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BW Businessworld

Food For The Soul

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When Indian  accent’s executive chef Manish Mehrotra was asked to prepare a healthy menu for Zehen, the wellness centre at The Manor, New Delhi where the restaurant has been having a dream run since 2008, he knew what he had to do. “People don’t count calories when eating my food. But for those who do, healthy should not mean boring. This is gourmet ‘diet food’.”

And so on the weekly changing menu you have smoked salmon; slow stewed lamb with walnut couscous and raita; pumpkin and brown rice risotto; steamed fish dumplings; wok-tossed walnut chicken with shitake mushrooms and bell peppers and several other Indian, Thai, Chinese and Mediterranean dishes. But it is Mehrotra’s healthy twist to unhealthy fare such as pizzas and pastas that has the health-conscious eating out of his hands. The gluten-free uttapam pizza with parmesan cheese or the zucchini pasta (there is no pasta, instead zucchini is cut into narrow strips to represent spaghetti) fool the eyes and flatter the taste buds. Even biryani has been given a healthy makeover with quinoa replacing rice. 

And if you have a sweet tooth, don’t worry, Mehrotra hasn’t forgotten you. Try the brown rice and jaggery kheer (240 calories) or a fresh fruit kulfi sorbet (97 calories) or the chocolate-dipped amaranth laddoo (255 calories) to satisfy your craving. The tiny amaranth seeds are a rich source of proteins, calcium, magnesium and iron. 

Mehrotra isn’t the only one preparing healthy yet tasty food for those who are health conscious. Spa or wellness cuisine is the new buzz word where chefs are concentrating on creating dishes that appeal to the body and the soul.

“If you are on a diet or are health conscious, it doesn’t mean you have to eat insipid hospital food,” says Alok Anand, executive chef at Taj Coromandel, Chennai. Anand has prepared a special spa menu which is available at the Jiva Grande Spa and is also a part of the in-room dining. “The focus is on providing a nutritious meal that has the right balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), vitamins and minerals, without compromising on taste.”

The menu which comprises juices, salads, soups, sandwiches and desserts is both appetising and healthy. “We have deliberately not put a typical Indian meal on the menu as they tend to be starch-rich.” So instead you have a quinoa, green beans and pine nuts salad, or a poached prawn salad. “Prawns are considered high in cholesterol but they are also rich in Omega 3 and have unsaturated fats. 100gm of prawns will give you 100 calories while 100 gm of beef or lamb will give you 200-300 calories.”  

Anand believes that good food never killed anyone. “As long as you eat things in moderation, there should be no problem.”

Agrees Narender, chef at Ananda in the Himalayas, a destination spa. “A healthy meal is a combination of nutrients, portion size and timing. Eating food on time is essential.”

At Ananda emphasis is on fresh seasonal products. “We don’t use any processed or refined foods, only fresh and natural ingredients.” Nearly 80 per cent of the ingredients used are organic.

The menu lists the calories of all the dishes allowing guests to make an informed choice. For instance, a grilled cottage cheese appetiser served with mango chutney is 127 calories while steamed chicken dumplings with spinach and served with quinoa and pineapple chutney is 167 calories.

The Leela group of hotels also provides spa cuisine at its properties in   Kovalam, Chennai, New Delhi and Udaipur. “The idea is to give healthy options with a minimalist approach. Our food is not rich in butter or fats. There are substitutes that can be used without compromising on taste,” says Dharmen Makawana,  executive chef at The Leela Palace, Chennai.

The menu has a section called Guilt-Free Desserts. “We want to satisfy your craving for sweets while still ensuring that they are healthy,” says Makawana. So you have dark chocolate and tofu mousse, tender coconut and soy milk pannacotta, baked skimmed milk yoghurt, etc.

With chefs going all out to offer healthy options, eating healthy has never tasted better.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 06-04-2015)