Feeling a little jaded with all of the detox/new year’s resolution articles circulating the internet at this time of year, we decided to pep things up a bit by introducing Indigo Herbs Global Kitchen. Each continent has and have always had a wealth of what we now term "Superfoods" - used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, science is now catching up with what these people have known for millenia - foods heal. Getting optimum nutrition has never been more important, so take your mind off the gloomy weather here in the UK join us in a little trip around the world!
Home to Ayurvedic medicine and a predominantly vegetarian diet, what better place to start our journey than a continent deeply entrenched in healing herbs and spices with a rich spiritual culture…..
India - The Most Culturally Diverse Country on Earth?
“If we look at ourselves as a nation, the way people look, their language, food, way of dressing, music and dance, everything is different every 50 or 100 kilometres in India. Everything about people who live in this country is different, but a cultural thread has held us together. This culture of what India has been, which cannot be quantified, is simply there.”
Home to Yogis, Mystics, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, this colourful country has much to offer us.
Indian cuisine is as vibrant and diverse as the Indian people, authentic Indian dishes cannot be limited to a strict formula and tend to differ not only from region to region, but from household to household. Different “styles” of cooking originated from each area (North, South, East and West) due to the types of foods available in each area.
Northern India was influenced by the Mughals dynasty, who invaded this area and ruled for three centuries until the British ousted them in the 1800s, (the first Mughal Emperor was a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan). Saffron and rich gravies made of pureed nuts and cream were all derived from the Mughals. With its extreme weather conditions – hot summers and cold winters – there is also an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, allowing this region to produce a dazzling array of vegetarian dishes.
The staple food of Northern India is wheat – this is where the delicious Indian breads originated – perfectly complimenting the thick, rich, spicy sauces. Onions and coriander are more popular here, whereas in Southern India a more exotic coconut base is used for their dishes.
Whilst Southern cuisine incorporates some of the same ingredients and spices as their Northern cousins, the preference for grain as a staple shapes the distinctive difference in styles of cooking. Southern fare also caters to the primary religion – for example Hinduism being entirely vegetarian. Sauces are thinner, spicier and have a characteristic sour flavour. Perhaps the most famous addition to any Southern Indian meal is the “dosa”, a crepe made of fermented rice batter and black lentils, filled with vegetables and potatoes and served with a spicy sauce.
For our own take on this delicious dish, try these vegan, gluten free pancakes with cauliflower hummus:
Whilst the traditional medicinal use of chickpeas goes way back to Ancient Greece, they have been a prominent feature in Indian food for a very long time. Unsurprisingly, these unassuming little beans are chock full of health benefits. Protein packed and mineral rich, they help to control blood sugar, boost your intake of other key nutrients and control hunger by keeping you fuller for longer.
To cope with the brutally hot summer spells in India, people drink “Lassi”, a very simple yoghurt based drink, originating in Punjab, which is hugely popular in the Northern region. This can be sweet/salty/spicy, depending on the recipe, and is extremely refreshing – in fact in the summer when the heat is too intense, many Indians will enjoy a good lassi instead of a meal. It is often referred to as the world’s first smoothie and is well known for its ayurvedic healing properties, having a calming effect on the stomach and the mind. It is in the spirit of Ayurveda we put together our very own:
Developed by the Sages and Vedic Seers of India over 5000 years ago, Ayurveda continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and oldest mind-body health systems on Earth. The belief is that plants – particularly herbs and spices, carry in their cells the healing vibrations of nature, a cosmic intelligence that transcends their basic composition and nutrient content.
It should be noted that the goal of many practices prescribed by Ayurvedic medicine, including meditation and massage, is not the curing of diseases, but rather the maintenance of a person’s health. In other words, by balancing the body’s doshas - pitta (fire & water), vata (space & air) and kapha (water & earth) - Ayurvedic medicine is preventative, as it seeks to inhibit diseases from occurring in the first place.
Ayurveda first identifies your unique mind body type and identifies the specific needs which derive from it. It emphasises the importance of eating a rainbow including all of the six tastes; salty, sweet, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent – another reason that Indian food has evolved to be so tasty!
Before the advent of refrigeration, herbs and spices were used to preserve foods as well as for their health benefits. Long before the term “Superfoods” was invented, Indian cuisine incorporated them for their disease-busting properties, being well aware of the importance of balanced meals.
