Michael Pollan says, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” It’s taken me many years, but I now humbly accept this wisdom. Growing up, the foods that our mothers or grandmothers cooked, we took it for granted. Most of the time, we didn’t value it enough even though it was nourishing and took care of both our heart and stomach hunger.
Once you hit thirty, you probably started to notice that your metabolism started to become sluggish. Suddenly, skipping breakfast or eating big, late night meals felt like an irresponsible idea. Somewhere, you craved for the taste of your childhood, so you turned to the wisdom pot, the recipes of your ancestors. I am not saying this is everyone’s journey but resonates with many people. My mother would often tell me, “With age, roots call out to us.” I used to haughtily reply, “Not with me.” Hah, ironically, in my family at least (and even among our friends), I am one of the biggest proponents of cooking and eating fresh, Indian food 4–5 times a week.
Homemade yogurt, as well as ghee, are my mantras and go-to answer for so many issues. My non-desi friends too love making Indian ingredients and dishes such as garam masala powder, khichadi, ghee, dosa batter, and poha. How is this possible? Once you understand the beauty of spices, simple recipes, their healing properties, there is no going back.
Getting older is a beautiful thing, it teaches you to pay attention to foods that you put in your mouth as well your cravings. In my home, poha is considered complete comfort food. I make it when we are stressed or in a lazy mood or return from an overseas trip. It is an Indian breakfast item that makes it to our dining table at least once a week.
What Is Poha?
It is uncooked basmati rice that has been rolled thin in the same way that rolled oats are made. Poha is a perfect, warm dish full of taste and nutrition! It cooks quickly and does not need water, other than what is absorbed in rinsing. This dish makes for a delicious and nutritious breakfast, tea-time snack, or light dinner item.
When beaten rice flakes (poha) come together with potatoes, carrots, and peas in a light and flavorful seasoning of onions, mustard seeds, cumin, asafetida, green chili, turmeric, chopped cilantro, and curry leaves, what we get is a mouth-watering dish. You can also add peanuts or sprouts to make poha protein-rich and squeeze a lemon so the iron gets absorbed. I know people eat poha for a late dinner too, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so. It is full of carbs and for a lot of people, dinner is the biggest meal of the day (not recommended, but that’s for another time). You don’t want to overwhelm your stomach late at night by eating big portions of this dish.
Some people might argue that from an ayurvedic standpoint, poha’s qualities aren’t favorable for all, heavy to digest, and can cause weight gain or constipation if eaten in excess. My counterargument is this: Ayurveda almost always offers a simple solution. If you were to add peppers (green and red), it would lower kapha dosha. And if you eat in moderation, you won’t gain weight. Now, this has become simple.
Benefits Of Poha
You can find many health benefits of eating poha regularly. Here are some:
- Rich in iron
- Low in gluten
- Good for the heart
- Recommended for diabetics
- Excellent source of iron for pregnant women
- Natural aphrodisiac
- Packed with minerals and vitamins
- Balances vata dosha
- Lower glycemic index than most carbs and keeps blood sugar levels stable
Much like my mother and grandmother, I don’t use recipes. Every time that I would ask them for one, they would just ask me to go by my instincts. Now that I run my own kitchen, that’s the philosophy I use to cook for my family. Depending on the season and what is available, I adjust the spices and ingredients. But here is a general recipe you could use:
How To Make Poha
- 3 cups of poha/rice flakes (the thick kind)
- 1/3 cup safflower oil
- 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 5 curry leaves, fresh or dried
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 pinch asafoetida
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 1 small green chili, chopped fine
- Coconut flakes, cilantro, and lime for garnish
- Wash the rice flakes twice, drain, and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan, over medium heat, and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and curry leaves.
- Stir until the seeds pop and add the turmeric, salt, and asafoetida.
- Next, add the cilantro, onions, and chili and cook until soft and slightly brown.
- Stir the rice flakes, cover, and turn off the heat.
- Let it sit for a few minutes, serve garnished with coconut and cilantro and give each serving a squeeze of fresh lime.
Our mind and stomach share a direct correlation. If your stomach is satiated and nourished, your mind will be calm. And we know that happiness inspires productivity.