Sunday, March 14, 2010

What matters in life

The first couple of paragraphs are a primer on where my mind started with this post... it's only after that do I actually get to the point of the post.  Feel free to skip the first two paragraphs!

I watched Food Inc a while ago, and just finished watching The Beautiful Truth.  The former is about how large conglomerates are taking over food production, and casts them in a light similar to "Big Pharma".  And it casts them in a pretty negative light.  Whether they deserve it or not... that's the subject for another blog post.  But it did make a good point: we have to be careful about what we eat.

The Beautiful Truth explores the discoveries of Dr. Max Gerson - who in the early 1900s claimed to have a cure for cancer (and various other maladies) through unconventional treatments (translation: a good, mostly vegan, diet).  Although the documentary is catalyzed by Dr. Gerson's theories, it really focuses more on how important it is that we eat the right foods and how processed food is really (really) bad for us.  Again, whether Dr. Gerson's theories are right or wrong is the subject for another blog post.  And I'm pretty sure I don't even have the knowledge (at this point) to even hazard an opinion worth posting.  So I'm definitely staying neutral on the topic, especially since I don't have a balanced (and scientific) view of the issue, and haven't done the research etc. to figure it out.

This blog post really, is more about what the narrator in The Beautiful Truth says at the end of the movie.  These comments really resonated within me.  Maybe that's because I understand effervescence of the human condition - we aren't around for very long... and yet we try to be these really fancy big shots for some reason - as if that actually matters.  So many people forget that it's about having a bit of fun and enjoyment for yourself, while at the same time making a difference for someone other than just yourself.  Here's a snippet of what the narrator says at the end of the movie - here is what really matters from your life:

"Not what you bought, but what you built
Not what you got, but what you gave
Not your successes, but your significance
Not what you learned, but what you taught
Not your competence, but your character
Not how many people you knew, but how many will feel your loss when you are gone

Every act of integrity, courage and sacrifice that empowered others to emulate your example"

I don't think I could've put it any better.  I don't care if you agree with the movie or not (I don't even know if I agree with it yet)... but I do hope that you agree with that paraphrased quote.  And more importantly, I hope that more people live by these "guidelines".  Because really; this is the stuff that matters.  Not the other stuff.

Does that mean that one of my goals shouldn't be to drive around in a Ferrari?  No.  Actually, I want to own and pilot my own helicopter.  My point is - that's the "having fun" part of life.  Life is equal parts having fun, and doing something that matters.  I just wish more people would see the second part - for what it actually means.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Experimenting in the Kitchen

I like to cook.  The problem is the overhead - groceries, dishes, etc.  Usually the overhead is too much of a hassle compared to the pay off if you are just cooking for 1 (i.e. me cooking for myself).  But these days, I'm more conscious about the stuff that I eat.

They aren't unhealthy per say (it's not like I eat pizza every day), it's that the way it is prepared/stored isn't exactly ideal.  Most of what I ate was frozen food that was heated in the microwave.  That's fine for stuff like frozen rotis etc., but I started worrying about the frozen curries etc.  Those come in (a) flimsy plastic containers which (now apparently) are notorious for leeching plastics into the food and (b) contained more oil/salt than I really need in that curry.  Now clearly (a) is bad (especially since plastics stick around for almost forever)... but how bad does matter.  Either way, I figure cutting that part out can only help me.  And clearly for (b) - no doubt if I could reduce that I could be a bit healthier.

So, now I've started cooking more religiously.  It's a fusion of north and south indian cooking - which means the south indian tastes and flavors I prefer, combined with the resilience of north indian preparation (i.e. they last longer in the fridge).

My top recipe is definitely the Chana Masala (which has a slight south indian twist to it... although I plan to make it a bit more north indian when I add a clove or two of garlic to it).

