Meatless Monday – Festival of Food

Photo by Kimberley (c)2013
Photo by Kimberley (c)2013

Happy Festival of Lights! November 3rd marks Diwali of 2013. This 5 day Indian festival is considered one of the most important for Hindus. It is celebrated around October/November in the Western Calendar but takes its cue for dates from the Hindu calendar. Diwali roughly translated means “row of lamps/lights” (‘festival of lights‘) and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. To learn more, click here:

Diwali

And what is a festival without food? This week’s Meatless Monday sheds a little light on vegetarian Indian cooking and offers a short and sweet peak at one of the popular sweet indulgences eaten at Diwali: gulab jamun.

Indian cuisine can be very vegetarian/vegan friendly and diet is dependent on the region. In the cooler north more meat is eaten and wheat is popular. In the warm south the diet tends to be more vegetarian and rice is the staple grain. Along the coasts, coconut is popular and the mix (i.e. ‘masala‘) of spices varies from region to region.

Cooking vegetarian/vegan Indian food well relies as much on instinct as it does on knowledge. A well-practiced and seasoned cook knows just how much of each spice to use and when. To recreate your own Indian masterpieces follow this order when cooking Indian food:

  1. Heat the oil/ghee (clarified butter).
  2. Add whole spices (e.g. cumin seeds) and wait for them to pop.
  3. Add the onion and cook until golden brown.
  4. Add any pastes required by the recipe (i.e. ginger/garlic paste)
  5. Add the powdered spices if using. At this point the heat will be low.
  6. Add the acid (e.g. tomato paste, yogurt)
  7. Add the heart of the dish e.g. paneer (cheese), chickpeas, spinach, potatoes etc…

Though tasty, Indian food can also be unhealthy. Following the above tips should help to bring out the natural flavour of the ingredients without having to add too much fat. Reduce the fat (oil/ghee) when you can and bake rather than fry. And speaking of frying…

Gulab Jamun (pictured above)

This sweet treat is reserved for special occasions. It is basically a deep-fried dough ball that is then bathed in a sugar syrup which is scented by cardamon and coloured by saffron. Though dairy (milk and milk powder) is a typical component of the dough, it can easily be substituted in a 1:1 ratio by coconut milk powder and coconut milk and/or soy milk powder and soy milk. To make it a little healthier, bake the dough instead of frying it. The gulab softens up considerably in its sugar syrup bath so the taste of greasy fried dough won’t be missed.

Besides gulab, there are other incredibly sweet celebratory treats. To make your teeth ache more, click here:

Sweets to Celebrate Diwali Article (with photos) from the Huffington Post

Incidentally the gulab jamun pictured was made fresh tonight in my enriched breads class. How ‘serendipitous’ that this recipe happened to fall during Diwali. I now have a belly full of gulab for Diwali 2013.

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