Having a balanced diet is cardinal in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In these fast paced, tech-savvy days, one needs to be two steps ahead to survive and the same goes for maintaining good health. And, one way of achieving that is having a well-balanced, nutritious and hygienic meal.
Typically, our food platter should consist of carbohydrates ( for energy ), proteins ( for development ), good fats, vitamins and minerals, all of the above in proportions appropriate to one’s lifestyle and physique. However, this is being compromised due to our hectic schedules and we rush to just satisfy our hunger and thirst in ways that are not necessarily healthy and understandably so. When we were young, our mothers take care of us and as we grow older, we have to do the same besides juggling our careers and personal lives. Cooking is not as simple as it would seem at the outset. Cutting our veggies and fruits, boiling our eggs, getting the recipes right and so on are some of the few, of an otherwise greater number of, things that go on while we cook. Hence, the need for super-fast recipes and ready availability of cut vegetables and fruits – both of which would make life easier to bear.
Here are a few pointers.
- 1. We can go for frozen vegetables. A number of mixed and individual varieties are available in the markets. If possible, avoid the ones which have salt in them. If you do pick the salted varieties, don’t add as much salt in your dish as you already have it in the frozen varieties.
- 2. Certain veggies like onions can be cut and stored in zip-loc bags or airtight containers and can be used as needed. Because, I cook for a family of two which eats like a family of three, my store of onions lasts for three days after which I cut and store again. You can cut your veggies during the weekend so that in your weekdays, you just cook your veggies and save some time, which would’ve been spent on cutting instead.
- 3. Use lids while cooking. It makes cooking faster and thus reduces your energy bill. My utensils have glass lids over them which is why I can see how much my veggies have cooked.
- 4. If possible, find tomato puree that’s made of just tomatoes. It adds a nice zing to certain dishes.
- 5. Make a relay system. Mentally cook your recipe first. Know what spices you use normally and keep them handy. Know the veggies which take longer to cook, cut and add those first. While these veggies are cooking, you can simultaneously cut the veggies that cook faster and then add them next. This way you won’t waste time in cutting all the veggies first and waiting till some cook before adding the rest.
- 6. Also,add few greens like spinach, cilantro and fenugreek in your dishes. They are very good sources of folate and iron.
- 7. Do try to incorporate lentils like lima beans, chickpeas, red kidney beans, yellow pigeon peas etc… into your diet and have good sized servings of those at least twice a week.
Now, here is a very basic recipe.
List of Ingredients:
- 1. 1/2 cup beans (lima/red kidney/chick peas )
- 2. 1 cup frozen vegetables of your choice
- 3. Any vegetable of your choice, which when cut should be equal to approx.. 2 or 3 cups
- 4. 2 medium sized onions … finely chopped
- 5. 2 or 2 2/3 Tbsps. of oil ( olive/vegetable/ etc… your choice )
- 6. 1/2 cup baby spinach leaves or cilantro leaves
- 7. 2 medium sized tomatoes
- 8. 1 Tbsp. tomato puree ( optional )
- 9. ½ tsp. cumin seeds
- 10. ½ tsp. mustard seeds
- 11. ½ tsp. split black gram
- 12. 3 or 4 curry leaves
- 13. 2 or 3 tsp. of red chili powder
- 14. 1 or 1 ½ tsp. cilantro powder
- 15. ¼ tsp. turmeric
- 16. 3 tsp. salt
- 17. 1 cup cooked rice
- 18. 1 cup yogurt
- 1. Take the cup of beans ( lima/ red kidney/ chick peas … your call ) and wash them thoroughly. Put them in a pan and pour 2 cups of water. Now boil these beans until they’re firmly cooked. You’ll know this if when you take a cooked bean and cut into half with your hand and also, it should cut easily. I usually use a pressure cooker to boil/cook my beans. I economize this by cooking beans and rice in the same pressure cooker but in different vessels. After they’re cooked, keep them aside as we use these at the very end.
- 2. Take a non-stick pan, add 2 Tbsps. of oil ( olive/vegetable etc.… your choice ) and add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, split black gram, 3 or 4 curry leaves and ½ a piece of dried red chili broken into 3 pieces ( red chili is optional ).