A few nights ago, I got bored of making the same thing over and over and wanted to try something different.  Specifically... I wanted to make a form of broccoli curry.  Greens (dark greens especially) are important.  Even though Chana Masala is very healthy (chick peas are loaded with protein and fiber)... I don't get as many greens in my diet as I'd like (apart from the Tabouli in my falafel pitas for lunch).  Besides, broccoli in particular has an awesome mix of healthy stuff (I am so scientific in my definitions) that I was really interested in.

Problem is, south indians (well all indians really) don't use broccoli in our (traditional) cooking.  So I had to come up with some random recipe to make it work.  I'm sure recipes exist (probably similar to the one I came up with; and you'll see why in a second)... but where's the fun in that?

So I decided to go with the same "base" as my chana masala recipe, tweak it a tad, and replace the chick peas with broccoli.  Should work right?  Well it did! I have to tweak the recipe a tad to get the flavor just right... but over all - it worked out great!  I always feel like broccoli has a weird (but strong) taste to it (some people call it a "healthy vegetable taste" which to me translates as... ick).  Overpowering that taste is a little difficult.  But, my preparation should (theoretically) keep things healthy, while still overpowering the flavor just enough so I will actually eat my vegetables!

For those out there who are curious... here's the recipe + method.

3 "stalks" of broccoli
2 onions
2 tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
3-4 medium green chillis
1.5 teaspoons of Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of Red chilli powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
~ 1 table spoon oil (I prefer canola oil) 
A little bit of Asafoetida

Coriander leaves

*a few notes: try to keep the concoction covered as much as possible.  Helps lock in a lot of the flavor (and keeps the seeds from popping up and out of the oil into your eye)

0. Chop the stuff that can be chopped (don't try to chop the mustard seeds, it's very hard and doesn't work well)
1. Put the oil in.  Let it heat (use a non stick pan)
2. Drop in the mustard seeds, wait for them to pop (flame should be on medium)
3. Put in the green chillis, then the cumin seeds.
4. When the green chillis start to turn white, puff in a little bit of asafoetida (about 1/2 tsp worth)
** Do NOT let the green chillis turn completely black!  This adds an overpowering "burnt" taste to the curry (which you don't want).
5. Add the onions, cloves of garlic and red chilli powder.  Let them cook for a bit.  This part is tricky, but don't let them cook all the way, only part of the way.
*It is very important to keep stirring after this point.  You definitely do not want pockets of spice since water isn't added to mix stuff up till much later
6. Add in the tomatoes.  Now they can cook together (till the tomatoes start to get squishier - don't wait till they get COMPLETELY squishy)
7. Put in the turmeric powder.  Cook for another 30 seconds.
8. Finally add in the broccoli.  Let it sit in the heat for a while, and then pour in ~1 cup of water (mainly to help the flavor get everywhere)
9. Cook for a bit, then add WASHED and STRIPPED coriander leaves.
*Stripped = tear the leaves from the stalks and try to tear the leaves in half before putting them in.  This forces the flavor out of the leaves and into the mixture.  And the more coriander leaves the better - lots of B12!
*Adding the coriander leaves later keeps the leaves' flavor from mellowing out.  I prefer it that way.
10. Cook under low heat - keep covered.  (Keep stirring once in a while).  
*The onions tend to sit on the bottom and the broccoli on top - don't let that happen, keep stirring.

Whatever you do, don't try to "taste" the broth to see if it came out right.  It gets really hot apparently and I found out the hard way.  Trust in your cooking abilities!  (Or if you are like me, don't trust them, and taste it anyway and be prepared for the consequences!)

You can add salt if you like, but you don't really need to.

After a few minutes (once the broccoli is a bit soft), you are done.  It takes at least a 1/2 hour for the curry to cool down before you can eat it.  Waiting a few hours is even better - it gives the broth enough time to seep into the broccoli.  Do NOT put it in the fridge till much later, you want the broth to be warm so it penetrates the broccoli.

Serve with whole wheat roti/naan to get a nice healthy and mostly balanced meal!