Chef Anjum Anand on Indian Food, Health and What to Eat as We Age

Chef Anjum Anand holds a plate of naan bread

Chef Anjum Anand is back with a new cookbook. Photo by Lisa Linder; Design and layout, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Anjum Anand has been dubbed the Nigella Lawson of Indian cuisine in her native Britain.

A best-selling author, she has written eight cookbooks and launched The Spice Tailor in 2011, a line of curries, sauces and chutneys available internationally and, since 2017, at Canadian grocers. She’s had a number of popular food shows in Britain and Australia and regularly contributes to the food pages of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Anand, 48, is considered a pioneer in health-conscious Indian food, beginning with her first book, Indian Every Day: Light, Healthy Indian Food, published in 2003.

During a recent visit to Toronto, chef Anand talked to Zoomer magazine about the intersection of the nutritious and the delicious.

TARA LOSINSKI: How is your latest cookbook, I Love India, different from the others you’ve written?

ANJUM ANAND: I had never done a cookbook with my favourite Indian recipes. And in the last 20 years, I’ve spent more and more time in India, and they have such wonderful recipes that I wanted to showcase. And I didn’t want them to be quick steps [like 2014’s Quick & Easy Indian], I just wanted it to be real Indian food for those who love Indian food. And it’s a little bit about my family, why I love India, what makes me Indian — because I grew up in the West — and stories with all the recipes that just gives it a bit of providence.

TL: Is it still healthy? We hear about how Indian spices and herbs are good for us.

AA: And everything else. Like tomatoes, cooked tomatoes are so good for you — they have so much lycopene. And onions. Onions are anti-fungal and antibacterial. Ginger is so good for you. And  garlic. So every curry, for example, is full of power health foods. And Indian food is actually quite simple; you take what grows on the land of your region and you cook it with spices. And the more complex the flavour, the more spices you add.

It’s a very healthy philosophy: eat seasonal, eat local and it’s all fresh. I think if you eat fresh food cooked simply you are being healthy.

TL: And then there’s turmeric. It’s been hailed a superfood, and people are taking supplements …

AA: It is a wonder spice. There are many of them, but turmeric is the most obvious. But you don’t just put it in a latte. It’s not going to give you the same benefit. But if you put it in some fat or if you cook it with black pepper, it makes it more bioavailable. And they say little and often is good because you’re not going to store up its health properties as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

And it actually hasn’t got a strong flavour. If you make roasted potatoes, add a bit of turmeric. You’re getting that health benefit, and the potatoes turn out lovely and golden, but you’re not “currifying” your meal.

It’s also great with cauliflower, and add a bit of ginger. Layer up the health properties. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory; it’s amazing for the brain and the joints and anywhere you have inflammation.

Chef Anjum Anand’s Warm Sweet Potato, Arugula, and Goat Cheese Salad from Eat Right for Your Body Type. Photo by Lisa Linder; Design and layout, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

 

TL: In your previous book, Eat Right for Your Body Type, you advocate eating food that’s right for you.

AA: The idea is, say, if you have dairy and you feel uncomfortable, there’s a big chance it’s not suiting you. Salads are not easy to digest for everybody. When I lost a lot of weight, salads were my main food, but I was bloated and uncomfortable, and at some point my digestion was just so compromised.

I went to an Ayurveda spa [in India], and the doctor, in a second, just looked at me and says, ‘You’ve got this massive imbalance and this is why.’ He just made it sound so straightforward. And after three years of feeling not right, I started to feel better.

So Ayurveda breaks it down into really simple things: this is how you should eat and the most important thing is your digestion. If you don’t digest your food properly, your food sits in your stomach, it ferments, and that builds up toxins — and when there’s too many, they outflow from your gut and go somewhere else in your system.

TL: So how do we know what we should and should not eat?

AA: In Ayurveda, there are three body types: one’s a vata, which is air, and you have pitta, which is fire, and then you have kapha, which is a mixture of earth and water, more earth. You eat to balance your type.

So when you’re a vata, the air body type, you need to remember to add moist food. You need to eat less dry food. And when you get older, because we all become more vata,  the body starts to dry. We can see it in wrinkles, your hair is drier, your bones are drier. There’s too much air.

So that’s why they say to make sure you’re having dairy products. And if you find dairy hard to digest, in India they’ll always say, well, cook it. Have hot milk with cinnamon and cloves and spices that make it easier to digest. You also need to have warm foods because the air can be quite cool — vata is cool. So you need to have warm, moist, nourishing foods — as much as you can put in your hand at each meal.

And the other thing I want to say is ghee. So ghee is clarified butter, and I know butter is one of those things that people are just scared of.

TL: So we should consider ghee a good fat?

AA: In Ayurveda, ghee is one of the most powerful medicinals. I’m so into it, and now ghee’s kind of come back up with coconut as a really good fat. It’s good for your bones. It’s good for your skin. It’s good for your nerves. And it’s good for your gut.

And a proper Ayurveda detox starts with consuming lots of ghee over the whole thing because toxins dissolve in fat.

TL: So there’s a place for fat, especially as we age.

AA: Yes. And basically, if you digest your food properly and you eat well, that is the way to live well. Ayurveda would say you should be able to live to 100 years in good health. And it’s mind, body and spirit — not just what you eat.

For recipes from Eat Right for Your Body Type, click here.