Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Festive Parties!

The festive season is around the corner and house parties with friends and family are going to fill your schedules. The hautest trend on the party scene is Tapas style parties in which the focus is on an array of appetizers rather than an elaborate meal. Here are two ideas for great gatherings this festive season.

A Mediterranean Mezze

Mezze is the practice of serving small plates of tasty food with drinks all over the Mediterranean. Not only is it visually appealing, but also makes life easier on the host who is free to enjoy the occasion once the Mezze is laid out. A Mezze-themed party is a relaxed way to entertain. 

It will offer an element of exoticism and fun, allowing for variety and colour with everything from décor to food and offers the host a chance to actually spend time with their guests. Mezze style dining calls for a variety of simple, cold foods served together. It allows the host to lay out a large variety of dishes without spending the entire evening in the kitchen. Especially since the great thing is that the Mezze IS the meal and needs nothing more. In addition to being a great way to serve food, it is also healthy, allowing one to avoid overdosing on the usual fried finger foods. 

Lay out Mezze bowls and platters on a large buffet table or multiple low coffee tables around the room. Plan to serve lots of dips like Hummus, Labneh, Tzatziki, Baba Ganouj that can be made ahead, and salads like tabouleh and fatoush that require a little assembly just before serving. Add a lot of black, green and stuffed olives, cheeses, roasted nuts, pickled vegetables, dried berries and fresh fruit wedges, pita and Lavash bread to the offerings. Also include a few bottles of good wine and a couple of good desserts and you’re on your way to a great evening!

A lovely sweet to serve to finish with is Baklava. This rich and delicious sweet is the perfect union of nutty and sweet and can be made ahead with readymade phyllo pastry or other similar thin party sheets from our international section. 

Place the food in large chunky earthen bowls and hand painted ceramic crockery in shades of blue and yellow which is typical of the Middle East and Mediterranean. If you are expecting a big crowd, plan on multiple serving bowls of each item - better to have three small bowls of hummus rather than just one big one. Add pretty patterned napkins and let everyone help themselves!

For décor, use draping fabrics of earthy reds, yellows and turquoise and blues on low coffee tables and scatter colourful floor cushions to sit on. Keep the lighting muted and sparkle up the room with clusters of chunky candles of different heights. 

A Spanish Tapas Party

Another great idea is a Spanish Tapas Party. Spanish cuisine is still young in India, but it is quickly becoming the cuisine in vogue. In the Spanish cuisine, dinner is very different from what we know it to be. It is a small, light meal, often eaten at a tapas bar. Tapas originated in the bars of Spain. The word tapa translates to ‘cover’ or ‘lid’ and the earliest tapas were slices of ham, cheese or bread laid across patrons' sherry glasses to keep the insects out. They have now translated to a variety of hot or cold dishes that can be served in small portions.

This is a good style of dining for New Year’s Eve parties because while everyone’s focus is on drinks, and the starters are constantly munched on, a main course meal may be neglected by many. But with a Tapas party, the main course is completely omitted and the tapas are the whole meal. 

Like the Mezze, with this style too, it is convenient for the host to provide variety. One can lay out some cooked tapas dishes which are simple to put together a little in advance. Some delicious ones include patatas bravas, sizzling shrimp, empanadas, and some braised mushrooms or peppers that can be served on toasted slices of baguette, but the options are virtually endless. To accompany this, you can also serve some ready foods such as roasted almonds, stuffed olives, and a cold meat platter, all of which are available on our shelves. Spanish wines, sherries and sangria are ideal to pair with this feast. Lay out the spread in a buffet style and arrange small plates in stacks so guests can serve themselves. Also supply cocktail sticks for spearing food and colourful cloth or paper napkins.

Décor should be centered on rich, rustic red hues that are associated with Spain, and some upbeat Spanish guitar music is perfect to set the fiesta mood.

These are just a few ideas to spice up your festivity, but a point to remember is when the host has fun planning a party, the guests have an even bigger ball of a time! 

A Jar of Love!

Christmas is the season of gifts and homemade do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts are a great way to show you care. More so because they can be personalized individually for your loved ones and the thought and effort that you put into the gift really shines through, making it a much better appreciated than any store bought gift.

And festive season is a time for indulgence, most importantly edible indulgence. And homemade handmade treats are always appreciated. Think of beautiful jars of jams, jellies, chutneys, cookies, baked treats and even layered desserts. What better gift at this time of year?

