Sangeeta Khanna, the food and nutrition consultant, author and champion of Indian cuisines and good quality food shares her learnings and research over the years with AYUVE readers
From blogging to becoming food and nutrition consultant, and health food expert Sangeeta Khanna’s journey has been personally important and professionally accomplishing. Today, she not only guides people towards healthy eating habits, and helps the address lifestyle diseases, she also curates experiential menus, advocates local Indian cuisines and ingredients, sustainable food practices, and continues her research on traditional Indian foods and cooking methods. Her blogs banaraskakhana.com and healthfooddesivideshi.com are popular with her followers who, followed her from her blogs to social media as well. In addition, she reaches out to people through her articles in various publications.
A Post Graduate in Botany, Sangeeta Khanna’s interest in nutrition was fueled during her research while pursuing PhD. She was working on Microbial Biotechnology. “I was specifically working on Dietary Anti-Oxidants from Cyano Bacteria. It was during the mid-90s, and antioxidants were known to slow down ageing and Cyano Bacteria was being explored as protein supplement. I also worked on Spirulina which is repulsive in taste, but is popular now as its almost similar to sea weed in nutritional properties. However, I couldn’t complete my research as I had to take care of my daughter.”
Sangeeta was dealing with her daughter’s rare and rather serious neurological condition, and she had specific dietary requirements. While she couldn’t continue her research on a professional front, she began to explore nutrition for the sake of her daughter.
“There was so much misinformation out there that I was frustrated. I combined my knowledge of nutrition with latest research being done in the field from time to time, and began to blog my findings. It was 16 to 17 years ago that I started my first blog – ‘healthfooddesivideshi.com’. I followed it with another blog ‘banaraskakhana.com’, writing about the food I grew up eating before we travelled across the country with my father. I lived in different cities of India thanks to my husband’s central government job. And so, I had exposure to most other cuisines.”
In addition to the academic background and solid knowledge on the subject, Sangeeta has always updated herself with latest developments and research being done in the field. Ever since she began her blog, misinformation over nutrition has been only increasing, and she has observed that as the fad diets, and consumption of processed food increase so do the metabolic diseases. And, so, she continued to dig deeper into the subject and write on it.
“I began my research in mid 90s and so many health fads have shaped the many metabolic diseases. With my own clients I have seen how going back to normal cuisines and good food helps and that’s what helps when health conditions are involved.” She has been giving consultation to people with lifestyle disorders and suggesting changes that help in reversing their condition.
Sangeeta also advocates changing lifestyle to Circadian Rhythm – “This stream has got new name - functional medicine, and there is a lot of quality research that has gone into it, to keep the metabolism on track.”
“What I do is collect my learnings on excessive sugar intake, good quality protein, gut health, fibre profile in natural foods etc., and I share the knowledge with people,” he adds.
She says she has taken small courses here and there for the sake of it, but feels, “Real knowledge comes from interacting with people and updating your information with new research.”
A champion of regional cuisines and local ingredients some of her research includes exploring Indian cuisines, traditional cooking methods and recipes.
Sangeeta has been promoting going back to traditional eating habits, eating good quality food and keeping away processed products that consumers are bombarded with and that has improved health of many, she reveals.
“Recently I was in rural Rajasthan mapping the cuisine that the locals eat. They don’t eat so much of protein like it is hyped, yet they have no metabolism issues. Travelling to interior places, and mapping traditional cuisines and all parameters of health and talking to people has confirmed my belief to not take health fads seriously and go back to what humans have been eating traditionally.”
She believes that traditional food, be it Greek, Italian or Native Australian – They have inherent wisdom of human evolution. This knowledge steered her towards researching Benarasi cuisine.
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom on a variety of topics curated from her wide knowledge and findings -
On Benarasi Cuisine:
“Banaras Cuisine is my native cuisine, and I have done a few festivals in five-star hotels promoting it and introducing it to people. It relies on fresh produce from the Indo Gangetic Plain. This land is fertile and the vegetable have very nice taste to them and are cooked using minimum fat.
I promote it also because I saw how its changing as the new generation started using packaged masalas and most don’t know how their parents and grandparents ate even from 30 years ago. In a way, it is to preserve the simple techniques and how the food was made traditionally. I wanted to introduce people to the real flavours.
For example, Nimona or even simple kadi is made tasty using good quality ingredients, without using masalas…
Importance of Good Quality Ingredients:
Ingredients taste good when not loaded with flavouring agents. I want to bring forth the aspect of regional cuisines where ingredients must be made the hero. And I keep training the hotel staff where-ever I consult.
Significance of Indian Breakfast:
Typical modern breakfast where you open a packet of cereal, and have the same breakfast every single day is not advised. Indian breakfasts are wholesome and nutritious, and there is variety. Even if you like to have aloo paratha or idli every single day doesn’t work.
On Food From North East:
North East food is ofcourse is simple but it is also very methodical in preparation, in the way they use herbs and seasonal produce. The cuisine is quite heavy on meats and is rice-based. They do not use spices. But what makes me very much interested in cuisine are the wild herbs and aromatic ingredients used like ginger, ginger leaves etc.
