From India with Love

lentilsLight skin was not the only factor deterring others from noticing I was half-Indian while growing up; my lack of interest towards all Eastern cuisine, besides standard Chinese food, also did not seem to help. I have always treasured my mother’s classic Italian cooking and only barely stomached my father’s aloo gobi (Potatoes and cauliflower) and palak paneer (spinach and Indian cottage cheese). That is, until recently.

If you haven’t just freshly outgrown your childish and bland taste buds, like me, and have already had a hankering for spicy, Asian meals for quite some time now, you are lucky to have experienced the hearty flavors of Indian food. And if you haven’t, you should definitely start. Let me tell you why:

My heritage lies in the northern region of India, Punjab. Punjabi people are stereotypically known to be warriors and farmers. I’ve found that there must be only one logical reason for this: the mass harvestings of various lentils and vegetables by the Punjabi people gives their bodies great strength and agility to fight efficiently in battle.

OK—maybe that isn’t the only logical conclusion, and maybe you aren’t expecting to wage a war soon. But, there are always external elements around that are waiting to wage a war on your body and its immune system. All I know is that my Indian grandparents lived to be rather old. And the best way to stay healthy is, of course, watching what you put into your body, of course. Lentils, which are found commonly in Indian food, are a great place to start.

Lentils are legumes that grow similar to peas or beans in a pod. There are hundreds of varieties of them, from yellow to green to black. A website devoted to healthy lifestyles, Elements4health.com, describes lentils as being very rich in protein (about 26 percent), folic acid and dietary fiber. The site states that dietary fiber helps to eliminate cholesterol and there is also evidence to prove that lentils can slow the livers manufacture of cholesterol. Lentils are very high in Vitamins B and C, and contain eight of the essential amino acids.

Another staple in Indian food, found in such as dishes as “saag,” is spinach. It is common knowledge that mostly any green food besides sour apple lollipops are considered to be healthy, but spinach is especially so, and here is why: It helps your bones, skin, vision, blood pressure and brain and nervous functions, among other things.

In addition to lentils, spinach and other vegetables, Indian  culture also holds sweets in very high regard, though they often ration them sparingly. I recently met an Indian woman dining with her two sons at Sitar Indian Cuisine on Pacific Avenue who had the boys share one mango lassi (the Indian equivalent to a milkshake), because, as she whispered to me: “If they both have their own, it’s too much. I don’t want them getting fat.” Now, that’s love.

My favorite store-bought Indian food is Kitchens of India Red Kidney Bean Curry, found in the Indian aisle at Safeway. Do you have any local Indian food favorites to share?


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