Seeds of health

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Time and again, I am bought into the idea of super foods that I diligently attempt to include in my family’s everyday diet. I make sure to stock my kitchen pantry with green tea, oatmeal, quinoa, walnuts etc. and my refrigerator with avocado, greens and berries, just to list a few. Off late, the bandwagon is joined by 2 newcomers in the form of seeds

  1. Flax seed
  2. Chia seed

The numerous health benefits that these two ingredients have is quite too often discussed with regard in the food world. Chia seeds, indigenous to South America, are loaded with fiber, protein and Omega -3 fatty acids. They are also high in vitamins and minerals like calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous that are essential for bone health. They are usually grown organically and are naturally free of gluten. Due to high levels of fiber and protein content, these seeds are highly recommended in weight loss programs. They are believed to control high blood pressure as well as blood sugar given their antioxidant property. It is only befitting for ‘Chia’ to mean strength in ancient Mayan.

Flax seeds, believed to be native to Egypt, have omega 3 fatty acids that helps in healthy glowing skin. It is also high in fiber content which helps improve digestive health or remove constipation. Its high anti-oxidant qualities is supposed to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Consumption of flax seed also helps in moderate regulation of blood sugar level. It is believed to fight many types of cancer, including breast, prostate, ovarian and colon cancer. Its high fiber-low carbohydrate combination is an excellent recipe to combat weight gain. Flax seed is best absorbed in ground form as it is easier to digest.

I find ways to incorporate these ingredients in my everyday meal, by sprinkling a table spoon or two of these to most food items, be it salads, soups, side dishes, dosa batter, chapatti dough or rice dishes. They make for excellent ingredients in baked goodies too. The addition of small quantities of these seeds do not bring a noticeable variation to the taste or texture of food as they do not possess any peculiar smell or taste. These seeds find their way in smoothies, cereals and yogurt on a fairly regular basis. Chia seeds, when soaked, become tiny, slimy globules with interesting texture that qualifies for a perfect condiment in refreshing drinks.

Using these in moderation and discretion is a key reminder to maintain balance of nutrient intake. Anything, including super foods if consumed in excess is rather toxic to the body than beneficial. Add these ingredients in creative ways to your daily cooking to reap full benefits. There is no effort required or time wasted in finding unusual and complicated recipes.

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Chia seeds
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Flax seed powder

My husband’s bulging waistline continues to make a mockery of my culinary efforts. I don’t give up. Like an invincible warrior on a single-minded pursuit, I patiently wait for the day when my seedy adventures proudly stand testimony for a naturally flat belly, not sucked in as seen in photos 🙂

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Quinoa

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I was skeptical about the super food, Quinoa when I first heard about it, not for its nutritive value but for its appeal to my South Indian palate. One of my first concerns was how I would make this relatively bland food more acceptable to my spice-addicted taste buds, but not for too long! I took to an instant liking to quinoa when a friend of mine once offered me simple home-made quinoa salad for lunch. The salad in fact, was quite filling, still light on stomach. The recipe for quinoa salad is simple and easy.

Quinoa              – 1 cup

Water                – 1 1/2 cup

Olive oil            – 1 tsp

Tomato             – 1 cup cubed

Cucumber         – 1/2 cup cubed

cilantro              – 1/4 cup chopped

green onion       – 1/2 cup chopped

mint leaves        – 2 tblsp chopped

salt                       – to taste

black pepper      – 1 tsp crushed

green chilli         – 1 chopped(optional)

lemon                  -1/2 juiced

Wash quinoa thoroughly and strain. In a pan, keep water to boil. Add quinoa and salt and let it cook. Switch off the stove and let the quinoa cool. Add in the chopped vegetables and other ingredients. Keep in the refrigerator to cool. Mix well and serve cold.

You can also do other healthy variations to this recipe by adding different combinations of vegetables like corn, bell pepper, onion, pomegranate, pickled olives, sun-dried tomatoes etc. You can add grated ginger for an extra zing or feta cheese for a twist. Use your creativity to bring a change in taste.

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I have also used quinoa as a substitute for a regular dish like upma(Indian semolina dish) or pulav. Still, the salad is my personal favorite. Quinoa’s status as a super ‘grain’ is in fact a misnomer. It is a ‘seed’ rich in protein that delivers almost all the amino acids required by our body. It is also gluten-free and wheat-free which makes it a hot commodity among consumers intolerant to these components. It is rich in phosphorous, magnesium and iron, and is a good source of dietary fiber. These are reasons enough to incorporate this healthy substitute in my family’s menu more often than before 🙂

To give a brief history, Quinoa got its name from Spanish and its origin is in the Andean regions of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Columbia.

A for Avocado

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As much as I love avocado now, I used to almost hate it many years back! The first time I tasted avocado,also called ‘butterfruit’, was in a supermarket sampling aisle.  My husband who is a gourmet himself, was quick to grab two pieces of avocado, just raw and plain. After he put one piece in his mouth, he generously handed me the other, much to my surprise! I still remember after tasting the bland piece of fruit, the look I gave him  that stripped him down to a sheepish smile. He knew my spice-stoked palate wouldn’t receive the blandness very well.

