Excerpt: The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian by Nandita Iyer

Food blogger Nandita Iyer’s cook book provides nutritional advice and fuss-free vegetarian recipes. This excerpt reveals how she started cooking and features an excellent sweet potato recipe perfect for winters

books Updated: Jan 05, 2018 20:39 IST
Nandita Iyer
Nandita Iyer
Hindustan Times
Saffron Trail,food blog,sweet potato
Nandita Iyer is the creator of the popular food blog Saffron Trail(Courtesy the author)

The Birth of This Book
Fifteen years ago, for a brief period of time, I lived in Shivaji Park, Mumbai, in a shared paying-guest accommodation with four other women. A terrace converted into a large hall-like room with five single beds, five small steel almirahs and a bathroom – it was the most basic of spaces to live in. A cudappah (stone) slab in one corner of the room with a two-burner gas stove and a couple of stone shelves underneath it constituted the kitchen. The five of us took turns cooking, and the constraints of space, appliances and ingredients ensured that the food was utterly basic – essentially dal-rice, khichdi, poha or anything else that could be made in a small pressure cooker and/or a kadhai. My studies and job left me with no time or energy to experiment in the kitchen, after all.

During that phase in my life, there was neither the time nor the wherewithal to cook anything beyond the basics. Perhaps to compensate for this – and to nurture my passion for food – I started scribbling down recipes or ideas for dishes in the form of a makeshift cookbook. However, these armchair cooking escapades in a foolscap notebook seemed silly even to me.

After I got married, I moved to the United States and my books, along with other sundry items, were packed in cartons, left at my parents’ home in Mumbai, and consequently forgotten. This move brought food back into my life, and I started cooking a great deal more. Thankfully, my husband was a fuss-free eater and welcomed my culinary experiments with enthusiasm. His encouragement pushed me to let loose my creativity in the kitchen and, in March 2006, I started my food blog at a time when ‘food blog’ wasn’t even a legitimate term.

Iyer’s Rainbow smoothie (Courtesy Nandita Iyer)

The blog, which I named Saffron Trail, began as a place where I could record the recipes I had created on an impulse and tried out on my husband. Given my medical degree and study of nutrition, the food I prepared always followed the basic principles of healthy eating, but did not compromise on taste. Over the years, my focus shifted to recipes that would benefit people who wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle. My attention to diabetic-friendly recipes, quick weeknight dinners for working professionals, incorporating superfoods into one’s diet, etc., received a lot of positive feedback from readers. Saffron Trail slowly grew in terms of both content and audience, and today has over 700 recipes with a wonderful and loyal reader base that keeps encouraging me to invent, cook and share more of my cooking.

When I shared the news of signing a book deal with my Amma, she unexpectedly brought up the forgotten notebook of recipes I had left with her. ‘I saw that notebook with your handwritten recipes among your packed things years ago. I’m proud that your dream has turned into reality,’ she said. Her gentle praise brought back memories of the girl who had dreamt of writing a cookbook even when she had a barely-functional kitchen.

I strongly believe that every little dream, even those that are buried deep within our subconscious, become building blocks for our future. This book is proof of that.


Helpful Healthy Cooking Tips

■ When cooking ingredients with a long cooking time (for example, rown or red rice, beetroots, chickpeas, rajma, whole wheat pasta, etc.) cook a bigger batch so that you already have one healthy ingredient (or two) sitting in the refrigerator when you plan your next meal.

■ When in doubt, soak some beans overnight. These can be used in salads for lunch or to cook a khichdi or misal for dinner. Don’t want to use the soaked beans immediately? Sprout them. Drain and put them in a bottle to sprout. Make use of the sprouts in a salad, pulao, khichdi, smoothies or along with vegetables in a curry.

■ Prepare a triple batch of dry ingredients for pancakes and store it in bottles or sealable plastic bags. This way you only have to measure once for three breakfasts.

■ Prepare a dry mix for instant dosas by combining wheat flour, oat flour, corn meal, sorghum flour or any other combination you like with a dash of spices such as black pepper, dried curry leaves, etc. and you are minutes away from a hearty dosa.

