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Happy New Year and good news for all weight-watchers!

With the winter season rolling in you can expect an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables at your local market. One of the keys to staying healthy is by including sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables in our daily diet. Research shows that the most beneficial qualities of fruits and vegetables include lowering risks of serious health problems. Most fruit and vegetables contain virtually no unhealthy fats or cholesterol and are low in calories. As such, they are filling and also prevent weight gain, and at the same time provide us with essential nutrients.

The colours of fruits and vegetables indicate their different mineral and vitamin contents and their other qualities. Green leafy vegetables, such as cabbage or spinach, are rich in vitamins C and E, which are both very powerful antioxidants, and help fight cancer and heart disease. They also contain certain carotenoids that may prevent age-related eye diseases such as cataracts. Red and orange/yellow coloured fruits and vegetables such as melons and tomatoes, apricots and carrots contain vitamins A, C and E, which all help in preventing certain cancers.

When cooking vegetables, we should avoid boiling them in lots of water as this can destroy most of the vitamin C and other water-soluble nutrients. A small quantity of water should be used and vegetables should be cut into small pieces to reduce cooking time. Steaming is also a good option, as the vegetables do not come into contact with water directly. Many vegetables can also be eaten raw, and this would be ideal, as it would mean consuming the full nutrient content that may otherwise be lost in cooking.

The best way to eat fruit is on an empty stomach or some time before other meals. This is because fruits can be digested very easily due to their high water content and composition of simple sugars. If combined with other foods, which take longer to digest, the fruit sugars will stay in the stomach, fermenting and causing digestive irritation. For those who do not normally eat fruits, the best way to start is by drinking pure fruit juices. At least one fruit drink is generally enough for one day's nutritional needs. Blending fruits with ice helps keep the drink cool and a little banana gives the drink a smooth texture and can cut the tang of bitter fruits. Citrus fruits generally make a good base, so it is a good idea to have orange, grapefruit or lemon juice pre-prepared and refrigerated to blend with other fruits such as apples, pears or berries.

Quick Veggie & Fruity Breakfast/snack

This is a dietary fibre rich food capable of increasing the body's metabolism. Mix a cup of oatmeal flakes with a pinch of turmeric, coriander powder, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder and salt with a cup of fat-free milk and heat for a couple of minutes. Let it thicken to the desired consistency. Top the mixture with fresh fruits, fat free yoghurt, nuts anything you like. This is a high-powered nutritious breakfast with very little calorie.

Another favourite to all whether it is just for a quick snack or for breakfast, is vermicelli. Here is a nutritious low calorie vegetarian recipe. Boil urad (kolai) dal, peas, shredded carrots, sliced potatoes with a pinch of salt and turmeric. Roast a cup of vermicelli until it is slightly brown. Sauté mustard seeds, green chillies, ginger, and hing (optional). To this add the cooked vegetables and vermicelli. Add a little water and cover for about 5 minutes. A tasty, filling and nutritious dish is ready.

Parathas, especially with the proper filling like spinach, cauliflower or any other vegetable can be quite delicious and healthy. Steam spinach and cool. Mix wheat flour, steamed spinach, chilli powder, cumin seeds, and salt. Add a little oil and adequate water to make dough. Roll out the parathas. Grease a skillet (tawa) and fry the parathas. Serve hot with yoghurt or green chutney.

Serves 4
Per serving: calories-102, fat-0g, cholesterol-3mg
Suitable for diabetics

2 ½ cups ripe papaya (cut in chunks)
1 cup ice cubes
2/3 cup yoghurt (fat free)
1 tbsp ginger (finely chopped)
1 tbsp honey
juice of 2 lemons
16 sprigs fresh mint leaves (4 sprigs extra, for garnishing)

Refrigerate papaya until very cold, at least 1 hour or overnight.
Blend papaya, ice, yoghurt, ginger, honey, and lemon juice in a blender. Add up to 1/4 cup water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture is smooth and thinned to desired consistency. Blend in mint leaves. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Serves 4
Per serving: calories- 65
Suitable for diabetics

1 kg brinjal (stems removed)
1 ½ cups yoghurt (fat free)
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp ginger (grated or paste)
½ tsp cumin powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
coriander sprigs, to garnish

Heat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6. Prick the brinjals all over and put them in a roasting tin and bake for 45-60 minutes, until they are really soft. Alternatively, grease a skillet. Cut the brinjals in half, place them on the skillet, cover and cook over very slow fire until they are very soft. Let it cool. Scoop out flesh and leave until cold.

