Clever tricks for healthy Indian cooking
Recently, as part of BBC Asian Network’s ‘Get Healthy Month’, I made samosas for the Breakfast Show. “What? Samosas and healthy?” I hear you cry. That just doesn’t seem right. But, these were no ordinary samosas; they were the light variety, baked in an oven instead of deep-fried. More often than not, this is a recipe that I get requests for. The challenge was to come up with a snack which is healthy without compromising on taste and I hope I’ve succeeded.
I’ve always felt that Indian cuisine can be one of the healthiest cuisines around and there have been some misconceptions about Indian recipes. Traditionally South Asian diets consist of vegetables, wholemeal breads, rice and lentils, but if you have a lot of fat and too much salt in the dishes, it could make your Indian diet less healthy.
Changes to your eating habits should be gradual. I've found that making changes to my diet slowly have reduced my food cravings for chocolates, cakes, Indian sweets and rich kormas. My father died of heart disease at an early age, so my brother and I have to watch what we eat and maintain good eating habits as well as active lifestyles. He cycles to work, while I go for BodyJam, Zumba and Bollywood aerobics classes (I’m still waiting for that call from a top Bollywood producer to appear in one of their dance numbers!).
If you’re eating out at a restaurant, it’s worth choosing tandoori dishes that are on the menu as they contain very little sauce and the food is baked instead of fried, which is better for your heart. I also find that unleavened flatbreads such as tandoori rotis help me appreciate the taste of curries more than naan breads made from plain flour.
In my cooking at home, I use very little butter or ghee in my recipes and believe it or not, sunflower, rapeseed and olive oils work really well with spices. I also find that I use less salt to flavour my food because I want to taste the individual spices. Here are my tips for enjoying Indian food that’s good for the body, as well as the soul:
- Opt for wholemeal flour instead of plain flour when making chapatis
- Try to swap white rice for brown basmati rice
- Replace cream with low-fat yogurt in ‘creamy’ curries
- Snack on unsalted nuts instead of deep-fried pakoras or bhajis (my personal favourite is almonds)
- Choose to eat a portion of fruit instead of an Indian sweetmeat
- Use tofu instead of full-fat paneer cheese
- Have semi-skimmed milk in a cup of chai instead of full-fat milk
- Have at least one item that’s green at mealtimes
Are you a glutton for butter chicken or do you look for ways to make your curries healthier? Tell us your tips for making healthy Indian food.
Manju Malhi is a guest chef featuring in the Asian Network’s ‘Get Healthy Month’. Download a PDF of the British Heart Foundation booklet on healthy Asian meals that she contributed to.