Ghee is good

With the festive season already having begun, it is time for food and more food. Indian festival celebrations are synonymous with food and more importantly mithais and Indian mithais in turn are synonymous with ghee! You cannot really say you have experienced a true Indian meal unless you can smell the aroma of ghee and taste the gorgeous flavour of it in the dishes.

Ghee is to India what blood is to your veins! Right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Assam, ghee finds use in culinary tradition in every part of the country. Ghee is nothing but clarified butter that is prepared by boiling butter and removing the residue. Ghee is healthy fat and is a natural byproduct of milk. It is used in several recipes across India and in some other parts of Asia and the Middle East. It can be used as a medium to deep fry, shallow fry, tempering certain dishes or just added on top of some dishes for the unique earthy flavor it provides. The aroma and taste of ghee are very characteristic and automatically makes the dish richer and heavier. Ghee can be easily made at home or you can buy it from several brands available in the market. It can be filled in an airtight container and be stored for several months without getting spoilt. These days, it is considered unhealthy and fatty which is not the case. Ghee does contain fats, but the fats in ghee are much better than those in butter or vegetable oils. However, those who suffer from obesity or have high cholesterol should stay away from ghee. Otherwise there is nothing wrong with including moderate amounts of ghee in your diet. There must be something beneficial about it because of which ourdadis and nanis are constantly layering our breakfast paranthas with ghee.

Let us see why, ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat. When cooking, it can be unhealthy to heat polyunsaturated oils such as vegetable oils to high temperatures. Doing so creates peroxides and other free radicals. Ghee has a very high smoke point and doesn’t burn easily during cooking. Ghee has stable saturated bonds and so is lot less likely to form the dangerous free radicals when cooking. Ghee’s short chain of fatty acids are also metabolized very readily by the body.

Lab studies have shown ghee to reduce cholesterol both in the serum and intestine. It does it by triggering an increased secretion of biliary lipids. Ghee is also good for nerves and brain. It helps control eye pressure and is beneficial to glaucoma patients. Ghee is most notably said to stimulate the secretion of stomach acids to help with digestion, while other fats, such as butter and oils, slow down the digestive process and can sit heavy in the stomach. Ghee is rich with antioxidants and acts as an aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from other foods, serving to strengthen the immune system. A high concentration of butyric acid, a fatty acid that contains anti-viral properties is believed to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

It is good for treatment of burns. According to Ayurveda, ghee promotes learning and increased memory retention. While in a healthy person consuming ghee may reduce your cholesterol or not affect it, it is not advised for people already suffering from high cholesterol.

It is safer than butter. It has been used in Indian medicinal practice to help with ulcers, constipation and the promotion of healthy eyes and skin. Now you understand how Punjabis have tonnes of ghee and still are fitter.

So enjoy your festive mithais and treats without going on a guilt trip because – ghee is good!

Try some of these recipes with the goodness of ghee

Hyderabadi Parantha 
Malpua
Namak Ajwain ka Parantha
 
Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor

 

Kesariya!

First and foremost I’d like to start by saying Ramadan Kareem to one and all of you. Hope you all have a successful and pious Ramadan. It is the time of the year when food is prepared with much exuberance and love and eaten with equal gusto. People prepare dishes that are passed down since generations. Missing out on even a single ingredient in such a dish can make a difference. One such ingredient is kesar (saffron). Saffron finds use in several Ramadan recipes be it sweet or savoury. You may think what difference a little pinch of saffron may make to your dish but don’t underestimate this beautiful ingredient. The smell, colour and flavour it adds to your dish are the kind that you are sure to miss when it’s not added to your dish.

Since time immemorial saffron has occupied a special place in the culture and tradition of people. This exotic herb is famous for its medicinal, coloring and flavoring properties. Valued all over the world, especially by culinary and medical experts, saffron has a number of uses. This exotic herb finds mention in several ancient texts. It is mentioned in classical western writings and also in the Bible. It is specially mentioned in Bhavprakash Nighantu, an Ayurvedic text. The Arabs, who introduced the cultivation of the plant into Spain as an article of commerce, bequeathed to us its modern title of Zaffer or saffron, but the Greeks and Romans called it Krokos and Karokam respectively.

