Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Immunity Boosting Foods

The romanticism of the rains lasts only till the first viral flu of the season hits you. Then all the joy rides, rain dances and chilly winds are quickly traded in for a mug of hot soup and warm blankets. Wouldn't it be lovely if one could enjoy the best of an Indian monsoon without falling sick? Well, lets look at the your kitchen and see how you can eat healthy through the season.

Research has proven that certain natural foods contain a combination of nutrients that effectively boosts the immune system when combined with adequate sleep and regular physical activity. Typically fruits and vegetables with a vivid colour have higher concentrations of phytonutrients; pigments that prevent and combat diseases, boost the immunity and protect against free radicals. Regular and adequate consumption of fresh produce is a smart way to avoid falling sick at all.

One of the simplest ways to strengthen the body against virus and germs is to drink a cup of tea. The antioxidants in your tea are immunity boosters. Add spices like ginger, lemon and pepper to fortify the health quotient in your teacup! Even herbal tea is great.

Start your day with Oats, they contain phytonutrients that activate white blood cells responsible for fighting virus, bacteria and other germs. A bowl of cooked oats is a filling breakfast, open to both sweet and savoury flavourings. But use oats in other ways as well, use to thicken soups and stews, bake into cookies, sprinkle over crumbles or in granola bars to get the best of this ingredient. Simmer oats in a tomato-garlic-onion mix sautéed in olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper.

To beat back a cold, everyone recommends a chicken noodle soup. But to avoid getting sick in the first place, try going for the tomato soup. Studies have found that the lycopene in tomatoes acts as an antioxidant, helping white blood cells resist the damaging effects of free radicals. Add a cup of tomato soup to your evening routine to unwind and get your fix of warmth and health.

An obvious way to do all of the above is to put a salad together but raw vegetables might not be so appealing. Try steaming or stir frying your favourite vegetables and topping it with easy to make, home-made dressings inspired by Asian cuisine and flavoured with rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sesame, soy, chilli and ginger. Herbs and spices like chilli and ginger are more than just flavouring agents; they are powerhouses of nutrition; delicious and easy to incorporate into daily meals.

Garlic and onions are flavorful healers that contain numerous antiseptic and immunity boosting compounds. As an added plus, garlic helps to open clogged sinuses. It's ironic that black pepper -- the spice best known for making you sneeze -- can ward off the sniffles. Black peppercorns are high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and pain-relieving qualities. Besides soothing a scratchy throat, ginger targets the virus that causes colds while also reducing cough. Ginger is also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild sedative.

An immune system bolstered with the goodness of anti-oxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables is a strong defense against the common cold and flu.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014


The much awaited rains are finally here! The cool breeze, the sweet smell of the wet earth and the pleasant change in the atmosphere are the best parts of an Indian monsoon. Along with that comes the instinctive desire for hot, comforting foods that are easy to make yet deliver on taste. As the season progresses, it becomes easy to lose that precious joy in the traffic jams, mucky roads, water-logging and the inevitable sniffles that accompany rains. But the one dish that is sure to charm those blues away is a mug or bowl of piping hot, delicious, aromatic soup. They are a breeze to prepare, wholesome and uniquely soul warming. This season, let the varied range of soup classics from across the world inspire that perfect bowl of soup.

The Chinese have perfected the art of light, healthy and flavorful soups which are nothing like the corn-floury, thick stodgy soups often passed off as Chinese. Instead, try this Chinese noodle soup. Simmer veggies like shiitake mushrooms, boy choy and carrots in a basic chicken stock with sliced ginger, salt and pepper. Add cooked noodles and season with a garlic or chilli oil. It makes for a filling, one dish meal on a rainy night.

Looking for something more tangy and spicy, yet equally nourishing? Give the Italian minestrone a shot. Chockful of flavour from the fresh herbs and vegetables, this soup will easily uplift the weariest spirits. Serve it with toasted garlic bread on the side and store the leftovers for another lazy rainy afternoon.

On a dreary grey day, few dishes comfort better than Vietnamese phở (pronounced "fuh" not "foe"). Each bowl is restorative to a cold while providing the perfect pick-me-up. The aromatic broth, slippery rice noodles, and fresh, customizable garnishes create a wonderful interplay of textures and flavors. Gather the family together and sit down to lunch with this delicious soup.
The French have the last word on amazing food, even the often over-looked soup. Try this for a weekend afternoon project. Slice a large amount of onions and chuck them into a pot with butter and salt to caramelize while watching the latest flick on TV. Stir it occasionally and when deep mahogany in colour, add stock and heat till it boils. Simmer and season with salt and lots of fresh black pepper. In the meantime, heap grated cheese on thick slices of bread and grill till the cheese is melty. Serve it hot with a big bowl of soup and watch the treetops washed by the rain.

