June 2016 By Naini Setalvad Naini Setalvad explores the healthy side of the succulent Andhra cuisine My love for vegetarian Andhra cooking began when I ate Pedatha’s (Subhadra, daughter of our late president Dr. V. V Giri) food. Although Andhra food has a well deserved reputation for being fiery and spicy, it has many healthy components as well. For one thing, the cuisine makes liberal use of vegetables and lentils. The cooking medium is ghee and it uses coconut liberally, both good quality fats. The cuisine is also renowned for its range of chutneys, wet and dry, that aid digestion and well-being. The grain is basically rice with an occasional foray into ragi (finger millet), both of which are gluten free. Ragi is a good source of calcium, and over the years this grain is recommended for feeding mothers and children. The daily Andhra vegetarian diet is very healthy. The breakfast is normally idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes) dosa (savoury rice and lentil crisp crepes), or pesarattu dosa (a thin savoury crispy crepe made of moong) served with sambhar, podi and coconut chutney, washed down with copious quantities of coffee. Lunch and dinner usually consist of fluffy rice with a dash of ghee, accompanied by one or two side dishes like koora (vegetables) pulusu (dals and lentils with a liberal use of spices) the Andhra charu (rasam, a watery soup made from grams and tomatoes) accompanied by the panchadi (chutney) and the amazing podis (dry seed and lentil powders). The last course is usually curd rice and fried sun-dried chillies (the state is known for its red chillies). Pickles are also staple to this land of spice, particularly its avakai pickle, a fiery hot mango pickle that is a favourite among the Andhraites. On special occasions there would be an additional rice preparation, as well as vepuda (roasted vegetables often made from brinjal, potato, lady finger or bitter gourd) which would be relatively healthy since they were roasted instead of fried. Unfortunately, they add a few crisps in the meal which can be easily avoided. Like any cuisine there are sweets like badam payasam (almond desert with gram, milk, nuts and saffron), and minapasunni (sweet gram balls with nuts). These can be made more nutritious by substituting jaggery for sugar, and partaking in small quantities occasionally . How my mouth salivates with pleasure as I think of curry leaf, brinjal or carrot chutney. And how can I forget the sesame seed or curry leaf powder, which a typical vegetarian Andhra meal would be incomplete without? I must add that it is also great for health. One of my favourite Andhra vegetarian dishes is the thotakoora koora (leafy vegetable). A unique combination of greens and roasted grams, this dish is high in proteins, calcium, iron and fibre. A must try is the aratidhoota koora (banana stem vegetable), a side dish with a dash of sesame. I also love the beerakaya pesarapappu (green grams with ridge gourd) and chintha chiguru pappu (dal with brinjal and tender tamarind leaves). Also try the vankaya vepudu (brinjal roast). The cuisine also infuses many of their rices with veggies, herbs and spices. A must-try is the raw mango rice (mamidikaya anmam), the tangy tamarind rice (pulihora) which, according to Pedatha, stays fresh up to two days and needs no reheating. One cannot write about Andhra food without including the rich flavours and textures of Hyderabad’s Mughlai food, famous around the world. The cuisine has its roots in Persia and Afghan due to the political alliances struck by the rulers through marriages with the princesses from those regions. Traces of Arabic, Turkish and Mughlai flavours are part of the Hyderabad cuisine. The Hyderabadi dum pukht cooking (sealing the vessel with dough and simmering the ingredients over a slow flame for a long period) is renowned. Large cauldrons filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices, are sealed with dough, and simmered on a low flame to make a simple, one-dish meal. As a vegetarian I favour mirch ka salan (chilli and peanut curry) baghare baigan (stuffed brinjal with coconut and peanut), the thickened yoghurt raita with chillis, onion and coriander, the khatti dal (lentils cooked in a thin gravy with tamarind pulp, tomatoes, chilli and onions, and the tamate ki chutney (dry tomato chutney). I normally eat this last with plain rice. I would also opt for their masoor dal khichdi (lentil and rice preparation) as it is a very soothing meal by itself especially when accompanied by thickened yoghurt raita and a plate of kachumber (salad). Of course I love the khubani ka meetha, one of the Nawabi recipes of a sweet originally made from dried apricots from Afghanistan. On the whole, Andhra food is an explosion of flavours in the mouth, and a must-try for all gastronomic explorers. Pedatha’s curry leaf chutneyChoose fresh tender leaves for this blend of nutrition and flavour Ingredients Curry leaves – 2 cups Thick tamarind pulp – 3 tbsps Jaggery (optional) – 1 tbsp Oil – 4 tbsps Salt to taste The 1st tempering Split black gram (husked) – 1 1/2 tbsps Mustard seeds – 1 tbsp Cumin seeds – 1 tsp Red chillies – 8-10 nicked at tail with stalks retained Asafoetida powder or paste – 1 tsp Coriander leaves – 1 cup, chopped roughly The 2nd tempering Split black gram (husked) – 1/2 tsp Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp Method Wash the curry leaves and pat dry. Heat 2 tbsps oil in a wok and on a low flame, roast the curry leaves until crisp. Take care to see that they remain green. Set aside. In another wok, heat 1 tbsps oil for the 1st tempering. Add the gram; as it turns golden, add the mustard and then the cumin. Switch off the flame and add the red chillies. As they turn bright red, stir in the remaining ingredients of the 1st tempering. Grind this tempering along with the curry leaves, tamarind pulp, jaggery and salt into a coarse paste. Do not add water while grinding. Heat the remaining oil for the 2nd tempering. Add the gram; as it turns golden, pop the mustard. Garnish the pachchadi with this crunchy tempering. Khubani ka meetha Ingredients 100 grams of dried apricots (deseeded) 50 grams of dried figs 20 grams of almonds (peeled) Method Chop the dried apricots and dried figs into 4 pieces Chop the almonds into thin slices. Soak the dried apricots and dried figs in water overnight just enough to soak them Heat the soaked dried apricots and dried figs on a slow flame for 5 minutes Remove from the flame, serve chilled or hot garnished with almonds. About the author: Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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