Food for festive thought; traditional feast with nutritional benefits- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

Earlier in the month as the South Side Story music festival was in full swing in Delhi, with crowds thumping to the pulsating music of popular bands, a saner corner at the same venue was dishing out a much-celebrated tradition—the classic sadya. It can be overwhelming and yet highly satiating at the
same time were closing the leaf towards oneself signals a meal relished.

Culinary director and executive chef, Suresh Pillai at The Raviz, Ashthamudi in Kollam, says they’ve introduced the sadya as a Friday lunch meal throughout the year now, as an experiential traditional feast. If you delve deeper, it is balanced and nutrition-dense, like most conventional Indian festive dishes, where nothing on the festive plate served is incidental, but is rather carefully thought-out, purpose-based and nourishing.

“Most of the items in sadya are either boiled or steamed and a lot of seasonal and regional vegetables go into it. The  matta red rice from Kerela is rich in Vitamins A and B, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants.” Quite a plant-based, gluten-free feast.

Bhopal-based clinical nutritionist Dr Amita Singh further deconstructs the composite nutrition and health benefits of sadya: “The par-boiled rice packs in carbs and proteins for energy and strength. The rice is replete with Vitamin D which helps digest food. When had with legumes, pulses and vegetables, it’s a complete meal. Buttermilk, an important part of sadya, has a high amino acid profile that helps repair body tissues, aid digestion and provides relief from acidity. The chutneys part of the festive meal are rich in antioxidants. The food is cooked in coconut oil, which is a medium-chain triglyceride oil with antimicrobial and antifungal properties.”

 The ongoing Shardiya Navratri or the nine days of fasting is a precursor to the festivities drawing closer in different parts of India. But first, how does Navratri fasting help? The biggest is by reducing pitt prakop awastha (excess heat in the body). “The heat causes hormonal, metabolic and neurological disorders. Fasting helps to cool the body, promotes cell regeneration and detoxifies the body with the intake of fruits, buttermilk or coconut water.

The festive meal of chana, poori and halwa in ghee on Ashtami or the eighth day is for a purpose. The ghee calms the pitta (heat) and vatta (air) dosha. Kala chana (black chickpeas) gives strength to the body by providing iron, phosphate and calcium, and other minerals which are a boon for the bones and haemoglobin,” explains Delhi-based Dr Deepika Bhardwaj, CEO, of Sanovide Ayurveda.

 If a full meal is consumed as part of a fast, it comprises things made of singhara (water chestnut), sabudana (sago), kuttu (buckwheat), samak (barnyard millet) and makhana (foxtail nuts). “They’re all great sources of energy, thus helping the body stay fuller for longer,” explains Dr Singh. 

The innovation with the Navratri meals nowadays tends to untether its essence. “The Navratri fasting principles help in inducing alkalinity in our diet and remove the inflammatory grain. For most
people today, overdoing and overuse of cereals is a cause for chronic ailments,” says Delhi-based clinical nutritionist Dr Lovneet Batra.

The recipes of traditional festive foods, the various combinations and the time they should be had, are also well laid out in a way that they nourish the body. Take, for instance, tekhua, made from simple kitchen ingredients offered as prasad (offering) during the Chhatt Puja rituals. The women break their stringent nirjal (without water) 36-hour-long fast with it as, “the ingredients present such as ghee, wheat, coconut, jaggery and fennel seeds help in instant nourishment post-fast. Ghee and coconut act as direct fuel to intestinal cells. After long fasting hours, this combination prepares the body for food consumption,” says Dr Batra.

The change in season aggravates allergies, restlessness and irritability. “Causing imbalance in pitta and vatta, especially in the pelvic muscles in women, tekhua reinstates balance in the body,” says Dr Bhardwaj. Fennel has estrogen that helps in regulating the female reproductive cycle for fertility, reducing symptoms of menopause, besides being an excellent source of Vitamin C for collagen synthesis in the skin. Jaggery gives warmth to the body, helps prevent blood disorders, treats urinary problems, boosts metabolism and reduces water retention.

 A traditional sweet delicacy like haldi patra pitha, an offering for Prathama Ashtami,
a festival celebrated in Odisha, that honours the birth of the first child and signals the onset of winter, is wrapped in turmeric leaves before it is steamed to infuse flavour and nutrients. Every part of
the turmeric plant has medicinal properties due to the presence of curcuminoids and their antioxidant-and anti-bacterial goodness. It is good for immunity and keeps the flu at bay.

While til laddoos reign during Makar Sankranti, the hero ingredient, til (sesame), finds its way
into various sweets and savouries. Til is an antioxidant, rich in calcium, iron, Omega-3 fatty acids and great to fight winter-related infections,” says Dr Singh. Til is also useful in regulating thyroid
and prevent fatty liver.

Festive foods are not just an experience, but a carefully designed nourishing plate for the body and the soul.

The recipes of traditional festive foods, the various combinations and the time they should be had, is also laid out in a way that they nourish the body

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