4 Processes for A Healthier Indian Cooking
Nandita Iyer

Nandita Iyer
14 January 2020

This article is authored by Nandita Iyer. Nandita is the author of the book The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian and blogs at The Saffron Trail. She has studied medicine and nutrition.

Indian cooking is rich in health-boosting secrets. Most of these processes mentioned below, are being followed in Indian homes for generations. We follow these processes without giving a thought to the science or the nutritional benefits behind them. Some of these techniques make nutrients more available, while others add to the health benefits of the food. No matter what the mode of action, using these techniques in our daily cooking helps make Indian home cooking healthier. Here are four processes that makes Indian cooking healthier.

Soaking

The simple step of soaking all legumes and grains not only helps in faster cooking, it is also one of the ways to reduce the anti-nutrient (phytate) levels in the legumes and grains.

Soaking time varies as per the ingredient. Easy to cook dals like moong and masoor can be soaked for 30 minutes, tur dal for 1 hour, chana dal for 2-3 hours and whole green moong for 5-6 hours. Larger sized legumes like chickpeas and rajma must be soaked for 8-10 hours or overnight. 

Grains and pseudo grains like rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat also benefit from soaking from anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how tough the grain is.

Do note that the cooking time for all soaked ingredients is lesser, as compared to unsoaked grains. 

Tadka

A part of the cooking process integral to Indian cuisine is the tadka or tempering. Whole spices, herbs and chillies are added to hot oil, which is then used to garnish a dish like a dal or a curry. Spices like mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds that are commonly used in tadka are all rich in micronutrients. Tadka in everyday dishes ensures that we get a regular dose of these micronutrients. Herbs like curry leaves are rich in a variety of vitamins, iron and calcium, among other nutrients. The benefits of these nutrients become available to us when added as a garnish to our everyday cooking. Chillies, both green and red are full of Vitamin A and Vitamin K, both fat soluble vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins are absorbed by the body when mixed along with the oil in the tadka. Spices like turmeric have active ingredients like curcumin that are better absorbed in the presence of fat, and more bioavailable when combined with black pepper. A lot of savoury Indian dishes start with adding whole spices, hing and ground turmeric in oil, which enables better absorption of curcumin. 

Fermented foods

One of the easiest fermented foods is yoghurt and it is a part of almost every Indian home to be consumed in our daily diets. Yoghurt is either eaten as is, or along with rice, in raitas, in marinades, to make kadhi, lassi, chhaas etc. Fermented foods are excellent for gut health, adding to the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Kaanji, a beverage prepared using black carrots soaked in water to which crushed mustard seeds have been added, is another fermented drink for winters, and all the way up to Holi in spring season. This is a natural way to improve gut health in preparation for spring time. In Tamil Nadu, leftover cooked rice is soaked overnight in water, during which time it gets slightly fermented. In the morning, buttermilk is mixed to this and ‘pazhaidhu saadham’ is consumed along with chillies, shallots, salt or a pickle. The fermented rice along with buttermilk provides a double dose of probiotics. A similar dish called ‘pakhala bhaat’ is consumed in Odisha. Idli, dosa, sannas, toddy, aapam, khameeri roti are some more examples of commonly occurring fermented foods in Indian cuisine and culture.

Combination of a pulse with legume

Plant based sources of protein are considered incomplete proteins as they are usually lacking in one or more essential amino acids. However, by combining a pulse with a legume gives the entire range of essential amino acids, making the dish a complete source of protein. Indian cooking, all around the country has an immense variety of such dishes. Take for example, dal-rice, rajma-rice, khichdi, pongal, idli, dosa, roti-dal and so on. 

These are just few of the examples. An abundance of phytonutrient-rich plant-based dishes, usage of spices like ginger, black pepper and turmeric, thali system of eating meals which ensures a balanced diet, cold-pressed traditional oils like gingelly, mustard, groundnut etc from the chakki (wooden press) are some of the other ways in which Indian cooking can become healthier.

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