Saffron is a native of Southern Europe. The La Macha belt of Spain is the largest producer of saffron in the world and contributes 80-90% of the world saffron production. Being there during the saffron harvest season is a treat to all the senses. In India the cultivation of saffron is confined to Pampore and Kistwar areas of Jammu and Kashmir, extending to nearly 4000 acres. Kashmiri saffron is valued all over the world for its fine quality and a large part of the saffron produced in Kashmir is exported. Saffron is one of the world’s oldest and expensive spices and it is so for a reason. An estimated one pound of saffron consists of about 225,000 to 500,000 dried stigmas and requires the picking by hand of 75,000 flowers. That gives an idea of the human labor involved in harvesting saffron and hence the precious nature of the spice.

Saffron is very popular as a spice in all international cuisines. It is an indispensable ingredient in most Mughlai dishes and erstwhile Mughlai chefs used this herb liberally in the rich concoctions they prepared for the royal table. Saffron gives a beautiful tinge and a special aroma to a dish. It is used in sweets as well as in curries. In India, to serve dishes decorated with saffron is regarded as a mark of honor to the guest and has become the norm rather than the exception. On account of its coloring and aromatic properties, saffron is used mostly as a food additive in culinary, bakery and confectionery preparation. It is used in several exotic dishes, particularly in Spanish rice specialties and French fish preparations. It is also used for coloring butter, cheese, pudding and pastry. People in Europe and India use it to season various foods be it sweet or savory.

Saffron finds many uses in Ayurveda, Unani, Chinese and Tibetan medicine. It is popularly known as a stimulant, warm and dry in action, helping in urinary, digestive and uterine troubles. In Ayurveda, saffron is used to cure chronic diseases such as asthma and arthritis. It is also useful in treating cold and cough. Ayurvedic medicines containing saffron are used to treat acne and several skin diseases. A paste of the spice can be used as a dressing for bruises and superficial sores. Ancient texts on Ayurveda have information about the herb’s use as an aphrodisiac. It is largely used as an indigenous medicine across India. Saffron enjoys great reputation as a drug which strengthens the functioning of the stomach and promotes its action. It is beneficial in the treatment of several digestive disorders. It is used in medicines that reduce inflammation. A combination of saffron and ghee is used to treat diabetes. Saffron also merits usage as a strengthening agent for the heart and as a cooling agent for the brain. It has been found beneficial in the treatment of urinary problems. Traditionally saffron is believed to promote fairness of the complexion. The advertisements for fairness creams on television never fail to mention kesar as one of its components. It is an age-old belief that pregnant women give birth to ‘fair’ babies, if they consume saffron.  However, saffron may induce abortion; hence pregnant women should not take it in large doses.

Since saffron is very expensive, unscrupulous dealers often adulterate it. So one has to be very careful while buying saffron and should never buy it from roadside hawkers. In order to understand commercial saffron, it is important to know the make-up of the saffron plant. Commercial saffron comes from the bright red stigmas of the Crocus Sativus. The stigmas are the female part of the flower. In a good year each saffron crocus plant might produce several flowers. Each flower contains three stigmas which are only part of the saffron crocus that when dried (cured) properly, become commercial saffron. Each red stigma is like a little capsule that encloses the complex chemicals that make up the saffron’s aroma, flavor and yellow dye. In order to release these chemicals the threads are to be steeped. Though powdered saffron is more efficient, there is increased scope for adulteration. Sometimes the male parts of the saffron flower (the stamens) are added to increase weight. Sometimes ground yellow stamens are sold as powdered saffron. Legitimate powdered saffron is red-orange and is made by grinding saffron stigmas.

Since over-use of saffron in cooking may lead to a bitter taste, one has to be careful. According to experts, for every tablespoon of saffron that you need to use, add three tablespoons of water. Use a spoon and make sure that the saffron threads get properly soaked; take care not to crush the threads. Then add the mixture to a glass containing about 30-50 ml of lukewarm water and mix thoroughly. Leave the saffron in the glass for a minimum of 2 hours. Prepare your recipe as usual and add the contents of the glass along with the saffron threads when required.

