You might have managed to stop munching mince pies, have finished off the Ferrero Rocher, ceased the cheese consumption and generally eschewed all those daily ‘little extras’ that added up to a lot extra on the scales post-Christmas, but I bet it hasn’t proved so simple to quash curry cravings.
But, hang on. There’s simply no need to swear off spice when you’re shedding pounds. The ‘Indian’ food that’s earned the country’s cuisine as fat-laden and less-than-healthy is, for the best part, less-than-authentic… or it’s the true-blue, Moghul-influenced Desi khana of the North that’s designed for decadent dinners, not everyday eatin’.
Broadly speaking, look down to the South if you want your weight to head in the same direction. The food of Gujarat is also good; lovely and light, and largely lentil-based. But every state has healthy options, of course – else, local folks simply couldn’t eat their own indigenous Indian food thrice daily.
A diet doesn’t mean ditching Indian food. Quite the obverse; it actually means you should know it a little better.
Give ‘deep-fried’ a wide berth
A no-brainer, this one. Vast volumes of fat in any kinda khana will fast translate to vast volumes of fat on the eater. It’s sad because in taste terms it’s hard to deny batter often makes things better, but steamed, poached or grilled goods are good for you.
No creamy sauce, of course
Whether the richness is achieved through ample application of white butter (any dish whose name includes the term ‘makhni’), cream, coconut milk or copious quantities of cashew paste, make haste in spurning sinful sauces in favour of tomato-, pulse- or veg-based gravies, or drier dishes.
Get thrilled by grills…
…But be vigilant: not all are virtuous. Tricky tikkas to watch out for include plump pieces of paneer and those that employ marinades made with malai and high-fat grated cheese. And, however nice the naan or bewitching the black dal, stick to raita and salad on the side of things taken from the tandoor.
Check the pulses
Satiating and packed with protein, different dals can be used to thicken sauces; make nutritious sweet treats; or, when sprouted, make salads more substantial. From nicely nutty kala channa to slippery urad via fragrant, hearty toor and almost-instant masoor, there’s a type of purse-friendly pulse for every person.
Curd is the word
As we know from all the adverts where Gok Wan worries we’ve lost our sparkle, yogurt is good for the gut. In India, curd is more often taken alongside a main meal or whipped with water into a beverage; commonly consumed as a savoury rather than sweet item as we Westerners tend to think of it. Try cool curd rice as a light stomach soother.
As a very broad rule of thumb, South Indian food tends to be lighter than its Northern counterpart. Coconut milk replaces dairy, and the hot climate means heavy dishes aren’t frequently on the menu. This part of the subcontinent is home to an overwhelming majority of vegetarians – meaning most meals pack in much more than 5-a-day.
Are you game?
Although hunting is no longer legal in India. the shikar traditions of the North and the resourceful cuisines of tribal comunities in areas like Assam, Rajasthan and Coorg have left a rich legacy of wild meat dishes. Game is generally low in cholesterol and leaner than other meat protein types – and tastes superb with spices.
Coconut oil is absolutely all the rage amongst Britain and America’s vegans and hipsters, recently revered for its many benefits and versatility. In many parts of South India, it’s the cooking medium of choice, and you should find that it’s easier to digest dishes where it has been used over other oils.
Say no to fat flatbreads
Swap naan and paratha (the latter literally and liberally layered with fat) for dry-fried or tandoor-cooked roti or chappati, preferably made with atta (wholewheat) over maida (refined white flour). Stuffed sorts are the worst offenders when it comes to destroying a diet, as are deep-fried, puffed-up puris and super-sized bhaturas.
In 2015, food trend followers will have their fill of kefir, kimchi and saeurkraut, and get totally pickled on all sorts of fermented fare. But India’s indiginous cuisines have their own fair share too. See this article for an introduction to South Asia’s most favoured fermented foods and lighter items.
Wholegrain lessens the strain!
Yes, I do mean in that way. As well as being helpful to the heart, fibre-rich wholegrains are a great way to regulate and ease one’s ‘movements’. Less-processed wholegrains are the dashingly-desirable bad boys of the food world: the more rough, ready and unrefined they are, the better.
Slurp up sorbet
There’s no two ways about it… Indian sweets are sinful. So rather than settling for a supper that lacks the sweet ending you so crave, choose a beautifully fruity, dairy-free sorbet. Opt for a totally tropical flavour for a good pud which will simultaneously see off the January blues.
Learnt the lessons and hungry to put it all into practice? Go forth and feast!
What to order and where
- To start: Squid dynamite peri peri Goan-style squid rings and salad, to leave you feeling hot, hot, hot.
- Main event: Cafe Spice mixed grill A tidal wave of tikkas, cooked with minimal fat and delivering maximum flavour; classic chicken, salmon in leeli chutney, Syrian Christian-style duck, venison aflatoon, beef with black pepper and many more besides.
