If your head wants bread but your body thinks grain is a pain, or you’re practising a Paleo diet, you might think Indian food is off the menu. After all, the nation’s northerners eat break by the bucketload, whilst South Indians think rice is very nice indeed; eating it with almost every meal. Surely, then, it’s almost impossible eschew those staples?
Not a bit of it. Indian food offers more edible pleasures suited to different dietary needs than the most comprehensive supermarket ‘free-from’ aisle. Faddy diets may not be so modish, but owing to the country’s innumerable communities and their respective religious and cultural beliefs, the remit of vegan-friendly, grain-abstaining, garlic-and ginger-free recipes is infinite.
If you’re not nutty for nuts but crave the savour of peanut butter, let besan become your new best friend. Also known as gram flour, the powder is made from split, skinned chickpeas called kala channa. Roasting gets rid of the raw, vegetal flavour, transforming it into something nutlike and deeply savoury. But besan makes splendid sweets; both fudge-like burfi and fat round laddoos as good a pick-you-up as a peanut butter cup.
Besan can also be used in a roux as the basis of a gravy, or for egg-free pancakes variously known as chilla or pudla. Made into a batter, it not only yields beautifully crisp, flavoursome bhajis and pakoras - it can transform gluten-free fish’n’chips into a gourmet treat everyone eat will relish.
But besan is not the only flour with the power to replace ingredients that can be a recipe for disaster for the intolerant or allergic. If you’ve been weaned off wheat or follow a version of Paleo that permits ‘pseudo-grains’, try sabudana (tapioca), singoda (water chestnut), buckwheat or myriad millets; nutritious alternatives that come into their own during Hindu fasts when true grains are off the menu and they can be feasted upon freely. Pick tapioca pearls rather than powder, cook it in coconut milk, and you have a gorgeous gluten- and dairy-free pudding that’s a world away from the ‘frogspawn’ that was historically the bane of many a British school dinner table. Sweeten it with jaggery for slow-release energy that won’t spike your blood sugar like the refined white stuff.
It finally feels like spring has sprung, the days are longer, the sun less shy and delicate blossoms are tentatively returning to our trees and parks. It is the most beautiful time of year and the one that Ayurveda recommends we do a post-winter detox.
If your head wants bread but your body thinks grain is a pain, or you’re practising a Paleo diet, you might think Indian food is off the menu. After all, the nation’s northerners eat bread by the bucketload.