Drive away monsoon blues with tea

Without a cup of hot beverage – tea or coffee, my monsoon days are incomplete. What can be better than a kadak chai on a breezy and pouring day! Tea flourishes in damp tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and I would be stating the obvious but tea is an international star! It’s the most popular, most loved and the most fragrant beverage that exists in the world.

Brimming with health

Tea is actually not just a beverage that helps us to wake up from slumber or perks us up mid-afternoon. It is a drink with such a taste and aroma that it makes you feel good and a sense of calm pervades you. Tea makes you feel good, I say, but it also makes you look good!

  • Being a naturally refreshing drink, taken on its own, tea has no calories. It’s the perfect drink to keep looking good and feeling fit.
  • Also when taken with milk, four cups of tea a day can provide you with significant amounts of the following nutrients: approximately 17% of the recommended intake for calcium, 5% for zinc, 22% for vitamin B2, 5% for folic acid and vitamins B1and B6.
  • A cup of tea is also a good source of manganese, which is essential for general physical development and potassium, which helps to maintain your body’s fluid balance.
  • Tea has antioxidant activities, which may help fight a variety of diseases. We will dwell on this in detail later in the column.
  • Tea is a great natural source of fluoride, which is found in water and added to toothpaste because it can actually strengthen tooth enamel. Tea can also prevent tooth decay by helping to cut down the buildup of plaque on your pearly whites – and just in case you’re wondering, the tea plant is in itself a rich source of fluoride because it absorbs the compound from the soil via its roots. Black and green teas contain fluoride and they appear to control bacterial growth by reducing plaque.

Choose your tea

It all depends on personal choices. Go through the gamut of teas available like Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Jasmine and pick your best. In fact, indulge in a variety of them like a connoisseur! Brand name teas are mixtures of as many as twenty different varieties of leaves, blended to ensure a consistent flavour.

To make it easier, let me tell you that tea can be segregated into three basic types: black, green and oolong. Black tea is fully oxidized or fermented and yields a hearty-flavoured, amber brew. Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It has a more delicate taste and is light green/golden in colour. It is gaining popularity due to scientific studies linking it with reduced cancer risk. Oolong tea is partly oxidized and is a cross between black and green tea. Some varieties of oolong tea have cholesterol-lowering properties which are especially effective if the tea is drunk after a fatty meal. Oolong tea may also reduce blood pressure and arterial disease possibly by decreasing the clotting tendency of blood. Black tea is rich in chemicals called tannins, which are astringent. For herbalists these are useful in treating diarrhea. Cooled, damp black tea bags may also be placed over tired, red eyes or on insect bites to relieve itching and redness.

Present scenario

There is a variety of teas available on the shelves that would wow you. While flavoured teas evolve from the three basic teas (green, black, oolong), herbal teas contain no true tea leaves. Herbal and ‘medicinal’ teas are created from the flowers, berries, peels, seeds, leaves and roots of many different plants.

Actually frayed nerves, rushed hours and lack of patience is what rules the roost these days because everyday life is loaded with stress and strain as we all are so very busy. To save from early burn out it is advised to take regular breaks from work: breaks here should read as ‘tea breaks!’ Having a hot cuppa is the perfect way to relax and unwind. It is a panacea for all and as it rich in a group of antioxidants called flavonoids which help to fight the damage causing free radicals. For example, there is eight times the amount of ‘anti-oxidant power’ in three cups of tea than in one apple, and every time you brew tea for upto one minute you get 140mg of free radical-fighting flavonoids.

Further studies are looking into how tea could be beneficial for your heart. The result from trials so far show that flavonoids may prevent the oxidation of the so-called bad cholesterol in the blood that leads to the buildup of plaque in artery walls, as well as protecting the blood vessels from inflammation and inhibiting blood clot formation.

Brew it just right

  • The best way to brew tea is in a pot made of china or glazed earthenware.
  • Heat fresh water in a kettle. Just before the kettle boils, pour a little of the hot water into a teapot, swirl the water around the sides of the teapot and then empty it out. Return the kettle to the heat.
  • Measure the tea leaves (for medium strength tea, add one heaped teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup) into the prepared teapot.
  • As soon as the water in the kettle comes to a boil, pour into the teapot. Place the lid on the pot and let the leaves infuse for five minutes. You can keep the tea warm by covering it with a tea-cozy.
  • Towards the end of the infusion time, stir the tea once, so that it is of even colour. When the tea has infused, pour it into individual cups through a strainer. Serve it immediately with sugar and milk in separate bowls.

Well, now the time is to enjoy my cuppa, when there is a chill in the air. Some of the recipes I would like to share with you all.

