Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Billion Dollar Idli,

 For reasons I have not tried to find out- Barnyard Millet is also called the 'Billion Dollar grass' hence the title of this post. For a large part of human history, millets were a staple and it sustained and helped flourish many a civilisation. However, in the last few decades, the convenience of wheat has replaced most of these millets in our diets and we, humans are essentially living on a diet of a single kind of grain and vitamin supplements!

Barnyard millet, from which these idlis were made, can be used exactly the way rice is used. For these idlis, we substituted the rice with whole, unpolished, organic barnyard millet and fermented it with the previous day's leftover sourdough bread dough as a starter. So, unlike a conventional idli, this one has neither rice nor black gram (urad dal) and yes it was stuffed too - with vegetables and spices. Small things that make life amazing! What say?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Vada Paav

Our attempt to bring Mumbai's beloved street food- Vada Paav, home. When Aarina went off gluten, Vada paav was perhaps the biggest casualty. Not anymore- we made a much healthier version of the paav (bread) for breakfast. Made from Little millet and proso millet only, the bread was made with wild leavening and took 8 hours to ferment. The starter was the previous day's bread dough, which was only proso millet.  

The best part of millet bread is that they sustain one for much longer hours and their much lower glycemic index make them the best grain option for people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Way better than wheat or rice.  

Monday, 17 April 2017

Eggxact Eggs

We make something special for most major festivities- it's fun to celebrate and even more, fun to eat!

Aarina, baked a gluten free Date and Walnut cake on Sunday. Made of Sorghum, water-chestnut, rice and tapioca, the cake other than being gluten free was also very low in sugar (20 grams of muscovado for 500 gram cake) since the dates provide enough sweetness and the flours the flavour.

Now, this is a post to share an interesting observation of ours. Since the last five years, Aarina has baked lots of gluten-free cakes, so many that we have lost count of them and even stopped making notes! (Yes, bad habits) However, there is something that we noticed in our kitchen lab during our trials.

We do not use any baking powder or yeast in our cakes, air is incorporated by long, patient beating of the mixture. It so happens that if we use eggs from mass farmed, layer hens, the cake inevitably falls flat or caves in. But it never happens with the traditional, free range hens- The cakes always have a wonderful rise and colour.  Since the day we noticed this, we have always used local, free range eggs in our cakes and we have been unable to find why such a difference. (The reason we tell ourselves is that it could be the difference in the strength of the albumins protein matrix- but it's just a speculation!)

Being off- sugar, we could just have a bite of the cake- but it was a delight to see the family enjoy a great gluten-free cake- that too nearly organic (except for the dates) and margarine free. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Germ of Life

Yesterday, we made a nine millet gluten-free sourdough bread- today's was a single millet gluten-free bread. Proso millet, it has lovely yellow colour and we love the light yellow hue that it lends to the bread. We added the seeds for the crunch, but as an afterthought, we also realised that the seeds add the precious phytic acid lost during milling and fermentation of the millet. Yes, we love phytic acid and feel its essential for our well being.

The starter used was yesterday's, nine grain left over dough and it took just 6 hours to ferment. We have noticed that among millets, Proso, is the quickest one to ferment and Sorghum the slowest.

The seeds comprising of Sunflower, Chia, Nigella, flax and sesame were lightly roasted along with Moringa and tamarind leaves cooled and added to the bread before baking. The baking took some time- 160c for 70 minutes and produced a 400 gram boule and it was completely organic.  

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Sourdough Buns

It is that time of the year when bakers are dishing out 'Hot Cross buns' and we tried our hand with the bun- and it was great fun!

We did a gluten free, nine millet, sourdough bun and scoured it with a cross. It was hot, it had a cross, so it should be a hot cross bun I told Aarina, No she said ! Grrr...

We made it from Red and Yellow sorghum, Proso, pearl, finger, barnyard, kodo, foxtail and little millet. Other than being gluten free, it was also sugar-free, salt-free, oil free, egg free and gum free. The slow fermentation took about 12 hours and the starter used was the leftover batter from our yesterday's Idli's.

The one complaint I have is, unlike yeast fermentation which has neutral flavours and lets one enjoy the flavourful grains that we use, Sourdough fermentation changes the flavours dramatically- Not that it tastes any less tasty, but I do miss the millet flavour.

The organic buns- were made from home milled grains and does not include anything other than water and millets! That's a two ingredient bun!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Jambul Idlis with stories

An ancient Indian breakfast! Not really but the ingredients are. The Jabul (Syzygium cumini ) or Indian blackberry tree in our yard is like a mini ecosystem of sorts. During March to May when the Jambul flowers bloom the tree buzzes with activity. This tree is a nesting place for weaver ants throughout the year, once the flowers bloom, bees, butterflies and sunbirds make regular forays to the tree. This attracts birds like the 'Paradise flycatchers' (featured below) and other insectivores aves.

As the fruit ripens and falls down, it attracts small rodents and hence becomes a favourite hunting ground for rat snakes, which in turn attracts peacocks. The tree also attracts apex predators like me (Yes, all the above-mentioned lifeforms are darn scared of me) and I use the fruit to make nourishing breakfast interesting.

Take for example today's breakfast, made from ancient Indian grains of Proso millet, little millet, rice and Sorghum. Fermented overnight with 4 tablespoons of the previous day's fermented batter as a starter. This organic batter itself is quite nutritious and is made from ingredients that Indians traditionally ate. To this, we added the pulp and skin of the Jambul fruit (Indian Blackberry or Malabar Plum) which gave the idlis a light purple colour, light sweetish taste and some interesting history.

