Mistress of sugar and spice

THE RECIPE? Tarla Dalal   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Tarla Dalal, the Queen of Indian Cuisine, shares her recipe for a healthy mind, heart and body

MetroPlus caught up with Tarla Dalal, 'India's leading kitchen lady', who has 30 books to her credit. Her first, Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking in 1974 sold a staggering 1,25,000 copies. Khaleej Times had said you 'streamlined people's eating habits in India'. Dalal: When I spoke in the early '70s about including certain foods in the diet, like white oats which is a natural diuretic that gets rid of water-related fat when taken in the morning with fruits, there was an overwhelming response. I may not be a doctor but having been brought up in a conservative set-up, some homespun wisdom has rubbed off. Did you know that leafy greens are sources of iron and calcium, but when not washed properly in running water, they could deplete vitamins due to diarrhoeal infection? Palak and coriander leaves have natural salt and BP patients shouldn't gorge on them was a simple reality that I focused on. Nutritionists helped me with clinical explanations. Can you trace your path to the kitchen? Dalal: I am from a traditional Gujarati family in Pune and felt like an ignoramus when I got married. My husband, a frequent traveller, is an absolute foodie and spoke of noodles, pizzas and pastas in the 50s! My mother-in-law was with the All India Women's Council and was involved with formulating government guidelines for family planning. Simple vegetarian dishes weren't just enough. I knew I had to bring in adventure and revolution into my kitchen. When I discussed a menu once with a few friends they told me to take the plunge and put my hidden skills to good use and the rest is history. What are the food habits you endorse? Dalal: Streamlining one's eating, selecting the right food, a bit of religious philosophy in your eating habits and some exercises are good enough to keep a normal person going. What is wrong in following a vrat and having beaten rice, potato and fresh juice the next day for your share of sugar and starch? Don't get into mindless starving in the name of dieting, which can only make you tired and crave for more food. You don't have to have a timetable. Your food should consist of rotis or rice, dal or sambar, sprouts, lentils, curd/buttermilk, milk, juice, ragi, jowar, oats, amla, all vegetables including potatoes, onion and garlic (reduces cholesterol and clears lung infections), life-saving digestive spices jeera, dhaniya, asafoetida, fenugreek and mustard and, of course, the elixir - turmeric - in good measure. A normal person should get a tablespoon of oil every day for muscle and joint lubrication, especially after mid-'50s. Exercise, walking, yoga and disciplined eating should replace a low-calorie diet. Fancy diets are good for marketing, not for practical implementation. Of course, I have come up with specials for diabetics and weight watchers. And what is your favourite food?Dalal: Mexican and simple Gujarati.RANJANI GOVIND