Minty ice tea
Minty ice tea

Sip on a hot tea and drive away those monsoon blues.
Tea it up!

Rain again!

If there is a searing summer, then a torrential monsoon will follow. The taste buds crave for hot, crisp savoury foods and it is not unusual to come across deep-fried foods in many homes across the country. It takes a few drops of rain for us to rush to roadside vada pav stalls in Mumbai and gorge on these hot spicy potato bites of heaven often served with fried green chillies and a spicy garlic chutney. Perfect with a cup of hot Masala Chai! Something like chole tikki back in Delhi is a filling snack on a rainy day. Growing up in Delhi, I do remember sitting cozily inside the house with a plate of mirchi bhajiya while the Earth got washed by the seasonal rains but this time lets go down south and see what our beautiful southern states have to offer during the monsoon months!

Go Goa
Close to Mumbai is Goa – a tourist’s paradise which becomes more verdant in the rainy season. When it rains in Goa, the rivers become bubblier than before, the leaves on the trees are sparkling clean and the wind chimes through them musically. To a new visitor,   monsoon in Goa is full of surprises – it can mean sudden bursts of torrential downpours that usually last for a short time, although there are occasional periods when it rains for hours on end. These sudden bursts are always succeeded by bright sunshine that lights up the countryside in brilliant colours.

Being close to Arabian Sea, Goa boasts of excellent seafood. The fresh supply of seafood and coconuts dominate delicacies of Goa. During the monsoon, from mid June till end September, fresh fish is scarce and people have to be satisfied with fish caught in the rivers and creeks. During this season, it is salted shrimps and mackerels (prepared in numerous mouth watering ways) that find their way to the family table. Its ‘no-fishing’ time during the months of rain and the fish loving locals are well prepared. They dry, salt and store seafood to use when there is no fresh catch of the day. The requisites for authentic Goan cooking are certain ingredients peculiar to it like triphala and kokum. Hardly any Goan dish is complete without coconut as one of its main flavouring agents. Fresh coconut, in one form or other is added. It could be grated, ground fine into a paste or in form of milk extracted from the flesh of fresh coconut. Fish Ambotik served with rice is one of my favourite combinations.

Fish Ambotik
Fish Ambotik

Land of Murukkus
Let’s travel a little further south to Karnataka famous for the murukkus and Mysore Paak. This state is perhaps as green as it could be! There are craggy precipices; huge stones precariously balanced one on top of other, curvaceous rivers and beaches bleached to a silver. It has dense forests, the Nilgiri Hills, temples and archeological relics, which if they could narrate would tell stories of thousand years back in history! For foodies, Karnataka offers a fantastic vegetarian cuisine with rice, sambhars, rasams, dosas and bondas sprinkled with fragrant ghee. When the wet months come, so does the fear of malaria. There are certain traditions that are followed in Dakshin Kannada in the wet months. A bitter decoction of maddale is made in most homes as a preventive measure to malarial fever during the monsoon. A sweet dish is prepared out of madhtoppu herb, which is found growing luxuriantly in Coorg. This herb is believed to have eighteen medicinal properties and is harvested on the eighteenth day of Karkatamasa (July 15 to August 15). This day is also the day Coorgis prepare kozhi (chicken). Say they, during the monsoon the chicken accumulates excessive fat content to fight the cold weather and if eaten will add to the body fat. One of my favourite cold remedy also happens to be my favourite food – Tomato Rasam – sip on a bowlful of this piping hot soup topped with coarsely crushed black pepper and say goodbye to colds!

Tomato Rasam
Tomato Rasam

God’s own country
Being a small coastal state, Kerala is known for its lush greenery and palm lined backwaters and rich dance form Kathakali! It enjoys a very good monsoon from June to November making it one of the pleasanter states to visit any time of the year. And when it rains here, it is as if cans of green-coloured paint have been emptied onto the landscape. When there is torrential rain, the usual fishing activity comes to a standstill.  But Keralites savour non vegetarian food, so mutton dishes are also quite popular. As the coastline is dotted with plantations of coconut palms, coconut finds its way into almost every preparation. Overall, food in Kerala is non-greasy, delectable and comforting. Crisp banana wafers and jackfruit chips fried in fresh coconut oil are a speciality of the land. Crisp pancakes and steamed rice-coconut cakes or puttu made from pounded rice along with spicy chickpea curry make up breakfast in many homes on a rainy morning.