Jambul, tree and fruits are mentioned many a time in ancient Indian texts, not just as ayurvedic remedies but as part of philosophies and stories. I, however, remember it best from my days when reading stories from Kannada literature. According to the puranic cosmography, the entire Cosmos is divided into seven concentric island continents. Each concentric island separated from the outer one by different bodies of liquid- sea-water, sugarcane juice, wine, ghee, curd, milk and water respectively. The innermost Island was called Jambudvipa and this is where ordinary humans lived. Dvipa meant island. and the Jambu is said to be derived from the jambul tree. Considering the tree is very beneficial, there is no doubt it would be given such an esteemed position in our past history.

For now, though, the pulp of the Jambul fruit will grace our breakfast, desserts and wines. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Phytic Acid Myth

Our understanding of the natural world is changing very fast. Newer discoveries, aided by modern technology is helping us understand some of the many mysteries. One of the challenges that often pops up in this fast-changing scenario is accepting newer discoveries while letting go of past beliefs. Today’s post is about one such belief and we felt the need to write about it because we read some well-followed bloggers, who wrote about nutrition, suggesting to their readers to reduce grain, legume and seed consumption as they contain ‘Phytic acid’- informally termed as an ‘anti-nutrient'.

So does one need to fear Phytic acid? This is our take on it.

What is phytic acid? Phytic acid (or Phytate) is a major phosphorus storage compound of most seeds, legumes and cereal grains. It has a high affinity to phosphorus, and the seed stores the phosphorus reserve in phytic acid. When seed sprouts, the phytic acid degrades and releases the phosphorus, which nourishes the young plant. The structure of Phytic Acid is such, that it not only has a property to attract and lock in Phosphorus but also some other minerals, namely, iron, zinc and calcium. It was believed that because phytic acid locks these minerals, they are not available for us during digestion. For this reason, alone, it was termed as an ‘anti-nutrient’. Although no other nutrient is targeted, somehow the name stuck and became convenient to those who promote certain kinds of diets and food products.

So, do we need to shun Phytic acid? Contrary to those who call it a Pariah of the nutrition world - Science is actually asking us to smartly embrace Phytic acid and, we will tell you why and how.

1. Phytic acid is a powerful antioxidant: Phytic acid is shown to protect the liver from alcohol-related injury. It is also able to protect the DNA from free radicals, this protective action is enhanced in foods that are roasted (unfermented Chapati’s / flat breads). (1)

2. It reduces inflammation and its harmful effects: Phytic acid decreases the inflammatory cytokines IL-8  and IL-6, especially in the colon cells. (2)

3. Helps prevent certain types of cancers: Phytic acid was found to have anti-cancer properties against bone, prostate, ovarian, breast, liver, colorectal, leukaemia, sarcomas and skin cancers (3)

4. Helps repair DNA damage: Phytic acid can enter cells and aid the DNA repairs of breaks in its strands.  This has potential anti- cancer implications. (4)

5.  It can help prevent osteoporosis: Although it was implicated to inhibit calcium absorption, Phytate consumption has a protective effect against osteoporosis. Low phytate consumption, in fact, is a risk factor for osteoporosis.  Adequate consumption of phytate may play an important role in the prevention of bone mineral density loss in postmenopausal women (5)

6. Helps prevent Kidney stones: Phytic acid has shown to prevent calcification in the kidneys of rats, which suggest a potential for preventing kidney stones. Similar results were obtained in human cohort studies. (6)

7. Helps people suffering from Gout: By inhibiting the enzyme xanthine oxidase, phytic acid blocks the buildup of uric acid and can help prevent gout. (7)

These are just a few of the benefits of Phytic acid if included in our diet. Evidence from newer research showing more benefits like skin protection, gut protection and protection from heavy metals among others is also pouring in.

Now, the dilemma is how to enjoy the benefits of Phytic acid despite its inhibitory effects? The answer is simple - Eat a variety of food, encompassing a range of grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.

How does this help? Firstly, contrary to what was believed, Phytic acid does not treat all iron and zinc equally. Absorption of iron and zinc from animal sources is not inhibited by phytic acid (8), so if your diet includes fish and meat - you do not have to bother.

What about Vegans then? If you are consuming fruits, vegetables and leaves along with the grains and seeds, then Vitamin C and other organic acids which are found in fruits and vegetables can enhance iron absorption and help reduce the effects of phytic acid. Vegetarian food is naturally high in Zinc and generally exceeds the RDAphytate may actually help control excess zinc absorption.

Finally, when it comes to calcium, Phytic acid has a lesser affinity to Calcium as compared to phosphorus and zinc. Moreover, proteins and vitamin D improves calcium absorption from Phytic acid. (9)

So what about Phosphorus? Phytic acid reduces phosphorus and other minerals absorption only when meals containing foods that have phytic acid are consumed, but does not have any effect on subsequent meals which do not contain foods having phytic acid. Not just that, phytic acid is easily degraded during cooking. Fermentation (like making idlis, Dosas and breads) degrades nearly 100 % of the phytic acid and makes phosphorus available and, so does sprouting. Also milling, boiling and chewing food degrades a large amount of phytates, all of which, release phosphorus, which our digestive system can then absorb (9).

So Phytic acid (or phytate) is a friend and not a foe. It is something we need to embrace and not fear. A varied diet is certainly nutritionally wholesome in more ways than one, and we need to embrace it. So the next time, if someone tells you to give up a certain kind of wholesome food because it contains phytic acid - it will help to realise that such advocates have a lot of catching up to do.

Meanwhile, Aarina, made a lovely gluten-free nine-grain millet bread. We made a sandwich with lots of fresh vegetables and salad leaves. A great way to start a day with a wonderful whole grain bread.


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