Make a cool splash

The key to a happy and healthy summer diet is keeping it simple, light and fresh, writes Sushmita Murthy

Curd rice is a perfect dish for the summers.

Summer is officially here. It’s the time when ice-creams and lemonades appear far more appetising than the most decadent of main courses. Thankfully, the Indian larder is designed to pull out the most seasonally appropriate ingredients to suit all kinds of weather. Which is to say that the food you traditionally reach out for during this time of the year is probably what the doctor ordered, too.

Seasonal & fresh

The key to a happy summer menu is keeping it fresh, light and simple, as Chef Ajay Chopra points out. He says, “It is the time to let go of fatty foods and greasy gravies. One must avoid stale produce as a general rule but one has to be extra cautious in summers. Food-borne illnesses shoot up during this time of the year because rising heat levels serve as a favourable ground for bacteria to thrive and can make fresh produce go rancid in a couple of days. Go for fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables and make it a point to refrigerate and store them.”

As for the ingredients you must include, he adds, “There are many ways you can spruce up your summer with ingredients such as bottle gourd, cucumber, squash, melons and fruits like mangoes, pineapples, litchis and jamuns. You will be amazed how easily your diet choices can help you stay refreshed throughout the season.” The most appetising and effortless, if we may add, way to use all of these ingredients is to toss them in a salad bowl with some fresh lettuce or spinach leaves, chopped tomatoes, some onion and a simple dressing. For instance, we love a simple preparation made of olive oil, lemon juice, honey and a hint of mustard sauce (optional). One could also add fresh sprouts and throw in some pine nuts for the extra crunch.

The king of fruits

Summer, as we all know, brings with it an entire platter of seasonal produce, but the clear winner has to be the king of fruits, mango. While its taste is undisputed, some are quick to strike it off the list for its ‘calories’ or ‘heat content’. It is, however, a misunderstood fruit, informs integrative nutritionist Payal Kothari. She says, “It helps healthy digestion and promotes gut health. Its fibre adds bulk, which can keep you full for two to three hours. It’s satiating, boosts immunity, lowers cholesterol and aids in weight loss. Go ahead and eat the mango guilt-free!”

From aam panna and aam ras to mango kulfi, aam lassi and mango pickles, the fruit takes a dozen different forms. Kairi panna is a rich source of Vitamin C and reduces the chances of heat strokes. Other go-to summer drinks could be fresh fruit juices such as watermelon, kokum sherbet, tender coconut water, lemonade with a healthy dose of mint, and of course, chaas or buttermilk with a generous sprinkling of cumin. 

Drink a lot of juices to cool down your body this summer.
Drink a lot of juices to cool down your body this summer.

Curd, anyone?

Summer is also about keeping yourself hydrated, which means having more liquids and foods with higher water content. Chef Kunal Kapur is all for the humble sattu to balance a summer meal. “It is a great multi-functional ingredient that is tasty and not very heavy. You could use it to make roti, puri, paratha, halwa or even a cooling drink. Another summer staple is the kadhi. There may be very few states across the country, that don’t use any particular form of this yoghurt-based savoury dish. From Gujarat and Rajasthan to Punjab and states down south, everybody has a spin on the kadhi.”

A South Indian staple, curd rice is a great dish to savour in the summer months, too. If you’re not one for plain curd and rice, there are plenty of ways to spruce it up. Our favourite includes pomegranate, diced carrots, cucumber, grapes and a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves and some cashews if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.

Perfect ingredients

As for individual ingredients to toss into your food, Payal has a bunch of them. “To avoid dehydration and deficiencies, choose nutrient-packed foods for yourself and your family. They are so common and easily available that we seem to dismiss or ignore them. Seek hydrating foods with micronutrients like sodium, potassium and minerals,” she says. This includes celery, which acts as a diuretic. One could drink the juice or have sautéed celery.

The daily components of our meals, ginger and mint take on a special role during summers. Ginger contains gingerol which can help treat chronic illnesses. It’s a perfect addition to buttermilk and chai. Mint has menthol which helps reduce inflammations. Tomatoes, sabja seeds, curd and cumin are the other elements that could spruce up your summer spread while also making it healthier. Have a happy and hearty summer!

Summer superfoods

To avoid dehydration and other summer deficiencies, choose these nutrient-packed foods for yourself and your family. They are so common and easily available that we seem to dismiss or ignore them. Seek hydrating foods with micronutrients like sodium, potassium and minerals for this season.

Celery: Drink celery juice along with some herbs like mint or coriander and feel the toxins flush out. Celery acts as a diuretic, helping you lose excess water weight without causing any dehydration while stimulating your kidneys and releasing the extra fluid from your tummy, arms and butt. You can also sauté it.

Ginger & Mint: Ginger contains gingerol. Its medicinal properties help with simple and chronic illnesses. It has anti-inflammatory properties, too. It also helps during nausea, soreness, migraines, even acidity. Mint has alkaline properties, which helps to reduce inflammation, and menthol that adds lots of flavour. Together, they’re a refreshing combination.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes have phytochemicals such as lycopene, which contribute to healing chronic illnesses like IBS and even cancer. It is very high in vitamin C, so expect glowing skin.

Sabja seeds: Before chia seeds took over the Internet and our lives, it was the sabja that acted as a quick cooling, detoxing and anti-bloating ingredient.

Cumin: This indispensable spice has some great detoxing properties. When fried and pounded, it adds a great taste to summer coolants such as buttermilk or aam panna.

Curd: The original pro-biotic drink, this is a great natural coolant.

(With added inputs from Payal Kothari)

 

RECIPE

Aam panna
Aam panna

Kairi Panna

Ingredients:

1/2 kg raw mango

1 cup sugar

2 tsp roasted cumin powder

4 tsp black salt

1 cup fresh mint

Method:

Peel the mangoes and put them in a pressure cooker.

Add enough water to cover them and cook till soft. (One whistle on high and 2 on low ).

Remove the pressure cooker from heat and let the mangoes cool down.

Mash the mangoes to take out all the pulp. Do not discard the water.

Add 1 cup of water in the existing water.

Grind the mint leaves with little water to make a paste.

Add ground mint, sugar, roasted cumin powder and black salt to the mango pulp.

Mix well to dissolve the sugar.

Adjust sugar and salt according to your taste.

Make a thick paste, like a concentrate and keep it in the refrigerator.

Add water, garnish with mint leaves and serve chilled.

(Courtesy: Chef Ajay Chopra)

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