The culture of puris, paranthas and pakwaan (minus the onions and garlic- they’re aphrodisiacal, hence a strict no-no!) during the fasting season is more like an old age ritual; where these deep-fried and fattening delicacies are qualified as legit “fasting foods”. But if fasting was supposed to be a body and soul cleanse, then why on earth are we succumbing to un-healthier substitutes and trashing our bodies during the holy period of fasts?
First Things First
We spoke to our favourite plant-based and vegan food counsellor Meenu Nageshwaran, to find a yummy and edible answer to all our fasting food vs. health food dilemmas. Apart from being an excellent plant-based and vegan food chef, Meenu is also a renowned pranic-healer and runs a meditation centre under the name of ‘Padma Centre’ where she holds workshops of pranic healing, plant-based healing, vegan foods, meditation and the good way of life. If you thought yummy fasting food can’t be made healthy, you’re in for a real surprise!
1. Oil-Free Cooking Is Key
The thought of oil-free cooking might sound crazy, but when you discover how easy it is to make yummy food without oil, you’ll definitely want to give this a try. While cooking without any greasing agent, the concern is to avoid your dish from sticking to the pan; hence, choosing the right cookware is important!
While attempting oil-free cooking, go for enamel-coated cast iron pans, stainless steel non-stick pans or ceramic pans to avoid sticking and burning. Vegetable stock or water are the best replacements for oil in stovetop cooking, so incase you’re finding your dish a bit dry—just add a splash of stock and you’re good to go. Dry roasting spices till you achieve that aroma and colour will make Indian oil-free food yummy and flavourful.
2. Veg Out
While eating all vegetables might not be allowed during the fasting period, making use of the ones available is definitely a healthy way forward. Some of the vegetables enjoyed during fasting include: Potatoes, pumpkins (petha/kaddu), sweet potato (shakarkandi), taro root (arbi), yam (jimikand), raw papaya, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach and carrot.
When cooking veggies, we like using seasoning and flavouring agents such as dry fruits, raw sugar, tamarind paste, lemon juice, coconut milk, dry mango powder, rock salt, ginger, coriander and green chilli in order to make the dish palatable and delicious. You could also make a nutrient-punch smoothie, juice or add them to your baked vegetable gratins.
3. Go Vegan!
Not just a new food fad, nut-based milks are really healthy alternatives to diary products. Though hardcore vegan-ism may seem a bit daunting, shifting to nut and plant-based milk products can be a great addition to your diet (especially if you’re lactose intolerant). Nut milks are primarily made of almond, cashew and peanuts (by soaking them overnight, grinding and squeezing out the milk through a nut bag) and have a rather nutty and earthy flavour.
Cooking Indian food with nut-based milks can be a bit challenging (initially, you do miss the customary taste of diary), but it also makes way for a whole lot of kitchen experiments and flavour pairings! From peanut yoghurt chhaas, creamy cashew whipped cream and of course Meenu’s delicious vegan Punjabi kadhi, nut milks can replace regular diary stuff in most Indian dishes.
4. Change Your Flour
While fasting during Navratras, we are religiously prohibited from consuming flours, grains and legumes (no wheat, no rice, no dals and of course, no maida!). Therefore fasting in fact might just be the best way to switch to more fibrous and gluten-free flours.
Look out for homegrown flours such as amaranth and buckwheat (kuttu ka atta), you could also dry roast makhana (the crunchy calcium loaded lotus seeds) and powder in a mixer to make your own DIY makhana flour. We recommend the uber delicious, light and oil-free Makhane Ka Parantha with potatoes, peanuts, coriander and makhana flour.