Shrikhand and choosing your poison

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Recently I have been struggling to lose some weight. Maybe someday have that perfectly flat tummy which TV, movies and ads have seared into my brain as being the ideal female form. I eat ‘healthy’, I exercise – but I still gain weight. May be the air is bad. Who knows? While trying to lose weight, the first food group which we consider BAD is always the good old carbs. Everyone I talk to says “Oh no, you are eating half a cup of white rice with dinner? No way can you lose weight. Is that white sugar? OMG, God help you”.

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I can do many things to lose weight but I cannot live without white rice for dinner. I need it at least three to four days a week. And if eating half a cup of cooked rice makes me fat, I am ready to be fat. At least, I do not consume processed sugar every day. Although I add sugar to my tea only twice a week, my husband adds sugar to his tea everyday (but is still managing to lose weight). Being the person who decides mostly what is to be consumed every day, I decided to replace the good old bad white sugar with “raw cane sugar which happens to be brown”. As we know, everything brown should be good, right? Brown rice, brown bread, brown grains, brown sugar syrup, brown skin? Looks like I was wrong. Here is why.

 

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To my surprise, when I did my research to find out which sugar is less evil than the other, I found that as with the world around me, there are a lot of grey zones in the world of sugar. Turns out that white sugar is mostly glucose which is the simplest form of sugar and is readily/quickly absorbed by the body. It also has a high glycemic index and is unquestionably bad for diabetic people. So, okay, granted: white sugar is not so good for you. But what about the ‘natural sweeteners’? Looks like they are not as good as I thought. After much reading and comparing them upto three decimal points in terms of calorie and nutrition, my conclusion is, none of them is more superior than the other. Maple syrup might be the best bet but the better grades are very cost prohibitive (and my husband, being a horrible food snob, will not touch anything other than Grade A Light Amber). Agave might seem like a good choice as it has very low glycemic index but on the other hand it has a very high fructose index and can be worse for you in the long term. Brown sugar and honey are very flavorful but not much in terms of nutrition. You have to take gallons of them to get the nutritional value.

 

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Long story short: If you are NOT eating a huge amount of sugar every day, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. I keep a bottle of honey and maple syrup at home to flavor my tea and yogurt, but they give me the same calories. I like the complex flavor of honey and maple syrup. I like agave but stay away from it due to its high fructose content. If you really want the “best” sugar, try date molasses (khejur gur in Bengali) – it’s loaded with nutrients!

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Recently, I am hooked on Srikhand, which is a very traditional Indian dessert made with yogurt and flavored with saffron and cardamom. I flavor the yogurt with honey as I like the flavor of honey and yogurt together. You are more than welcome to use any sugar of your choice. This is very kid-friendly but do not use raw honey for kids under one as there is a threat of infant botulism.

 

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Recipe:
Ingredients:
Whole milk yogurt (please): 2-3 cups
One cardamom, seeds removed and crushed finely. You can toss the shell or use it in your tea.
A pinch of saffron
One-two table spoon of milk
Honey/maple syrup to taste (you can add sugar too)
Fruit of your choice
Nuts of your choice
• Place cheesecloth or a fine cotton/muslin on a strainer over a bowl. Put the yogurt in the cloth and cover it. Keep it in the refrigerator and let it drain for at least overnight or couple of days.
• After a day or two, the day you want to eat it, heat up the milk a little bit. Toast the saffron a little bit, crush it with a mortar pestle or with you finger and add it to the warm milk. Cover for 15-30 minutes.
•  Add the cardamom powder and the saffron to the yogurt and mix nicely. I whip it a little bit with a spoon to give it a fluffy texture.
• Keep it in the refrigerator or serve it with a drizzle of your sweetener and chopped fruits.
• Add the chopped nuts while serving (optional)
• You can add powdered sugar to your yogurt too instead of honey or maple syrup.
Sometimes I skip the saffron/cardamom part and zest some lemon and orange to it. Sometimes just honey or maple syrup and nuts. It’s a very flexible recipe and you can tweak it to your convenience.

Here is another recipe from my favorite blogger Lakshmi. She can make anything look beautiful. I loved the saffron hue in the yogurt.

