Getting a little experimental in the kitchen helps. Be it with ingredients, seasonings, or even just the way we cut the veggies. It helps keep boredom away, opens up our palate to different tastes, flavours, and may actually add some more health to the fare that we eat.
Another great way to do this is to re-look at the way we cook, and the pots and pans we use. Our ancestors, cooked in a fuss free, uncomplicated, absolutely natural way. Maybe they were on to something. Lets try and incorporate their ways too.
Earthen cookware: Why did most ancient cultures cook in clay pots? Spanish cazuelas to Chinese sand pots, Egyptian bram, French poêlon and daubière, Italian mattone and umidiera, German romertopf, Indian terra-cotta… earthen cookware has been around for ages. That’s probably because there’s lots going of clay pots. They heat up gradually, spread heat uniformly, and cook food the right way – slowly. Utterly slowly in fact, which ensures that the food stays moist and hot, and we need to add less oil and liquid to cook it. Clay is a little porous, so heat and moisture circulate through the pot during cooking, unlike with metal or enamel-lined pots. Another advantage is that as clay is alkaline it interacts with acidity in the food, neutralizing the pH balance – which is fabulous news for our health. Ever tried drinking coffee and tea in a clay mug? It tastes naturally sweet. Plus of course the flavor of food cooked in a clay pot is absolutely unbeatable.
Banana leaf: Banana leaf is excellent for steaming, as it allows the steam to penetrate the food inside it uniformly. When cooked wrapped in a banana leaf, food gets a fragrant mellow smoky and sweet flavour. Plus of course as the leaf is edible, you can also score the health benefits of ingesting strong antioxidants and polyphenols like epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, which banana leaf is loaded with. It protects our cells from oxidative damage from free radicals, which are associated with a number of chronic disease like cancer, arteriosclerosis, heart diseases and accelerated aging.
Patra ni macchi, chenar (a lighter version of paneer), paturi and phul kopir (cauliflower) are some popular dishes cooked wrapped in a banana leaf. There’s also a famous Gujarati snack called panki where the panki batter is poured on the banana leaves which are then grilled on a hot tava using little oil. Japanese cook their rice in banana leaves and in Malay cuisine – besides wrapping rice, they also cook meat and other vegetables (Nasi Lemak, Cha-Lua etc.). You can also use banana leaf as a “mat” for barbecues; adds a nice flavor.
Bamboo: extremely popular in eastern states (where it is still very common). Cooking food in bamboo shells adds a subtle and distinctive naturally sweet, earthy taste to the dish. It is also a healthy alternative, as the food retains its nutritious properties and looks totally fresh. Another advantage is that you need very little or even no oil sometimes to cook dishes in bamboo. There are fortunately some bamboo steamers available now in the market. These help retain the natural characteristics of the food as well as preserve essential vitamins and minerals that could otherwise be lost by other cooking methods, such as boiling, frying, or sautéeing. Perfect for fat-free diets, you can steam whole lot of low-calorie dishes like fish, vegetables, shellfish, meats, and much more, as well as dim-sums.
Tender coconut shell (daab): When food is cooked in a daab (prawns, fish usually) the soft flesh of the tender coconut combines with the flavor of the ingredients of the dish and creates a creamy texture and a rich taste which is unparalleled. Plus all the nutrients of coconut – proteins, minerals, phosphorus and vitamins A, B and C – get added to the dish. Dab Chingri is a popular dish cooked like this. Get the recipe and try it out.