The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Indian Cuisine (and Two Bonus Recipes!)
Recipes in India are traditionally not written down, but,
rather, are passed down verbally from generation to generation.
Over the centuries, the cuisine has evolved to include pungent
spices and rich flavors, and can be quite different depending
on the region (India is nearly the size of Europe, after all).
Many Indian restaurants focus on Northern Indian cuisine,
but there is a common thread that weaves all the types of
Indian foods together: Ayurveda. This ancient science system
is a comprehensive set of principles that integrates health,
diet, wellness and balance to support the mind, body and spirit.
Most Indian food is based on Ayurvedic principles, and is
made to support the body nutritionally and spiritually. It
includes six basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent
Rather than being based on calories and fat grams, Ayurvedic
tradition looks at a food's properties, its assimilation in
the body, water levels, salt levels and characteristics of
the individual person eating the food.
Much of Indian cuisine revolves around health-promoting herbs,
spices and vegetables, and here we've compiled some of the
healthiest among them. Be sure to also check out the tasty
and nutritious Indian recipes at the end of the article.
Dishes made with ginger, onion and garlic combinations are
popular in Northern Indian cuisine. It's used for its warming
properties and unique taste and aroma. Cardamom pods, which
belong to the ginger family, are also popular.
Health Benefits: Ginger contains gingerol, a compound
that's thought to relax blood vessels, stimulate blood flow
and relieve pain. It's commonly used as a digestive aid and
contains compounds that ease motion sickness and nausea and
inhibit vomiting. This makes it a helpful spice for morning
sickness or for people suffering from the side effects of
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties, which means
it may be useful in fighting heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's
disease and arthritis. Plus, it's high in antioxidants that
fight all kinds of diseases.
Turmeric, a bright yellow-orange root, is ground into a powder
and used in countless Indian dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian
varieties. Perhaps the most well-known use is for curry, as
turmeric is what gives the dish its bright yellow color.
Health Benefits: Turmeric contains curcumin, the active
ingredient that gives the spice its color. It has potent anti-inflammatory
properties and has been found to be helpful in fighting inflammatory
bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis,
rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's
disease. It's also shown promise in offering cardiovascular
and liver protection.
3. Garam Masala
Garam masala is actually a mixture of different spices that
are added to many Indian dishes. Typically, garam masala includes
cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon, but
may also included nutmeg or bay leaves, depending on whether
meat, fish or vegetables are being cooked.
Health Benefits: This combination of spices offers
many beneficial properties. Cinnamon is anti-microbial and
anti-inflammatory, and it may help boost brain function and
control blood sugar in people with diabetes. Cumin is an excellent
source of iron, it aids digestion and it has cancer-fighting
properties. Coriander is sometimes referred to as an "anti-diabetic"
plant because it helps control blood sugar. It also has anti-inflammatory
properties and it helps lower cholesterol.
4. Mustard Seed
Mustard seed may be added to hot ghee (clarified butter used
in Indian cooking) to lend a nutty flavor to many dishes.
It's also used as a flavoring for vegetables and lentils.
Health Benefits: Mustard seed is a powerful anti-microbial
agent (it can kill e.
coli bacteria, listeria and other food-borne pathogens).
Isothiocyanates, a compound in mustard seed, have also been
found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and protect against
5. Red Chilies
Red ground chilies are used to add spice, warmth and intense
flavor to many Indian curries and vegetable and meat dishes.
They're also used to make Indian hot chutneys and hot pickles,
which are added to meals for spice, according to each individual's
Health Benefits: The active ingredient in chili peppers
an anti-inflammatory compound that helps with a variety of
health issues including pain, cancers and high cholesterol,
triglycerides and platelet aggregation. Chili peppers are
also known to help clear congestion, boost immunity, help
with weight loss and prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.
Yogurt provides a cooling contrast to the warmer, spicier
Indian dishes, and is often served as a side dish, salad or
Lassi, a popular yogurt-based beverage that comes in flavors
like mango, rosewater or salted.
Health Benefits: Traditionally, yogurt is a fermented
dairy product made by adding bacteria to milk. The good bacteria
in yogurt (provided it is still live, which is not the case
in many pasteurized yogurt varieties) have been found to enhance
the immune system, improve arthritis, fight stomach ulcers,
promote good digestion and even extend life. Yogurt is also
a good source of calcium and has been found to promote fat
loss while retaining lean muscles.
Two Tasty Indian Recipes to Try
If you're ready to experiment with some exotic, yet healthy,
tastes, these two dishes are for you.
- 1 pound boneless chicken, cut into cubes
- 2 tsp red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp tandoori powder
- 1 tsp powdered coriander seeds
- 3/4 cup yoghurt
- 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed finely
- 1 large piece ginger, crushed finely
- 1 tsp powdered cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp mint powder (or use chopped mint leaves)
- 1/2 tsp chopped coriander leaves
- Salt to taste
- Oil for brushing the chicken
- 2-3 long skewers
- Mix together all the ingredients except oil and chicken.
- Coat the chicken pieces with the marinade and refrigerate
for at least 5 hours
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come
to room temperature.
- Put the chicken on the skewers and brush with a little
- Bake in a moderate oven at 375 deg F for about 30 minutes
or till golden brown.
- Serve with wedges of lime and chopped coriander.
Sunita's Indian Recipe Collection
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 large onions
- 4-5 green chilies
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 tbsp. chopped coriander
- 1 large piece of ginger
- 3-4 large cloves garlic
- 2-3 tbsp ghee or oil for sauteeing
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks
- 2-3 cloves
- 1 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp punjabi chole masala (a spice blend)
- Salt to taste
- Blend together the large tomato, one onion, cumin seeds,
ginger, garlic, green chilies, cinnamon and cloves to a
smooth paste, using very little water.
- Slice the other onion.
- Heat the ghee and add the bay leaves.
- After 10 seconds, add the sliced onion and sautee till
the onion turns light brown.
- Now add the tomato paste and fry till the ghee leaves
the sides of the masala.
- Add the dry powders i.e chili powder, turmeric, sugar
and coriander powder.
- Sautee for 1 minute.
- Now add the chopped tomato and coriander leaves.
- Sautee for about 5 minutes.
- Now add the chickpeas with the water, tomato paste and
salt to taste.
- Add some water to get a gravy.
- Add the garam masala and punjabi chole masala and mix
- Let it come to a boil on low heat.
- Simmer for about 5 minutes after it comes to a boil.
- Serve hot with batura (an Indian bread).
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