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Sip 'n' bite light to feel right

Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta's Muri Ghonto

Ingredients: 1 kg fish head (rohu, bekti or katla); 1 tbsp cumin paste; 1 tbsp coriander seed paste; 1 ' tsp turmeric; ' tsp chilli powder; 1 ' tbsp ginger; ' tsp garam masala paste or powder; 4 bay leaves; 200 gm boiled moong or chhola dal (boiled but still whole); 1 cup water; 3-4 tbsp oil; ' tsp ghee; salt and sugar to taste

Method: Wash fish, fry on slow fire in two tablespoons of oil till it is brown on both sides. Break it into pieces (or break it before frying). Keep aside. Make a paste of the cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli and ginger in a bowl with some water. Heat the remaining oil till it is smoking. Fry the masala for three-four minutes. Then add the dal, cooking it for two minutes, till it is coated with the spices. (You can also use some peas.) Add the fish, followed by salt and sugar to taste. Pour the water, cover and simmer. Reduce as desired. In another pan, take the heat the ghee, garam masala and bay leaves. Pour into the dal.

The difference: The dal replaces the rice used traditionally. Potatoes are also left out. This cuts down on the carbohydrate content and adds protein and fibre. It also uses less than half the oil and masala than usual.

Karen Anand's Healthy Orange Smoothie

Ingredients: 1 packet Mori-nu Tofu; 400 ml Soy milk; well chilled or 200ml Soy milk; 1 cup curd; 500 ml freshly squeezed orange juice; strained 2 tsp clear honey or orange marmalade; ' tsp ground ginger; orange slices for decoration

Method: Blend the Tofu, soy milk, orange juice, honey and ginger in a food processor for 1 minute. Pour into four glasses, decorate with the orange slices, and serve immediately.

The differences: Smoothies are a healthy alternative to milk shakes. The milk cream and ice cream in a milk shake is replaced by skimmed milk or Soy milk, Tofu and Curd. Juice, preferably fresh, replaces artificially coloured and flavoured syrups that are generally used in milk shakes.

Are the pleasures of the palate interfering with your body balance' Is the gourmand in you adding to your gut'

Calcuttans are dining out now more than ever and chances are you answered yes to at least one of the questions. But with more people dining out more frequently ' and a new report everyday about the ills of your favourite foods ' there is a shift, albeit subtle, in the way the city is eating.

Restaurants are getting more and more requests from clients to keep the food as light and grease-free as possible. Chefs are planning menus with weight-watchers' options in mind. Juice bars and spas are coming up to fill the health-food void.

Is the way food is being cooked undergoing a change' 'There was a time when Indian food was all about desi ghee and over-spicing. Now we need food that looks good, tastes good and lets you get a good night's sleep,' explains chef Abhijit Saha, the Bangalore-based chef in town recently to redesign the menu at Saffron, the Indian speciality restaurant at The Park.

Customers have started demanding food they can love, as well as live with. 'Health consciousness is on the rise and around 20 to 30 per cent of diners are very finicky about how healthy their food is,' says Saha.

Traditional Bengali dishes have also become the subject of heart-healthy change. 'At Kewpies, many clients request food with less oil and spices and we have consciously started toning them down ourselves,' explains restaurateur Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta. So, while a Begun Bhaja has to be fried, rice bran or soybean oil with low cholesterol have replaced ghee as the medium. If ghee is called for in a recipe, it is sprinkled on top after it is cooked in lighter oil, just for the aroma.

At Oh! Calcutta, the large selection of steamed items in the Bengali section is very popular. Light cream is used for desserts and dishes that need cream. Grain of Salt has an option of using cooking spray rather than oil, which cuts down the calories.

Gravy train to tummy grumble

Restaurants have generally found it hard to resist the gravy train to success. Even foreign cuisine is tailored to this need. Like desi Italian food. 'In Italy, our cooking is far more bland,' says celebrity chef Bill Marchetti of the Maurya, who visited Calcutta recently.

But world cuisine is now stepping into town, in somewhat authentic and healthy forms. At ITC, Pan Asian serves up sushi and Oriental food from the grill at the Tepanyaki bar (picture above by Pabitra Das).

Executive sous chef Parminder Singh Bali at ITC Sonar Bangla stresses that nutrition comes from balancing the diet. The hotel will soon open a restaurant that will serve up just that kind of khana ' meat and fish should be skinless; vegetables should have the skin on; vegetables should be cut in large enough pieces, steamed, seared or stir-fried to ensure nutrients are not lost; the cooking medium should be rotated and anything white (rice, sugar, flour) is strictly forbidden; sea fish is healthier than river fish (think pollutants).

Perceptions aside, perhaps this is the start of bigger things. 'A significant number of diners actively request a lighter hand with grease and spice. We have kept the menu as light as possible,' explains executive chef, Hyatt Regency, Subrata Goswami. Especially for lunch, patrons prefer light, which is the focus of the new revamped menu at the Waterside Caf'. An extended salad counter has gone down well, as has one sugar-free and another eggless dessert.

Return to nature

Speciality outlets are filling the light-bite-and-sip need as well. Add Life, the health club at 22 Camac Street, has a caf' where 'specially formulated health foods and energy drinks' are available. There are low-calorie roasted oil-free soybean snacks. Fresh fruit juices and meal replacement drinks are available in flavours like vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.

The juice craze continues at more public places. Amoretto's at Forum offers a range of drinks and some quick bites, too. 'We have a variety of health drinks, confections and other snacks, immensely popular with the young crowd,' says manager Sanjay Naidu. Wheat grass, spirulina, bitter gourd and soy are a few of the ingredients for power drinks.

Enerzy, four floors up at the Elgin Road mall, boasts drinks that are billed to beat health problems. Cold Buster, Skin Cleanser, All Goodness, Liver Cleanser and Immunity Juice are some of the fruity options. Energy Boost is a wheat grass extract and Immunity Boost is primarily amla. 'The response to health drinks is simply overwhelming. While the Skin Cleanser is a hit with young girls, the Liver Cleanser is also very popular,' explains Mohit Tikmany, general manager of Cool Kids Products, which runs the juice bar.

The city's sweet tooth will have to wait for a regular spread of healthy cakes and confections.

'We get a lot of requests from our customers for low-calorie pastries. Around six months ago we had introduced a special line of cakes including Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry Cakes and Marble Cakes with sugar substitutes. We also have a range of whole-wheat breads that sells a lot more than the regular white ones,' says Lovey Burman of Kookie Jar.

There is still a long way to go, clearly. But it is a start. As chef Bali insists: 'Health food should be good on the eyes, mind and body. Living healthy is a state of mind, not a fad diet.'

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