Chennai: “Healthy dishes are not tasty – a common myth,” says chef Neelima. The food stylist says she was a great food lover and was known for preparing the best and tasty dishes before she came across shocking news that her sister had become diabetic. After this, the striking fear that she may also get the lifestyle disease one day, did not let Neelima sleep for days.
This is when she met the founder of Sharan – a Mumbai-based health organisation, Dr Nandita Shah, who introduced her to dishes and ingredients that are alternatives to the prevailing food style without the change in taste.
“She (Nandita) is the one who made me explore these kinds of dishes and proved that any lifestyle disease can be kicked away if we follow a proper, healthy food style,” says Neelima.
She adds, “At this juncture, I also started experimenting and researching about food items that can satisfy all age groups. I started implementing innovative and healthy dishes and particularly, in all my dishes, I eliminated oil and sugar. After a point of time, I could visibly see the changes in me and my body conditions. I strongly believed that adoption of healthy food style is important to escape from these life-threatening diseases.”
Neelima did not stop with this. She decided to take this to people across the country. “I collaborated with Sharan and started conducting cooking workshops across India along with my team. When it comes to food, education is very important,” says the enthusiast.
HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Convincing people that, too, asking them to control their cravings, is definitely not going to be easy. To make them sit and listen itself would have been a Herculean task for the team.
When asked about this, Neelima says, “We introduce ourselves and explain the scientific reasons why we are doing this and then we also give them the food to taste. This is when they realise that healthy food can be tasty too. Before this, people wouldn’t have thought about dessert without sugar or snack without oil or butter. After tasting, we ask them to engage themselves with our cookery class and follow the techniques of basic cooking.”
TAKE AWAY MILK? WHAT?
The chef says, “The foremost item that we ask people to eliminate from their daily food habits is milk and its products. Some people even go mad after we suggest this to them. ‘Life without chai? Life without curd? How in the world?’ – they ask.”
For them, they teach better alternatives that are plant-based and convince them that they set with it. “Instead of directly adding the milk as an ingredient, we use cashew milk, oats milk, badam milk or coconut milk and instead of butter we use cashew butter or almond butter,” explained Neelima.
“Also, our volunteers, who have escaped from many life-threatening diseases by following this food style, come and share their personal experiences. Most of these people, on an average, spend Rs 20,000 on medical expenses every month.”
CHILDREN CAN’T BE CONVINCED, YOU THINK?
In this fast life, working parents do not even spend time with their children. In that case, it is not possible for them to teach their children about the cooking ingredients that they include in their healthy food recipes. So, here comes the complaint that children can’t be convinced to eat healthy food.
“This is why I conduct workshops. Right from introducing plant-based cup cakes to making them cook those dishes to explaining each and every ingredient that we add, everything is aimed at children’s health,” adds Neelima.
BAKED POTATO / SWEET POTATO
4 potatoes/ sweet potatoes thoroughly washed and chopped into wedges
4 tbsp coconut milk
1-2 tbsp dry mixed herbs like parsley, thyme, rosemary, red chilli powder
Salt to taste
Steam the potatoes till they’re 90 per cent done. Whisk the coconut milk together with all the herbs and salt. Toss to coat the wedges thoroughly. Bake at 180-200 degrees C for 15-20 minutes. Then turn the slices over and bake for another 5-10 minutes.
Enjoy with homemade ketchup or green chutney.
MILLET AND OATS CRACKERS
100 gm jowar flour
100 gm oat flour
Coconut / oat or rice milk for kneading
Ajwain (carom seeds)
Fresh or dry herbs like thyme, rosemary, parsley according to your choice
Salt to taste
Knead the jowar flour only with coconut milk and add ajwain (carom), salt and ginger. Knead the oats separately with coconut milk and add dry herbs of your choice and sesame seeds and salt.
Roll out into chapattis and cut lengthwise into a cracker shape. Bake at 180 degrees C till crisp for 20-30 minutes. Serve with dips, chutneys or pates.
Jowar flour can be replaced with ragi, amaranth or other flour.
8 medium-sized potatoes
200 gm carrots
200 gm French beans
2 finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
1/2 cup finely chopped coriander
Ginger chilli paste to taste
Salt to taste
Lime juice to taste
Steam potatoes (with peel), carrots and French beans. Dice the carrots and French beans. Mash the potatoes.
Add finely chopped onions, mint and coriander. Add ginger chilli paste and salt.
Mix the ingredients and shape into 2 inch diameter cutlets. Cover lightly with peanut powder and cook over slow fire on a thick iron tawa on both sides.
Serve with coriander chutney/date chutney.
Add boiled beetroot and well drained tofu to the mixture. Other vegetables like peas also taste good.