Indian food is a hot trend today. It has expanded beyond traditional Indian restaurants onto menus all over the country. It’s no wonder. Today’s more adventurous diners have embraced Indian flavors for some time now, and Indian spices like ginger, coriander, cumin, cayenne, cloves, cardamom and turmeric have been enhancing everything from sweet potato fries to chicken salad.
But the added bonus of Indian cuisine is that many of its signature foods have long been prized for their healing properties as well as their great flavors. Ayurveda is the name for India’s ancient medical practices. Most Indian super foods have a history of medical uses that can be incorporated into delicious recipes.
Here are some top Indian superfoods you should try (if you haven’t already):
Also known as carom seeds, these pods have a pungent taste. They have been used as a remedy for respiratory disorders, flatulence and help with the absorption of food. It’s suggested that chewing on a spoonful of carom seeds before breakfast helps digestion and speeds metabolism. Carom seeds taste a bit like pungent thyme and are good flavorings for vegetables, beans, lentils and breads.
Amla fruit (Gooseberries)
Gooseberries have been used in traditional Indian or Ayurveda medicine for centuries as well as finding their way to England and Western Europe into tasty cobblers, pies, crumbles, smoothies jams and preserves as well as cooked into sauces to accompany rich meats like roast duck and pork. They have some amazing properties that make them extremely valuable to a healthy diet. Like most fruits, they are low in calories and fat and cholesterol-free. Gooseberries are a good source of vitamin C—about 50 percent of the day’s requirements in one cup serving — vitamin A, manganese and dietary fiber. Research shows that gooseberries have properties important for helping to ward off metabolic diseases and to maintain good health. These include anticancer, antioxidant, boosting the immune system, cholesterol balancing, and liver protecting properties.
In Indian cuisine, this cracked wheat is called dalia. In India, it’s most popular for breakfast, but here in the U.S. foodies have come to know it in a salad made with fresh parsley and mint called tabouli. Bulgar wheat is high in protein, fiber and low in fat. This makes it a complex carbohydrate and a low glycemic index food, which is good for keeping blood sugar levels steady. It also contains good amounts of manganese, iron and vitamin B. Plus, bulgar cooks in less than 15 minutes. Try mixing in curried butternut squash or sautéed mushrooms and onions. My Aging Gracefully cookbook has a recipe for Meatloaf with Bulgar and Flaxseed that’s an exotic take on this classic comfort food.
Chaas or buttermilk
The buttermilk consumed in India is yogurt-based and different from what we consider buttermilk in the U.S., but both are delicious tart beverages with many healthful properties. Indian-style buttermilk is created by beating yogurt and adding spices. Buttermilk, as we usually know it, was the leftover liquid after churning butter, along with the addition of salt. Buttermilk contains more lactic acid and less fat than regular whole milk. According to Ayurveda, buttermilk is an effective treatment for digestive disorders and can serve as a weight loss aid. It is also high in potassium, vitamin B12, calcium, and riboflavin as well as a good source of phosphorus. It’s easy to locate in the dairy case of any grocery store.
The ginger root has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It helps relieve nausea and indigestion; reduces inflammation in the body; when drunk as tea helps relieve cold and flu symptoms; reduces cholesterol, lowering the risk of blood clotting, and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. There has also been research indicating that ginger could become part of a treatment for heart disease and diabetes. Ginger adds delicious, zesty flavor to both desserts and savory dishes like Shrimp and Moringa Curry from the Age Gracefully cookbook.
This squash-like vegetable is also commonly known as a calabash or bottle gourd. It’s a good source of fiber, low in calories and has a high water content, so it’s frequently squeezed for juice. Many people drink it to help with weight loss. Versatile lauki has a very mild flavor, so it takes on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. It can be stewed in savory masalas, stuffed with rice or vegetables and even baked with sugar and nuts for a dessert. To find fresh lauki, you’ll probably have to seek out Indian markets that import them. Lauki juice is more readily available from Amazon and even some Walmart stores.
Also known as mung bean, moong dal is a lentil full of vitamins A, B, C and E and important minerals including calcium, iron and potassium. Moong dal is also an excellent source of fiber and protein, with nearly 24 g in a 3.5 oz. serving. Aficionados say that they are especially delicious mixed into basmati rice. You can successfully use moong dal in my recipe for Lentil Salad. Dried mung beans are available at Whole Foods Markets and on Amazon.
You may have seen these black seeds in a market as basil seeds or tukmaria. They are rich in vitamins A, E, K, and B, contain essential nutrients including copper, calcium, iron and Omega-3 fatty acids and a great source of dietary fiber. In India, sabja are soaked and eaten prior to meals to prevent overeating and are reputed to help relieve constipation. Sabja are also rich in anti-bacterial properties and help fight infections. Mix them into smoothies or milkshakes like chia seeds. Substitute sabja seeds for chia seeds in Chia Seed Pudding or Chia Fresca. You can find them online at Amazon or in specialty Indian markets.
Turmeric is related to ginger root and provides the distinctive bright yellow color to curry (which is a blend of a number of spices). The health benefits come from the component, curcumin, which is used in various drugs as an immunity booster and anti-oxidant. Turmeric is 5-8 times stronger than vitamin E and more effective for fighting infection than vitamin C. It also helps in maintaining normal cholesterol levels and slows aging. For a simple and refreshing dose of turmeric, you can make Turmeric Orange Juice. In both my cookbooks, Age Gracefully and Age Beautifully, there are a number of delicious recipes that feature turmeric, including Turmeric Garlic Potato Salad, Turmeric Rice and Whitefish with Turmeric.
Whitefish with Turmeric
This is one of my cross-cultural specialties. It’s like veal scaloppini, but uses fish instead of meat and you marinate it in turmeric juice, so it’s much healthier. The Omega-3s in the fish are great for skin elasticity and the turmeric has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. Tilapia fillets work best because they are thin and cook quickly, but you can use other whitefish.
1/3 cup fresh turmeric juice
2 Tbs. mirin (seasoned rice wine)
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
2 lb. tilapia fillets
3-4 medium eggs – beaten
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
Ai – Anti-inflammatory – Reduces the inflammation process in cell, blood vessels and tissues, helping to slow aging and lower the risk of long-term disease.
Ao – Anti-oxidant – Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
DP – Disease Prevention – Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases like cancer and diabetes.
IB – Immunity booster – Supports the body’s resistance to infection and strengthens immune vigilance and response.
M – Mind – Improves memory and focus