Is Healthy Indian Food an Oxymoron? One Woman Calls Bluff

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Admit it: somewhere in your subconscious lies a strong association between Indian food and comfort food. You turn to the likes of butter chicken, lamb vindaloo, and dal makhni when you can justify the calorific intake with anything ranging from relationship drama to work stress or simply having an off day. But have you ever considered Indian cuisine in a light, bright, and healthy context? We’re guessing not. And here to counter your misconception is Mira Manek.

The jet-setting, yoga-practicing, health-retreat-hosting author of cookbook Saffron Soul is determined to give Indian food a total facelift, accenting the traditional recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother with a wholesome yet contemporary twist. Through dishes such as beetroot coconut curry, masala-grilled aubergine, and saffron-lime cheesecake, Manek is all about making Indian spices and seasonings more accessible to all. Over in her hometown of London, you’ll even spot her delicious creations at the likes of Raw Press and Detox Kitchen.

Earlier this year, we tapped the author following her appearance at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature for a handful of tips on how to eat more healthily, regardless of your circumstances. Here’s what she had to say.

If You're New to Spices

“The key spices are cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric powder, coriander powder, and cumin powder. I’d suggest using half a teaspoon of mustard and/or cumin seeds in a few drops of oil, letting them cook until the mustard seeds pop or the cumin seeds become slightly more brown, then adding vegetables, lentils, or whatever stir-fry you might be making. I often add onions and garlic after the seeds have cooked. Finish off with a pinch of turmeric as well as coriander and cumin powder. It sounds more complicated than it is – trust me!”

If You're Stumped by Saffron

“My grandmother’s tip is to heat a frying pan, then remove it from direct heat and place all the saffron strands on the hot pan, moving them around with your fingers or a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes. Next, break them up between your fingers and place them into what you’re cooking – it’s much better for digestion to eat saffron that has been toasted. The second tip is that you literally need a very small pinch to add flavor and color.”

Saffron Soul - Front Cover cookbook
Photo: Courtesy of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

If You're Going for Green

“Make them varied and interesting. For example, you can roast chopped vegetables with cumin seeds, maybe a dollop of tandoori paste, and some yogurt sauce. Or simply roast in the oven with a handful of chickpeas just to mix it up, and then dip into different chutneys.

Soups are also a wonderfully flavorful way of eating more veggies. My go-to recipe is boiling broccoli with a couple of garlic cloves and then blending with salt and a small cube of vegetable stock.”

If You're Restricted to Vegan

“Lots of vegetables and leafy greens of course as well as lots of pulses and beans for protein – boiled mung beans with lime, tomatoes, onions, and cumin powder is great! Also, experiment with different grains, from quinoa and millet to pearl barley and buckwheat.”

If You're Craving Something Sweet

“If you’re out and about, try to find an energy ball made with dates and nuts. If you’re at home, make a batch of coco fudge. My recipe contains only chickpea flour, dates, and coconut oil. Sometimes, you could just have a date with a spoon of nut butter stuffed inside – it’s absolutely delicious!”

chocolate coconut energy balls - a sunshine mission
Photo: Courtesy of A Sunshine Mission

If You’re Craving Something Hearty

“As a vegetarian, tofu is one of my staples, and there’s nothing quite like a tofu scramble. I make it with mustard seeds, turmeric, and lots of onions, and then have it with toast or sweet-potato wedges. Another option is brown rice stir-fried with cumin and lots of finely chopped vegetables with a large dollop of yogurt and some chutney.”

If You're So Over Salads

“Burger patties are the answer! Boil some sweet-potato chunks and mash them. Stir-fry some onions and garlic, add a handful of beans or chickpeas, add the mashed sweet potato, and then add garam masala, paprika, a pinch of turmeric, salt, and pepper. Mash everything together, form into patties in your hands once the mixture has cooled down, then cook in a little oil on a flat pan.”

If You're Pressed for Time

“Porridge is my answer to everything! Just don’t add any honey or sugar. Instead, have it with some chopped prunes or raisins and lots of berries and flax seeds.”

healthy porrdige breakfast berries
Photo: Courtesy of @MiraManek
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