On my walk last week, I was listening to a podcast interview of James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits. He made a point which made me pause my walk, rewind, and listen again. The eye-opening line was that processes are far more important than the goals. For example, if improving your health or eating healthier is the goal, then the processes that you follow, such as eating more vegetables, avoiding sugary beverages, or making the right choices every single day, are what make it count in the long run. The sum of these everyday choices is what will make the goal achievable.
Along these lines, it is useful to make a list of small changes or additions to your food habits which will improve your health considerably in the long run if practised every day. Here is one such tiny addition that I propose towards healthier eating. Prepare a jar of mixed seeds and keep it handy. Use a mix of edible seeds, except for spice seeds like mustard, cumin, fenugreek, carom and fennel, which have a potent flavour.
A rough recipe for this seed mix is equal portions of black sesame, white sesame, flax, sunflower, pumpkin and quinoa (quinoa is a seed too), for starters. Hemp seeds and chia seeds also make good additions.
In a heavy-bottomed pan, toast the seeds over a low flame for six-eight minutes until the toasty aroma comes through. Cool and pack in an airtight glass jar, enough for a week’s consumption. Keep the rest in a sealed bag in the freezer to use as refill or distribute to friends. Do not keep a large batch of the seed mix out at room temperature. The high oil content makes the seeds go rancid when exposed to air.
Place the bottle in your line of sight so it’s easier to use every day. Sprinkle a teaspoon of seeds over meals such as breakfast cereal, porridge, toast, salads, soups, smoothies, dips, raita, dal-rice, roasted vegetables, home-baked muffins, breads or tea cakes. Toasted seeds on top of a dish give a pleasant crunch, and satisfaction. Each seed has a unique flavour that comes through when you take a bite and chew on it mindfully, adding layers of complex aromas. Seeds are the precursor to all food on earth and they come loaded with all the nutrients needed to start life.
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As a group, edible seeds are rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated healthy fats, vitamin E, minerals such as zinc and calcium, protein, fibre and antioxidants that enrich our diets.
Certain seeds are richer in certain micronutrients, such as omega 3 fatty acids in flax and chia seeds; selenium and magnesium in sunflower seeds; and lignans in flax seeds that offer protection from cancers. Omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseeds are concentrated in the thick outer layer that mostly escapes digestion and absorption in our gut. It is, therefore, good to consume flaxseeds in ground form, such as in south Indian podis or in pesto, or along with whole-wheat flour in rotis. A mixed seed powder along with nuts like almonds and spices like black pepper and fennel can be made into a thandai mix which can be mixed with cold milk and had on warmer days. By combining seeds and consuming them on a regular basis, we can harness all the health-boosting properties from the entire family of edible seeds.
Seeds, like legumes, also benefit from soaking overnight, improving their bioavailability, making more nutrients available for absorption. Soaked and drained seeds can be cooked with oats to make porridge or blended with ingredients to make a breakfast smoothie. When making a seeded sourdough, I like to soak the seeds overnight, drained and lightly toasted until the moisture has dried out. Sprinkled throughout the bread dough, the seeds add to the flavour, texture and nutrition of the bread.
Try out these two easy recipes prepared with the toasted seed mix.
Makes one-and-a-half cups
Quarter cup of toasted seed mix
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp paprika or red chilli powder
Half tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Reserve a teaspoon of the seeds and cooked chickpeas for garnish. In a blender, combine the remaining seeds, chickpeas, garlic, paprika and salt. Add two-three ice cubes and blend to get a smooth purée. Transfer the prepared hummus to a shallow bowl and smoothen the surface. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on the top and garnish with the remaining seeds and chickpeas. Serve with crackers, toasted pita or veggie chips.
Spicy seed and peanut podi
Makes over 1 cup
4-5 garlic cloves
5-6 dried red chillies*
1 tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves (optional)
Half cup of toasted seed mix
Half cup of toasted peanuts
1 tsp rock salt
In a pan, dry-toast the garlic cloves, red chillies, cumin seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves for four-five minutes over a medium flame. In a blender, combine these ingredients with the seeds, peanuts and salt. Use the pulse function a few times to get a coarse powder. If you grind this mix on high speed for two-three minutes, using a splash of peanut oil, you will get a delicious savoury peanut butter. Transfer to an airtight jar and use within 10 days. Use this podi with idlis, dosas, on toast, to flavour salads, raitas, or to eat with rice and ghee.
*Use the Guntur variety of dried chillies for a spicier version, Byadagi for mild, and a mix of the two if you want it medium spicy.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is Everyday Superfoods. @saffrontrail
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