Home is where the heart is, and despite the global, cosmopolitan gal that I think I am, my heart and real sense of home reside in India. Toddler and I spent ten food, love and action-packed days in the homeland this month. Bombay, in particular, despite its chaos, strange smells, startling inequality and horrendous traffic, stole our hearts once again. I have come to terms with these disturbing facts of life in India for on the other side of the same coin are family, love, a rich history, a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and new, exuberance, optimism, fun, food and of course, spice!
Here are some highlights of our 48 hr stay in Bombay (now called Mumbai, but always Bombay to me). Spice permeates the food and rituals in every household including foods for babies, kids and all sorts of fascinating health remedies for every ailment imaginable. We wrap up our Bombay recap then with a simple turmeric-infused recipe that is a healthy snack staple in many Indian urban families. Here’s to love, spice and incredible India!
Dosas for breakfast at the ITC Grand Central Hotel
Curcumin inhibits NFkappaB, a protein that promotes the expression of cancer causing genes. As a result, curcumin blocks a wide range of cancers in several animal studies and is currently in human trials for its anti-cancer effects. Therapeutic limitations include its poor absorption into the bloodstream and requirement of very high doses for effects.
It doesn’t get better than dosas for breakfast. Or dosas for lunch. Or dinner. You get the picture. Dosas are a southern Indian speciality, a crisp, thin pancake of sorts made with a batter of fermented rice and lentils and served with an assortment of chutneys, a lentil stew called sambhar and sometimes stuffed with spiced potatoes for a ‘masala dosa’ experience. The overnight fermentation increases the vitamin B and C content and the combination of rice and lentils makes it a complete protein, high carbohydrate food, great for growing toddlers. I will confess that I eat dosas as an accompaniment to chutneys – the delicious variety from tomato to coconut to coriander to ginger is gloriously dizzying. Toddler wanted nothing to do with the chutneys so I took inspiration from a Russian couple seated beside us, who took the pancake analogy quite literally and had their dosa with honey (and mimosas on the side!). Toddler was satisfied with the honey and I had the mimosa <smile>.
Shopping & Peekaboo-ing at Bombay Electric
This hip and inspiring concept store is a must-visit to get a glimpse into New India and its emerging designer scene. From Indian to Western and Indo-Western clothes, jewelry and accessories to metallic bronzed tiffin boxes for the perfect compartmentalized school lunch (my practical side won and I didn’t get it this time), this creative delight of a store is a really fun way to spend an hour or so for mummy and toddler alike.
Indo-Western Lunching at Ellipsis, Colaba
There is something about the way India does Western food that is just plain delicious to my palate. There’s always extra flavor, extra garlic, extra tang, extra spice. Perhaps that results in a loss in subtlety precious to many other cuisines but most Indians will unapologetically admit that they don’t fancy subtlety in food, period. As much as I have now grown to appreciate nuance in food, I can’t help but also love the in-your-face, taste-bud-tantalizing flavors of Western and really all food in India. For a Western lunch with a desi flare, we checked out a cool, newish spot in the Colaba area of Bombay called Ellipsis. Housed in a gorgeous colonial style building, the food was absolutely delicious. Cayenne spiced fish tacos, couscous with roasted beets, pickled radish and goat cheese and a gorgeous tagliatelle pasta with tomato sauce and broccoli for the toddler made for a memorable, delectable lunch.
Swooning Over Traditional-Meets-Modern Luxury at Good Earth
Good Earth hands down blows me away every single time I visit this store. By marrying tradition with modernity in the most gorgeous, creative and awe-inspiring ways, this store is a visual and sensory treat – an anthropological journey of sorts – and worth a visit even if you don’t want to shop. From stunning cushion covers, bedding, crockery, clothing and kids’ furnishings, toys and clothes, Good Earth is a veritable feast for the eyes. Toddler, as you can see, was equally impressed. I picked up some adorable bamboo plates and bowls for kids’ meals back home and a baby ‘King Louis’ for my Jungle Book fan. There’s a beautiful cafe adjoining the store called Taste which serves up top quality Western fare also definitely worth a pop-in even if just for a snack or a glass of freshly squeezed mandarin juice.
