Eating Better, The South Indian Way

If you were wondering why I did not put up any lunch posts the past week, it was because I was busy planning for this post. After a week of crazy and mindless eating during my short trip back home, I came back feeling bloated and not-so-great about myself. Added to this was the fact that a week at home is barely enough time and I was super homesick (still am) and wanted to turn to food for comfort. This time, however, I decided instead of continuing to mindlessly eat junk, I would make comforting lunch bowls that I will enjoy without any guilt or sugar-high. I also decided that I would stick to a South Indian-ish theme for the week and tried to incorporate whatever I had in hand. I made some healthy swaps here and there and woah, craving satisfied while also bringing us back in track on our better eating journey. Remember, you don’t need no fancy, difficult-to-pronounce ingredients to eat better. On that note, presenting to you one work week's worth of South Indian lunch/dinner ideas that will satisfy your comfort-food craving without compromising on the health aspect.

Day 1: Morukari and Proso millet (rice):

Morukari and Proso millet (rice)

I started out making mor kozhambu but decided to make morukari instead. I made this using thick home-made curd that I whipped with a lot of water. Heated coconut oil in a pan, popped mustard seeds, added a pinch of methi (fenugreek) seeds, curry leaves, slit green chillies and dried red chillies. Then went in a handful of shallots (slit in two) and once it softened a bit, I added turmeric powder and salt and the whipped buttermilk and let it heat through. Turned it off once it started bubbling. I served it with a bowl of millet for the boys while I had it like a soup. So good for summer.

Day 2: Kadalai Kurma and Proso Millet (rice):

Kadalai Kurma and Proso Millet (rice)
Since I still hadn’t done any grocery shopping after coming back, I soaked some black channa the previous night and decided to make a kadalai kurma for lunch. For the kurma, I pressure cooked soaked black chana until soft. Heated coconut oil in a pan, added the cooked chana and sambar powder and sautéed for a few minutes till the raw smell of the sambar powder was gone. To this, I added a fine paste of 1.5tbs freshly grated coconut, 2 green chillies (use only one if you want a milder kurma), ½ tsp jeera, a fat pinch saunf, 1 inch piece cinnamon and 2 cloves. I added required water and let it simmer for a few minutes and then turned it off. Garnished it with curry leaves and served it with proso millet and a dollop of ghee for the boys while I ate it as is and finished it off with a small bowl of curd. It's looks a lot like kadala curry but is different since we use the typical kurma spices.

Day 3: Broad Beans Saaru and Millet Flour Phulkas/Ragi Mudde:

Broad Beans Saaru and Millet Flour Phulkas/Ragi Mudde

Grocery shopping finally done and I got some frozen broad beans/fava beans other than all the fresh produce. I swapped it in place of avarekalu in a classic avarekalu huli saaru recipe and served it with phulkas for the husband and with ragi mudde for me (simply because I have always wanted to have them). The mini ate a bit of both. For the saaru, I pressure cooked the broad beans with tomatoes and spinach. Made a paste of freshly grated coconut, an onion, a tsp of jeera, tamarind and 1tbs sambar powder. I heated some oil in a pan, popped mustard seeds, curry leaves and cooked the paste in this for about 4 minutes. Added the pressure cooked beans to this, required water and let it simmer for a few minutes before turning it off. Garnished it with fresh cilantro before serving. You can read the detailed recipe here. I went easy on the coconut and tamarind, added some spinach and reduced the rest of the ingredients by half and it was just perfect. To make things interesting, I added some sautéed onions to my ragi mudde.

Day 4: Puli Upma (using millet), Cucumber Pachidi and Elephant Foot Yam roast:

Puli Upma (using millet), Cucumber Pachidi and Elephant Foot Yam roast

My mother in law makes a mean puli upma/ instant puli saadham which both my husband and I love. I wanted to recreate this and but without the rice. To make this, I soaked a gooseberry sized ball of tamarind in 2 cups of warm water for 10 minutes. I then made some tamarind extract from it. I also washed and soaked a cup of millets in water for about 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, I finely chopped an onion and got the other things ready. In a pressure cooker, heat a tablespoon of gingelly/Indian sesame oil. Pop mustard seeds, add a tablespoon of groundnuts (or more if you want more), 2 dried red chilies, a sprig of curry leaves, hing. Then add the chopped onions and cook for a couple of minutes. To this add the tamarind extract and let it come to a boil. After it boils for 3-4 minutes, add the soaked millet and more water (if required - I added about a 1/2 cup more) and pressure cook until done. This may take anything between 2-5 whistles depending on your pressure cooker, the millet you use, etc. Turn off and let the pressure settle and serve hot. I pan roasted elephant foot yam to go with this. For that, i washed, peeled and sliced the yam thinly. I used my cast-iron dosai kal (dosai tawa) to cook these. I coated the sliced yam in a mixture of sambar powder, turmeric and salt. Heated some coconut oil in the tawa and roasted them until golden and crispy (about 3-4 minutes on each side). My son may or may not have made a meal out of them even before I finished setting the plates for lunch. So simple, so good!

Day 5: Bendakaaya Charu/Saaru (okra rasam, Andhra style) and Millet:

Bendakaaya Charu/Saaru (okra rasam, Andhra style) and Millet

For day 5, I decided to use up the lady's finger/bhindi/okra/bendakaaya/vendakkai I had and since I wanted to something different, I made an Andhra style rasam using it. For this, I washed and patted dry about 8 okras and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. I heated sunflower oil in a pan and added one chopped onion, 4 garlic pods (crushed), a sprig of curry leaves and once the onions became translucent, add one chopped tomato and cooked for a couple of minutes more. I then added the bhindi and let it cook for about 5 minutes. To this I added turmeric powder, 1tsp chilli powder, some coriander powder, hing and salt, added a cup of tamarind extract plus another cup of water and let it boil till the bhindi was cooked. Tender, not mushy. Once done, complete it with a tadka of mustard seeds, jeera, dried red chilies in ghee and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. I served this with millet and a spicy egg roast.

For the egg roast, I boiled, peeled and sliced eggs. Heated oil in a pan, popped mustard seeds, jeera and curry leaves and added turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander and jeera powders and stirred to combine without burning them. Added salt and a tsp of water and then added the eggs and tossed them around so that they get coated in the masala. Let the eggs become golden brown, turn off heat and garnish with fresh coriander. I spiked the charu (saaru) with some freshly ground black pepper. I don't think this is done traditionally.

So that's how our last work week was. I did not cut down on the carbs since we were/are having only two meals a day now because of Ramadan work timings and this fills us up nicely so that we don't wake up hungry at midnight. That said, we did not stuff ourselves with food equivalent to two meals either which I think is a good sign of progress, yeah? How do you incorporate your comfort food in meals when trying to eat better? Share your secrets with me!

 Blogpost by Madhumita Ram.

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