Ever since the humble beetroot juice emerged as an indispensable dietary supplement for the elite Olympic medalists and accordingly attained the special status of a superfood, the benefits of taking this juice became more evident to the general public. Nowadays, beauticians recommend taking a glass of beetroot juice daily in the morning for glowing skin. Dietitians consider this juice as an excellent liver detox, and fitness trainers suggest it for endurance. Cardiologists & pulmonologists prescribe plain beetroot juice for building a healthy heart & lungs. It is all due to a magic ingredient, nitrate, found plentifully in beetroots.
Basil seeds (sabja seeds) are one of the most sought-after summer ingredients in Asia. According to Indian Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), basil seeds are useful to lower the heat of our body. So it is a good idea to add basil seeds into our diet during summer to keep us cool & hydrated. This summer I have baked a loaf of egg-free banana bread using soaked basil seeds as a substitute for the egg.
Reading Panchangam (an almanac prepared based on Indian calendar system) is an age-old custom followed every year on the day of Tamil New Year celebrated in the middle of April. A few centuries ago it was a customary that royal priests were summoned to read a new Panchangam in the king’s court mentioning important dates of the year and also foretelling the calamities like flood, war, etc. Even today every TV channel telecasts the speech rendered by astrologers predicting the next prime minister, rain fall, gold price, etc. that are of great interest to people of all walks of life .
Oil bath is almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago. Surprisingly it offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. But people nowadays prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there. Most of us take oil bath at home only as a religious ritual on the day of Deepavali festival every year.
Spiritual leaders in India used to stress the importance of including white pumpkin into our diet regularly as it is considered Saatvik (meaning ethical, pure & vital) conducive for practicing yoga & meditation. Food plays an important role in achieving deep meditation because each food generates different effects on different parts of our brain. Saatvik food, esp. white pumpkin juice, is recommended to calm the mind and to experience meditation.
Pazhaya sadam (fermented rice) is a classic version of overnight oats popular in the west. It has been the staple food for working class here in India, but this humble meal is in vogue even among elites in the recent times. This is mainly because people prefer to take simple nourishing meal over a lavish meal followed by a number of pills of different shapes & colors.
My father never missed to treat me with a glass of delicious mixed fruit juice whenever he took me out for shopping during my childhood days. I still remember how I relished this refreshing drink particularly during hot sunny days. This fruit juice can be enjoyed by chewing but not by sipping through a straw as it was served neither diluted like juice nor concentrated as smoothie. My father always preferred to take fresh mixed fruit juice without ice & sugar, hence I got motivated to prepare fruit juice without ice (or ice cream) and to use unprocessed sugar in place of refined sugar. My father also made us to realize that taking the food made of assorted fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, or lentils is essential for children’s growth as it prevents vitamin deficiency.
Paruthi paal is a cottonseed milk dessert popular in the villages near Madurai, my home town. People, esp. the villagers, prepare a nutritious dessert using cottonseed milk, a traditional vegan milk. As a part of my college education, I served as an NSS (National Service Scheme) volunteer. We used to camp in the surrounding villages during summer vacation to understand the living conditions of the people and also help them improve their standard of living. We were always greeted with a glass of delicious paruthi paal in almost every household in those villages. Normally they used to grind a large quantity of cottonseeds everyday and used as a fodder feed particularly to milking cows. Apparently cottonseed milk is beneficial to lactating mothers as well. Others consume this dessert during summer to keep them cool.
Few years ago I had a serendipitous encounter with an amazing fruit kudampuli while I was looking for a gut-friendly substitute for tamarind used in south Indian cuisine. Kudampuli (Garcinia Cambogia or malabar tamarind) is a rich source of an interesting chemical compound hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is well known to the western medicine for its astounding property to convert food into energy and also hinder the accumulation of fat in our body. Thus HCA extracted from Garcinia Cambogia is mostly used in the manufacture of weight loss supplements. They are recommended to treat obese particularly diabetics.
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
Our traditional method of making pickles using raw mangoes, amla, lemon, etc. is a time-consuming process as these vegetables are left in the mixture of oil, spices & salt for fermentation for few days and hence a longer shelf life. But I like to make instant pickles that can be consumed immediately and has limited shelf life, besides I like to relish melt-in-mouth mango pickle unlike the conventional one made al dente.
Generally, we prepare refreshing musk melon juice or milkshake by adding milk & sugar (or condensed milk). Ever since I realized the weight loss properties of musk melons I started including them in my diet as much as possible during the entire summer. Needless to say that calorie conscious people would prefer to take fresh musk melon salad than creamy milkshakes during this summer to enjoy its health benefits completely. So lets make melon ball fruit salad that will satiate our hunger as well.
Ridge gourd (Luffa acutangula/ peerkangai) is a native vegetable that grows plentifully around us in South India. Both the mildly-sweet flesh and the fibrous peel of ridge gourds are edible, so we prepare ridge gourd kichadi as a side for idli & dosa and ridge gourd kootu for rice using the flesh, and also prepare a chutney (dip) using the peel.
Panchamirtham is the sacred fruit salad offered as naivedyam to deities at home, and also used for abishegam (bathing deities) in Hindu temples across Tamilnadu. The most renowned Palani panchamirtham is prepared using unique bananas that are exclusively grown near Palani hills. It is offered to the Lord Murugan in Palani temple and also to devotees as prasadam. You can check out this video to see how panchamirtham abishegam is performed to the deity in a temple.
Panna Cotta is a creamy Italian dessert similar to custard generally prepared by cooking sweetened flavored cream, set with gelatin, and served with fruit coulis, caramel sauce, or chocolate sauce. Now I have prepared a vegan panna cotta by replacing cream with coconut milk, gelatin with agar agar, and prepared the fruit coulis using locally grown jackfruit bulbs.
I have been planning to bake a mango cake in this summer, but I could not keep a few separately for baking as they were usually devoured in a couple of days. Now my mother sent me the last batch of organic mangoes that were plucked from the trees grown in her backyard when the fruit bearing season of mango is almost nearing an end. Now I have baked an eggless mango cake with two ripe mangoes and left the remaining for my family to relish them to our hearts’ content at the end of this mango season.
Panakam is a traditional ayurvedic lemonade offered as neivedyam to deities at home on the day of Sashti Viratham (fasting) observed by Saivites and also on the day of Rama Navami celebrated by Vaishnavites. Rama navami is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Rama and Kandha Sashti Viratham is usually observed on the Sashti thithi of every month and is also observed for seven consecutive days in the month of Iyppasi after Deepavali.
Ice apple pudding (nungu payasam) is a delightful dessert nowadays featured in the menu of premier restaurants here to treat the people with impeccable taste. Lately it is also served in the wedding banquets particularly in South India. Ice apple pudding is a creamy dreamy dessert with enticing flavors of saffron, cardamom and ice apple (nungu or palm fruits) considered as a perfect finish to a sumptuous feast. You may click here for my other payasam recipes.