Put brinjal flesh in a blender with the yoghurt, garlic, sugar, ginger, cumin, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a large serving dish and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Just before serving, garnish with coriander sprigs and arrange small pieces of toasted pita bread, carrot and cucumber sticks, strips of red and green capsicum, tomato wedges, lengths of celery and cauliflower florets around the dip.

Serves 4-6

1 red chilli (chopped)
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
juice of 1 fresh lemon
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups bean-sprouts
2 cups cabbage (shredded)
4 oz snow peas (trimmed)
1 ¼ cups carrots (thinly sliced)
1 ¼ cups cauliflower florets
3 tbsp Thai peanut butter
grated coconut, to garnish

Grind together the chopped chilli, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and crushed garlic cloves. Add the lime juice and mix well.

Put the spice and lime juice mixture into a medium saucepan and heat gently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and stir until just about to boil.

Meanwhile, mix all the vegetables together in a large bowl. Stir the peanut butter into the coconut and spice mixture and combine with the vegetables. Sprinkle over grated coconut. Serve immediately.

Tips: The cauliflower, carrots and snow peas can be blanched before being mixed with the dressing to give them less bite.

Serves 4
Per serving: calorie-120, carbohydrate-15g
Suitable for diabetics

500g apples
100ml water
¼ tsp cinnamon powder
100g hazelnuts or almonds
2 egg whites
100g ripe bananas

Put the apples in a heavy saucepan with the water and cinnamon. Cook gently until the fruit softens and most of the water is absorbed.

Pour the hazelnuts into a 20cm (8in) diameter pie dish. Add the apple and cinnamon and combine to form a soft crumble mixture.

Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks. Sieve the banana or put through a food mill to make it fine and liquid. Gently fold the banana into the egg whites. Pour over the apple mixture.

Bake in a preheated oven gas mark 1/140oC/275oF for 30 minutes or until browned. Serve hot.

For the love of food

Heaven is a place on earth

Kaniska Chakraborty

I was in a hiatus. Nothing has been working out. Life was at its dreary best. Trips to morning markets were mundane and listless. Occasional jaunts at restaurants proved to be unrewarding; even a “Chinese Boutique” place.

And then, out of the blue, a job offer. A chance to re-energise life. A chance to start anew, breathe new air.

Joy was unbounded. Wife and I decided that we have earned a trip for ourselves. And we shall go to a place where we will not have to take the pressure of rushing to catch the last shuttle to the museum or beat the shopping timing. We needed to be somewhere where we would be comfortable yet pressure-free.

Easy to say. But where do you find such a place within a few hours of train ride near Calcutta? After all, we only had the weekend to spare.

We, with much trepidation in our hearts, chose Shantiniketan. Yes, we heard of its heritage. We also heard of its drove of tourists.

We got down to some last minute research and narrowed down to Prantik, the immediate outskirts of Shantiniketan. Apparently, it was blessed with a nice resort which even had a swimming pool!

Got into the train at 6 in the morning and after a leisurely three hour ride, got off at Prantik.

We immediately liked the place. Gravel platform, old fashioned yellow name-stand. No stalls in sight.

Strolled out and caught a rickshaw. Asked for the resort and he readily agreed to go. When we asked about the distance of this place, he sheepishly pointed to a very near place, where a signboard glared at us. We could have walked!

Just around the corner, we saw a little shack selling fresh 'kachuri' and 'tarkari'. Stopped there for breakfast and was impressed with the quality of food and service. Further enquiry revealed that they do lunch to order.

And we ordered. We were in no mood to experiment. So it was the ultimate Bengali comfort food 'mangsho-bhaat'. The owner of the place promised some vegetables as well. We promised to come back later.

Reached the resort. Not much of a resort actually. Serviceable rooms and a very dirty swimming pool. But who cares? Primary agenda was two fold. Eat and sleep. Not necessarily in that order. In this case, sleep came first. And a deep one at that.

Woke up fairly late, primarily called by the rumbling of our collective stomachs. Realised that it must be time for lunch. Sauntered out to by then christened “Boudir Dokan”.

Lunch certainly was ready. And what a lunch it was!

Flowery white fresh husked rice.

A dollop of grainy, nutty, almost sweet ghee.

Crispy, thin sliced, nay, shaved 'alu bhaja'.

Baby spinach with 'macher matha'.

Delicate cauliflower with new potatoes.

Mutton with thick gravy.

Sweet tomato chutney with dates.

Fresh 'notun gurer sandesh'.

Simple and stunning. The freshest of ingredients. An expert cook. Willing consumers.

Heaven is indeed a place on earth. At least, the experience was.



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