Monday, January 5, 2015

Green Food, Healthy Food



My grandson Naineysh (Golu) trying his hand at gardening
 
The healthiest of vegetables are leafy green vegetables. The green color of leaves and grasses is due to a basic chemical of life called chlorophyll. It is a complex organic compound of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen with an atom of magnesium at its center.  The molecular structure of chlorophyll is virtually identical to that of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying red pigment of our blood.  No wonder foods having an abundance of chlorophyll are some of the healthiest in the vegetable kingdom. In hemoglobin the central atom is Iron and in chlorophyll it is Magnesium (see image).

Hemoglobin and Chlorophyll

Some doctors think that foods with an abundance of chlorophyll discourage cancers (see here) while strengthening human blood. Just as the waste of plants, oxygen is our life breath; the waste carbon dioxide breathed out by humans as well as the waste excretion of humans is food for plant. The Universal Intelligence has created both these mutually compatible life forms so that both may prosper and evolve together.

Plants also contain a variety of other nutrients and micro-nutrients required for a healthy life. Thus a healthy human diet is incomplete without an inclusion of green leafy vegetables. When leaves are taken selectively from a plant, allowing the plant to go to seed and complete its life cycle, no violence is committed even to plant life and such foods are called Lovegan foods i.e. those that cause no violence not just to the animal kingdom but also plants.

Leafy Green Vegetables 

While lettuce is a leafy green vegetable that is best eaten raw in salads, and cabbage amenable to pickling as the Germans do for Sauer Kraut or Americans to Cole Slaw, most leafy green vegetables need to be well cooked. Spinach must remain the king of leafy vegetables but there are numerous others such as mustard leaves, goosefoot weed etc. that are delicious with the right recipe. It is consumed as an accompaniment to bread, pasta, steamed rice, mashed potato or yam or a preparation called fu-fu in Nigeria that can be made by cooking semolina with water and has the consistency and softness of mashed potatoes. Some protein matter added to preparations with leafy greens makes a balanced meal that can be consumed frequently. I shall include my favorite recipe in this article. The leaves of certain trees are also edible and some such as white mulberry leaves and drumstick leaves are super foods. When consuming edible tree leaves the new ones are the most delicious while very old ones become leathery. You can find full articles on Mulberry leaves and drumstick by searching in this blog. Leafy greens such as coriander, parsley and celery are great herbs to enrich a leafy green dish full of additional benefits of their own. My maternal grandfather, a highly spiritual and knowledgeable person had a dish of spinach and other leafy vegetables every day for dinner during much of his life. Here is the recipe

Goosefoot weed on the kitchen table


A Leafy Green Recipe (Saag Cream)

Leafy green vegetables are called Saag in North India. When leafy greens are cooked with Paneer an unprocessed cheese, the dish is called Saag Paneer, when with meat Saag Meat etc. These are very popular dishes in South Asia and if an interested reader Googles for it, they would find many images and recipes for it on the net (the spelling sag is used often for saag). The present variation is one suitable for an international palette.

Ingredients:

  1. A pot full of Green spinach leaves and some other leaves if available (not exceeding one third by volume) as available according to season from goosefoot, mustard leaves, coriander, celery, drumstick etc. Note that these other leaves have a stronger flavor than spinach and must be used in the mix sparingly according to taste. You may have to play it by ear at first to come up with the mix you like best. To begin with just use spinach only until you perfect the recipe.
  2. Large onions, one per pound of the leaves
  3. Two large tomatoes per pound of leaves or tomato puree to replace
  4. A tea spoon each of Hara Masala and Garam Masala spice mixes per pound of leaves ( see an earlier post for recipe) and salt to taste (see here) For a start you can replace with other spices in your kitchen, a tea spoon each of corinader powder,  cumin powder and black pepper are great too.
  5. Half a cup of cooking oil
  6. A cup full of protein food that may be any one of - Boneless chicken pieces, meat, paneer, button mushrooms cut in halves or peas. Paneer is an unprocessed cheese that does not melt on cooking. It can be made at home from milk or purchased from a store. Google for more information on it.
  7. A quarter cup of beaten yoghurt or sour cream

