Fasting during the festivals

When the calendar changes tomorrow , we would be on the brink of a hectic season full of festivals….well I should say a few months concentrated with festivals as in India it is festive season all through the year anyway! So we have Rakshabandhan, Ganesh Chaturthi, Dassera, Diwali, Christmas all lined up. All this also means that my platter of recipes for you should be ready too!

Coming to festivals, our culture promotes fasting in order to welcome them. Fasting has always been a fascinating subject…and also the most interesting topic of discussion because it has many different variations in different religions. Whatever be the following, fasting essentially means abstaining from solid food, with some liquids being permitted by certain sections.

The practice of fasting certainly calls for will power. It is looked upon as a method of purification and as a means of freeing the mind. Some Tibetan Buddhist monks fast to aid yogic feats, like generating inner heat. Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Two small meals and one regular meal are allowed. Catholics abstain from meat on all Fridays in Lent. For many centuries, Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on all Fridays, but since the mid-1960s, abstaining from meat on Fridays outside of Lent has been a matter of local discretion. The Lenten fast prepares the soul for a great feast by practicing austerity. The Good Friday fast commemorates the day Christ suffered.

In Hindus, fasting is commonly practiced on New Moon days and during festivals such as Shivratri, Saraswati Puja, Janmashtami, Vat Savitri and Navratri. Women in North India also fast on the day of Karva Chauth and women in Maharashtra fast on Hartalika, which is observed just before Ganesh Chaturthi.

The mode of fasting depends on the individual. Fasting may involve twenty four hours of complete abstinence from any food or drink, but is more often an elimination of solid foods, with an occasional drink of milk or water. Hindus look upon fasting as a way to enhance concentration during meditation or worship, facilitate purification for the system and sometimes, fasting is considered a sacrifice.

For followers of Islam, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a mandatory fasting period that commemorates the period when the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Various Muslim customs recommend days and periods of fasting in addition to Ramadan.

The Jain festival of Paryushan and fasting is probably the most intense. Jain festivals can mainly be divided into five categories but most are the periodical ones like poshadha (days of fasting and confinement) and ayambil oli, the days which fall twice in a year. During these days people who observe ayambil eat food, which is devoid of butter, salt, sugar etc, and eat a strict Jain diet prescribed for these days. Paryushan are the days of religious activities. During these days Jains observe fasts or take some vows. They voluntarily impose some regulations and hardships on themselves to keep their minds firmly fixed on religion. People go to temples, worship Tirthankaras, hear the religious discourses and do Samayika and/or Pratikraman. The essence of Jain philosophy lies in the removal of all karmas and attaining nirvana at the end.

As regards fasting one can do ‘semi-fast’, whole day’s fast or go without food for a longer period. In semi fast one can eat one meal or two meals a day. This may not sound much but one has to remember that except for this (one or two meals) he (she) may not consume anything and is allowed to drink boiled water only. The food is to be consumed after sunrise and before sunset only. Restrictions as regards drinking boiled water has to be observed in all types of fasting, at all times. In whole day’s fast one naturally does not eat anything for a whole day. No drink other then boiled water is allowed. Some devout Jains go without food for two days (chhath), for three days (attham), eight days (atthai) or a longer time – even a whole month (mas-khaman). This is very difficult but the whole body system gets rid of all toxins and makes the person mentally and physically more pure and ultimately more strong. People usually do parna (finish their fast and start taking normal food and drink) after the Paryushan festival.

Among the non Jains too during the fasting period, people make various dishes which follow the strictures laid down as to what kind of foods can be consumed and what not. The food taken during mid-day consists of non-cereal preparations made without using onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric powder. Instead ingredients such as cumin seeds, rock salt and chillies are used. Puris are made using kootoo ka atta or rajgire ka atta. The sweets can be of milk without the use of lentils.

As there is so much to fasting, there is bound to be much more to the feasting part. In fact, the feast after the fast is what makes every festival anywhere in India so special. Delicacies that are essentially traditional recipes make their mark and due to time constraints I will have to take on the ‘feasting’ some other time!

Right now, let us look at some simple dishes that can be made on a lazy Sunday…

Chicken Frankie
Grilled Salt and Pepper Tofu
Noodle Cutlet

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor.

Tips to aid digestion

It came as a revelation to me: the fact that lack of sleep or sleep deprivation can lead to indigestion. And I am sure indigestion can ruin a perfect day for anyone. Anyway, there are other reasons too for indigestion so best to take care and avoid them. How? Best not to chew with mouth open, especially happens when one talks while chewing leading to swallow too much air while gulping down food. Some people advocate not having liquids during a meal simply because they tend to wash down needed enzymes needed for digestion. Experts also say that having any sort of food allergy causes fermentation of food in the colon that produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide. So better to get checked up.

In fact there are simple steps that can help one feel better. So why not help yourself? If you smoke, stop smoking. If some foods bother your stomach, try to avoid eating them. Carbohydrates are the main food source responsible for gas because of the bacteria they contain. It is important to find out which foods your body cannot digest and thereby stay away from those foods that cause this allergic reaction. Try to reduce the stress in your life. If you have acid reflux, do not eat just before bedtime. Raising the head of your bed with blocks under two legs may also help. Unless your doctor tells you, do not take a lot of anti-inflammatory medicines.

Consume well-balanced meals with plenty of fibre-rich foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereal products. Avoid refined carbohydrates (sugar), bakery products, macaroni, dairy products, caffeine, citrus juices, tomatoes, pepper, carbonated beverages, potato chips, junk foods, fried and fatty foods, spicy foods, red meat, beans, snacks and colas. Decrease salt consumption. Processed foods and all dairy products cause excess mucus formation, which results in inadequate digestion of proteins. Limit your intake of peanuts, lentils and soybeans as they contain an enzyme inhibitor which hinders absorption and thereby causes indigestion.

Exercise such as brisk walking and stretching enhance the digestive process.

And sleep? The topic that started it all! Anything between seven to eight hours.

Some light foods for you.

Asparagus and pears salad in honey mustard dressing
Crunchy Chicken Salad

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor.

Joy of Halwa

As a North Indian, I can say I have grown up eating halwapuri halwa is a special breakfast combination in Punjab and Delhi! The Golden Temple in Amritsar has the Kadaprasad which is a rich version of halwa…then of course we have the suji halwa which takes the name of sheera in some states. But what I was totally thrilled with is the Lakshwadeep Halwa I picked up in Kottayam this weekend. I have tasted Kerala’s most famous traditional banana halwa – firm, nutty and quite dark in colour (frankly, its black!) but is appetising in looks! I picked up not only banana halwa for family, friends and colleagues but also the more contemporary pineapple halwa and my discovery Lakshwadeep Halwa. It comes in little banana leaf parcels all tied up with twine.

First you have to untie the twine. And yes, the more interested ones had a good whiff of the parcel before opening it…the contents are soft and dark and in a ball shape…the first bite says coconut, coconut all the way and the second bite gives signals of something sweet (maybe jaggery or dates, dates it is ) and then the third bite onwards you get the ginger taste. By this time, the taste buds are completely satiated with the fruity flavours and one starts to fill up on it. Lovely but best to have only one half of it!

My chat here is slowly going to take you to the fact that one should really try out new things and also to savour the taste and then come to a conclusion about your liking or dislike for it. In fact, I love to create new recipes and this is what most of us crave for all the time…something new to keep the taste buds revved up. If one enjoys new flavours then life will take you onto a fast track of gastronomic discoveries.

So lets give you something new to start the week…no more Monday blues!

Soya Granule Lasagne
Chicken and Spinach Pizza
Corn and Coriander Rice

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor.