Understanding Physiology is like learning to Cook!

A great analogy one could use in understanding physiology is cooking! In physiology, we explore step-by-step changes that results in a final product. Cooking involves a number of steps as well. An error in any one of these steps could affect the final product. In cooking Mysore Pak (Split chick pea cake) for example, the timing is extremely crucial (the recipe is below). If it is cooked a little longer than the suggested time, the entire mixture is unusable. It does not hold the shape and becomes powdery. If it is undercooked, it is not Mysore Pak at all because it does not have the pores or the fragrance and lacks the dual color it develops while setting. In order to avoid such problems, one has to make sure that the cooking temperature is not too high or too low and the pan used is not too thin that makes the mixture burn easily.

The same is true for any physiological process. If one of the steps or ingredients is lacking or abnormal, the end product could be a disease state. Blood clotting is an example where calcium plays a key role. If calcium is in lower concentration than normal, it could interfere with the blood clotting process and be responsible for internal bleeding.  There are compensatory mechanisms that exist in the body to avoid such situations, however. To prevent low blood calcium levels, the body may begin to dissolve more bone matrix than normal or trigger increased calcium absorption.  

Mysore Pak (Split chick pea cake)

Split chick pea flour – 1 cup

Sugar – 1 ⅔  cups

Water – 1 cup

Ghee – 1 cup

 

 

Boil sugar and water for 5 minutes. At the same time, heat ghee on medium, stir in split chick pea flour and fry for 5 minutes. Pour sugar syrup into the flour and ghee mixture and continue to stir while adding ghee little at a time. In approximately 15 to 20 minutes, the mixture turns stringy and pores appear. Empty this mixture into a greased container. Cut within 30 minutes.

 

Methi Miracle

Methi (Fenugreek) is used in many different forms in Indian cooking.  Its use as greens, herbs and the seeds are innumerable. Its rich nutritional value (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenugreek) has invaluable health benefits ranging from being hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic [Kassaian et al. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2009;79:34-39] effects to being used in treating a variety of digestive conditions such as gastritis, and constipation. It is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is widely popular as a galactagague which is to boost the production of breast milk. The mechanism of its action on increasing the production of breast milk appears to be from its ability to stimulate the production of sweat and the breast happens to be a modified sweat gland.

Below is a popular recipe using methi.

Masala Dosa (Crispy Rice and Lentil Crepe)

Rice flour – 2 cups

Split black gram lentils – ½ cup

Split chick pea lentils – 1 tbsp

Split mung lentils – 1 tbsp

Fenugreek seeds – ¼ tsp

Water – 3 cups

Oil for shallow frying – about ¼ cup

Salt – to taste

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Soak the lentils and fenugreek seeds for at least 4 hours. Drain and grind into a fine batter adding water a little at a time. Blend in the rice flour and salt adding the remaining water. Ferment overnight.

Heat a griddle on medium. Pour a ladle of batter and spread thin. Add a tea spoon of oil on the edges. Cook for a minute or till golden brown. Serve with chutney and potato curry (Recipe in the cookbook, Bengaluru Brunch).

Is it Bengaluru or Bangalore?

I am a proud Bengalurian and in fact several generations of my family come from this very special place. I am a little frustrated with its current situation of having two different names “Bengaluru” and “Bangalore“. The original name of Bengaluru is actually Bendakaluru which I guess was shortened by the local community to make it easy to use it.  It was transformed to yet another new name during  the British rule in India as Bangalore probably due to pronunciation issues.  During the recent revolution with the names, perhaps by a patriotic group, we were supposed to go back to use the original names of most major Indian cities. With this rule, Bangalore is supposed to be replaced by its original name Bengaluru. Although the goal of reversing the name back to its authentic name was a great idea, it appears that the steps taken towards revising the name has not been adequate thus leading to this confusion. I sure wanted to show my support to the original name of my beautiful city and thus the title of my book, Bengaluru Brunch.

Cooking Addiction

“Cooking is so much fun – you can create anything you want. You can personalize it to your taste and make it healthy for you. It is amazing, I love it!” are the enthusiastic words from my 20-year old son who is in Nairobi for the summer. When I asked him how he was interested in cooking so suddenly especially when he had never tried to cook before, his response was that he had watched me cook, enjoyed the aroma of freshly cooked food and was able to get into it naturally.  My daughter started cooking very young and has become a seasoned chef capable of cooking a wide range of dishes from the east and the west.

I love cooking and I think I am now addicted to it. I guess I picked it from watching my mother cook who spent most of her time in the kitchen while we were growing up.  During my visits to see my mother half way around the world, hoping to spend quality time with her, I often witnessed her trying to cook and feed all our favorite dishes within the few weeks we stayed with her. My constant reminder that I could cook those same things and I would rather see her spend time with us never convinced her.

My passion for cooking has only grown over the years. As an empty nester, I could have easily survived without cooking much. Instead I cook with many excuses such as creating a cook book or by volunteering to serve as a host for the Home Plate program (which involves having students from Washington University in St. Louis regularly to enjoy homemade meals) or sharing food with friends and families. The recipes have evolved over time and continue to change as new ideas appear.

The secret of successful cooking addiction remains in that the cooked food should be of a well-balanced diet eaten within limits to appreciate fresh, healthy, flavorful and tasty meals.

Why Yogurt?

How to make yogurt at home? To make yogurt at home, start off with a yogurt culture which is plain yogurt available in the grocery store. The richness of yogurt depends on the nature of milk that will be used. For example, you could try whole milk that results in very thick yogurt versus fat-free milk that makes thinner yogurt.First heat the milk near boiling and allow it to cool till it is warm (approximately 115 degree F). stir in a tea spoon of yogurt culture, cover and set aside in a warm place.  A warm place can be created easily by turning the oven for 1 minute and turning it off. It takes approximately 4-6 hours for the culture to set. Store in the refrigerator.  Save the yogurt that was made previously to start a new batch. It takes two to three cycles before the yogurt texture is firm.

Role as probiotic (beneficial bacteria): Yogurt contains bacteria (typically Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) which ferments lactose (milk sugar) to give a new taste and texture to the milk. Yogurt helps the gut  in many ways. It helps digest food, produce vitamins and protect against harmful pathogens. Elderly with declining levels of intestinal bifidus bacteria benefit from yogurt. Yogurt also appears to play a vital role in improving symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome.

Use of yogurt in Indian cooking: Yogurt is eaten as is or as a common ingredient in many indian recipes. When yogurt is churned lightly, it becomes buttermilk (plain lassi). Churning yogurt over a length of time yields butter and makes the buttermilk fat free.

Scientific facts: Yogurt is a rich source of protein, calcium, and vitamins riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Lactose intolerant individuals could still handle yogurt as lactose in the milk would be converted to simple sugars, glucose and galactose. Yogurt could also help prevent antibioitic-mediated diarrhea.

A tasty recipe: Mango Lassi