 

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Tok daal/Mango and lentil soup

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Every year I miss Poila Boishakh, the festival of the New Year according to the Bengali lunar calendar. Poila Boishakh is the first day of the month Boishakh (approximately in the first week of April), but the summer is already scorching hot during the day. If you were lucky, there might be a slight breeze in the evening, cooling you down just a bit so you could wear your new clothes. A charming custom was that if you were a regular customer at any local store, on this day the shopkeeper would invite you to stop by and have a small snack (more here). In this way, the relationship was elevated above the purely commercial level in a way my local Wal-Mart manager would probably not understand.

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Every year during my childhood, I went to various places from a shoe store to the grocer to the jewelry store with Baba. The icing on the cake was if any of the shopkeepers gave me a Maaza (a very popular mango juice drink in India) or a glass of raw mango sherbet/Aam panna. We invariably came back home with boxes of sweetmeats and Bengali calendars given by the stores (usually with a Hindu god or goddess on them). The moment we got back home, I’ll literally jump on those boxes and sort through the sweets I wanted to eat. I didn’t give anyone any choice. I would choose mine and then Baba and Maa would have theirs. The story became slightly different when my brother started voicing his opinions though. We would keep the boxes in the refrigerator and eat one or two every day. I would unroll each and every calendar and sort through them as well (I really liked the ones with a glossy finish). If a calendar happened to be in English, I would save it for my room. The glossy ones were usually given by the bigger stores and to the chosen customers. There would be goddess Durga on one with a different weapon in each of her ten arms, while Lakshmi would be showering her blessings on another. The “modern” stores were more secular and would sometimes put the Eiffel tower or the Taj Mahal on their calendars. On Poila Boisakh, we always took down the calendars from previous years and put the new ones on the wall. One went in the bedroom, one in the living room, one in my room and one with a God or Goddess went to my Maa’s prayer room. The rest were distributed.

Tokdaal

As Poila Boishakh was a day off for all of us, we used to have lunch at home. We ate simple things because it was hard to digest an elaborate or super spicy, greasy meal when the temperature outside was close to 40C. Among other things on the menu, tok daal (sour lentil soup) was a must. Green mangoes were abundant in the market during that time, and as Ayurveda holds that they have a cooling effect on the stomach, the tok daal with green mango slices was a regular in our house throughout summer. Making tok daal either on the Sankranti (the last day of the year) or on the New Year day is a tradition from my Dida’s (maternal grandma) time. When I called my Maa a couple of days ago and said we will have a small get together at my place and I will cook daal, Maa said “ki daal banabi, tok daal?” (What are you making, the sour lentil soup?). After that, there was no going back: I had to cook it right away.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Musur daal/Red lentils: ½ cup

Green mango (has to be very sour): ½ of a big one or one small (depending on how sour you want it and how sour the mango is), chopped into ½ inch pieces.

Water: 3 cups

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Mustard oil(any other oil will do too but not optimum): ½ tbsp.

Sugar: one pinch

Black mustard seeds: 1 tsp.

Dry red chilies: 3-4

Salt to taste

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  • Start boiling the water in a deep bottom pot.
  • Once the water comes to a full boil, add the daal (rinsed of course)
  • Let the daal come to a boil too.
  • Once it starts boiling, reduce the flame to medium.
  • Remove the scum from the top periodically.
  • Once there is no more scum forming, add the turmeric. Give it a mix.
  • Let it boil for several more minutes until almost cooked.
  • Whisk it very nicely to make a homogenous soup. Do not whisk it to so much that the daal loses all it’s texture.
  • Add the chopped mangoes and let the daal boil for several more minutes or until ta mangoes are completely cooked.
  • Mash one or two pieces to add the sour flavor to the daal. Add salt and sugar and mix everything well.
  • In a separate small pot heat up ½ tablespoon of mustard oil (any other oil if you do not have mustard oil) on medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds.
  • In a few minutes, the seeds will splutter and start dancing around. Add the dry red chilies and let them go a shade darker. You will get a nice aroma.
  • Add this seasoning/tadka to the boiling daal and immediately cover the pot. Switch off the flame too.
  • Let the pot covered for 5 minutes and then uncover and mix the tadka with the daal.
  • Serve it with plain white rice.

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Optional: Add few curry leaves once the mustard seeds start dancing followed by the dry chilies. Or, follow this seasoning.