Jars are a great receptacle to package all kinds of festive goodies. They showcase the colours of the many ingredients you might put into them beautifully and are extremely convenient to carry as gifts. Fill up the jars with whatever you like, tie the jar’s rim with a pretty ribbon, add a personalized gift tag with a note, and you are ready!

When you think jars, the first thing that comes to mind is of course, jam. While spiced jams are lovely and the first thing that comes to mind, try something unusual this time. Rich amber salted caramel sauce, tart, sunny yellow lemon curd, and pungent fresh-ground mustard sauce, are just a few ways to do this. We have a host of lovely ingredients to play around with, from Italian lemons to fresh berries, to bottle into all manner of indulgences. 

Jars can also be used to elegantly package homemade cookies, chocolates, fudge, or any other small sized sweets. Or try your hand at making some other unique and interesting fillers for these jars: chocolate coated coffee beans, chocolate-dipped honeycombs, meringues, mini-macaroons and caramel coated walnuts.

Fun festive pre-mixes are also great in-a-jar presents. These are especially enjoyed by those who love to bake and cook. Everything from bread and cookies to caramel popcorn and hot chocolate can be made into creative personalized presents. Just neatly layer all the dry ingredients in a clean attractive jar, add a printed recipe label, or hand-write it for a more personal touch. Try fruit-cake or gingerbread cookie mixes in the spirit of Christmas.

For those who just want to dig right in, a pre-mix jar may not be the ideal gift, but they are sure to love the dessert in a jar concept. Jars are adorable for so many desserts, and you’d be surprised that it’s not just the cold set desserts like tiramisu and trifle that work well in these little glass containers. Custards, cakes, and pies can also be made in jars by baking them in a water bath (so the jars don’t break). Layered cakes like rainbow cakes, or different flavoured cakes are a great idea here.

If you love the idea of little containers of edible gifts in the form of jars, and want to gift someone a whole lot of them, hampers are the perfect way to do so! Pick specific items that a friend would really enjoy, or simply work around a central flavour or theme- biscotti, coffee grounds, chocolate-coated coffee beans, and say, some caramel sauce to add into the coffee. Have fun personalizing gifts for those you love!

Thursday, 19 December 2013


With winter setting in, fresh berries are available in plenty, and the time has come again, to relish these little juicy explosions of flavour, by themselves, or with a big dollop of cream. Although this classic way of eating berries will never fail to please, we have several exciting suggestions to change it up this winter.

Berries do a lot more than just look pretty and taste delicious; they are also full of fibre, vitamins and anti-oxidants. A fresh, seasonal produce has the highest nutritional value, so load up on fresh berries while you can!

With the holiday season around the corner, everyone is in the mood for luxurious Sunday brunches and indulgent holiday breakfasts. And berries can really brighten up breakfasts. Serve them up as is, add them to your muesli or cereal. Berry stuffed crepes or pancakes are a beautiful way to start the day!

 While you cannot go wrong with using berries in sweet foods, they also lend themselves very well to savoury dishes. Berry salads are another great way to go. Change up the standard fruit salad with a berry panzanella, a salad with pieces of leftover baguette that soak up the juices of the fruit. Also use berries with savoury vegetables to add some creativity and zing to your salads. Try blueberry with cucumber and feta cheese, or strawberries with aragula and goat cheese.

Berries also add a burst of colour to main courses. Try them with meat dishes. Their characteristic sweet and tart flavours complement white meats such as poultry, as well as certain pink and red meats like ham and pork, beautifully. One delicious way to use berries with meat roasts is to prepare a sticky berry glaze or reduction, and simply drizzle it onto the dish. The meat can even be brushed with the glaze before putting it in the oven to roast, and it will come out with a gorgeous caramelized skin.

Desserts, of course, have endless room for these little gems. Warm berry pies are a sure winner as the cold weather approaches. Whether you top the berries on a custard filled pie tart, or simply fill the tart with a chunky berry coulis, this dessert is sure to leave everyone wanting more!

Luscious homemade jams are another fabulous way to harvest the colours and flavours of berries. Jams have universally featured in comfort food, and what’s more, fresh, homemade jams are unmatched in their deliciousness. Imagine spreading some fresh, glistening, ruby red raspberry jam on a slice of warm buttered toast… Not only will these be loved in your own home, but will also make for very elegant personalized gifts during the festive season.

