For yourself and your family – and we give reasons why they could be your best ‘palate friends’ when indulged in moderation.
By Madhulika Dash
Ladoo. Kheer. Halwa. Puran Poli.
Not just some of the most popular sweet dishes of the culinary ledger, but also the things that come with a good dose of nostalgia – and pure happiness. Just one bite and it can make any person smile with glee. But what is it about these simple indulgences that make them such an important part of our lives today? Let’s face it; the sheer mention would perhaps egg one to go and make a batch of it.
One explanation to this is that most of these dishes are made with staple ingredients – things that are available at home; they are easy to make and with slight tweaking of the sweet is loved by all. But there is more to these simple dishes than just the palate play. Nutrition therapist, Sveta Bhassin calls them the ‘delicious comforter’. “A bowl of kheer – the runny one made at home often using the pressure cooker to hasten the process – in fact comes with a good dose of glutamine, a component that is good to calm and detox the brain.” Likewise, is the case with the all-loved besan ke ladoo, a low-glycemic index treat that is known to keep you full for a long time.
Here’s our top pick for sweets that you should have as a treat – not just for your palate, but a zen like self, in moderation though, insists Bhassin.
If there is one dish that demands its own ledger with the maximum number of versions pan India, it is kheer. Made with just three ingredients, it is one of the familiar dishes made at homes, religious functions, rituals and special occasions. Such is the beauty of this ancient dish that there has been little reason to change the base process. For most Indians, it is synonym to a warm hug.
Which version is good? Of course, the home/temple version which is still watery with the use of jaggery and cardamom as the only flavorant spice.
Why have it? Four reasons – the rice and the milk, which is known to be natural coolant and when cooked together they create this meta-dose of glutamine, which is known to calm the brain and cool the body down to a more relaxed self. Ghee, which is good fat that can assimilate into the body. Also, ghee is known to create the concept of taste that aids in releasing the digestive juices aiding the stomach to process the food better. Cardamom, which is akin to camphor in its soothing properties and fragrance. And last not the least, gur, which is good for digestion.
Portion size and when? A bowlful that would fit your hand snugly – and a few minutes before the meal or even better an hour prior to hitting the bed. For kids and elderly however, it is a brilliant appetite builder and can be had as snack. Throw in some dry fruits like almond or cashewnut tossed in ghee for extra goodness.
One of the few dishes that found its origin in an Indian Ritual of Yagna was Meethe Chawal. Called Yagya Prasadam back then, Meethe Chawal (Sweet Rice) or Kanika (as it is called in Eastern India) was one of the many dishes that was created for a purpose. In this case, it was for instant burst of energy and calming of the Vatta (which deals with the digestive system). This is the reason why you would mostly say meetha chawal is made during rituals or when there is a seasonal change. But that doesn’t mean you cannot have the treat once a while, you can, says Bhassin, whenever you have that feeling of being distracted.Which version is good? Only one, the traditional way of making it with dollops of ghee and sugar. A good idea would be to go half an half on the ghee and have a sugar substitute in hand, if you are planning to indulge in it.
Why have it? The use of rice – which traditionally is a local variety of fragrant rice- at the base works to help the digestion, ghee, almonds and pistachio aid in pairing the stress level by replenishing the body with necessary fat and raisin, which can be both a sweet alternative and a source of vitamin C boost to reenergise the body – all that in a single bite. Just soak the raisin for sometime and use it for better effect.
Portion size and when? Good time is to have it in the morning as breakfast when you can burn it off during the day.
Right serving size, a bowl that fits into the palm of your hand.
ATTA KA HALWA
There is something deliriously MYSTERIOUS ABOUT this simple melange of whole wheat, ghee and jaggery or sugar syrup and cardamom with an occasional lavishness of dry fruits that makes this dish both addictive and a befitting partake of a Gurudwara’s blessing. One of the most popular forms of halva, this rustic dish is known for not only its palate virtues – it is considered one of the finest forms of halva in the country, easy to fall in love with but difficult to master- but curative process as well.
It is in fact one of the best dishes for instant energy.
Which version is good? Without doubt, the kada prasad which you get in Gurudwara.
Why have it? It is the richest source of energy, and given that the flour is cooked in ghee, the starch is broken down into these fast digesting bits that can release sugar fast into the blood stream. Two, given the high smoking point ghee can go to, during the period the flour is cooked, most nutrients are preserved; and the addition of nuts ensures the supply of energy remains for a long time. In fact, says Bhassin, “it is an amazing alternative to control your coffee and tea intake – as it in short term gives the same happy feeling that a cup of coffee will, though the realisation is slow and mild.”
Portion size and when? A good size bowl if it is had for breakfast; but a small bowl if it is to tackle your coffee/tea needs.
BESAN KE LADOO
For a large part of us Indians, Besan Ke ladoo is often called the summer cousin of Til Ke Ladoo, a Winter sweet staple. And to a large extent it is true. Unlike sesame, which is a warming ingredient, Besan is a much cooler by-product with an extra punch of taste and nourishing goodness. The fact that it can travel miles without spoiling and stay for months when stored in a cool place without losing its balmy taste are the two things that make it an all-popular sweet treat. Almost everybody loves it to some degree.
Which version is good? The traditional version, which has ghee, makhana and gud.
Why have it? Three reason: it has fibre, protein and a low glycemic index, which means it keeps on giving you these small boosters of energy long after you have finished the ladoo. And since it is roasted like sattu, it is easy to digest – and a perfect treat for kids and elders in the family once a while. Of course the use of ghee and the taste keeps you in a good mood.
Portion size and when? One is ideal, two is indulgence. It is the best small bite to have to quench the craving between meals.
POPPED RICE MUA
The chewy cousin of puffed rice, Mua, also called lai and Khai in many rice growing parts of India, is a fantastic snack made of rice which has some of the good qualities of rice minus the extra calories.
Bonus: It is light yet can be filling, so you can’t OD on it, even if you want. Best base to have your sweet cravings with. The only issue: Like its cousin, Murmura it doesn’t retain its texture for long, so this is the best form of having some Lai goodness.
Which version is good? The traditional format where it is mixed with a thick sauce made of jaggery, cinnamon, clove and a pinch of salt.
Why have it? Given that lai is made when rice kernels are sand roasted on high-temperature for a short-time, the moisture vaporises resulting in a puffed up appearance with that distinct color, aroma, flavour and texture. In fact, this process changes the starch into sugar giving it a natural sweetness which makes it a snack in itself but also enhances the carbohydrate and protein digestibility, breaks down the dietary fiber, minerals, and antioxidants – which makes it easy on the palate and the stomach. In fact, it is recommended for those with extreme Vatta condition.
Portion size and when? Since it is low on calorie one can have two, unless you pick for Netflix viewing, then one is enough. Hyperactive kids can have it with milk, likewise for the elderly in the family as it is easy to digest.