilla. Mix sugar with eggs with a light hand. When the milk boils, add the eggs. Add the flour, to which baking soda has been added, and mix slowly. Arrange apple slices in a ring in a cake tin and pour over the milk and egg mixture over it. Bake at 180?degrees Celsius for 45 minutes.