Home Cooked Indian Thalis at my Dearest Friend’s Bombay Pad
A ‘thali’ or plate is a very traditional platform for eating in most Indian households. Usually made of steel (or silver for special occasions!) a thali is the perfect canvas for a varied, multi-ingredient, complete meal usually consisting of 1-2 vegetable dishes, a lentil soup, fresh homemade yoghurt, homemade bread and a pickle and or salad. When my childhood friend who lives in Bombay insisted that we come over for a ‘thali’ dinner, I simply couldn’t refuse. I was curious to see how toddler would react – he’s eaten Indian food loads but never in this traditional format. Oh how comforting, wholesome, nutritious and delicious our meals were! The first evening, we had carrots and peas, potato, okra (that’s 3 veggies I know but that’s how hospitality rolls in India), a lentil soup, yoghurt, homemade wheat bread and a wedge of lime to liven up the lentils. We were so blown away that we went back the next night for a second thali comprised of cauliflower and peas, a chickpea stew, more potatoes and the usual bread, rice and yoghurt to round it all off. I couldn’t help but wonder if this format of food presentation, as time consuming as it seems, helps kids’ palates explore, reject and re-explore a plethora of flavors and textures, getting used to more variety.
SOME Toddlers, Kids, Adults
So impressive was the homemade, healthful and simple fare at my friend’s, that I had to pick her brain for turmeric-infused recipes that are favorites with her daughters, 7 and 5 yrs of age. This turmeric popcorn has been a hit with her kids and apparently loads of other toddlers and children in many Indian homes, fusing a very traditional Indian spice, turmeric, with a modern, comforting and crunchy Western snack.
Some experts consider popcorn a choking hazard for toddlers. As described in the article below, parents are the best judge as to whether their toddler can handle popcorn or not, depending on how well she chews and swallows other foods. You can err on the side of caution and wait until your child is 4 to give them popcorn. My 2 yr old seems to handle it fine, for what it’s worth.
Popcorn, believe it or not, is a very healthy snack as long as it’s not the butter and sodium-doused movie theater variety or the chemical-laden kind found in ready-to-pop, microwavable popcorn. Popping your own corn is ridiculously simple (see details below) and when done so, this crunchy, tasty snack is a rich source of antioxidants (yes, really!), fiber, folate and other minerals like iron and manganese. Combined with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory turmeric, this is a bright, healthy and delicious snack you can feel good about giving your kids and yourselves.
The most vigorously studied use of turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, is for cancer. While most of the evidence is limited to animal studies, a few clinical trials are ongoing to determine if curcumin can treat cancers in humans. The ability of curcumin to thwart cancer in has been linked in several studies to its inhibition of a protein in the cell, called NFkappaB, which promotes the expression of genes that assist cancer growth. Research has shown that curcumin can slow cancers of various organs including the lung, breast, skin and colon. Given its poor absorption into the blood stream previously discussed here, it may be more promising for cancers of the esophagus and gut where it can exert its function without having to be absorbed. It’s also important to keep in mind the limitations of dietary curcumin as a therapeutic given the high doses required. We see the benefits of dietary curcumin more as an anti-inflammatory molecule, potentially useful in preventing rather than treating cancer, which we consider reason enough to embrace it in our kitchen!
~10 cups of popped popcorn
1/2 cup popping corn
2 tablespoons coconut oil, preferably the anti-oxidant rich, unrefined or virgin variety
1-2 tablespoons butter depending on richness desired
1-2 teaspoons turmeric powder depending on strength of flavor desired
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
Heat the coconut oil with 4 kernels of popping corn over medium-high heat in a pot with the lid on. Once the kernels pop, take the lid off, add the remaining corn and give them a good stir. Cover the pot and take it off the heat for 20 seconds, allowing all the kernels to come to popping temperature at around the same time. Place the covered pot over medium-high heat again. Once the kernels begin popping, lift the pot off the heat and shake it from side to side every 10-15 seconds to prevent the bottom layer from burning. Once there is a 30 second gap or so between pops, turn the heat off and lift the lid off the pot.
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the turmeric and pepper and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in batches over the corn, stirring well between pours to evenly incorporate the seasoning. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste stirring once again. Store in air-tight containers for prolonged freshness. Serve as a snack, during an at home movie night or as a lunch box side. Spice it up further with some cayenne for adults mmmm.