Feasting & Fasting: Connecting the Plate and the Planet
by Satish Kumar
Article image credit: Taj Mahua Kothi Lodge Bandhavgarh Madhya Pradesh, India. Photograph: Chris Caldicott
GOOD FOOD IS that which has good colour, a good smell, a good taste and is juicy. In the Ayurvedic tradition of India, we have a word, aushad,which means both food and medicine; if our food is well-grown, well-prepared and well-eaten then no illness can enter the door of our healthy bodies.
The nourishment and medicinal qualities of food are held in four essentials: colour, smell, taste and juice. The food fibre is there only as a vehicle to carry these four essential qualities. When the body has absorbed the colour, smell, taste and juices then the fibre is flushed out.
Modern, industrial food has no time for such subtle concerns for quality. Industrial agriculture with its obsession for cash crops is mainly concerned with the quantity of food. Industrial producers think only about feeding billions of hungry mouths with large quantities of food. Yes, their concern has a place, but the quantity of food must be in harmony with the quality of food. If we can restore the quality of food we can restore the health of the people.
In Britain, the government spends £200 billion per year on the National Health Service. Here we have plenty of food but also plenty of illness. This is because we have separated the quantity of food from its quality. Ironically, the quality of food is the most neglected aspect of a £200-billion-a-year NHS! Hospital food is mostly bad food because it lacks colour, smell, taste and juice. Bad food is a certain recipe for ill health, whereas good food is the health imperative.
MY MOTHER USED to make a dish that contained all four of the qualities of good food. It is a vegetarian khicheri (more widely known as ‘kedgeree’). Here is the recipe.
One-Pot Vegetarian Khicheri
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup of red lentils
2 cups of white Basmati rice
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1tsp of salt (or as required)
5 cups of stock (or as required)
a small cauliflower
1lb freshly podded or frozen peas
a bunch of fresh coriander
Fry the cumin seeds in the olive oil until dark brown. Add the chopped onions and fry until light brown, then add the garlic, lentils, rice, garam masala, turmeric and salt and mix well. Add the stock, and while this is simmering on a low heat, dice the cauliflower. Add the cauliflower when the rice and lentils are soft, and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the peas and cook for a further 2 minutes. Finally, chop and add the coriander, mix it all together and serve hot.
The consistency of this dish is similar to Italian risotto, and the cauliflower and peas should be tender but crunchy. This is also a good recipe for vegans, but if you are not vegan you can add a little butter on the top of each serving. Indian pickles, yoghurt and pappadums are a good accompaniment to khicheri.
Enjoy one-pot cooking, less washing up! •