- 3. When the mustard seeds are starting to crackle, that’s your cue to add the onions. Add 2 finely chopped medium sized onions and sauté them in this oil and put the lid on the pan. After 4 minutes, stir the onions again and put the lid back on and allow the onions to cook till they START to brown.
- 4. Now, add the frozen vegetables of your choice. Mix them well with the onions. Now, if you want, you can add 1 or 2 tsps. of oil. Otherwise, you can skip it. Close the lid and let the vegetables cook.
- 5. While the onions and the frozen veggies are cooking, you can start cutting the main vegetable, whose name would contribute to the name of the curry. Ensure, all the pieces of the veggie are roughly the same size. It would be nice if you make really small pieces of the veggie but that’s your call. Once the frozen veggies turn shiny and the onions have browned and shrunk, mix the main vegetable with the onion + frozen veggie mix and wait till it’s cooked. You can identify this in 2 ways. A. The vegetables are firm but can be cut into half with your spoon. B. They turn shiny and if they are green veggies, they will look as if they’re turning a shiny green from their dark green.
- 6. Add the baby spinach leaves and mix it well into the curry. (But if you are using cilantro leaves, you can add them in Step 10 along with the tomato puree.) You will know that the spinach is cooked when you see it losing its water into the dish and contracting in size. While this is happening, finely cut your tomatoes.
- 7. Now, when you see the vegetables, spinach and onions starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add the tomatoes and mix them with the vegetables and close the lid. The cue to know whether the tomatoes have cooked is its appearance. It should become mashed and the dish should look as if it has some water in it. Just like spinach, tomatoes have water in them and when cooked, this water comes out and aides in the cooking of the vegetables.
- 8. Add 2 or 3 tsps. of red chili powder ( depending on how spicy/hot you would like your curry to be ), add 1 or 1 ½ tsp. of cilantro powder, ¼ tsp. of turmeric powder. Of course, the amount of red chili powder can range from zero to 3 tsps., depending upon your taste. And now the tricky bit, salt. Add 1 or 2 tsps. of salt and THOROUGHLY mix all of the above powders in the vegetables. You will see that your curry ( now that you added the spice mixtures ) will take a red + yellow hue. Try tasting the curry now. ( Be careful because the curry will be hot. ) If you want more salt, you can add it now. Note: Never add more salt at first. You can add it little by little. You can add extra salt even after the curry is cooked.
- 9. Close the lid and wait for the curry to cook some more for 3 to 4 minutes. Now, if you’ve added vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and radish you might want to add 1 cup of water so that they cook nicely. However, if you’ve added veggies like ladies-finger, eggplant, bell peppers, bottle guard etc.… there is no need to add water as these veggies have enough water to cook themselves.
- 10. Slow down the gas and allow the curry to cook slowly. Now is a good time to add the tomato puree and mix it in the curry and close the lid. If you are using cilantro leaves, finely chop them and add and mix them well in the curry. You’ll know the curry is completely cooked when you see considerably less water on the top and you see that your main vegetable is very soft and can be easily mashed with your spoon. Don’t forget to stir the curry once in a while. Now, add the beans that you had cooked in Step 1 and mix it well in the curry. After 3 minutes, after you see that the curry is cooked, switch off the gas.
- 11. Mix this curry with a bowl of cooked rice, have a cup of yogurt as a side/dip and it is ready to be served.
A glass of orange juice and some water besides this platter would be perfect !!!
Now, for the nutrition value of this recipe.
Like I mentioned before, your platter needs to contain carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
You get carbs from the rice and oil. You get proteins from the beans. You get vitamins and fiber from the assortment of veggies that you’ve put in. You get iron and folate from spinach. Onions have many anti-inflammatory and anti-cholesterol properties. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, Vitamins C & A. Turmeric has been known to ward off rectal cancer if used regularly. You get probiotics and calcium from the yogurt. And, the curry that you just made will probably last an entire day or even the next. So, it spares you the trouble of cooking again. You can store this curry and microwave just the portion you need. Also, because you have made it yourself, it is fresh and you haven’t added any coloring or preservatives or any other substances that are not needed by your body.
Of course, I have written this piece from my experience and I would love to hear other super fast recipes and pointers too.