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.

Amazing maize

Today these lines are dedicated to one of my favourite foods: golden cobs of maize or corn, call it makai…or call it bhutta….or in typical Punjabi – challi. Corn when properly roasted on live coals and served sprinkled lavishly with lemon juice and salt is a fulfilling mini meal by itself! These days, watching a movie in a multiplex can also be enhanced with a serving of chilli corn served hot. (Gone are the days of only samosas and popcorn being available at cinemas!)

Maize is an important cereal after rice and wheat. The tender ones are chiefly liked for the high sugar content. So the maize is also known as sweet corn. It would also interest you to know that the favourite popcorn, made by heating the small grains, is a wholesome cereal food and is easily digested. It has everything in the original grains of corn content. It is not fattening and practically starch free as in the process of popping, its starch is converted into dextrine and intermediate carbohydrates, a digestive product, which is easily assimilable.

Maize is prepared and consumed in various ways. It is usually ground and pounded and made into flour. Who can deny that sarson-da-saag and makke-di-roti (made from maize flour) is an international best seller!

Maize flour can also be used to add texture and nutritive qualities to bread. It can also be used as a thickening agent in soups and that it adds delicious flavour is an added bonus. One soup, of particular interest to me, is made of cauliflower stock with a bit of onion and thickened with makai flour paste. Throw in a few glowing gems of boiled green peas and the soup is a one-dish meal!

The refined cornflour should also be mentioned. It is used in cakes, biscuits and as a thickening agent in soups in gravies. Made by processing makai flour, cornflour is a lightweight ingredient in many kingly dishes. Another product of corn is the flattened corn grains known as makai poha. Deep fried and mixed with raisins, dried coconut bits, fried peanuts and seasoned with salt, red chilli and sugar, makai chiwda is an instant hit with guests.

To round off, here are some exciting maize recipes which amaze me with their simplicity.
Try them out this weekend…

Boondi aur Makai ki Bhel
Makai Palak
Corn Sevpuri

Till Monday then….happy cooking !

Sanjeev Kapoor.

Beat the rising prices

It’s not that all the vegetables are becoming expensive. Prices of lemons have come down considerably. I also think we should pick up more of beetroot.

In fact, even as I write this, some tips for the best use of lemons come to my mind and let me pen down at least some of them:

1. A lemon at room temperature will yield more juice.
2. Before juicing, press down firmly and roll the lemon on the kitchen counter to break up the pulp before juicing.
3. If the lemon is very cold, you can microwave it for a few seconds before squeezing.
4. Freeze the juice in ice cube trays, when frozen save in a plastic bag.
5. Grate lemon zest; seal tightly in a plastic bag and freeze.
6. Put lemon wedges inside the cavity of a whole chicken.
7. Tenderize meat by marinating it in lemon juice.
8. Squeeze lemon on vegetables while steaming, to keep the colours bright.
9. Add it to rice while cooking to make it fluffier.
10. A few drops of lemon juice improves the taste of other fruits.

I also recommend adding beetroot seriously to your daily diet. Beetroot can be eaten raw. You just need to peel it and it’s ready to use. Beetroot can add a refreshing touch to a salad, a sandwich (try it with cheese!) or as an accompaniment to other vegetables. I prefer having it thinly sliced and mixed with onion rings with a dash of lemon juice and salt. This is a nice, crunchy, pink-hued salad! Otherwise grate it finely to add to other vegetables. Or try adding a teaspoon or so of finely grated beetroot to a chilled glass of fresh orange juice. It’s refreshing! Plain grated beetroot is great on burgers.

Usually when you buy fresh beetroot it will still have the leaves and stalks attached. To cook the beetroot simply cut off the stalks but make sure you leave some of the stalk intact. By doing this it will help to stop the beetroot from losing it’s colour when you cook it and helps to hold in the nutrients. Beetroot can be steamed or cooked in boiling water. Cooking time can be from twenty to thirty minutes depending on the size of the beetroot. Test the beetroot with a skewer: when it’s soft, remove it from the heat and cool it under running water – this will make the skin easier to remove for serving.

You can serve cooked beetroot: as a hot vegetable accompaniment to a meal; or allow it to cool and slice it to put it in a sandwich with cucumber slices and tomato slices. You can also try this: cut beetroot into cubes and stir-fry it with some steamed cubed potatoes and pumpkin. Add a little garlic and some diced onions – this makes a delicious vegetable dish to serve with the rest of your meal.

