Stage and TV actress Apara Mehta, who recently joined the TV serial, Anupamaa, advocates eating Indian food. She marvels at the fact that the food people eat in a region is dependent on various factors, including the weather. The Free Press Journal caught up with her for an exclusive tête-à-tête. Excerpts:
I begin my day with: A steaming hot cup of masala tea, without sugar. I like strong tea.
My dietary preference: I am a complete vegetarian. No eggs, onions and garlic. I’m not a Jain but I’m a Nagar Brahmin, so we don’t have onions and garlic at home.
My breakfast is: I don't have a ‘breakfast breakfast’ kind of thing, but I have a khakhra topped with ghee, a pinch of jeera powder and chaat masala, it’s to die for.
My lunch is completely: Gujarati food. Dal, bhaat, roti and shaak but yes, made with masalas and less oil. For lunch, normally I avoid rice because I’m shooting all the time so then it is roti, dal and sabji and I carry chaas to have along with my lunch.
My evening snack: When I’m shooting in the evening, all the forbidden fare like samosas and vada paos are laid out. I prefer to eat poha.
For dinner: I have dudhi, palak and tomato soup with khakhras. Also, a thin roti with a vegetarian dish.
My favourite desserts are: I don’t eat anything sweet.
My fitness regime: I have tried all possible diets, met the most famous diet experts in Mumbai. And I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t work for me in the long run. Diets demand a change in one’s lifestyle and as a TV artiste, I work for 12 hours a day and also do theatre. When you leave home, you can’t make provisions for diet food for so long.
I consciously avoid: Fried food but I love chaklis chivdas and puris.
I can cook: Gujarati food very well. I am a very good cook.
My favourite cook in the family: My mom, who passed away last year at the age of 91. She made excellent khandvis, stuffed aloo, baigan ki sabzi, thepla, undhiyu, and the phulkas were wow. She made very thin phulkas, they were to die for.
My favourite restaurants are: I love the food at Swati Restaurant especially their dal dhokli. Banana Leaf is another favourite. Pali Bhawan at Pali Hill has fabulous raw mango kadhi with pakodas. It’s to die for.
My favourite cuisines are: Indian and Mexican food especially the Mexican bowl. The taste of Mexican food is very close to that of Indian food. When I am in another country, I manage with pizzas and pastas but if given a choice, I would want to eat Indian food.
My comfort food: Methi thepla, aloo ki bhaji, curd and pickle.
The weirdest dish I have tried: I travel a lot but exotic or weird food is not for me.
My favourite beverage is: Tea, tea and more tea. I drink masala tea to which I add Spice Drop. No soft drinks for me at all.
On a hot summer day: Dahi bhaat and a glass of Gujarati chaas with masala would be ideal.
During the monsoon: I love to have bhajiyas with a cup of tea.
On days when I am shooting: I carry my home food. I can’t just deal with any other food because I don’t even eat onions and garlic.
My most favourite food: Undhiyu. I make fabulous undhiyu. It’s a winter specialty which is labour intensive. My undhiyu parties hosted at home for my daughter’s non-Gujarati friends are always a hit.
An admission: I have tried all the diets, I have lost weight but I have regained it all the moment I went back to my normal diet. Since I am no longer playing a 30-year-old woman, I concentrate on being fit even if I am not slim.
A secret shared: All homes have a spice (masala) box. I share my mom’s belief that the masala box has all the benefits of ayurveda. Ajwain, jeera and haldi are excellent to counter cold and cough and help digestion. Western people miss out on this.
Recipe for Dudhi - Chana Dal Sabzi
Representative Pic of Dudhi - Chana Dal Sabzi | Pic: Pinterest
1/2 kg dudhi (bottle gourd)
1/2 (medium sized) bowl chana dal
1/2 cup water to pressure cook the chana dal
6 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon hing powder
11/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger-green chilli paste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or as per taste)
2 teaspoons dhania-jeera powder
1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
Finely chopped coriander leaves to garnish
Salt to taste
Wash and soak the chana dal overnight.
Peel and wash the dudhi. Cut into small cubes.
Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a pressure cooker, add 1/2 teaspoon hing, 3/4 teaspoons mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 3/4 tablespoons ginger-green chilli paste and the soaked chana dal with 1/2 cup water. Mix well and pressure cook on a medium flame till 2 whistles. Let it cool and remove the dal in another vessel.
Add an additional 3 tablespoons of oil in the pressure cooker. Add the remaining cumin seeds, mustard seeds, hing powder and ginger-green chilli paste. When the seeds splutter add the dudhi with very little water as dudhi has its own water content. Pressure cook on a medium flame till 2 whistles. Let it cool. Add the kept aside cooked chana dal to the dudhi. Mix well and add salt, turmeric, red chilli, dhania and jeera powder and cook for 2 more whistles on a medium flame. Once done, let it cool. Add garam masala and amchur powder. Mix gently and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with khatta-meetha Gujarati kadhi and phulkas.