How to be a fit foodie

You’ve posted those food pictures on Instagram with cool filters, you’ve tweeted your 160-character restaurant review, and you’ve written a longer opinion on Facebook, tagging the friends you dined with, and all those you missed. And oh, you’ve used a dozen hashtags with all your updates.

Lettuce salad with dressing

Congrats, you’re a foodie! (And yes, I’m guilty of all of the above).

But alas, being a foodie comes with a great burden. What to eat, what not to eat. Watching the waistline expand is not anyone’s favourite activity but with dozens of amazing restaurants to visit, hundreds of appetizing dishes to try and so many big fat weddings to attend, what is a foodie to do to never gain weight? Or avoid clogged arteries and spiked sugar levels?

Simple. First, you get fit: jog, run, dance, swim, do pilates or yoga or whatever you fancy. Next, you continue being fit while enjoying your food. Here’s how.

Stop counting calories.

Think in terms of nutrition instead. Is this deep-fried gobi pakora nutritious, or is it too heavily loaded with transfats to cancel out the nutrients of the humble cauliflower? Will this lamb burger help me get my daily dose of much-needed protein?

Figure out what doesn’t work for you. And avoid it.

I’m not lactose intolerant but I know my body doesn’t like too much of it- it makes me bloat and builds up congestion. So I skip cheese-laden dishes. While I do enjoy a good pizza once in a while, it’s not high up on my list of preferred foods.

Pizza L'Opera

Skip sugar.

No excuses on this one. S and I have been following this mantra for a few months now, and it’s working wonders for us. It’s not just the crazy amount of calories that sugar adds, but the spike in glucose levels and the addiction that comes with it (you can never have just one bite of cake no matter how much you try to resist). So yep, skip it completely. And if you can, skip the hidden sugars too (ketchup, mayo, processed and packaged foods… you get the drift).

Desserts at Masala Library

Order less.

When you’re in a restaurant where you’re not sure about portion sizes or how much you can eat, order just a dish or two to start with. If you’re still hungry, you can always order more food.

Don’t fall for tempting promotions.

Happy meals don’t make happy waistlines, but bulging bellies. Unlimited platters may give you bountiful joy today, bad stomach tomorrow. And free flow of booze may give you a nasty hangover the next day. So all those crazy food offers are just going to mess with your digestion, your focus at work and your arm fat.

Food promotions - high tea

Cook cool stuff at home. Even if you don’t cook.

If you or your cook (read: mom, spouse, sibling, roomie) already prepare delicious food at home, great. If you don’t, learn. Once you realize how much fun it is to make your own scrumptious kebab or burger or lasagna, you won’t want to eat them outside. And you can control the amount of refined flour, bread, and other ingredients that go into your food. And oh, your own food makes an excellent photo op for Instagram too. The compliments will soon come trickling in.

Baked Spaghetti in tomato pesto

Go seasonal.

If someone offers you mango-based dessert in December, you know the fruit’s been frozen or preserved, right? You’ll skip the mango dessert and opt for the strawberry instead. Anywhere in the world, choose the dish that uses seasonal or fresh or easily available local ingredients.

Desserts at Sassy Spoon

It’s okay to waste.

When you just can’t eat anymore, STOP. It’s your body telling you that enough is enough. Eat anymore and you’re at risk of adding unnecessary pounds, getting a stomach ache, getting sick right there at the party, unable to drive comfortably back home, or having a terrible bathroom emergency. My rule is: Better waste than to the waist.

Debutante Smoked Paprika Risotto (chicken + vegan)

Here in Yangon, I follow a simple shopping rule: if you spot something you may possibly need, just grab it. Yyou never know if you will see it on supermarket shelves again. So when I spotted risotto rice (“ideale per risotti” on the box label) at the neighbourhood CityMart last month, I couldn’t let it go. Now I have never cooked risotto before. In fact, S and I aren’t even really risotto fans. But since I like to fiddle around a bit in the kitchen, I thought, “Why not give it a try?”

I rushed home and looked around the kitchen shelf for what herbs and spices I had. A small bottle of smoked paprika! I had pounced on that a while ago because I can never seem to find it in Mumbai and a lot of interesting Italian and Mediterranean recipes feature this intriguing ingredient (wow, an unavoidable alliteration). Anyways I googled smoked paprika + risotto and came across a couple of delightful recipes (such as this one). Some had wine, some didn’t. Some had additional seasonings… it was all very confusing so I made a mishmash of the “best” recipes and set about making risotto the next afternoon. For the first time ever.