Me being forager I get interested in these as all of them have medicinal qualities, and are used in cooking every single day. Wild foraged leafy greens fill up for spices. And they do have pepper – which they use a lot and many types of chillies, several types of garlics and even onion to add a lot of flavour. They use fermentation a lot in their cuisine.
Sangeeta Khanna’s Recipe for Mung Ke CHeeley
Extracted with Permission from http://www.banaraskakhana.com/
Food can be nostalgia inducing. Very much so. Sometimes people stop eating their favorite foods when an unpleasant experience gets attached with it. Even when the most pleasant memories are attached with a particular food you can feel like not having it again as the memories it brings can be pain inducing. This mung ka cheela has been one such recipe.
A cheela is a savory crepe to make you acquainted with this term.
A couple of weeks back I was at a wedding party (In Lucknow) and mung ka cheela was being served as a part of a huge range of appetizers. I told an Oriya friend of mine to take her kids to that counter as kids like it very much. They were tasting mung ka cheela for the first time and this friend was intrigued enough to ask me how did I know that her kids would love it more than the other fancier and exotic looking things around. I chuckled in my mind.
The reason why I knew it was, Mithi loved it too. I remembered the time when other kids used to play with Mithi and this mung ka cheela used to be a hot favorite with all of them whenever they were together in my home. Probably it is the mildly favored slightly chewy nature of this cheela that kids find great to munch on, not that we adults find it like baby food.
It is a great breakfast dish but more popular as an appetizer in wedding parties I guess. The rolled up cheela sliced in 2 - 3 small portions seems to be very popular as I have witnessed. I am talking about the wedding parties in UP .
So I didn't make this particular cheela for a long time. Some 8 years to be precise, the time since Mithi stopped taking solid food. And I never felt like cooking her favorite foods ever again.
When I saw these small kids enjoying this cheela I realy felt good and when we came back home I soaked mung daal and made cheelas with freshly made paneer. Nostalgic I was but in a good way. Now that her proud momma has learned to remember her good healthy days with a smile the nostalgia is good.
The cheela feels complex by it's looks but actually gets ready within 30 minutes at leisurely pace...when you start from soaked mung daal and cold skimmed milk from the fridge ...enjoying the process while making it.
Skimmed milk 500 ml
2-3 tsp of white synthetic vinegar or lemon juice to curdle the milk
Soaked mung daal withou skin 2 cups
Turmeric powder (optional) 1 tsp
Chopped onions 3/4 cup
Chopped green chillies as per taste
Salt to taste
Black pepper powder 1 tsp for the stuffing
Ghee to make the cheelas 1 tsp per cheela
Heat the milk in a saucepan and grind the soaked mung daal while the milk comes to boiling temperature.
Mung daal paste is quick to make as the daal is quite soft. Add salt to taste and turmeric if using, adjust consistency to make thin pancakes or crepes.
Add the vinegar or lemon juice as soon as the milk reaches boiling temperature. Slowly adding the curdling agent helps in getting softer paneer or chhenna as it is called in some parts of UP. Strain the curdled milk as soon as you see the clear whey separating from the curdled milk.The solid part is panner also called cottage cheese. The whey can be used to knead chapati dough .
Add chopped onions, green chillies, salt and pepper to the paneer and mash to make a soft crumbly mixture .
Make thin crepes on hot griddle using very little ghee, it is usually cooked on one side as mung daal cooks quickly. Other side can be cooked if you feel like.
Spread the mixture over the crepe then fold the sides overlapping each other, pressing to flatten the rolled up cheela so the paneer stuffing sticks well to the moist inner layer of cheela.
Serve hot with any chutney of your choice, it can be served with a raita of your choice if you are having it for a meal.
A green coriander chutney goes well with it when it is served as a snack. The cheela can be roasted deep brown or light brown.
The browning has little difference on the final taste, browned ones are crispier though. But both get soft when cool and taste equally good at room temperature too and that makes it a good tiffin box option too. Those who are avoiding or minimizing carbohydrates in their diet will find this recipe great.
Mithi used to like this cheela any time of the day and it was a great distraction for her too. I could keep her occupied by giving her this cheela broken into small bits ( sometimes little paneer with just salt as a stuffing and sometimes plain cheela) as she used to pick up every bit with care using her thumb and index finger, popping the bits in her mouth immaculately, neatly. Those are happy memories ...
Make this cheela if you haven't had it already and let me know if it becomes your favorite....I made another version with tofu and i am sure you would like that too...
Note : some readers have indicated that this mung ka cheela could be similar to Andhra pesarettu. I have posted pesarttu earlier. The only similarity between this cheela (crepe) and pesarettu is the ingredient mung daal but the similarity ends there. This is an interesting example of how an ingredient behaves differently in it's different forms. In pesarettu the mung daal used is with skin and the texture and taste of the dosa is very different. Here the husked mung results into a mild flavor and an almost glutinous texture. I have indicated that the roll sticks by itself and stays in shape, that is because if the slightly sticky nature of the mung crepe here. The flavor of the yellow mung is so delicate that another version of mung ka cheela , which includes some seasoning in the batter, tastes very different from this one.