BY SUPRIYA D.G.
Food! At once a source of comfort and at the same time a source of agony. Sifting through a cookbook can stimulate the palate and yet the richness of the dish can induce a painful sensation in the aftermath of trying out the recipe. ‘The Ingredients Matter: India’ is an honest and refreshing attempt to take us back to the start, to make food what it was meant to be, a source of nourishment and a means of survival and thereby making the act of eating both a joy as well as a question of comfort.
The three US-based authors transformed their over a decade long acquaintance with each other to put together a cook book that looks more like the outcome of an exploratory journey and culinary adventure, rather than a recipe for the taste buds. But it is that too.
Urmi Patel is a speech language pathologist who discovered innovative ways to cook for her family rather than continue to suffer from ailments such as acid reflux or joint inflammation. Hina Balar’s background as a textile engineer and her issues with IBS, migraine and skin conditions crafted the desire for experimenting with various ingredients and its healing properties to restore the body’s balance. Dr Shilpa Saxena, a board certified family practice physician, has been working to bring her knowledge of eating right through her association with patients for over 15 years and her own experience. A personal journey of each author is thus reflected in the way the restorative and healing properties of various ingredients are listed in the book. That none of us are free from the ills of a modern culinary lifestyle is evidenced in the health history of the authors themselves. Says Balar “We saw a progressive decline of our health overtime and the medications used to treat the ailments helped temporarily. We had to make changes to improve our health to find the root cause of the disease versus treating the symptoms.”
For Dr Saxena, the perplexity of treating ailments that recurred with frequency was enough to point to the obvious-changes in the diet have affected the gut and therefore our over- all wellbeing. According to Dr Saxena “The interaction between our environment (the way we eat, move, manage stress and sleep) and our genetic potential is a key determinant of how our body either is healthy or diseased. This emerging field of Epigenetics and Nutrigenomics continues to show that modernization of our food supply is creating an inflammatory reaction by our bodies. Our own immune system finds these ‘modified’ ingredients to be potentially foreign and then renders an appropriate attack against it (many times in the digestive system). This can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. It can also lead to a weak and confused immune system that can then turn on itself and attack our own tissues and organs leading to autoimmune diseases in some.
The cook book contains seven sections divided into categories of light fare, main course, accompaniments, desserts, beverages and a surprising energy bars section. Hina Balar and Urmi Patel explain that the recipes were developed over time with trial and error. Says Patel “We don’t have any formal culinary training per se. We learned to cook the old fashioned way without any measurements, “little bit of this and little bit of that”, the way our mothers and grandmothers cook. Indian food has been an essential part of our diet growing up.”
In the end, for any culinary enthusiast as well as those interested in making an effort to change, the book provides a framework of recipes which can be the starting point in the right direction.
Most of us are bogged down by routine so that we’d rather reach for what is easily available and comforting rather than make the effort to whip up even a 10 minute dish. Dr Saxena sums up with advice on how to take that first step. “People enjoy freedom, and dietary recommendations seem like restrictions on a freedom to eat what one already enjoys. Instead of thinking about what we cannot eat, it’s easier to find delicious recipes around what we can eat. Said simply, don’t restrict a behavior…substitute it with a healthier one. This applies in all things, really. Another tip. Changing a habit is easier with a structured, tiered plan. Don’t take on the mountain in 1 day or even 1 week. Plan a month, if you have it, and elevate into a new aspect of healthier substitution week to week. This way, it is a gradual, positive, and maintainable shift into good lifestyle.”