Saffron is rightly called the magical herb. It has varied uses ranging from culinary to medicinal and beauty and has been highly valued by man since ancient times. Tell me how you make use of this precious spice. I’m sure you all agree that a tiny pinch of saffron is all you need to make that big difference in your dish.

Try out these recipes that are made magical with kesar…

Murgh Zafrani do Pyaza

 

Kesari Indrayani

Kaju Pista Badam Kesar Burfi

Till I write again.

Sanjeev Kapoor

 

Vrats – the logical way!

That time of year has already begun when we, especially Indians, indulge in some hardcore fasting or vrat rules, and most of which is usually to please the God. The navratras, like always, have set the trend which will go till the end of the year with various other festivals of different religions. I really wonder how people can associate a particular time and day to please the God – isn’t it that if the almighty is there, looking after us and taking care, we should be thankful to him all 365 days and why only for 9 days? Instead of doing so, we actually nurture the mean human nature by keeping fasts and vrats on festivals, without even giving it a logical thinking as to why we actually do them. Even God doesn’t want us to starve and keep him happy, he wants us to be wise and keep our bodies, minds and souls pure, fresh and healthy. We should eat food not too less and nor too much, commonly termed as ‘yukta aahar’ and eating simple, nutritious and pure food even when not fasting is what is preached by the Bhagvad Gita as well.

Fasting or keeping vrats, according to me is all a part of applying self-discipline as the season changes. Scientifically speaking, our body constantly requires cleansing and detoxification, which, generally goes ignored by us humans due to the rustle-bustle of our daily lives, or I would put it this way that by nature, we humans are actually not disciplined. Thus, these vrats, in the name of God are doing nothing but helping us clean our systems in all possibilities and the most by consuming the right type of food. The message is simple – eat these particular foods and eat them at the right time, this is what was started long ago by our gurus and is still followed. To which the logic is simple – if there will be fear in the minds of the people in the form of Godly rituals, the right thing will be done at any cost! Body digestion processes are related to change of season, and most of the religions provide all the right reasons to indulge in a particular type of food at the right time, which help detoxify our bodies in the long run.

Look at this fasting thing in a practical way – getting food items, cooking them, eating them and finally digesting the food is a nonstop process in a human being’s life. Not to forget that all these activities also take up a lot of our energy and time. Food, though it provides us with energy, is not always good as certain foods do make our minds dull and agitated. So, simply to revitalize the minds, these fasting days come as a saviour by making us conserve our energy by eating light and simple food. Also, our bodies have a limit to tolerate any or all types of food and vrats are the best way to give a break and rest to the digestive system as well as the entire body. Most of the vrats call for vegetables and fruits in the diets, and I think it is absolutely necessary for the body to cater to these needs also and not just keep on indulging in our favourite foods all the time! Also, according to the tridosha theory of Ayurveda, our health is a result of the balance between the vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth and water). So, when we fast with a special diet on particular days, it helps in the health and wellbeing of the entire body by bringing nutritional balance.

Summing it all up, be it the Hindu navratras or the Jain paryushans or the Catholic Lent or the Muslim rozas – whatever religion the fast or vrat belong to, there is always a literal and scientific meaning attached to these which should be the reason for us to apply them as and when required as it only helps in adding to the betterment of our bodies. On the other hand, let me ask you a very simple question – will you still keep these vrats if there were no Godly rituals attached to them? If it’s the fear of God which makes us keep these vrats so appropriately and that all the non-doable things can be kept away by instilling this fear – then, can we apply the same logic in keeping mobile phones away? Why not introduce a ‘mobile vrat’ time in each month and be a part of it?

Well, on a lighter note, give a thought about this…because I would really be interested in knowing what you all have to say about this! But, do enjoy some of the recipes from http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com that I’m sharing with you all –

Vrat ki Kadhi 
Kootoo Ke Aate Ki Puri 
Adrak Navratan

Tell me about the dishes you made this navrata!

Happy fasting!