Process:


  1. Farm fresh leafy vegetables may have loose soil stuck on and if not organic or homegrown may also have pesticides. Therefore, soak them in a very large pot of water for over an hour, then draw the floating leaves out with your hands gently without disturbing water. Wash again and transfer to a covered cooking pot to steam for ten minutes on low heat. No additional water would be necessary for steaming but sprinkle a tea spoon of salt on the leaves before covering. Now cool and you may refrigerate these in a container for whenever you are ready to cook. Freeze them if they are to be saved for longer than a day
  2. Defreeze the steamed leaves if frozen and grind to a cream in a home grinder and set aside
  3. Begin cooking by adding half a cup of oil to a thick bottom pot. Add in chopped onion and stir fry till light brown. Then add in a tea spoon each of the spices, -Garam Masala and Hara Masala. Now add your cup of protein, meat or paneer or even peas and stir fry a bit more. Then add in the chopped tomatoes or tomato puree and sour cream and continue frying and stirring until mixture wipes the bottom of the pan clean and oil separates.
  4. Now add in the creamed spinach and leafy mix and you may add half a cup of water if the mixture is too thick. Cook on low heat for at least twenty minutes or until meat is tender if that has been used in the recipe. Stirring is required from time to time to prevent the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. If it happens by mistake, transfer to another pot while discarding the burnt portion stuck to the original pot.

Voila, your Creamed Saag dinner is ready. It can be served over pasta or consumed with bread. The Nan bread of Asia is particularly delightful with this dish but so is hot garlic bread. It can also be eaten with steamed rice or with mashed potatoes, with just a bit of salad on the side or fresh fruit after dinner, it is a complete meal, one of the healthiest offered by Mother Earth. 

A Green Party (of the non-political kind)

For a party begin the dinner with a small serving of a clear soup. Serve the dinner with white wine and another dish in a red sauce to have both red and green at the table  (could be any of Chilli Con Carne, Hugarian goulash, a Moghul Curry, the Arab Marak, Swedish meat balls for example or the traditional Spaghetti sauce) besides the green dish just described with a large dish of Cole slaw or broken iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise as dressing, so that there are at least four items on the table. You may keep some steamed rice and oven hot garlic bread on a napkin in basket on the table and then snap a picture for posting on Facebook later when everyone is at the table. Serve chopped fresh fruit with cream and a little icing sugar and crushed almonds dusted on it for desert. You may serve some nuts and  black tea or chocolate liquor by the fireside after dinner and have a group song and/or story telling  to make it a memorable and merry evening. If there are ten persons at the party, an ideal number for merry making, each could bring in a dish each to make it easy for all because this party has just ten dishes:


  1. Soup
  2. Wine
  3. Salad
  4. Butter filled Garlic bread in foil ready for oven
  5. Green dish
  6. Red Dish
  7. Rice
  8. Desert
  9. Nuts
  10. Chocolate liquor and/or tea
 

Dried Leaves

While different leafy foods come up in different seasons and the seasonal fresh leaves are the best, the leaves can be dried for use round the year. The Egyptians along the Nile have done that with their favorite leafy vegetable for thousands of years and enjoyed good health because of it.  To dry leaves, separate from stalk, soak and wash thoroughly, drain and dry on a cloth or paper in a shaded space until crisp in a few days. Then crush and store. Such leaves can be reconstituted for various recipes by adding some water and leaving for a few hours. Alternatively the powdered form of these leaves can be mixed in wheat flour to enrich cracker, breads or added to soups and sauces to make ordinary meals more nutritious. If you have some gardening space at home, do grow some herbs and edible leaf trees. Spinach and goosefoot is easy to grow., and since these would come up by the seasons, one can always pluck them at the right time, bit by bit, and dry them in two or three lots while enjoying the fresh leaves in your favorite dish of saag.

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