- On the side: Purple sprouting broccoli with spinach Finely-flavoured with ginger, garlic’n’chilli; Pudina roti A fat-free flatbread with the goodness of wholewheat and the tongue-tickling flavour of mint; Goa rice Short, plump, red-tinged grains with a distinctive flavour and none of the nutrients polished out of it.
- To finish: Mango sorbet and coffee served with The Chocolatier’s water ganache truffles
- To start: Venison Chettinad boti kebab Good lean game taken to the tandoor then served with apricot chutney.
- Main event: South Indian baked sea bream Another spice-laden, tandoor-cooked treat with light lemon rice and a twangy tomato sauce.
- On the side: Mung and coconut dal A dish which uses a combination of ingredients is so delicious you won’t even notice its nutritious nature.
- To finish: Mango, lime and chilli sorbet Dairy-free, but flavour-rich.
- To start: Toasted sesame ginger cod, spring onion khichdi, fennel pollen ice cream, cashew nut salsa Light, fresh flavours in a protein-rich fish dish that includes two foods super for immunity – ginger and fennel pollen.
- Main event: Grilled ginger-chilli lobster, spiced lobster jus, broccoli florets, curry leaf-broccoli khichdi, cocoa dusting Broccoli is a brassica that you don’t often see in Indian dishes, but then chocolate is none too common, either. Enlivening and enlightening.
- To finish: Pineapple and fennel sorbet A sprinkle of spice lifts a simple sorbet into a whole new sphere.
- To start: Tamarind quail Get your game on from the off – this is sweet, sour and tangy with a smoky note from the time in the tandoor. The accompanying bubble’n’squeak can count towards your 5-a-day.
- Main event: Venison vindaloo The lean, iron-rich meat and fiery Goan gravy ensure there’s far more flavour than fat in this dish; very nice with accompanying steamed rice.
- On the side: Green bean foogath Much like an Oriental stir-fry, featuring the quintessential Keralite flavours of coconut & curry leaves; and Baingan bhartha – the Punjabi take on the smoked, spiced aubergine mash.
- To finish: Coconut sorbet A taste of the tropics that’s a little lighter than its ice cream counterpart.
- To nibble: Sundal salad A hotly-dressed, happy, healthy combo of chickpeas and superfoody sprouts.
- To start: Kara adai – A South Indian lentil pancaked with piquant tomato pickle.
- Main event: Beef ullarthiyathu A dryish dish from Kerala, crammed with coconut, chilli and curry leaf flavours.
- On the side: Tadka dal; Dhaba salad Protein-packed, homestyle lentil dal and a spiced-up, simple salad.
- To finish: Seasonal fruits A marvellous melange enlivened with rose petal honey syrup.
- To start: Patrani prawns Charred banana leaf bundles which unpeel to reveal plump prawns in a verdant marinade.
- Main event: Lamb hara masala ‘Hara’ references the green colour of the coriander, mint, and chilli marinade for the Kentish lamb – the dish further flavoured with fenugreek, lime and pomegranate.
- On the side: Pindi channa Chickpeas given umami with tea leaves and tang with amchoor (dried mango) powder; Vegetable poriyal A South Indian, coconut-and-curry-leaf flavoured heavenly hotchpotch.
- To finish: Kali chai Tell milky masala chai to move over in favour of black tea spiked with kala namak (black salt) and peppercorns
- Sharing plates: Indulge in a wonderful, waist-friendly sharing spread – steamed, spongy, cornbread-like Dhokl from Gujarat, spicy-sweet, chillied Fruit chaat, and pillow-like, steamed fermented Idli dumplings served with South Indian lentil sambhar.
- To finish: Paysam A healthy portion of freshly-cut mixed fruits with a slightly-sinful almond and saffron custard.
- To start: Red lentil and fresh ginger soup Warms the tummy, fights off ills, packs a protein punch.
- Main event: Bangladeshi aubergines in fennel and tomato sauce Flavoured with a spice that’s great for the stomach, this dish packs in the veg portions.
- On the side: Fragrant brown rice and whole spices A complex carb, more nutritious than the simple white stuff; brightly coloured, super-nutritious Green bean and sweet potato sabzi; killer-hot, metabolism-raising Nagar relish.
- To start: Sabzi chaat in a pappadam cup A spicy, enticing mix of coriander chutney-dressed chickpeas, potatoes, sweetcorn, apples, peas and pomegranate with a pappadam for a crafty crunch.
- Main event: Grilled salmon tikka A nicely-charred, succulent spiced-yogurt-marinated fish fillet.
- On the side: Mixed salad To sneak in a few more of the 5-a-day; Cucumber raita Cooling, digestive and yogurt-based; Tandoor roti Wholesome wholemeal flatbread.
- To finish: Fresh mint tea Gives the tummy a rest and helps you digest.
- To read more about South India’s healthy cuisine, click here
- To read more about the health benefits of coconut oil, click here
- To read more healthy Indian diet and lifestyle tips, click here
- To read about Indian fermented foods, click here
- To read about the Indian use of game, click here