My posts tend to contain quite a bit of intellectual discussion and I thought upon reflecting how lengthy my previous posts have been , that I might better start with photo topic so as not to put off readers who came here because of the pic. Hurrah! Visual feast before intellectual stimulation 😀
So I had a packet of fresh, grated coconut left all cold and alone in the fridge and decided to make coconut chutney out of it. The problem sometimes with some of the Indian stir-fry veg recipes is that they only call for 2 tablespoons of grated coconut. Of course you could freeze the rest of your coconut in 2 tablespoonful size portions but I didn’t see the point of doing so this time, because, ah well, my sense of commitment to preserving anything that comes out of a packet/bottle/tin isn’t as strong. Well its pasteurized so it’s not gonna spoil thaat fast.
Anyhow, I was left wondering how to consume this coconut chutney because as I know it, coconut chutney is always had with thosai and sambar or dal and I sure do not possess the means, intelligence, skill or wit to handle the preparation of any of those. First world problems.
Coconut is cool and moist in quality so makes a great complement to something harsher in disposition. Corn chips! Vata should avoid dry foods like chips and crackers but I figured perhaps eating it with coconut might add some moisture and good fat, plus fill the stomach enough to be contented with small portions. Sweet.
I followed a recipe for a basic coconut chutney to a T and it was crazy good! The one I followed called for a fresh green chillis, roasted gram (available as a snack from major supermarkets), garlic, and a tempering of dried red chillies, mustard seeds and urad dal (split black lentils). Depending on recipe, other ingredients may also include fresh coriander and onion.
My only notes are:
1. If unaccustomed to spicy tastes, add only half the amount of green chilli, taste test then decide if you want to add more.
2. The taste of fresh garlic quickly turns acrid upon sitting so either eat this fresh within the same day OR use only 1 garlic clove OR use garlic powder instead.
That’s all, hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did! It is a cool dish, satisfying and calming for those with fiery dispositions, not to mention a treat during this hot summery weather 😀
Food intrigues me. The way we see and think about it and how our lifestyles (and society at a larger level) are structured around it never fails to fascinates me. Though seemingly simple and mundane to some, our lives are built around our eating habits. Culinary conquests and discoveries throughout history have structured societies and civilizations, impressing upon us the importance of recognising how the act of eating, though only a fairly superficial experience to the average person, possesses much deeper meanings and even deeper repercussions. Similarly, simple observations around the way people see and think about food actually allow us to draw psychological, sociological and political conclusions.
The idea of taste being a concern during the eating experience is not uncommon, but especially seems almost central in driving the way most people choose their food habits. Somehow the idea of eating to please our palates came up to me as I was having dinner with some of my relatives, non-vegans btw. Here’s where being vegan offers splendid opportunities to observe the eating mindsets of those around me. You probably already know it if you’re vegan; your ‘special’ diet necessitates special effort and your presence at the table makes itself already known through the need for others (with their non-special diets) to accommodate you. This elicits innumerable types of responses but for the dinner I attended, the people present couldn’t seem to comprehend how not eating meat or its derivatives could be possible since a vegetarian/vegan diet necessarily tastes much poorer in comparison. One way in which I could respond is that this is a terrible misconception – vegan food tastes absolutely wonderful and perfecting normal. There is nothing wrong with the taste of vegan food, certainly no more than any kind of food for that matter, as long as one is culinary capable (read: at least knows how to cook).
But I was more concerned over the way they thought one had to taste poorer than the other. First, this was a political distinction (important though not my emphasis this time) clearly made between the normal option (omnivore) vs ‘the other’ (vegetarianism/veganism). Second, why did the function of food hinge upon the taste factor? Implied in their rejection of vegetarianism/veganism was that what doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of the palate makes something unfit for consumption. When food is judged as ‘good’ or ‘not good’ it inherently means to say whether something tastes pleasing or not.
Now the subject of taste obviously brings with it cultural and various other associations. What you think tastes good for you might taste like shit for someone else because of the different ways people have been socialised to desire certain tastes and reject others. But why oh why do people evaluate desirability so exclusively on taste alone?