At the risk of sounding immodest, it turned out to be a great risotto debut. Even as non-fans, S and I enjoyed the dish. It tasted great, was extremely filling and was a wholesome meal. So S put it on the “repeat foods” list. Yes, such a list exists in our household. Anyways, now that I can make risotto, I believe anyone can. Here’s the recipe. Remember that you can tweak some of the seasonings to your taste, but you can’t skip the smoked paprika. It’s the ingredient that brings this wonderful risotto together. The smoky fragrance and flavor of the paprika is what made it a magical dish for us.

 

Roasted corn and smoked paprika risotto

Roasted corn and smoked paprika risotto

PS—I made two variations of risotto in separate pots: one vegetarian, the other with chicken. You can use whichever variant you like!

Debutante Smoked Paprika Risotto (with chicken and vegan versions)

Ingredients:

1 cup corn kernels (1 de-cobbed corn should be fine)

Half tablespoon butter (lesser the better- use oil if you want a vegan version)

Pinch of black pepper powder

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 finely chopped onion

1 to 2 tbsp smoked paprika (based on your taste)

1 to 2 tsp red chilli flakes

A pinch of mustard powder (see recipe notes)

1 cup risotto rice

4 to 5 cups (approximate 1 litre) chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe notes below)

A large handful of fresh basil leaves

1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Salt to taste

1 tbsp cheddar or parmesan cheese (optional, skip for vegan)

For chicken version: 300 grams chopped boneless chicken breast

Serves 3-4 people

Method:

  1. In a bowl, toss the corn kernels with butter, salt and pepper. Then spread the kernels on an oven tray and bake at 200 degrees C for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn and stir the corn halfway through so they are cooked evenly. The kernels should be a lovely golden brown when they’re roasted.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your stock (see recipe notes below), prep the vegetables and herbs, and wash the rice thoroughly.
  3. Time to begin the risotto! Heat some oil in a pan, and add onion and garlic. Stir on low flame for a couple of minutes, then add the smoked paprika, mustard, red chilli flakes, salt and half of the basil leaves.
  4. Mix well and cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the washed rice, and cook for another couple of minutes.
  6. Now it’s time to add the stock. You need to pour just 100 ml at a time while allowing the rice to cook. As the rice cooks off and absorbs the liquid you will need to add more stock, so keep the bottle or bowl handy by your stove.
  7. If you’re making the chicken version of the risotto, add it now.
  8. Keep the rice on low heat and stir often, keeping an eye out for the rice and the stock. Pour in the stock as required, a little at a time. Continue till the rice is cooked. This may take around 20-30 minutes.
  9. When the rice is almost done, add the remaining basil leaves, coriander and corn. Adjust the seasoning if you like. Then cook for couple more minutes and take off the flame. The risotto is ready!
  10. Garnish with grated cheese if you like. Dig in as soon as possible.

Accompaniments for serving:

Olive oil, red chilli flakes.

The risotto is a great one-pot dish, and a meal by itself. But if you’d like a dish to go with this, choose something light and not as rich, so pasta is ruled out. You could toss a salad or serve baguette pieces with an olive dip.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Tbsp: tablespoon; Tsp: teaspoon
  2. For the stock, you can use chicken or vegetable stock made at home or with store-bought cubes. Boil up to 1.5 – 2 litres of water in a large pot with assorted vegetables or chicken. I made vegetable stock at home with roughly chopped garlic, onion, carrot, cabbage and celery along with salt. Cook for a good 20-25 minutes. As the water evaporates, you will be left with 1 to 1.5 litres of water. You can throw away the veggies as they will be limp and mostly stripped of the nutrients. It’s all in the stock, baby!
  3. There are usually two things said about risotto preparation. First, it has to be prepared with wine. Secondly, you have to eat it immediately. I broke both the rules. 😛 If you want to use wine, choose a dry white option and add it while cooking the rice. And yes, it’s better if you have the risotto immediately. But if you are keeping it for later, you could keep aside some of the stock and add it to the risotto when re-heating it in the microwave or on the stove.
  4. If you don’t have mustard powder at home, you can dry roast mustard seeds then grind in your spice blender or with a mortar and pestle.

The Perfect Spanish Meal

It was a very special evening two weekends ago. My husband and I had been married barely six months, and had finally settled down into a new home of our own. That Saturday evening was the first time close friends were coming over, and the husband and I had decided to make it Spanish night! Food, drinks, décor—it was all muy español!