Known as the “Spice of Life” and “Queen of the Spices”, perhaps the most famous of Indian Superfoods is Turmeric. With hundreds, if not thousands of studies lauding the healing properties of this super-spice, the most common benefits are: powerfully anti-inflammatory, strong antioxidant, beneficial effects on factors known to play a role in heart disease, immune boosting and provides relief from arthritis. It is also linked to improved brain function, especially in the areas of memory and attention span - curcumin has been shown to boost levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which increases the growth of new neurons and fights various degenerative processes in the brain.
Curcumin is the powerful active compound in turmeric. Black pepper, more specifically its active constituent “piperine”, has been shown to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2000%. What better way to get this important nutrient into our bodies than with a curry – try our delicious and highly nutritious:
This recipe also incorporates many other Indian healing spices:
Fenugreek – one of the most valued herbs in Ayurvedic practice, used in both beauty and medicinal applications. It is famous for its ability to aid in digestion and is an absolute staple in Indian households. Unique in its classification as both a herb and a spice.
Coriander - traditionally used as a digestive aid too - recent studies have found it has powerful antioxidant properties as well as being anti-inflammatory.
Cumin Seeds – enhance digestion and metabolism. They also contain numerous phyto-nutrients known to have antioxidant, carminative and anti-flatulent properties.
Ginger - contains “gingerol”, the main bio-active compound which is responsible for its medicinal properties. It settles the digestive system and promotes gastric secretion of bile – an important part of healthy digestion.
Cardamom – a natural tranquiliser bringing joy to the heart and mind. Also used to combat nausea, acidity, heartburn, to stimulate the appetite and helps the body eliminate waste through the kidneys.
Cloves – used in Ayurveda for the treatment of various digestive disorders. They are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and analgesic.
Add in the Cashew Nuts which are especially rich in heart healthy fats and minerals, and not only do you have a mouth-watering meal, but a curry with healing powers to boot.
You may also notice a common theme running through Indian spices – they all aid digestion. Digestive health is crucial to the overall well-being of the body, important nutrients cannot be assimilated without a healthy digestive system – something Indian people have known for thousands of years!
Indian Sweet Treats
With almost half of its dishes being either sweets or desserts, the collective sweet tooth of the Indian nation is legendary. Renowned for their banquets, ceremonies, feasts and celebrations, is it any wonder that desserts, sweet dishes and snacks take centre stage?
We’re going to finish off our feast with a dessert which blends with Hindu culture and has a particularly lovely Indian legend attached to it – Payasam.
Meaning “nectar” or “ambrosia”, Payasam has been an essential dish throughout the history of India. In Southern India, ancient tradition tells that a wedding is not fully blessed if Payasam is not served at the wedding feast.
The legend, which traces its origins to the Ambalappuzha temple in Kerala, states that Lord Krishna (the eighth avatar of Vishnu), took the form of an old sage and challenged the great king who ruled over that region to a game of chess. Being a true chess player and a master of the mind’s games, the king gladly accepted the sage’s invitation. Asking what the sage wanted if he won the game, the king was dumbfounded by the sage’s request: an amount of rice grains for each square of the chess board, each pile having double the number of grains than the previous pile. So the first square would have only one grain of rice, the second would have 2 grains, the third would have 4 grains, the fourth would have 8 rice grains and so on, each pile growing exponentially. Hearing this request, the king was shocked that the sage wanted only what he thought were a few piles of grain, when he could have bet for his whole kingdom or the immense riches that he held.
Naturally the king lost, (because playing chess against a God is not that easy!) so he started placing grain piles on each square, starting with only one grain. He soon realized that the sage’s demand was not entirely what it initially seemed, when the number reached one million grains of rice by the 20th square. By the 40th or so square, the entire kingdom’s rice reserve was depleted and when he got to the last square he calculated that he would have to pay the sage 18,447,744 trillions of tons of rice, which he could have never paid off. The sage then revealed his true form, that of Lord Krishna, and said that the debt does not have to be paid immediately, but the king will have to serve Payasam freely in the temple of Ambalappuzha, to pilgrims, homeless or whoever comes there for peace of mind and prayer or for those seeking shelter.
And so it is here we bid farewell to India – a country like no other in its selection of exotic dishes, tantalising tastes, aromas and of course super spices!