Here’s what I mean: My type of vegan diet (and I wish more people would realise that there are as many ways of eating vegan as there are the number of vegans in this world) emphasizes a healthy eating approach which tends to prefer with whole, unprocessed and unrefined foods, preferably made within your own kitchen. And somehow this inspired my uncle to remark he had a most ingenious business opportunity for me – to provide a cooking service for the very sick and dying.
I know he didn’t mean it as cutting as it reads, although I did find at least two issues with it: first, by the motivation for economic gain above the betterment of social well-being of others (how self-righteous it sounds for the rich and sick at the mercies of me, the ‘capable’ nutritionist), and more importantly the second, that the note of sarcasm peaking through belies an inherent assumption that people would only subject themselves to the gustatory tortures of a vegetarian diet only if their very lives (the only thing that trumps the dictates of the tastebuds eh?) depended on it. This, for me, was an indication to which taste has come to dominate the eating experience. Pleasing the tastebuds has become the very raison d’etre of eating.
I don’t know about you but if this hasn’t started to spook you yet… perhaps we ought to consider what exactly we mean to do when we eat.
For matters of accuracy, this perspective of eating only for taste erroneously ignores the myriad reasons for why people eat. Food disorders show that rather than hunger or taste alone, psychological insecurity or emotional inadequacies drive people to consume abnormal amounts of food. Emotions and memories play an integral part in the nostalgic connotations of certain foods. Home cooked food tends to be marketed with a kind of maternal image drawing upon the reference that ‘mom’s food always tastes the best’. So what exactly are people eating to gain? Is pleasing the palate our only legitimacy to eating nowadays? How practical is this when measured against our overall physiological, emotional and even our spiritual needs of which undoubtedly required regular nourishing?
Here’s my answer. The palate is no doubt an important concern. It allows us to discern if our food is pleasing to our disposition. What I mean is that it allows us to tell if the food is safe for consumption (alarming odours might alert us to poisonous toxins) and most importantly if the food fufills your particular dietary needs at that very moment. If Vitamin C is particularly lacking, oranges may suddenly start to seem strangely mouthwateringly appealing.
That being said, the emphasis on the palate is terribly overrated (as is almond butter over peanut butter, a fact I discovered just this morning over a virgin jar). When you eat your mom’s food for example, you eat of the food spiritually and emotionally besides the stimulation you get from the tastes in the mouth. When the same dish doesn’t taste the same cooked by someone else this is because you ate with the recognition of your mom as your primary caregiver, whom you trust to deliver security as cultivated through your social experiences of family upbringing. Because that same sense of security is absent when someone else prepares the dish, this food lacks that inherent emotional nourishment and so appears more incapable comparatively in satisfying your hunger.
Perhaps a person more acquainted with understanding the mind-body connection would have already comprehended that whatever we do to ourselves on the physical level sends ripples through our emotional and spiritual consciousness. But more intuitively and simply, the primary reason we eat is because our bodies need nourishment. The fact that our emotional and spiritual bodies also need nourishment as well as the fact that they are affected by our attempts to physically nourish ourselves are glaringly absent in many modern emphases to food and the act of eating.
What you put into your mouth has far deeper consequences past your taste buds. The very porosity of our skin, the largest organ of our bodies, ensures that whatever chemically laden gunk we slather over our bodies enters our blood and will have to be sent to the liver for removal. So too it is with our dietary choices. Whatever we eat, regardless of pleasure obtained through gustatory stimulation, make its presence known in our emotional and spiritual experiences. The point where we consume junk lacking, nutritionally speaking, in any manner of saving grace to the point our systems become overwhelmed, is the point where this crap accumulates, distillates and precipitates in all manner of illnesses, of the body, mind and spirit.
Pity so overwhelming a concern it has become for many to pander to the fleeting tastes of the palate that they seem to have overlooked the potentially undesirable consequences that come wrapped up and packaged deceptively in the form ‘delicious’ food. If we could move away from the distraction of the palate and look more closely at more important implications of our food choices perhaps far fewer may find themselves in compromising situations later on in their lives.