The menu was a carefully-selected spread of quintessential Spanish dishes—in name, taste, falvours and aromas: an olive dip and the very famous patatas bravas for starters, an elaborate vegetable paella with mushrooms side dish for the main course. The drink of the evening was very special home-made Spanish sangria!

To start with, the potatoes had been roasted to perfection in my convection microwave for around 45 minutes. I topped them off with the right mix of herbs and a tomato-based sauce– true Spanish style! And voila, the patatas bravas were ready. The mild crunchiness of the potatoes, paired with the tanginess of the herbs and the sourness of the tomatoes were a potent combination in this dish. The olive dip may have been quick to make, but the results were mind-blowing. The mixed and mashed olives just melted in my mouth when I tried the dip with pita bread.

My home-made Spanish sangria is the most on-demand dish or drink at home. This special evening, the red wine of the sangria swirled in my mouth as the liquor-soaked fruits added the right amount of kick, and the refreshing mixers I used created a tasteful dance of sorts in my mouth.

My centre table looked beautiful when the first course was served- decked in a variety of colours, textures and aromas. The bright red of the patatas bravas was muted by the dull maroon of the sangria, while the moss green olive dip added another colour to the mix. Served on the Indigo melamine quarter plates and serving dishes, the primary colour circle was complete, and our small table was a feast for the eyes. While the sour olive dip balanced out the sweet sangria, the strong flavours of the patatas bravas tomato sauce made a delicious combination, exercising all possible taste buds on the tongue.

For the main course, the table had been set with a floral blue placemat set that I had bought in Spain that complemented the Indigo dinner plates and printed blue paper tissues. The brown rice paella had been slow-cooked with herbs, spices and beans with some vegetables, so the aroma of the bay leaf and cinnamon stick lingered in our dining area for a long time after serving. This was a contrast to the sharp garlic-and-fresh-herbs flavour of the mushrooms I had cooked in a jiffy. Together, the combination was pure gold! On the Borosil plate, the earth-toned mushrooms and brown rice seemed to be part of a rustic meal, but looked very inviting with the brightly-coloured veggies and the contrasting aromas. The raw flavours of the mushrooms worked in tandem with the lemon zest of the paella, while the red and yellow peppers added the Spanish flag colours to the plate. Gorgeous!

With sangria in our Endessa glasses, we began to eat. It was the perfect meal for a lovely monsoon evening.

This blog post is part of the My Beautiful Food contest sponsored by Borosil. Visit their lovely website My Borosil to check out their range.

Restaurant Inspiration: Palak (Spinach) Chaat

(Note: This is my first food post!)

The first time I went to Veda for a meal (a restaurant at Palladium in Mumbai), I ordered the palak (spinach) chaat. It was yum- a great fine dining touch to street food. Since then, it’s been a must-repeat dish for me, and while the restaurant’s food quality is inconsistent, this dish is always par excellence.

Last weekend, Indian street food was my “theme” for Sunday night dinner, so chaats were on my menu. After debating between the classic Papri Chaat (another restaurant special) and this one, I opted for the latter. And the result?

Ta-dah!

spinach or palak chaat- Indian street food

My palak chaat recipe is adapted from various sources. Family members provided the pakora recipe, while the toppings were inspired by the original restaurant dish.

As with all things fried, the hubby took charge of the slotted spoon while I did the rest. There’s something about frying I just don’t like, mostly to do with the copious amount of oil that is used!

Enjoy the chaat!

Ingredients for palak pakora:
1 cup gram flour (besan)
10 spinach leaves (stalks removed), washed thoroughly and dried
3/4 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1- 1.5 cups water
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

Ingredients for chaat topping:
1 potato, boiled and chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 – 1 cup curd
1 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp red chilli powder
Handful of sev

Method:
Mix all the ingredients for the pakora to make a batter. Keep it aside. Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan.  While the oil gets warm, dip a spinach leaf in the batter until the leaf is fully coated. Check if the oil is hot by dropping a little batter into the oil- it should sizzle. Add the batter-coated spinach leaf and fry. Repeat this for the rest of the leaves. Place spinach pakoras on paper napkins to absorb the oil.

Making the chaat:
Arrange the pakoras on a large plate or tray. Top off each spinach pakora with some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions, curd, chaat masala, red chilli powder and sev.

Tips for making palak chaat:

  • When shopping for spinach, look for a bunch with small leaves so the pakoras are easier to handle.
  • You can use less curd and skip the tomatoes to let the crunchiness of the pakora come through.