Nita Mehta is an Indian celebrity chef, author, restaurateur, and media personality. She is also known for her cookbooks and cooking classes. Mehta has authored more than 400 cookbooks of which 6 million copies have been sold worldwide. In 1999, she won the Best Asian Cookbook Award for her book Flavours of Indian Cooking at the World Cookbook Fair in Paris. Himanshu Guru of Kalinga TV web portal chatted with the celebrity chef to register her achievements and experience. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself, and how you developed your interest in nutrition and dietetics.
To enjoy anything in life, one must be healthy. I always believe in the popular saying “Health is Wealth”. The right diet and disciplined eating habits go a long way. I am curious about food. Besides, I am a keen learner and always open to ideas about food, nutrition, trends and ready to pick up knowledge from everywhere. And my education (She is an M.Sc. in Foods and Nutrition) makes it easy for me to understand food and its nutritional value.
What is your advice to parents of picky eaters?
One can’t force children these days. So it is a good idea to educate them about good and bad foods. Tell them and explain to them the advantages of good food which they want to hear… like, this will make you grow tall with strong muscles or for a girl or it will make your skin glow and make you more beautiful.
Keep their taste in mind and use the food in such a way that they enjoy it. If they don’t like dal, make chillah or pancakes by soaking moong dal and grinding to a paste. Make kale channe ki tikki for burgers and so on.
What do you think about the trend of Indians moving away from their roots and adopting western cooking practices?
There is no harm in adopting western cooking practices as we want to be adventurous and experimentative. But we love our classic Indian food so don’t abandon our roots completely. My suggestion is, try merging the two and take the best of both the worlds.
What is your take on organic foods? What benefits do they offer as opposed to non-organic foods?
No ill effects of pesticides and harmful chemicals in organic foods but too expensive for the common man. It is a good idea to soak the fruits and vegetables for 15 minutes in plenty of water and then wash instead of just washing them under running water, especially veggies like bhindi, baingan , gobhi which we do not peel. When it comes to fruits, soak grapes, cherries, etc. for longer periods since we do not peel them nor cook them.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding superfoods. Are these really as healthy as they are made out to be?
Really overhyped. All seasonal fruits and vegetables can easily meet our body requirements.
What diet would you suggest to a mother trying to lose weight after pregnancy?
Keeping in mind the lactation period, eat healthy and a well-balanced diet. Do not be in a hurry to shed weight. Exercise and eat small meals frequently. Stress on greens, fish, nuts, and fruits.
Is it better to eat three big meals a day or multiple small meals?
It is not good to keep the stomach empty for too long. Hence frequent small meals are good. But remember the word ‘SMALL’. Never be greedy if you like something and avoid second helpings. The secret is ‘portion control’.
Is white rice really unhealthy? What alternatives would you suggest?
There is nothing wrong with white rice. But people who are fond of rice forget to eat sensibly. It is the excess quantity that you eat which makes you fat. Remember, one katori of cooked rice has the same calories as one chappati. So eat accordingly.
What healthy and tasty snacks would you recommend for children?
Just add veggies to any snack but remember to hide them, like grated carrots, cauliflower or broccoli and mix with tikki or potato rolls. Use sprouts in pulao, in paratha. Add nuts like peanuts or almonds in snacks. If they don’t eat nuts, just powder them and add.
What is the unhealthiest food consumed in an average Indian household?
Too much sugar in tea. Eating namkeens, which are fried in margarine and other unhealthy oils like palm oil.
Nutrition is a well-paying profession these days. What is your advice for youngsters who want to take it up as a profession?
Surely nutrition is much in demand everywhere including medical centres, fitness centres, weight loss clinics, restaurants, food manufacturing companies….the list is endless. But you must work hard to learn and be updated as new researches are being done so often.
Please give some tips for coastal areas’ residents for healthy cooking.
1—When frying fish or any seafood, add 1 tbsp oil to batter to get a crisp coating. Also, make batter with club soda instead of water.
2–Store coconut powder in the fridge to avoid it from becoming rancid.
3—Extra virgin coconut oil is very good to consume. It is excellent for hair and skin too.
4—Before freezing fish, rub lemon juice and haldi, wash it nicely. Then freeze. This removes the fishy odour.