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Conscious Kitchens

Lunch Menu

Cold Gazpacho soup (uncooked) Pumpkin-lauki- cabbage salad Salad of tomatoes stuffed with grated carrots and raisins Ragi bread Multi-grain bread Ridge gourd vegetable without oil Unpolished rice Coconut-banana-chikoo pudding

We were all surprised that the mustard seeds were popping. Who would have suspected that these little black seeds that usually create an oily mess would pop without any oil in the pan? Curry leaves were added to the same pan followed by tomatoes. After the tomatoes were soft a peanut paste was added ,followed by various masalas. The final ingredient, ridge gourd that we had steamed earlier was added and in just a few minutes our dish was ready.

I was delighted to host the Organic Collective(OC) team at my home. The team held their Conscious Kitchen worksop teaching oil-free and other healthy cooking methods. It was my kind of morning. Seven people cooking healthy food together… talking, talking and talking about food of course, one of my favourite subjects…where food comes from, where to buy organic foods, how to grow food and how we can make food healthier. OC’s oil-free cooking entails using some other fat in its pure form and in this case we used peanuts made into a paste by adding water. I asked them how the peanut paste used in the vegetables instead of oil is healthier than oil. Their philosophy is that the amount of peanuts used for a meal for seven is only half a cup where are the oil used uses much more extractions from the product, whether it be peanut oil, olive oil, or sesame oil, the amount of actual product used to get the oil extraction will be high and it is better to use it in its purest and most natural state.

Vanaja Vaidyanathan, Shammi Nanda and Gurvinder Singh came together by accident. Shammi and Gurvinder knew eachother from FTII and met Vanaja at a seminar on natural farming techniques. Both Shammi and Vanaja began considering the quality of their food to help overcome their health issues.Their common link to food and how it has affect their lives brought them together to start the Organic Collective.

They spread their philosophy by doing and teaching, not preaching. The cooking session was casual with everyone handling some task. Since it was my kitchen I was busy pointing out where things are for the cooks but did manage to absorb most of the points of the demonstration.

Urban dwellers, myself included, cite the supermarket or local bhajiwallah as the source of their vegetables, very few know about the farms where their food is grown. Being conscious of our food source and cooking methods are the premise of the OC.

Shammi came with a basket full of vegetables; it looked like my weeks supply of vegetables and I wondered why there was so much but soon came to understand why. We all sat and got acquainted over a cool glass of punna(raw mango drink). The OC team was thrilled that the punna was made with jaggery instead of sugar. OC promotes natural ingredients like diverse grains and jaggery instead of highly processed foods like maida and white sugar. We get down to work soon after we finish our drink. The first item on the menu is a pudding made with fruits and the insides of a tender coconut. The problem was breaking the large coconuts but managed by sending them to the gardener who had the right tools. Lots of malai was taken out and the water preserved to drink. This malai was mixed in the mixer with bananas. The mixture was mixed with chopped chickoo chunks and raisins and walnuts and put in the freezer…no sugar added. The desert which we take out an hour later is tasty and the fact that there was no milk in the pudding-like desert was not really detectable, coconut malai is an excellent substitute.

OC has mixed feelings about milk products. Some OC members do consume milk while others have them in only in forms such as curds and cheese but not pure milk. The growth hormones given to cows so as to produce a higher milk yield are unhealthy. And if cows and horses can make calcium from the grass they eat, then we can also get calcium from fruits and vegetables grown in the same soil. But at the same time, some milk products have been shown to be particularly beneficial to humans – like curds, buttermilk, etc. which supply good bacteria to the human gut, thus aiding in digestion.

Gurvinder the artisanal bread baker in the group showed us how to cook bread from scratch using ragi. With only fresh yeast, some luke warm water ragi, salt and sugar he concocted the dough to rise. He made one bread loaf with just ragi and one with a combination of raji and wheat. Gurvinder shapes one loaf nicely and coats in with a seed mixture, it looks quite professional.

The OC encourages steaming, solar cooking and the use of raw foods rather than pressure cooking and frying foods. The enzymes present in food are very important for triggering off the digestion process. Food is best when raw and not too much heat should be used when cooking. It is difficult for the enzymes and vitamins to withstand the temperatures of boiling and moreover the food is half dead before coming on the plate. When the body receives half-dead food, it sees it as toxins and tends to throw it out. The body too has to work more to produce the enzymes for the digestion process. Steaming is preferred as it cooks the food lightly without losing the vital enzymes.

The cabbage and carrots that Shammi has brought are quite small and I ask him where he picked them up. “They are organic, I know they do not look large and bright but they are healthier. On the contrary if a vegetable looks too good then you know that there has been some tampering with the fertilizer or there have been chemicals used for preservation,” he comments.

We made two different salads. One salad was just chopped lauki(yes, raw lauki…not as bad as you may think), grated yellow pumpkin and finely cut red cabbage, not mixed together but kept colourful separated in a wide dish. Some salt, pepper and fresh mint leaves from Vanaja’s terrace garden were used as dressing. I did not particularly like the salad, it basically needed more dressing or spice, the grated pumpkin though was sweet and tasty without any additions. My friends who are not used to chopping in their own homes (we all have our trusted cooks) are having animated conversations while cutting the veggies.

Tomatoes stuffed with grated carrots, jaggery and raisins is the second salad. The stuffing was nice and sweet (can you tell that I like things sweet) and the tomatoes also tasted fresh.

Now the cut ridge gourd was steamed in the steamer and the peanut paste was also made ready so we all watched while Shammi showed us the process of oil-free cooking. The kitchen had the wonderful aroma of a bakery when the bread was taken out of the oven. After the bitter gourd subzi was made we set the table and began our hard earned lunch. My friends who had come and were chopping away earlier were also eager to get started as they had to get back to work after their enlightening morning.

The soup and salads are served first as raw foods should eaten first are better on the digestive system. Both breads are excellent as was the oil-free subzi. Eating the food felt good; we were hungry and this food which is on the lighter side is not food that you can overeat and I ate the optimum amount, enough to fill up without being stuffed. The seven of us chatted about other recipes and how to substitute non processed foods for processed ones in daily meals. I ended the meal with passing around some raisins as desert…since we had already eaten our pudding as the appetizer.

The Organic Collective has no fixed price for their cooking workshop. Their “Pay From Your Heart” philosophy requests people to pay whatever they feel the value of the learning was to them.

My cook was on hand to learn the oil-free methods but insisted that peanuts used in the vegetable are more fattening than the oil I would have used. I kept trying to explain to her that this method of cooking is better for your health and nothing to do with weight but I do not think there is anything that can change her philosophy that oil is good for the bones which basically means if there is any oil-free cooking to be done it will have to be done by me….have to get back to the kitchen now.

Cold Gazpacho Soup Ingredients 5 large tomatoes 1 green bell pepper –finely chopped 1/2 cup spring onions — finely chopped 3 garlic pods, mashed basil lemon juice parsley salt and pepper to taste sugar to taste

Directions Blanch tomoatoes in boiling water for one minute. Take out skin and blend in mixer. Heat and add remaining ingredients except lemon juice, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Cool, add lemon juice and mix. Refrigerate until cold. You can add spices and herbs amounts to your liking. I love garlic so I have added a bit more.

Published in Citadel, July 2010

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