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When bathua meets ravioli
From goji berries to wheatgrass, from salmon to soy milk - superfoods are quietly finding their way to restaurant menus.
The Westin hotel in Gurgaon, for instance, has a superfood menu that features interesting recipes such as banana oatmeal brulêe and green tea-infused salmon. The hotel emphasises the fact that the menu is not restrictive or a diet, but is focused on dishes that contain fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins that are known to improve well-being and longevity. Some are familiar - avocados, salmon and broccoli for instance - while others are less so (edamame beans).
But what is a superfood? Is it just about any ingredient that is rich in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals? According to chef Abhijit Saha, who runs popular Bangalore restaurants Caperberry and Fava, superfoods are "calorie-sparse and nutrient-dense". "A small quantity of the food should be able to supply a proportionately large amount of nutrition while staying low in calories. And of course, it should be a natural product. A superfood is somewhere between a pill and a large quantity of a 'healthy' dish, say a green salad with nuts and berries, " says Saha.
At his restaurants, Saha uses ingredients such as berries - blueberries and raspberries among them - to fortify salads and desserts. Microgreens and baby sprouts such as mung bean, beetroot sprouts, sunflower sprouts and mustard sprouts are also used in salads, along with more traditional iron-rich greens such as watercress and red spinach. Manu Chandra, the young masterchef who runs Bangalore's Olive Beach and Mumbai's Olive Bar and Kitchen, has a slightly different view. While he admits that few visit restaurants to eat healthy, "yet, " he says, "restaurants that play around with fresh, local ingredients and absolutely minimise the use of any processed products inevitably end up using ingredients that can be classified as superfoods. " He is a fan of the supergrain quinoa, which he calls the "perfect protein". Quinoa grains contain essential amino acids like lysine and generous quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Besides, it is also among the very few plant foods with a very high protein content (12 to 18 per cent).
While Chandra has tried using quinoa in his menu, it is local greens, like the vitamin C-rich bathua, that have been more successful. For instance, Chandra has made ravioli stuffed with bathua and sprinkled with toasted melon seeds. Unlike quinoa, bathua can be sourced easily in India as it grows wild, and it is traditionally consumed in many regions. In salads he also uses other unusual, nutritious greens such as morning glory (kalmuha in Hindi) and fiddlehead ferns, locally known as lingri.
Chandra's kitchen also dishes out walnut goodies as the brain-shaped nut is well-respected for its health benefits. It is packed with anti-oxidants and 'good' fat - eating a handful of walnuts with any meal helps burn fat after you've left the table. Chandra uses walnut flour to make a variety of desserts, such as crunchy macaroons.
So what is better than one superfood? Answer: two superfoods. These power potions interact with one another in certain combinations to increase nutritional efficiency, says David Watson, executive chef at the Westin. For example, avocados increase the absorption of anti-oxidants from spinach and tomatoes. Similarly, spices, such as black pepper, can increase the absorption of nutrients found in spinach, beans, berries, green tea and broccoli.
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