Bake for Health

ovenBaking is usually synonymous with rich cakes and chocolaty cookies, good only as occasional treats. However, your oven can be your waistline’s best friend. It is also a cooking technique that can be used to make healthy lower calorie foods. Baking is not new to India – the traditional tandoor was the country’s first oven-like instrument.

The tandoor, using hot coals for high heat cooking, created our renowned naans and tandoori foods. With modern convection ovens there is a uniform heat from the oven’s internal fans evenly circulating hot air to the set temperatures. Roasting and grilling can also be achieved in an oven. Usually it is just a matter of terminology – you bake a cake but you roast a chicken – all in the same oven, sometimes at the same temperature.

In traditional grilling, the juices of the meat fall into the coals giving rise to aromatic smoke which adds flavour to the marinated meat. Minus the smoke, this form of cooking can also be achieved in a convection oven. Meats, vegetables, eggs and beans, all can be cooked in an oven. And not only American, European or the all encompassing “continental” foods that can be baked, many of our Indian foods are easily adaptable to oven cooking.

Love those extra crunchy subjis – then add a bit of masala to your favourite cut vegetable, a dash of oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes on 210 degrees Celcius, turning once in between. One caveat for oven use – unless you are an experienced cook and know your oven’s personality well, you must be around in the kitchen to ensure your food does not overcook or worse – burn!

Making our daily vegetable subjis on the stoves is easy and fast (especially if you have a cook) so who wants to hang around in the kitchen for so long? But once mastered baking can be tasty, healthy and quick. You do not need any fancy gadgets such as oven thermometers or meat thermometers – at least not just yet. You do need to be ready to do some trial and error with your oven. Each brand of oven has its own behavior, some heat up more quickly, some may brown on the top quicker, and in some the temperature is actually much higher than you had set. After you get used to your oven then baking efficiently will be achieved. Like with any recipe, read the entire recipe first before beginning any steps – and remember to hang in or around the kitchen to pay attention to what is happening with the food. Here are two sample menus where many of the dishes are baked.

Menu 1

  • Baked Fish or Paneer
  • Roasted Cauliflower
  • Possible Accompaniments: Mashed or roasted potatoes, garlic bread, or baked beans

Menu 2

  • Roasted vegetable sandwich
  • Soup of your choice
  • Baked Apples with cinnamon

Published in Pune Mirror, June 20, 2011

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