Many dismiss it as a ‘first world problem’, while others invest every ounce of their energy avoiding it. It’s a conundrum, which is staring us in the face and it’s called ‘gluten’ – composite storage of proteins found in cereals like wheat, rye, oat and barley. Over the past decade, there have been rising instances of large parts of populations developing allergies and intolerance to the said protein.
To address these rising concerns, the Imperial culinary club ‘Imperial Ho’ conducted a live cooking session with nutritionist Sangeeta Khanna and Alok Verma, executive sous chef, The Imperial. “Not everyone is allergic or intolerant to gluten. But given the high level of industrially produced all-purpose-flour and off the shelf bread we consume, the instances are rising. And no, its not a fad or a passing concern. It’s a problem that is here to stay,” says Sangeeta Khanna.
Khanna stresses that it’s very easy to lead a gluten-free lifestyle, especially in India, given the wide repertoire of alternate grains and cereals. Regional cuisines are dominated by them, but the new age heavy dependence over bread is causing this massive outbreak.
“Gluten is what makes the bread rise and give it its signature softness and elasticity. The larger the quantity of gluten – the higher the bread will rise. In all of this, ready-to-eat bread is the villain. Earlier, bread could be consumed within a couple of days, now a week, 10 days can go by and the bread would still be the same. Gluten can give birth to Celiac disease, wheat allergies, or irritable bowel syndrome and gluten ataxia. We have not even scratched the surface as to the amounts of chemicals and other additives that are added to bread and other packaged products to make them last for two years and yet be fit to eat. It’s those chemicals and additives that make gluten the villain it has become,” informs Khanna, whose core area of study has been gluten and its related aspects.
Khanna and Chef Verma prepared five recipes at the live kitchen, with easily sourced items. On offer were buckwheat (kutta ka atta), blinis sandwich with feta cheese and beetroot filling; ragi samosa; quinoa and sesame crackers with orange hummus; amaranth flour, carrot and raisin cookies and fresh water chestnut panacotta with pecans and honeycomb.
The Ragi samosas filled with peas, cashew nuts and cucumber were a revelation. The dough for the samosas started off as a batter, and was hardened by slowly adding more portions of the ragi flour, ajwain and salt. Then, the filling was sautéed to make it more crunchy and was used to fill the pastry made from the dough. Deep fried with canola oil, the samosas gave the usual potato filled variants a good run for their money.
The orange hummus that was paired with quinoa crackers was an interesting take on the much loved middle-eastern dip. It was made the usual way – with chickpeas, tahini, paprika and salt – but a dash of orange zest and orange juice (to replace the usual lemon) made all the difference. “I think people get overwhelmed with the term gluten-free. I have replaced the traditional fillings with easily sourced ingredients. Kuttu ka atta is readily available, and so is amaranth – every household knows them as vrat ka khaana. The trick is to use simple ingredients,” offers Chef Verma.
“We need to start supporting local farmers and local produce. Start eating bajra, jowar and ragi. In the long run producing them is more beneficial to the environment as well. Simple – start eating rotis and not bread,” ends Khanna.