One of the benefits of living in a country whose agricultural achievements are celebrated is easy access to seasonal, local and high-quality produce and spices. The classic dishes I have curated below make good use of this Indian bounty, from the rich winter greens to the diverse vegetables and grains produced in India. My own cooking is a hybrid approach shaped by the various places that I call home and my travels. I personally believe that there is no better cooking method than marrying the flavours and native ingredients from different parts of the world to our modern lifestyles.
The more I read and research as a psychologist, a nutritionist and a diehard foodie, the more I realise that intuitive cooking and good meal planning are underrated art forms. Going forth, in the coming years many generations may not be able to spend as much time as they would like in the kitchen. Most of my recipes are based on the idea of wholesome but cooking that is not time-intensive. So rest assured that most of the meals that I create are quick, easy and nutritionally balanced.
For example, when I entertain or plan a menu, I always prefer to guide my clients and take them through the sequence of the meal that we follow as a rule in the family. Start any festive meal with high-quality fibre in the form of vegetables or a salad with vinaigrette to preempt and control the upcoming sugar spikes. Potatoes, rice and breads are all starches or active carbohydrates which need to be paired with good quality protein, fat and fibre. Like they say in creative nutrition, make sure that your starches are always dressed up in good clothes and never go bare! The key is simplicity in planning and prep and a singular focus on choosing the right combinations to harness the nourishing properties of each of the ingredients. Here is a menu plan I created keeping in mind all of the above. Hope you experiment with these. Happy holidays!
Roasted Rainbow Slaw
An array of striking colours in any dish to start your meal qualifies it for an antioxidant burst full of vitamins and minerals to add to your vitality.
The science: Including apple cider vinegar before your main meal can cut sugar spikes by up to 20% and attenuate glucose and insulin responses.
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 large yellow bell pepper
- 1 large green bell pepper
- 1 Yellow or Green Zucchini
- 1 large orange carrot
- 1 cup shredded lettuce of choice
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- Orange zest as per taste (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and keep it handy.
- Clean the seeds from bell peppers, scrub the carrots. Cut the vegetables except for cabbage and lettuce into long thin strips and massage the chopped vegetables with olive oil. Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking tray and put the tray in the centre rack of the preheated oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes.
- Blend all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar of a mixer until thick and creamy.
- On a bed of cabbage and lettuce, add the rest of the vegetables. Top it up and lightly mix in the dressing.
Pro tip: You can also place a portion of this leftover salad onto a tortilla or roti and turn it into a healthy wrap.
Barley and mushroom risotto
This dish represents the goodness of whole grains and vegetables with all the sophistication of a main course dish at a fine dine event.
- 1/2 cup pearl barley soaked for 4 to 6 hours
- 1/2 cube of vegetable stock or a store-bought ready cube
- 1/2 tsp unsalted butter or olive oil
- 200 grams button mushrooms thinly sliced
- A sprinkle of salt
- 1/2 cup fresh green peas
- 1 small onion finely chopped garlic
- Sprig of thyme and 4 tbsp whole milk (optional)
- Drain the pearl barley and put the stock cube in a medium-sized pan with 1 cup of water with the cube. If you are using vegetable stock directly, pour the same quantity of stock into the pan.
- Place the pan over high heat and bring this liquid to a good boil till it reduces in quantity.
- Add the drained barley into the boiling stop and boil for 15 to 20 minutes with the green peas till the peas are plump and cooked but retain a bite to them.
- Remove from the heat and let it rest.
- In a pan with a little butter or olive oil, sautée crushed garlic, onions and mushrooms till they are lightly browned and roasted from both sides. This mixture should not be runny.
- Season with some salt and place the mushrooms on top of the cooked barley. Add a sprig of thyme and milk for some extra flavour and creamy texture.
Goan Style Chicken Cafreal
This is a protein-packed local Goan dish that is synonymous with festive eating. Fiery and rustic, it uses the season greens and packs a lot of flavour and zing at the same time.