Each of these soups rely on good quality stock or broths. On a weekend, put chicken bones, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns in a pot to simmer. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze for later use. Make sure to use fresh vegetables for optimum flavour and nutrition. Upgrade a simple bowl of soup with herb garnishes, flavoured oils, grilled sandwiches or buttered rolls. A large batch of soup can easily be stored in the fridge for later use on a busy work night. 

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Back to School Tiffin Ideas

After a season playing in the sunshine, another academic year begins and the kids return to their classes, studies and extra-curricular activities. Which means parents across the country have started stressing over that innocuous aspect of schooling; the tiffin box. The criteria for a good tiffin box are many; from the nutritional value, appearance, and taste to its novelty value, ease of preparation and dietary preferences. With parents and kids on opposite sides of every factor, it’s no wonder moms and dads get stressed out.

However, packing tiffins need not always be such a chore. One of the best ways to get the kids on board with the tiffin meals is to have them involved in the decision making and preparation of things like sandwiches, once in a while. Let them go through our stores and choose their favourite sandwich fillings. They can then assemble the sandwiches as they choose. It’s a great way to get kids thinking of tastes, textures, flavours and nutrition! Or as a weekend project, lay out bowls of chocolate chips, dried fruit like pineapple, papaya and mango, candied nuts like peanuts, almonds and walnuts and any other dry roasted snack kids enjoy. Gather the kids around and let them create personalized trail mixes as they choose. Fill into zip-lock packets and add it to their lunch bag for wholesome munchies to keep them going through the day.

Making a tiffin plan always helps and now ordering fresh groceries like veggies, cold cuts, cheese, dairy and other pantry staples is possible with the @NaturesBasket online store.

For more filling tiffin options, try savoury muffins. Easy to bake fresh and delicious, these muffins will be a hit with the kids. It will give him/her the chance to quickly eat lunch before running off to play with the other kids. Try fiddling around with flavour combinations for pairings your kid enjoys. Some classic options would be spinach-corn, garlic-sundried tomatoes and salami-cheese. Feel free to experiment with the flours as well. Another great tiffin idea is to bake chicken nuggets, stuff it into chapatti or tortilla wraps dressed with ketchup, veg mayonnaise and a little salad.

Get creative with the packaging of tiffins. Try a salad the kids won’t mind eating; maybe with lots of fruit and cheese. A layered dip of guacamole, salsa and baked beans with nachos will definitely score points with the children. Not only is it creative but also healthy.  An excellent way to include colourful and healthy fruits in tiffins would be with chunky fruit salads. They look fantastic and make eating fruits fun. To make it more tempting pack alongside a small blister pack of Nutella. 

On a hectic day, hand out packets of our dry roasted snacks with individual tetra packs of Paper boat juices. Pick from a wide range of our Healthy Alternatives healthy roasted soya snacks and chana snacks in lip-smacking flavours of chilli, lime, tomato-mint means that they can find their favourite. The natural, preservative free drinks in Aamras, Jaljeera, Jamun Kala Khatta, Kokum are the perfect accompaniment. 

At the end of the day, kids will only eat what they know and like. So make use of the Natures Basket with a little shopping excursion and show them ingredients on our shelves to familiarise them with the various ingredients and dishes available. And use their choices as a starting point to customize even more tiffin ideas! 

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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Appetizers Around the World

What do cured olives, preserved anchovies, patatas bravas, dim sum, kebabs and fattoush all have in common with each other? Each spoonful of hummus or nibble of bruschetta is part of an intricate, culinary tradition of serving finger foods before the main courses of a meal. Whether Middle Eastern, Spanish, French, Italian or Chinese cuisine; the objective remains constant; to linger over varied bite sized offerings, sharing food and conversation with pleasant company.

As the word ‘appetizer’ suggests, they are meant to whet the appetite before a meal in which case they are typically light and limited. Conversely, appetizers served at cocktail parties are more bountiful and heavier as they replace a meal such as lunch or dinner and decelerate the effects of alcohol. Appetizers can be as simple as chips and dip or bowls of roasted nuts or extravagant concoctions of meat, seafood and exotic cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Mixing hot and cold hors d'oeuvres is common as is offering low calories selections alongside more indulgent ones. In this day and age, other dietary factors also determine the selections with gluten, sugar and dairy free options a part of an appetizer platter. In this regard, the popular cuisines of the world offer unlimited culinary inspiration which can be adapted to serve up a truly gourmet experience.

Dim sum, the steamed or fried morsels of meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit usually served in a small basket or on a small dish is an excellent place to begin. A Cantonese term, dim sum literally translates to "dot heart" or "order heart" and means to order to one's heart's content. Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as char siew bao, dumplings or rice rolls, containing a range of ingredients, including vegetarian options steamed green vegetables, congee porridge and other soups.