Keralites love seafood but fishing is not greatly encouraged during the monsoon season which is the main fish breeding season so as to preserve the wealth of the sea. The locals believe that the monsoon season (karkkidaga) slows down digestion and appetite and hence, tackle it in many different ways. Inchikkari, made of ginger and other spices, acts as an appetizer besides aiding digestion. Since rheumatic disorders seem to increase when it rains, porridge made of navadhanyas (nine pulses and cereals) called karkkadakka kanji is served to old people. Any visitor to a home in Kerala during the rainy season is sure to be treated with Chukkuvellam which is a medicated drink made using chukku or dried ginger and other spices. Besides being a welcome drink, it aids to dispel cough and cold generally seen with a change in weather.

A taste of Chettinaad cuisine
One place I travel to often is Chennai, the capital on Tamil Nadu. I always enjoy the steaming hot Kanchipuram idlis and aromatic filter coffee! You would be surprised to know that rainy season in Tamil Nadu is between October and December when the northeast monsoon brings rains in spurts. November is a good month to experience cool clime but come armed with raincoats. Tamil Nadu, whatever the season, is known for its idli, dosa, vada, appam and kadubu. Many of us would also equate Tamil Nadu with its spicy hot Chettinaad cuisine. It is one of the spiciest, oiliest and most aromatic in India. Most dishes have generous amounts of peppercorn, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, nutmeg, green and red chillies. It is enjoyable to have food that tastes like this and enlivens the taste buds when the rains make the day dreary. Chettinaad fried chicken is simply perfect!

But when it rains what every local person would like to enjoy with filter coffee would be crisp vadas. It could be medu vada made of (urad dal) or it could be ambada (chana dal)  and sometimes vadas made of masoor dal or tuvar dal or even mixed dals. Or it could be a kozhikara vadai.

Kanchipuram Idli
Kanchipuram Idli

Where heat reigns
This trip ends at Andhra Pradesh which is so hot in summer that the skin sizzles, the hair frizzle and the roads seem to be covered with a layer of steam as if the tar is melting. It cools down a bit from July to October as monsoon sets in. When the rains are lashing down, what is needed is something to satiate the hunger pangs and fight the heat! Cooling foods such as raw tamarind chutney or a yogurt and onion relish offsets the heat of the day and the hot chilli content of a typical Andhra meal. Andhra is well known for its Guntur red chillies. One would notice that the number of vegetarian dishes is more in Andhra Pradesh than non vegetarian stuff. Tamarind rice dish called pulihara is a favourite and is usually served with spicy sambar. Also worth talking about is the Nizami food that makes Hyderabad so famous. Some specialties are Haleem – paste of wheat and meat spiced delicately, mirchi ka salan and bhagare baingan. All these foods are filling and nutritious and perfect during the rainy season.

So tell me about your monsoon food quests till I write again sharing some more of mine. Till then get drenched in the rain and the awesome world of monsoon foods!

Happy Monsoon!

This is how I unwind ….

This is how I unwind ….

After back to back meetings in office and outdoor shoots, I ensure to make time for my hobbies. I de-stress with MUSIC! Not just listening to different types of music, I simply love playing percussions especially the drums. I have drum sets in office, which I mostly play after a long meeting. Photography and reading are my other favorite pastimes.

Most of us don’t realize that hobbies can strike a perfect balance between professional and personal life. A hobby has an inherent quality to keep our minds relaxed and entertained as well.

Like food, I respect every genre of music. When I am cooking or trying out recipes, I listen to almost every type of song. I strongly believe that music and food work hand in glove. They both complement each other so much so that they tap into something, which is beyond – conscious thoughts. Especially, listening to music while cooking work wonders for me. It helps me to be at my creative best. I feel both the activities are active types of meditations, which eases stress and gives the wings of creativity. A good dish is a master piece that is created with a lot of love, interest, patience and of course haathon ka jaadu. Same applies to create any music as well. Moreover, your interest in learning any music is no doubt, important, being patient can work wonders for you.

One of my passions is obviously my profession! Thus, I am never stressed churning out recipes for my viewers. If you make your passion your profession, you will never be stressed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for everyone. However, do try and give time to your hobbies, they mould your minds. My passion for music is eclectic. One of my favourite musical genres classic rock acts and I also love classical Hindi movie songs.

Food and music is something I live for. I let things flow for both- although I don’t try to connect music with the food I cook I simply let them flow.

Let us all pledge to devote time to do things we like. In the world of stress and tight schedules, stop your minds getting into the hives of worry and tension, which is no good food for a healthy lifestyle. Treat yourselves and mind by engaging in hobby that relieves your stress at the same time alleviates your mood. If you haven’t developed any hobby as yet, it’s not late. Start today. As they say, better late than never. Cultivate any hobby today and live for it!

Stop surviving, start living!
Worry less, live more!