Get adventurous with berries this season, you won’t regret it! 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Festivity in the air

Festivity is in the air and festivity in India usually means great food made with the finest ingredients. Diwali, especially is celebrated with the finest foods and ingredients, of which nuts and dried fruits play a large part. Which is why Nature’s Basket is showcasing a beautiful range of dried fruits, berries and nuts from all over the world this month.

Dry fruits and nuts are a household mainstay during Diwali. But that doesn’t always have to be badam, kaju, and pista. This year instead of gifting the usual dry fruit hampers, why not gift exotic nuts and dry fruits from around the world. Choose from pecans, macadamias, pine nuts, hazel nuts, cranberries, prunes, dry figs and a wide selection of candied tropical fruits to add variety and colour to your Diwali hampers. 

Chocolate and hazelnut stuffed Turkish dates or chocolate-coated nuts also make for delicious and lavish Diwali giftables. They capture a good twist of nutrition with indulgence. They’re so delicious that even children who don’t like dry fruits will find these a treat!

A lovely dry fruit platter is adorned with colourful gems of dried blueberries, cranberries, Turkish dates and stuffed with chocolate and hazel nuts. You can also add a selection of chocolate-coated dry fruits and nuts. It is sure to please friends.

Apart from being served as a delicious snack, exotic nuts and dried berries like pine nuts, cranberries, blueberries and apricots can be incorporated very well into modern and creative Diwali sweets. Here are a few ideas:

Give the traditional  kheer a fabulous twist by layering it with peaches in syrup and scattering toasted pine nuts over it. Phirni lends itself very well to Indian trifles. For elegant and colourful plated desserts at Diwali dinner parties, layer phirni with dried or frozen cranberries, blueberries and apricots, in shot glasses and top them with crushed chikki or pistachio flakes. 
Pick your favourite chocolate and surprise your family with your ingenuity this Diwali. Try making dry fruit and chocolate samosas, or pistachio white chocolate and orange Milli Fuilli. Dried and frozen berries add bursts of colour and flavour to desserts. 
Try them over ice cream, in muffins and pancakes or macerate some with a little sugar and swirl into some vanilla ice cream. Serve in shot glasses for Diwali card parties! 

Looking for something more modern for gifting or serving guests this Diwali? Try white chocolate and mixed berry cookies. They are a delicious combination of the subtlety of white chocolate with the sweet tang of dried berries, and look pretty as a picture with little blueberries and cranberries dotted in the white cookie. Diced apricots are also a lovely addition to this cookie. Add a kiss of spice such as Saffron or Chai spice for an Indian twist, and they will be perfect for the festive season!

There are a variety of new and exotic dried fruits and nuts that can fit elegantly into the festivities of Diwali, meeting both tradition as well as fresh, modern tastes. This is the perfect time of the year to enjoy nuts and dry fruits on their own, in innovative recipes, or as gifts.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Festa Italiano: Pasta Pairings

Pasta is a versatile food for all occasions. It comes in an array of shapes and sizes with a number of different sauces to match. However, different shapes of pasta capture and absorb sauces differently. Learn to match them correctly and you can achieve a delightful interplay of texture and flavour.

The basic rule to follow is that the size of your pasta should match the size of vegetables or meat, in the sauce, and its overall texture. This makes for good consistency, giving you the perfect balance of pasta and sauce in each mouthful.

Keeping this rule in mind, here is a guide to correctly pairing sauces with some of our popular varieties of pasta.

Long thin pasta

Spaghetti, linguini and fettuccini:

Spaghetti is a long thin, noodle-like pasta. Linguini are long flat noodles, wider than spaghetti but narrower than fettuccini. Fettuccini are ribbon-like lengths of pasta. These varieties work very well with luscious butter sauces and oil based sauces such as alio olio and pesto,which glaze the pasta beautifully, giving the dish a good consistency. They are also delicious when paired with smooth tomato sauces and thin cream or cheese sauces such as Alfredo sauce,which coat the long noodles, allowing them to carry enough flavour in each bite. 

Small unevenly shaped, chunky pasta

Farfalle: Shaped like butterflies or bow ties, these are very attractive, lending them well topasta salads and soups. Thick cream or cheese sauces coat the farfalle nicely. Being a small, chunky variety, they are complimented by chunky tomato or vegetable sauces. 