I did find a solution to make it more palatable in the form of guacamole – a dip that we use with corn(tortilla) chips or pita chips. For me the invention of guacamole was revolutionary. It brought me instant fame, in addition to all the health benefits that came with its consumption. I once made guacamole as part of appetizer, for one of our friends’ pot luck parties, and received rave reviews for probably the simplest item in the party compared to the entourage of dishes served that evening. Well, as I gloated in the seemingly undeserved attention, I was secretly happy at the thought of creating a tasty, yet healthy addition to the party menu. As fate would have it, the recipe that I followed from one of my friends’ cookbooks became mine overnight, like it was patented! Needless to mention, it also became an instant hit with friends and family members who visited us as well. Very few went home without learning the recipe which is quite simple. Here is my version of guacamole recipe:

  1. Avocado(medium ripe)                                       2 (mashed)
  2. Tomato(roma or any less sour one)             1 chopped
  3. Onion(yellow or purple)                                      1/4th, chopped
  4. Green chilli                                                                  2 or 3, chopped fine
  5. Cilantro                                                                         2,3 sprigs, chopped fine
  6. Garlic                                                                               2 cloves, crushed
  7. Lemon                                                                             1/2
  8. Salt                                                                                     to taste(about 1/2 tsp)

Mix all ingredients except lemon, in a bowl. Squeeze lemon on top. Leave the seed of the avocado in. This helps in stopping the guacamole from turning black. Serve fresh with chips of your choice or store in refrigerator till ready to serve. The taste of this dip is addicting as you find a bowlful vanish in few seconds with kids and adults swarming it. The good news is this is an addiction you would not want to quit, because of its health benefits, of course.

1. Avocados(also called butter fruit) are an excellent source of healthful fats – mono saturated fats and a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. People with moderately high cholesterol levels showed significant health improvements from avocado intake, according to studies. It is a good source of potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure.

2. The carotenoids found in avocado are believed to be powerful anti-oxidants that help prevent cancer and heart disease. Its amazing carotenoid diversity as well as the fats are key to its anti-inflammatory properties. They also enhance immune response to infections.

3.  Adding avocado to other vegetables(like in salads) improves the absorption of carotenoids from these foods. As carotenoids are fat soluble, the creamy fat in avocado increases  their bioavailability, as per credible sources.

4. Last but not the least, avocados are considered to be one of the best anti-aging super foods that help reduce wrinkles and aging of skin by boosting collagen formation. The amino acids and carotenoid anti-oxidants help reduce age-spots.

Avocados can be consumed in your daily sandwiches, salads, burritos, tacos or just as it is(if you like the taste!). Pack it in your lunch box as a snack or have it as a complement in your main meal. It is also a value addition to your fruit smoothies.

Long story short, it didn’t take  me too long to travel the path from dislike to love for avocados, especially in guacamole. In fact it has found a major place in my everyday dietary chart, off late. Hail the super food for making this world a healthier place!

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Tea

                        ‘Tea’naciously Green

If memory serves me right, I took the first sip of green tea about 7 years back at my friend’s house, and it stayed with me as a habit since then. In the earlier days, I made a conscious effort to have it as part of my daily routine, especially in winters. This practice of mine ensued from the awareness of numerous health benefits from all kinds of media, that this simple drink had to offer. Soon enough:

  • I envisioned my centenarian self a few decades from now, who would dedicate the secret of her prolonged life span to the super food called the ‘Green Tea’. I might even enter the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for the oldest woman alive!
  • I also started dreaming of shedding pounds from around my never-budging and ever-bulging waistline, because green tea is supposed to be a great fat burner and it even improves metabolism. In reality, my sunken cheeks are true testimonials to its fat burning abilities!!
  • I imagined myself disease free forever sans diabetes and hypertension, thanks to the antioxidants in the green tea that would put up a fight befitting a warrior, to prevent cell damage…Yay!

I also realized not too late that you really don’t care about the benefits or the glorified stories of any food when it is part of your life, like your family members 🙂 I am glad to notice that it has taken a place in the hearts of my 17-year old as well as my husband. I for one, savor green tea not for any  specific intent, but for its refreshing aroma and earthy tone. It connects me to the basics, and reminds me where I come from.  It has an unassuming quality with only goodness to offer.  I also like green tea for the fact that it is light in the stomach, almost like water.

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Green tea is simple to make. Fill three-fourth of a kettle with water. Bring the water to a boil. Switch off the flame. Add 2 teaspoons of green tea leaves or couple of tea bags, and let it steep for about 5 minutes. And voila, it is ready! Pour it in a cup and drink warm. One kettle would suffice for an entire day. It can be consumed just as is or with honey and lemon if you want added taste. If you like it cold, add ice cubes. I like mine simple and warm.

Green tea comes in all kinds of flavors, from just plain to simple lemon to a combination of fruit and flower flavors with exotic names! You can find a wide variety of them at most superstores,  covering an entire spectrum of texture, flavor and price; it is an empire in its own right!

On this cold winter day, I am at the beckoning of this warm and soothing beverage sitting on my kitchen counter!  Next time you are offered a cup of green tea, see if you reach for it with a gleam in your eyes  🙂