Sunday, March 3, 2013

Adding some spice to my life

When I was in India recently I decided to keep to my diet of quinoa and lentils (payatham parruppu). So every morning I would measure quarter cup of quinoa and half a cup of lentils, soak them in a cup of water and then place the dish in the rice cooker. When it was done to its mouth watering consistency I would have a hard time holding out till lunch time to dig in. I needed nothing with it. No spice, no salt or even yoghurt. I could eat it plain. However to give myself a balanced meal I would have it with veggies. When I returned to Canada, I could not replicate the flavour and suddenly it dawned on me. The lentils in my mother in law's had an ever so slight flavour of camphor, either because it was stored in the prayer room where camphor was burnt or because she had rubbed a little into the container to deter critters and insects. So I took an ever so slight pinch of camphor and rubbed it into the container before emptying the dhal into it. Lo and behold that mild fragrance has given a grand kick to the banal and boring quinoa and dhal. I love the smell because I am reminded of temples and badam kheer.

This gave me an idea. Why not find ways to spice up my life, I mean food, to give the mundane some sex appeal, to minimize my use of sugar and salt, both of which overpower most foods crowding out all other flavours. So now a cinnamon stick goes into my morning tea to give it a luxurious lift, reminding me of tea garden resorts of Southern India. My morning smoothie made from a banana, nuts, sesame, prunes and anything else I can throw in receives a cardamom pod for its festive flavour. I am transported to festival days when precious cardomom, bought in small quantities wrapped in newspaper packets, was peeled, pounded and added at the very end to all homemade sweets that marked these ocassions. I add saffron to my milk complementing it further with a dash of honey and relive its association with my pregnancy when my mother took such loving care of me and insisted on this drink every day saying it was good for the baby. Ginger in my buttermilk reminds me of Ramanavami, probably the hottest summer day in Southern India when we all drank this to stay cool. A couple of cloves and some nutmeg go into my winter vegetable soups, bay leaves into my rice and dill in my dhal. I dont stop with spices for oomph, liberally adding almonds and walnuts to tossed salads, toasted sesame seeds and peanuts to stir-frys and noodles. A few pine nuts go into my spaghetti with fresh basil, garlic and oregano vitiating the need for any cheese. So don't wait for an ocassion to use your spices and mixed nuts, experiment with them to bring flavour to your life, even as you cut out salt and sugar. And try cooking the quinoa and dhal with that hint of camphor, it will do your soul and body good. Oh ya and share your ideas...

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