Penne and Rigatoni: Both of these are tubes of pasta cut into small lengths. Penne is cut with diagonal ends while rigatoni with straight ends. Minced meat sauces, and chunky tomato or vegetable sauces are ideally paired with these pastas as the chunks get filled into the tubes creating rich textural experiences.

Macaroni: Like rigatoni these are also tubes of pasta but they are bent into curved pieces, resembling elbow joints. Macaroni are most popularly paired with cheese sauces but can also be enjoyed with chunky meat or vegetable sauces.

Fusilli: These are twists or spirals of pasta.Paired well with thick and dense cheese sauces, pesto and chunky vegetable or tomato sauces, all of which get trapped in the twists and curls of the pasta. Fusilliis also an attractive element to include in pasta salads. 

Flat pasta sheets

Lasagna are longs flat sheets of pasta that are layered alternately with a sauce to make baked pasta dishes. They can be layered with cream or cheese sauces, meat sauces, tomato, and vegetable sauces. Butter or oil sauces are too thin and light for layering in baked dishes and won’t provide any body to your dish.

These tricks can be mastered in just a few tries and soon you’ll be playing matchmaker to create endless combinations of pasta dishes to relish on any occasion. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Soup’s up! Easy tips to making healthy soup

It’s the culinary equivalent of a mother’s hug and a boost when you’re feeling weary. There’s nothing like a bowlful of steaming hot soup at the end of a long day. But the best soups don’t just comfort, they nourish. And while soups are often touted as healthy, there are plenty of pitfalls - thickening agents and cupfuls of cream - that make them just the opposite. Here are a few simple tips that ensure your favorite soup is healthy and delicious too!

In the thick of it
Most soups require thickening, which is usually done by adding either processed maida or corn flour – easy but not healthy. Instead, try whole wheat flour or arrowroot flour as a substitute. You can also add boiled and pureed potatoes to soup that’s nearly ready, or nut pastes or pureed white beans for added protein.


Grains make ideal thickeners. Use a few tablespoons of oatmeal (or grind oats to get the consistency of flour.) or whole grains such as barley and quinoa. Try adding brown rice, pasta or noodles to soups as well. They absorb the liquid content of the soup and make it denser. Just remember to cook your pasta or rice separately and add sparingly when serving.

To make Chinese favorites like Hot and Sour or Manchow soup healthier, cut out the corn flour. These soups usually have egg added, you could use more egg to  thicken these soups. Just before serving, add a spoonful of beaten egg whites, mix and slowly add to the soup while stirring.

Mashed whole beans and lentils are great for thickening and added protein. Try Miso (Japanese fermented soybean paste) to flavor oriental soups. You can also try re-fried beans for Mexican and bean soups, legumes such as red lentils for Middle Eastern soups.

Keep it creamy
Cream of mushroom, cream of corn, cream of chicken… it may sound impossible to leave out the actual cream in these old favorites, but a couple of easy tricks will prove otherwise. First, remember, a little cream goes a long way. Even if a recipe requires one cup of heavy cream, just 1 tablespoon can make all the difference. You could also substitute cream with whole or skimmed milk, or hung yogurt, which works surprisingly well in most soups. 


Vegans, despair not, you still have plenty of delicious options (including, but not limited to soy milk). Puree half a cup of cashew nuts or almonds with two cups of liquid from the soup and add it when your soup has finished cooking. You can also try pureed cauliflower, tofu or coconut milk.

Other ways to make soup healthy
Cut back on fat by sauteing vegetables in vegetable broth instead of oil. If you need to brown meat, do so in a separate pan, pour out the fat and dab the meat with a tissue before adding it to the soup.

To lower the sodium content of soup, consider making your own meat or vegetable stock instead of using ready made cubes. If this isn't an option, use non-msg stock cubes such as Massells or use a smaller amount of the stock and compensate for the lack of salt by adding fresh or dried herbs and spices.

Croutons are favorite additions to the soup bowl but can be high in fat if deep fried. Make your own healthy options simply by brushing, tossing diced day-old whole grain bread with a mix of oil and salt, garlic powder or any other herbs or spices and bake till crisp.

As you can see, it’s all a matter of simple substitution. By switching up unhealthy ingredients for the right ones, you can have your delicious soup and make it healthy too! 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Healthier Cooking techniques: Steaming

Steaming is one of the first techniques that comes to mind when we talk of healthy alternatives. Unfortunately, steamed food has earned a bad reputation over the years for yielding lack-lustre and bland results. Let’s begin by busting this myth and rethinking the idea of steaming. Steamed food need not be boring; if well-seasoned and appropriately garnished, it can be extremely flavorful and nutritious.