How about some lemon treats, some beetroot treats, all to get you in the pink of health!
Justify Full
Lemon Rice
Apple Beet and Cucumber Juice
Beetroot Chaas

Sanjeev Kapoor.

Is it safe to reuse cooking oil

There is a lot written in the media about not to save the oil or ghee that has been used for frying for re-use. As it is, frying once changes the composition of the fat/oil so it seems that twice used fat must be horrible. There is an even greater health risk when you cook with pre-cooked oil/ghee.

Actually, reusing cooking oil has been done for ages. There isn’t really is any problem, if done properly. The greatest hazard is allowing the oil or ghee to become spoiled to the point that it produces undesirable flavours and odours. When oil becomes spoiled, it appears dark and thick. Besides ruining what would have been a perfectly good meal, spoilt oils also contain free radicals that are potentially carcinogenic.

To understand how to best re-use oil, it is important to know about smoke points – the temperatures at which oil begins to decompose. If you heat oil to a temperature that is too high, it produces smoke fumes. Acreolin, a substance that makes your eyes burn, is given off as well. To re-use oil safely, use these tips: strain it through a few layers of muslin cloth to catch any food particles. Be careful with hot oil, though, because you can easily get burned. Shake off excess batter from food before frying it. Turn off the heat after you are done cooking. Also exposing oil to prolonged heat accelerates rancidity. Do not ever mix different types of oil. Store all oils, fresh or used in a cool, dark place. Avoid iron kadais for frying oil that is to be reused. The metal also accelerates rancidity.

The optimal temperature to fry foods at is 190°C At higher temperatures, the food will burn on the outside and at lower temperatures, the food absorbs too much oil and tastes greasy. Different oils have different smoking points. Oils with higher smoking points are better for frying. For example, safflower, sunflower, soyabean. The more popular ones like groundnut oil have a lower smoking point. And olive oil has the lowest. This explains the reason why olive oil is never used for deep frying.

But olive oil, thanks to its goodness, adds more to Indian food! How about some daily recipes that can be cooked with olive oil….

Subzi aur tamatar ka pulao

Paneer keema

Batata nu shaak

Happy Cooking!

Sanjeev Kapoor.

Today a delight awaits for the residents at Vikhroli for there is a live demonstration of cooking being done at Home Stop using my WONDERCHEF range of bakeware and cookware. The timings are 5 pm to 7 pm and my colleague Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi will show you how to make cakes, pizzas and biryanis using his own flamboyant style.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the launch function of my new set of books named KITCHEN LIBRARY VEGETARIAN COLLECTION at Korum Mall in Thane. Soon it will be available at In this Vegetarian Collection comprising of five volumes, I have a banquet of delicious vegetarian Indian and international foods ranging from the everyday to the exotic, from heritage fare to the hot and happening. All these books will help to make every meal a gourmet’s delight with tried and tested recipes from our kitchens!
I get a lot of enquiries from food lovers settled outside India about what they can use as substitute for khoya in mithai. I can only suggest the options of condensed milk and/or milk powder.

Well, I guess, staying in India makes us lucky as we get readymade khoya! If one wishes khoya can be made at home. Just be prepared to burn a lot of gas and have patience. It is easier said than done. Khoya can be made at home, though the method is little tedious. It is prepared by boiling and reducing the milk to a semi-solid stage. The milk is to be boiled in a large kadai on a high heat and stirred occasionally. The heat is reduced as the milk thickens. When the mixture is in a semi-solid stage it is removed from the heat and set into moulds.

There are different types of khoya depending on the use of ingredients and moisture content. When you use full cream buffalo milk to make khoya, every litre of milk yields 200 grams. This khoya is used in burfis and laddoos. There is a different khoya that is made with low fat buffalo milk. The process of making it is the same as shown above but it is removed from the heat slightly earlier. It is loose and sticky in consistency with higher moisture content. It is suitable for making gulab-jamuns and gajar ka halwa. The dandedaar khoya which is excellent for kalakand is also made from full cream buffalo milk. The difference is that khoya is curdled slightly by adding a little tartaric acid. The milk curdles slightly hence the khoya is soft textured.

Let’s look at some recipes that use khoya:

Ananas ka meetha
Mawa Roll
Mawa Cake

Have a happy sweet weekend.
Sanjeev Kapoor.