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Steam and savour

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healthy ‘tiffin’ Idlis are the best bet any day
healthy ‘tiffin’ Idlis are the best bet any day

Pressure cooking is no alternative to steaming food in which most of the antioxidants are preserved

Steaming is the best method of cooking, but it is the least employed in India. Idli, modak and some dal dishes are all that we steam. The stone steamers in archaeological digs in the Yunnan province prove that the Chinese mastered steam cooking 3,000 years ago. The Chinese steam just about everything: rice, dim sum, meat, fish, herbs and vegetables.

Couscous, the West African semolina dish, and modak, the sweet offering to Lord Ganesh made of rice flour, grated coconut and jaggery, are traditional steamed dishes.

In China, steamers made of cypress strips eventually gave way to the more efficient and hardy bamboo ones. In India, food meant for steaming is packed in jackfruit or plantain leaves. The modern homemaker is more likely to use stainless steel idli cookers and pressure cookers with layered steel containers.

Steaming preserves nutrition, texture and flavour. A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture showed that steaming preserved nearly 90 per cent of the antioxidants in fresh vegetables. However, pressure-cooking destroys nearly half the antioxidants, boiling destroys two-thirds, and microwaving zaps nearly 97 per cent of the antioxidants. Because food does not encounter water, steaming is best at preserving the water soluble B and C Vitamins.

Unlike boiling water which destroys the architecture of cells, steam preserves cellular architecture and foods retain their texture and shape well. Adding spices to the steaming water will impart a delicate flavour to the food. Steaming fruit like grapes and cherries makes it easier to juice them.

Steaming is energy saving. Cooking different dishes in tiered containers in a pressure cooker or a steamer conserves energy. Steaming deserves a bigger role in Indian cooking. Most of us do not come even close to eating the 10 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables prescribed by the DASH diet. One reason for this is that most Indian vegetables are inedible when raw.

Steamed vegetables are the closest to raw vegetables with regard to nutrition, and this is the best reason for using steam more often in Indian cooking.

Pressure-cooking is not the same as traditional steam cooking unless the food is in layered baskets and does not directly encounter water.

RAJIV. M

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