Steaming is a simple and easy way to cook food. This method is very versatile and can be used to prepare a wide range of food. Typically foods are steamed by placing them above a pot of boiling water, in a vessel with slots or holes, which allows the steam to come through. Specially designed bamboo or steel steamers are easily available in most parts of the world; these are extremely convenient to use in a home kitchen.The hot rising steam cooks food gently but thoroughly, without dehydrating it. A big advantage while steaming is that food is rarely burnt or overcooked.

When food is boiled in water, cooking oil or liquid of any sort, much of the nutrients dissolve and are lost in the liquid bath. However, this doesn't happen when steaming. Vitamins and anti-oxidants are maintained to a greater degree in steamed food.  Besides, one can completely avoid butter, ghee and oil when steaming food. Perhaps the only fat needed, is the thin layer applied on the steamer to ensure food doesn't stick to it. This too can be avoided if one uses butter paper, foil or even leaves of some sort to wrap the food. Typically,it is lighter foods like vegetables, fish, seafood and poultry that are steamed. Meats like beef, pork and lamb aren't usually steamed, as they require higher temperatures to cook. However, when these meats are minced or shredded they too can be steamed.

The Chinese and other South East Asian cultures have used steamers for several centuries to prepare a wide repertoire of traditional dishes. In fact, the Chinese even make a steamed wheat bread called mantou, which is a staple in the colder northern regions where rice doesn't grow easily.The Chinese also make steamed dumplings or dimsum which have become popular world over. Bite size parcels are stuffed with seasoned poultry, seafood, meat or vegetables and steamed in bamboo baskets. These delicately crafted snacks can be extremely healthy. Dimsum making has evolved into quite an elaborate art form in the present day!

Steamed fish is a staple in most South East Asian cultures, usually topped with a light dressing and freshly chopped herbs. Fish being the lightest kind of meat, is extremely easy to steam. Besides, most fish is loaded with essential oils which are extremely nutritious. So a steamed fillet of fish with a salad on the side makes for the perfect dinner.

Steamed foods can be varied and interesting – all the flavors and textures your palate craves minus the harmful fatty oil.You needn't stop at the side of boring steamed vegetables now on!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Healthier Cooking Techniques: Poaching

Even the healthiest of ingredients lose their value when cooked incorrectly. For example, frying potatoes makes them a vehicle for so much unnecessary oil, which is why the potato has earned such a notorious reputation among weight watchers and the health conscious. But boil or steam these same potatoes and you will benefit from all their vitamins, minerals and fibre, without consuming all that artery clogging oil. Certainly, by employing healthier cooking techniques one can make the most out of food. Poaching, is one such cooking technique that makes food flavourful without killing its nutritional value. 
For the unaware, poaching is a very versatile culinary practice which can be used to cook vegetables, fruits, fish and poultry. It involves gently cooking food in a liquid bath, usually water, vinegar or wine, depending on the dish. To poach something, it must be immersed in a hot liquid bath, which is below boiling temperature. It is important to keep the heat low, to prevent the liquid from bubbling or boiling. This ensures the food cooks slowly and thoroughly, while preserving flavour which would otherwise be lost at higher temperatures. However, this method is rarely used for heavier meats.
The poaching liquid imparts flavour to food, so it is important to sufficiently season the liquid with salt, spices, herbs and other condiments before introducing the food to be cooked. In some cases vegetable, chicken or fish stock may be used as the poaching liquid. When poaching you must use a large vessel and make sure the food is completely covered so that it cooks evenly and no parts remain above the liquid and out of the heat. 

Poaching can be used to cook any meal from poached eggs at breakfast to light meals for lunch or dinner. Poached eggs are a healthy breakfast option made by gently breaking eggs into warm water and allowing them to cook slowly. This is a completely oil free method of cooking eggs. You can leave the yolk as runny as you choose while the white remains moist and fluffy. Poached eggs are an essential component of Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine which are dinner staples across the world.