- Coriander (cilantro) leaves with stems – 1 cup
- Green garlic and mint (1 cup coarsely chopped)
- 1 green chilly
- 2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp each of these whole spices – peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin seeds
- 2 tsp poppy seeds
- 1 tbsp ACV
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 kg chicken thighs (bone in)
- Marinate the Chicken
- Pat dry the chicken, make some gashes on the chicken thighs. Rub it well with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 tablespoon ginger garlic paste and 1 teaspoon salt.
- In a blender/grinder, add 1 cup coriander leaves with tender stems and rest of the ingredients. Grind to a smooth paste using water as required.
- Apply half of the prepared marinade to the chicken and let it marinate 2-3 hours or overnight preferably. Reserve the remaining marinade in the refrigerator.
- Before you cook the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
- Heat olive oil in a pan. Once it is hot, add the chicken pieces, cook until golden brown on both sides.
- Then add the reserved marinade along with 1/2 cup water, cook covered on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
- When the chicken is almost done, cook uncovered, till the gravy dries up a bit and the masala coats the chicken well.
Serving suggestion: Once done, sprinkle some lemon juice and serve hot along with some potato wedges and a hearty salad. Eat with your favourite bread or rice.
Pumpkin Curry With Chicken
This is my healthy twist on the traditional Parsi recipe called Dhansak minus the lentils.
- 500 grams chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
- 500 gms pumpkin
- 1-inch ginger roughly chopped
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 green chilli finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red Chilli powder
- 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala or all spice
- 1/2 cup tomato purée
- Salt as required
- A small bunch of finely chopped coriander (Dhania) leaves
- 1 tbsp Oil
- Heat oil in a heavy pan
- Add the garlic, onion, ginger, green chilly and chopped pumpkin. Sprinkle some salt and stir for about a minute, cover the pan and simmer until the pumpkin has softened.
- Using a hand blender, blend the pumpkin into a puree while it is in the pan. Add the tomato puree and the spices like the cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder and garam masala.
- Give it a good mix and saute for about 2 minutes.
- After 2 minutes add the chicken pieces along with a cup of water, cover the pan, turn the heat to low and cook until the chicken is cooked completely.
- Adjust the consistency of the curry by adding more water and also adjust the spices to suit your taste.
- Once done, turn off the heat. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves, transfer the pumpkin curry with chicken into a serving bowl and serve with brown rice, millet dalia (porridge) or a Kachumber salad (tomatoes, cucumber and onions, chopped and mixed).
The one thing that we cannot miss during the holiday season is a good dessert. Despite the indulgence in the air, I like to fix satisfying yet simple desserts around celebrations to counter the inflammation.
Banoffee Chia Pudding
This can be turned into a vegan, refined sugar-free, fibre rich and a fairly guilt-free treat.
- 1/4th cup raw chia seeds
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp yoghurt (avoid if vegan)
- 2 tbsp raw cacao powder
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 large banana sliced
- 1 tbsp honey
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 tsp butter or coconut oil
- Place the chia seeds, coconut milk, cacao powder, water and 2 tablespoons of yoghurt in a blender. Blend until almost smooth. Divide among 4, 125ml (1/2 cup) glasses. Place in the fridge for 2 hours to chill.
- Heat the butter or oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook the banana, turning it carefully, for 30-60 seconds on each side or until golden and caramelised. Remove from heat. Sprinkle it with sea salt. Cool for 2 minutes.
- Top the puddings with banana and drizzle with pan juices and honey. Sprinkle with coconut chips and cacao nibs (optional).
The classic dishes curated above make good use of the diverse Indian bounty, from rich winter greens to vegetables and grains produced in India. The recipes represent a hybrid approach shaped by a mosaic of the nutritionist’s travels and the philosophy of eating local. It’s all about marrying the goodness of global culinary ideas with native ingredients and a modern lifestyle.
They are quick, easy and nutritious. Intuitive cooking and good meal planning are underrated art forms. So dig into the likes of roasted rainbow slaw, pumpkin chicken curry and banana chia pudding. Happy Holidays!
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.