With Christmas behind us and New Year just around the corner – most people will still be in the midst of their indulgent holidays. It’s fair to say that many won’t have thought about January restraints until absolutely necessary – probably sometime around the fifth – when belts need tightening, but try as you might – you’ll need to add an extra notch or too.
Eventually, there’ll be a group of people who will succumb to the idea of a January detox, a new healthy regime or approach to life and resolutions that will wipe the slate clean. All of this can sometimes be too much for some, especially whilst easing back into work. Sometimes it seems that it’s best to take things in a piecemeal approach to health – especially if it’s easier for people to swallow.
Winter will have also brought with it plenty of seasonal sickness (coughs, colds and sneezes) as well as travel misery for some – only adding to their seasonal disaffection caused by early dark skies. Of course, some would argue that the point of Christmas is to combat this with festive cheer and food – but there’s only so many mince pies you can eat. This holiday season, we took our culinary inspiration from the NRI Kitchen, not only to fight off the germs but also introduce our own culinary stamp on events.
This year, it all started with the onset of a cold – as is usually the case, they spiral out of control from the small beginnings of a sore throat which quickly lead to sniffles, a cough or something worse if you’re unlucky. My mother’s remedy to prevent a cold from worsening in its earliest stages is to beat it with Sevia (which I can only describe as flour based noodles). More-so than the Sevia themselves, it’s the warm sweet broth that these are cooked in which is helps alleviate the discomfort caused. There’s two typical ways of preparing Sevia, most people will be used to cooking these in sweetened milk, sometimes condensed. Though this makes for a great pudding – I’ve always been told to avoid dairy whilst unwell. There’s no specific detriment that it causes, simply that it’s thicker in consistency and therefore lines passages. When you’ve got a cold, you’re probably inclined to want passages to be as clear as they can. This is why we’ve always prepared them in a clear sweet broth – made largely from water. It’s akin to the benefits a Thai style or Miso based savoury broth may induce. A Singaporean friend of mine used to make almost the same base above, but rather than a sweet dish, she’d add salt and seasoning with chicken to make a clear chicken broth. There may be many reasons behind why this works well, my personal interpretation is to do with the idea that warm water increases blood-flow and therefore the stimulation of the entire circulatory system.
Water and liquids in general are of vital importance when restoring bodies to their perfect state. Over the winter period, we are of course surrounded by various tipples, most of which probably contain very little ‘water’. It’s expected that people will drink in excess over this period – but again, certain drinks will work to best effect. When I introduced the idea of Mulled Wine to my mother – it was an opportunity to concoct a home-made spice mix for this drink. We used natural oranges – rather than orange juice (lessening the calories and adding increased citrus content). We also made a spice-bag of the same ingredients we’d used to make a spiced tea (Chai Tea). As the spice mix worked well with both the ordinary tea we’d produce as well Mulled wine – it worked as pick-me-up for both before and after parties.
Growing up, we’d occasionally be spoon-fed small amounts of whiskey. This would ‘keep us warm’ over the cold weekends. Soon I was introduced to the idea of warm and cold properties behind foods. The implication being that it’s not the actual temperature of the food itself – but the eventual effect it’ll have on your body. Most alcohol was thought to have a warm influence on the body. However – it’s easy to run away with this notion, as I’ve often discovered the morning after. Fortunately this party season wasn’t too bad – there was only one major hang-over – caused mainly by mixed drinks. Never really a good idea. The day after – nothing settled in my stomach – it was getting late into the evening and I realised that I needed to eat something.
During hang-overs – tea and water seldom work. I therefore started experimenting with spicier flavours and occasionally fruits which I crave more than water. The idea stems from foods I loved whilst in hot-car journeys through India - often – this would be street-based; typically spiced fruits or freshly squeezed juices. The key with these foods was they were providing a chemical balance back into the body (lost through alcoholic induced dehydration). The nutrients were coming from spices added to the fruits and the hydration itself came from the fruits.
It’s not always possible to get freshly squeezed fruit juices in London (not of the exotic variety that we see in side streets of India) – though I’ve learnt that bananas, pears and cucumbers have great restorative qualities – especially if needing to reinstate your potassium intake. This certainly helped me the other day. In addition to this, I was desperate to re-ignite my appetite with something that I knew wouldn’t ‘find its way back up’. A solution to this was found through Pani Puri (Gol Goppa) – again I needed to rely on liquid based snacks that would ease me back to solids. These are delicate little snacks – but are said to be great for digestion. Often labelled as incredibly complicated to create – we attempted our own with plain flour. Admittedly they were a bit thicker than usual, but all the more satisfying. To the accompanying spicy water – we added some tonic water (left over from the cocktails) and some mint-sauce (for added kick).
Having experimented with all the foods above, we established that you could create a wealth of variations on set culinary classics. What was most satisfying however, was knowing that a) we could tailor these foods to help, rather than hinder our systems and b) they would provide alternatives to traditional Christmas canapés and treats.