By Naini Setalvad
Probiotics like dahi, khimichi and dhokla strengthen our immune systems, fight disease and add depth to our culinary experience, says Naini Setalvad
Dahi, mung dal chila, paneer, dhoklas, dosas, uttapams, idlis and breads are the mainstay of our kitchens. These foods are not merely tasty; they also offer numerous health benefits.
Dahi (curd), which is probably the most common probiotic consumed by Indians, is good for digestion and for the stomach’s health. While the expression ‘probiotic’ is of recent coinage, it merely refers to food rich in health-enhancing micro-organisms, some of which has been a part of our eating experience since antiquity. Earlier referred to as fermented foods, probiotic foods are valued for their taste as well as nutritional value.
Sauerkraut (a fermented cabbage pickle) has been consumed since the days of the Roman empire, and continues to be a staple in several countries including Ukraine and Bulgaria. Yoghurt and kefir are traditional forms of fermented milk that are a part of European culinary culture.
In Asia, we have pickled fermented vegetables like khimichi, tofu and miso made from soy, which should, in fact, ideally be consumed fermented.
Closer home, many families consider a meal incomplete if it does not include curd, lassi or chaas. Additionally the Punjabi has his paneer, the South Indian his dosas and idlis and the Gujarati his dhokla. Indian cuisine is undoubtedly richer thanks to the ample presence of fermented food in its variegated repertoire.
The good bacteria in fermented foods consume starch and sugar in our food and arrest the production of lactic acid, which in turn prevent flatulence. Micro-organisms in certain fermented foods strengthen the body’s immune function by supplying B-vitamins, and consuming harmful micro-organisms. They keep the ecosystem of the digestive tract healthy and prevent colon cancer.
Fermented milk products strengthen a child’s bones and teeth, as they help the body absorb more calcium. Bacterial enzymes break down milk protein and convert it into yogurt, cheese or kefir, which is easier to digest for many lactose-intolerant people.
However, for probiotic food to benefit us we need a diet rich in soluble fibre from various sources including legumes, oats, barley, onions, sweet potatoes, broccoli and carrots. These foods provide an ideal environment for good bacteria to breed. Prune juice is also a great source of stimulants for friendly bacteria that live inside our bodies.
Modern packaged foods have been found to destroy good bacteria and are best avoided. Therefore, one should make fermented foods like pickles, dahi and dhokla at home as they have been made traditionally and not buy them off the shelf.
Here are some time-tested recipes for adventurous souls who wish to go beyond readymade mixes and packaged fermented foods.
Mung dal chilla
250 gm yellow mung dal
2 bunches of spinach finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander finely chopped
100 gm white gourd grated
100 gm carrots chopped in long strips
100 gm capsicum chopped in long strips
100 gm onion chopped in long strips
100 gm cabbage chopped in long strips
1/4 tsp ginger chilli paste
2 tbsps green chutney
1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp asafoetida
Chat masala to taste
Salt to taste
1. Soak the mug dal over night
2. Add salt and asafoetida and grind it to a paste
3. Add grated white gourd, spinach, coriander and ginger-chilli paste. Now the batter is ready to make into chillas (dosa-like pan cakes)
4. Place a nonstick pan on a slow flame, place a little batter on it and spread out in circles like a dosa until it is evenly thin. Apply a little oil and wait for it to brown nicely.
5. Once cooked add a layer of green chutney on the chilla
6. Place the vegetables on it and sprinkle chat masala
7. Roll the chilla like a frankie and roast it on a non-stick pan
8. Cut it into two pieces and serve hot
100 gm curd
100 gm grated carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped coriander
1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves
2–3 green chillies finely chopped
Salt to paste
1. Take curd in a bowl and add the grated carrots
2. Add coriander, mint, green chil-lies and salt
3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and serve chilled
Fermented rice flour sandwicha
150 gm rice, raw
50 gm urad dal (split black gram)
1/2 tsp methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)
100 gm cucumber
100 gm tomato
100 gm onion
Green chutney to taste
Salt to taste
1. Mix urad dal and rice
2. Soak overnight with methi seeds
3. Remove excess water and add salt and grind using a blender
4. Keep the ground batter aside for 5–6 hours
5. Pour a thin layer of the batter into a flat plate
6. Steam for 10 minutes. Once the batter is cooked cut into square pieces
7. Cut cucumber, tomato and onion into thin slices
8. Apply green chutney on the square steamed batter and place cucumber, tomato and onion over it. Put another square steamed batter over it
9. Serve the sandwich with green chutney
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