Historically the hors d'oeuvres are the French equivalent of Mezze, Antipasto or Dim sum and indicate small portions of food served at the beginning of a meal. But trust the French to do things in style. Even before the hors d'oeuvres, come the amuse-bouche; bite sized, savoury snacks offered by the chef before the entrée to "entertain the mouth" or “tease the mouth” and often accompanied by a proper complementing wine. Amuse-bouche is served as an excitement of taste buds to both prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to cooking.

Antipastos are dishes served before (anti) the pasta (pasto) course in Italy. Unlike finger food which is picked up from platters while standing, Antipasto is actually a course in their own right and served at the table at the beginning of an Italian meal. Usually a central antipasto plate will be set before diners with small plates for each diner to enjoy their selections as a warm-up to the other courses. Antipasto can be a selection of a variety of things. Traditional offerings include cured meats, marinated seafood or vegetables, olives, pepperoncini (not meat but small marinated chilli peppers), cheeses like fresh mozzarella cheese, bruschetta or toasted bread which can be stacked with meat or cheese and drizzled or dipped in olive oil.

In some parts of Spain, like León and Granada, drinks are usually served with Tapa or a small quantity of food included in the price of drinks (usually a beer or wine). Tapas are said to have evolved from the tradition of a ‘tapa’ or cover –usually a piece of bread or a flat card- that would be placed on top of a drink to protect it, which at some juncture began to be topped with a little snack. This snack has today evolved into a tradition of small quantities of food usually sold or served complimentary with drinks in Spain. They can be as little as a few olives, a piece of cheese, or as substantial as a stew and can be eaten individually as a snack or clubbed together for a full meal.

Zakuski are often described as Russia's answer to tapas — a little bite to have with your drink. They can be as simple as salted herring, or as rich as blini and caviar. Traditionally, when welcoming guests in from the cold, a warming shot of vodka is offered. And to protect the stomach and palate from the harsh vodka, it is quickly followed by a bite of zakuski. And the dishes on the zakuski table tell the story of Russia. From pickled vegetables that remain unspoiled through the long Russian winters to the walnut sauce and canned sprats from the new territories joining in the Soviet Era. Interestingly this period was also the era of mayonnaise, which brought several mayo-blanketed salads to the table.

Appetizers from around the world can be spectacular delights in their flavours and textures, be it tapas from sunny Spain, an elegant French amuse-bouche or a colourful Mediterranean mezze.

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Dude Food for FIFA!

The FIFA World Cup 2014, so far, has been rife with controversy, surprise victories and upsets. Heading into an unpredictable Round of 16, football fans across the country have embraced the couch potato status, drinking beer and eating greasy snacks, staying up late into the night rooting for their favourite team to win. For these couch potatoes, here are some quick and simple potato snacks from few of the countries participating in the FIFA World Cup. Quickly rustle up these comforting spud dishes and enjoy the thrilling twists and turns of the game.

From the host country, Brazil, is this amazing salad of sweet potato and black beans dressed with a simple veg mayonnaise. Simply boil, peel and cube sweet potatoes and combine with cooked black beans, chopped onion and coriander. Whisk mayo, olive oil, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour over the warm sweet potato mixture and toss to coat. Serve it alongside fried chicken nuggets for warm, comfort food.

Gather the boys together and give the addictive pomme frites from Belgium a shot. The secret to these super crispy fries is in frying them twice; once at lower temperature and then again at a higher temperature. Serve it up with mayo like the Belgians and whether Belgium wins or not, you and your buddies will have scored a goal with this dish.

So what if Spain has bowed out of the competition? Their patatas bravas with chilled beer are the perfect finger foods to munch on as you cheer or jeer at the next FIFA house party. Featuring crispy roasted potatoes and chorizo in a spicy tomato base, this dish is a sure winner.

Chimichurri is a delicious, versatile sauce from Argentina that pairs very well with grilled steak and meat. Made from parsley, coriander, oregano, garlic, onion, lime juice and vinegar, the fresh, herby, Latin flavours pair brilliantly with roasted potatoes. Simply toss potato wedges with a generous amount of chimichurri sauce and bake - it's just that easy and quick.

In Peru where the potato was first grown, there are over 9,000 varieties of potato cultivated. Papas Rellenas is a classic Peruvian dish in which mashed potatoes are stuffed with mincemeat, hard boiled eggs, olives and spices, then deep fried and served accompanied by a red onion dressing made with lime juice, salt and Peruvian chillies.

From the Swiss roesti, the American hash brown to the German potato salad, the spud is a much- beloved ingredient, taking many forms and flavours across the world. Roasted, deep-fried, shallow fried, mashed, boiled or made into soup, each nation celebrates its goodness in a myriad of creative ways. And what better time to join in that celebration than as viewer-participants of the FIFA World Cup 2014!

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