Seafood such as fillets of salmon, tuna or kingfish are extremely easy to poach. Not only does poaching seafood maintain the nutritional value of the fish but it is also virtually impossible to burn or dry out fish this way, even if you do not use any oil or butter. And if you are feeling indulgent, introduce a little oil or butter but it works just as well with water, vinegar or milk. Chicken can also be poached, usually breast pieces. You can even stuff the breast with spinach, herbs, spices and even cheese; stuff, wrap the whole breast in a foil or cling film and then introduce it to the hot liquid. When chicken or any other food is wrapped before poaching, it ensures none of the flavour is lost in the liquid. You can also poach a whole chicken in stock, although it’s recommended the skin be left on, to prevent the meat from drying out. Other poultry such as duck, turkey and goose meat can also be poached although these take longer than chicken.
The wonderful thing about poaching is that once the dish is poached, all you need to do to complete your meal of poached fish or chicken, is serve it with a side of vegetables and a simple sauce of your choice for a complete meal that is a healthy, filling dinner option.
Poaching is a technique that can be applied to desserts as well. Poached fruits make for delicious and healthy desserts. Poached pears are a classic dish, made by cooking firm ripe pears in a bath of spiced, sweet red wine. Although pears pair ideally with red or white wine, peaches and apples can also be poached. Serve poached fruits with a little bit of yogurt or mascarpone cheese and if you are feeling indulgent, sprinkle toasted almonds or crushed walnuts and a drizzle of honey for a light, summery dessert. 
Poaching is an easy cooking method that can be adapted to several cuisines and used to make a wide range of dishes. Why don’t you try it today?

Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Fibre - Rich Diet

Eating an orange is more nutritious than drinking orange juice. While the juice contains fructose, vitamins, minerals and a bunch of other nutrients, what gets left behind is the all important dietary fibre, which though not really a nutrient has a very important role to play in our diet. Dietary fibre or roughage is an indigestible part of food that can be either soluble or insoluble; both types are vital. Dietary fibre is present in more plant based foods - vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, cereals and legumes are all important sources of fibre.

Consciously consuming vegetables and fruits on a daily basis ensures we get the needed amount of soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre slows down digestion, allowing the body to fully absorb nutrients from food and simultaneously reduces the amount of fat and sugars absorbed into the blood stream. So next time you eat a rich steak or a bowl of pasta, remember to eat a salad on the side. Insoluble fibre on the other hand adds bulk to your meal. When you begin with a portion of vegetables, fruits, seeds or other high fibre foods, you tend to feel full and avoid eating excess carbohydrates or protein. This insoluble fibre also keeps the digestive track clean and regulates bowel movements.

When you squeeze the juice out of fruits or vegetables, you lose out on roughage. It is always recommended that you eat fruits whole and make juices using the whole vegetable including the pulp. To maintain the fibre content in vegetables it is recommended that they be steamed, stir fried or grilled carefully, that is of course if you cannot consume the vegetable raw. The application of too much heat or overcooking vegetables reduces their fibre content. When adding vegetables to curries or soups do so towards the end, after the condiments, meat and curry base has cooked. This will ensure the vegetables don't overcook.

It is for their high fibre content that whole grains are recommended over processed or polished grains. Choose to eat brown rice or red rice instead of white rice. You don't even need to reduce the portion you eat. Brown rice has a higher percentage of fibre and a lower percentage of fat, carbohydrates and starch than an equal portion of white rice. One can enhance food with added fibre in many small ways. For example wheat bran, oat flour or millet flour can be added to your daily rotis, bhakris or chapattis. When making pita bread or a pizza base add semolina or replace refined flour with whole wheat flour for healthier bread.

 Oats, prunes, lentils, green leafy vegetables, barley, dates, pears and broccoli are some of foods with the highest fibre content. Eating these and other high fibre foods has several health benefits. Starting this habit early by introducing children to vegetables and fruits can keep them safe from so diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart problems and obesity. If you are already suffering from any of these diseases, high fibre foods are an important part of the cure. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Health Benefits of Nuts

Energy boosting health foods like snack bars, granola and muesli have one thing in common; they are loaded with nuts – one of nature's most nourishing foods. Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashew nuts are like little pills of nutrition packed with unsaturated fat, omega3 fatty acids, fibre, argenine, anti-oxidants and Vitamin E.  Each of them has a unique flavour which can be used in a number of ways and in almost every meal of the day.

The best way to eat nuts is by themselves as a snack. Make a small snack box with mixed nuts of your choice and keep them in your bag or at your work desk. That way you can much on them whenever you get hungry. Making a mini-meal of a handful of nuts makes it easy for the body to absorb all the nutrition they have to offer. You much however, be careful not to go overboard. While nuts are packed with nutrients they are also high in fat; and consuming too many nuts in the day can be counterproductive. It is best to stick to a handful at a time.