■ Use the pressure cooker to its full capacity using separators. For this, it is useful to have a general idea of foods that have similar cooking times. For example, beetroot and brown rice both take around 15 minutes on low heat, potato and lentils cook for similar times.

■ When grinding a fresh paste for a curry or a sambar, double the quantity, freeze half and make sure you jot this down in your weekly menu for another day.

■ The same rule applies for salad dressings. Prepare a full bottle and, as long as there is no fresh garlic or herbs swimming in your dressing, it will do just fine.

You can always add the fresh ingredient to the required quantity of dressing just before use.

■ Salads in glass jars are very popular. Chop and prep once for five salads during the week. Carrots, sprouts, cooked beans, hardier leaves like kale, cooked beetroots, radish slices, etc. will stay fresh for a few days. Make sure the bottles are airtight and store in the refrigerator.

■ While cleaning and prepping fresh produce, make sure you wash veggies, fruits and green leaves well. As this is a given, it is not included in the steps for the recipes. Soaking produce in a small tub of water with a mix of lemon juice and vinegar (1 tbsp each) helps remove most of the pesticide residue.

Nandita Iyer (Courtesy the author)


Recipe for Sweet Potato Parathas

When my kitchen garden goes on a sweet potato rampage, I have the happy problem of plenty. I tackle the sweet potato overload by making every possible dish with this humble, ear thy vegetable. My son is a big fan of these parathas. He has them for dinner and then asks me if I can pack the same in his lunch box.

As the mashed sweet potato mix is kneaded into the dough, it is easy work for beginner cooks too.

MAKES 4 parathas

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE DOUGH

1 large sweet potato

(approx. 300 g)

1¼ cups wholewheat flour

½ tsp grated ginger

½ tsp salt

2–3 tbsp finely chopped

fresh coriander leaves

1 tsp raw mango powder

(amchoor)

½ tsp red chilli powder

1 tbsp yogurt

1 tsp groundnut oil

FOR THE PARATHAS

2 tbsp wholewheat flour

1 tbsp ghee or gr oundnut oil


METHOD

FOR THE DOUGH

1.Scrub the sweet potato and put it in a pressure cooker. Pour some water into the cooker and pressure cook on high heat until the cooker reaches full pressure (first whistle). Turn off the flame. Open the cooker after the pressure subsides.

2.Peel the sweet potato and mash it.

3.Transfer the mash to a large mixing bowl.

4.Add all the ingredients for the dough, except the oil.

5.Work the flour into the mashed sweet potato and yogurt.

6.Add water 1 tsp at a time, kneading well, till you have a soft, pliable dough.

7.Give the dough a final knead with the oil.

8.Cover and keep aside for 15 minutes.

FOR THE PARATHAS

1.Divide the dough into 4 portions.

2.Roll out each portion into a slightly thick paratha, using dry flour to prevent it from sticking to the surface.

3.Place a tava over moderate heat.

4.When hot, place the rolled paratha on it and cook for 1 minute.

5.Flip the paratha and apply some ghee or oil on the cooked side.

6.Press down on it with a spatula or a round wooden disc. You’ll see bubbles forming on the surface, or the paratha may even fluff up fully.

7.Turn it over and apply some more ghee or oil on the other side.

8.Flip and cook for few more seconds.

Read more: Bring back home a taste of Sikkim

TO SERVE

1.Remove the paratha from the tava and keep warm in an insulated

box or in a kitchen towel till ready to serve.

2.Make the remaining parathas in the same way.

3.Serve with my favourite roasted pineapple chilli chutney… or any other accompaniment of your choice.

These parathas are best eaten hot off the tava. If you are packing them for lunch, wrap tightly in foil and pack in an insulated lunch box that will keep the parathas warm. Sweet potato is a rich source of vitamin A, more specifically carotenoids, providing antioxidant and anti inflammatory benefits and boosting immunity.

Also, those aiming to increase the fibre content of their diet would do well to befriend this root vegetable.

First Published: Jan 05, 2018 20:21 IST