The coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown have led to all kinds of anxieties among Indians. The most pressing and obvious one is the fear of falling sick and it is not helped by the rising number of cases in India and many other countries. But another, more basic, concern is about how to keep ourselves well-fed and healthy during this time.
Limited supplies, difficult market runs given the absence of transport options and fewer helping hands in the case of many Indian homes has made things tricky. People with lower immunity levels are especially susceptible to Covid-19, which makes immunity-boosting foods more important than ever before.
For those working from home, it could be a matter of how to whip up quick and easy meals while juggling deadlines and possibly longer work hours. But for some, the lockdown may present an opportunity to slow down, experiment, and channel all their anxieties into their cooking — you’ve likely noticed a sudden influx of people sharing photographs of meals they prepared on social media.
As Chef Vanshika Bhatia of Gurgaon restaurant Together @ 12th says, in these troubled times, our kitchens should be seen as “an oasis of calm & creativity — a zandu balm to panic and anxiety”.
So, what should you put on your plate?
Keep sickness at bay
Rhea Dhillon, an in-patient dietician at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai, says while a balanced, light diet is of utmost importance at the moment, “some foods play in symphony to provide optimum nutrition”. She advises the inclusion of apples, broccoli, guava, spinach, garlic, oranges and lime in your diet. These foods are not only vitamin-rich, but also good sources of antioxidants.
Chef Vanshika suggests jam or pickle made out of amla as another way of incorporating some Vitamin-C in one’s daily diet, while nutritionist Radhika Karle says that the daily consumption of nuts like pistachios provides good fats. Plus, they double up as a healthy snack.
If one is feeling under the weather, chef Vanshika tells ThePrint that sheera can actually work wonders. Her own family recipe, passed down to her by her paternal grandmother, includes besan, jaggery as well as ghee and ample almonds to make a feel-good, cough-syrupy concoction that soothes the throat and also helps with digestion. Whole-wheat rotis with a dash of ghee, salt and black pepper are also good for a sore throat, she adds.
The lockdown may have brought with it a slow spell for author Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, but cooking through this time has allowed her to access the creative part of her brain. “There’s a gamification of the cooking process. I have a cabbage and two tomatoes, what can I make? It’s like playing a video game.”
She says that the limited supply of food at her local grocer’s, especially running out of non-perishable items like tomato purée or cream, or her favourite MTR instant Upma mix, was her call to be experimental. The local butcher has also shut shop, so a lot of vegetarian home-cooked meals naturally means healthy eating. “It’s a lot like Depression-era cooking, using everything you have. The other day, we made sabzi with watermelon rinds because we had some left over. So it’s like an adventurous way to level up by using lots of creativity,” she says.
For amateur cooks, or those for whom the lockdown isn’t really a gift of time, Radhika Karle suggests preparing one-pot meals, in which all your essential nutrients go into one vessel.
“Your one-pot meal should ideally contain three macronutrients: fats, proteins and carbohydrates,” the founder of Radhika’s Balanced Body tells ThePrint. “I recommend eating simple Indian food as it’s easy to prepare and packed with your essential nutrients. Khichdi, bajra rice with dal and even biryani are some easy-to-cook meals you can have,” she says.
Chef Vanshika, too, echoes this approach of combining creative techniques with healthy ingredients. For example, a vegetable soup combined with warm spices like star anise, ginger, garlic, is an easy meal one can prepare in bulk and store in a freezer, as well as pickling vegetables like cabbage leaves, to make food last longer.
Vegetable rotis are another thing she suggests, which can be prepared by grating vegetables, mixing with atta mixture, and adding salt and onion, and voila, you could have spinach or carrot rotis.
Eating out is, of course, not an option thanks to the lockdown, a fact that has resulted in almost 95 per cent of the country’s eateries shutting shop temporarily. But there has also been a sharp fall in ordering, with food aggregators Zomato and Swiggy reporting a decrease of nearly 60 per cent.
Samosa Singh, a Bengaluru-based snacking start-up has suffered 90 per cent order cancellations on the apps, according to co-founder Nidhi Singh. While cancellations could be attributed to the no-show of delivery partners fearing police action on the roads, people fearing transmission of Covid-19 from ordered food is also a major factor, feels Singh.
But experts across the board say that chances of transmission through well-cooked food are negligible. People can further put doubts to rest thanks to the introduction of contact-less delivery, along with the fact that Zomato and Swiggy are keeping hygiene qualities of their partners in check through randomised audits, according to Singh. Zomato has also identified restaurants that follow WHO guidelines and those that check their riders’ hygiene.
Even so, if you are worried, you should wear gloves while accepting the delivery, sanitise the packaging, empty out the contents into your own containers, dispose of the trash immediately and, of course, wash your hands before you eat. So relax and order your favourite biryani.
In fact, during a stressful time like this, it is important not only to eat healthy but also to eat happy. Cravings are natural when you’re anxious and it’s okay to give in to them within reason. For Delhi-based stylist Dhruv Aditya Dave, the time calls for cooking things that are delicious and make him happy, and this naturally involves a lot of sugar. “Other people have been stocking up on dal, chawal, but I’ve been buying up parmesan cheese, pasta and cooking chocolate,” says Dave, who has been experimenting with everything from fried chicken with different crusts and pasta with white wine to desserts like key lime pie or chocolate soufflé.
He still misses going out to his favourite restaurants and meeting his friends, but at least preparing a great meal gives him a feeling of being productive. Being able to fulfil those cravings probably doesn’t hurt either.
Dhillon points out that being home may increase one’s urge to snack, and suggests meals like chickpea chaat, spinach saag and bell peppers with yoghurt dip as easy small plates to prepare.
Chef Vanshika, though, has another trick — always keeping chocolate around! It works wonders in beating stressful environments with some happy hormones and flavour, she assures. We’re not going to argue with that. Bon appetit!