Among the commonly available nuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios are perhaps the best. Pistachios have the highest fibre content and the lowest percentage of saturated fat. Almonds are the best source of vitamin E which is essential for skin and hair health. Walnuts are particularly high in omega3 acids which help fight high cholesterol and heart disease. Nuts like peanuts and cashews are on the fattier side of the spectrum. Macadamia nuts are the fattiest of all nuts. So when choosing to snack on nuts, be careful about which ones you choose based on your levels of activity, age and nutritional requirements.

One great way to enhance the flavour of nuts is to toast them in an oven or dry roast them in a thick bottomed skillet. Toasting nuts releases their essential oils, makes them fragrant and crunchy. Toasted nuts can them be tossed in dry herbs and powdered spices of your choice for a delicious snack. Even when adding them to salads or using them in desserts it is recommended that nuts be toasted first.

Besides these, there are several ways in which nuts can be added to your diet. Whole nuts or ground nuts can be used in cakes, muffins and cookies. They add texture and good oils to bakes which allow you to reduce the amount of butter or cooking oil used. The same applies when making curries and sauces. Ground nuts can be used to thicken gravies and the natural oil which is released from them adds a rich flavour to the dish. It is so much better to thicken a soup or curry using peanut or cashews than it is to use cornstarch or refined flour. Nuts can even be ground into nut butters; smooth spreads made with crushed nuts that can used to top bread or crackers.

For those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to make nut butters and nut based gravies, the easiest way to ensure you eat nuts is to just toss a few into your daily bowl of cereal or choose a packet of muesli which come pre-mixed with nuts. It’s a simple way to enhance your diet with the host of nutrients.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Cooking with Minimal Oil

There are several health risks associated with consuming excess oil. Cooking oils – no matter what nut, seed, vegetable or animal they come from, have a high fat content. It is this fat content that makes them an ideal medium for cooking. Besides, it is the fat that makes rich dishes so delicious! But of course, like all good things we pay a heavy price for indulging too much. A high fat diet is the root cause of so many modern lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high-blood pressure, obesity, high-cholesterol and heart disease. A reduction in the amount of fat consumed on a daily basis can help prevent and cure many of these diseases, which is why we are constantly reminded by doctors, dieticians, nutritionists and concerned grandmothers to reduce the amount of oil we consume.

Firstly, we must begin by choosing the correct kind of oils – those that are high in saturated fat should be replaced with oils high in omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fat and good cholesterol. Olive oil, canola oil, rice bran oil and sesame (til) oil are among healthier oils that can be used for cooking. Even flax seed oil and grape seed oil are good for dressing salads and drizzling over soups. Besides changing the kind of oil, a reduction in the amount of oil consumed is also recommended and there are several ways to do so.

Using the correct cooking equipment and cooking techniques can help reduce the amount of oil needed. For instance, non-stick pans can be used to sauté, sweat or pan fry food. Because food doesn't stick to the surface of such pans, less oil is needed to lubricate food. Non-stick woks can be used to stir fry vegetables, meat, fish or rice. Stir fries, rice dishes, stews, soups and curries can all be made using just a little bit of oil. Even while grilling or baking food, one can use extremely small quantities of oil – just enough to carry flavour and glaze food. The microwave is another great tool for low oil cooking.

When cooking with dry coconut, crushed peanuts or cashews, one can be extremely frugal with the use of oil because these ingredients themselves contain oils which are released when heated. The same is with poultry and meat. A little oil just to lubricate the pan is enough to begin searing meat, then the meat itself begins to release oil which can go into making a sauce or glaze.

This being said, eliminating oil completely from one's diet is actually bad for health and not recommended. Fat is needed to lubricate joints, keep vital organs healthy and to keep the metabolism and energy levels high. Even skin and hair become dry and lifeless when the body is deprived of the necessary oils. Consuming oil in moderation is the only way to give our body the nutrition it needs, while ensuring we don't consume more than required.

If you're accustomed to eating food cooked with generous quantities of oil, it may take a little effort in getting used to. But the key is to remember that oil must be used just as a medium which carries flavour of spices, condiments, vegetables and meats. Remember, delicious and flavourful food can be made with a minimal amount of oil.