Gluten free diet is getting popular these days. I have many friends and bloggers who are making a switch to gluten free eating habits. Some might wonder what’s this diet about. For those of you who are unsure about gluten free cooking, this post is dedicated to you.
What is a gluten free diet?
As the name suggests, it’s a diet without gluten. A diet that excludes food containing gluten. In grains like wheat, barley or rye, there is a protein component called gluten. It is a specific type of protein found in certain grains. Gladly, they are absent in meat or eggs. This diet was popular among individuals who suffered from gluten allergies or those who were diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition which damages the intestine when gluten is eaten. When a person has celiac disease, his intestine doesn’t absorb the nutrients from the food. When a food with gluten was consumed by a celiac patient, the immune system responds by damaging the villi, tiny fingerlike protrusions found inside the small intestine gets damaged. It is the villi that helps to absorb the nutrients from food and flushes the good stuffs in to the bloodstream. If the villi is damaged or malfunctioning, the person becomes malnourished. Hence it is recommended by doctors to avoid gluten in their diet. They are denied from eating breads, cakes and cookies made with regular flours. Some beers and cosmetic products like lip balm may contain gluten. So it is key for them to watch the ingredient list in the label to see what works for their body and eat/use accordingly.
Good news is that there are lot of South Indian ingredients that are gluten free. I hail from Southern part of India and most dishes that are cooked in my kitchen fall under the gluten free category. Our staple dishes are rice and coconut based. We have been cooking these dishes for generations together and we are glad to know that they are good and safe for the body. It is a wonderful diet even if you not a celiac person. Like China or Italy, India cuisine evolved and developed with the local ingredients and each region has specific cuisine based on the weather and agricultural pattern. Northern India is where wheat based diet is popular as they are the largest producer of wheat, while Southern India is famous for rice based dishes as that was predominantly cultivated here. My blog carries a good number of gluten free recipes. Feel free to browse through them. Along with rice, wine, potatoes, eggs, fish, meat, fruits, vegetables and milk products are allowed on a gluten free diet.
Coconut is yet another popular ingredient used predominantly in Kerala cuisine and Tamil Nadu cuisine. South Indians love the flavor of coconuts. Coconut oil is predominantly used as a base oil to build this dish upon. Infact it is the only oil that contains lauric acid and its derivative monolaurin which is next found in breast milk. My mother makes a lot of dish with coconut, its milk and rice. For instance there is appam-thengai paal, idly, idiyappam, dosa, kozhukattai with white rice and brown rice flour. Even the desserts are made with rice flour, gram flour (besan) and milk. There are zillions of everyday recipes for rice dishes in South India. I highly recommend gluten free dieters to explore South Indian cuisine for various choice in their meals. Another excellent grain to work with is finger millet, also known as ragi in tamil. Click here to read about the dishes I made with it.
Coming to today’s recipe, its Tamil Nadu cuisine’s specialty dish called Thengai Sadam (Coconut rice). When I was teaching this recipe to my Caucasian friend I explained the recipe in an easy to understand manner. I told her we make a simple warm vinaigrette and mix that with rice just like we mix it with greens or any salad vegetables. That seemed to work well as she makes dishes like lemon rice, sesame rice, coconut rice pretty regularly like a fellow Tamilian. I taught her how to cook the base sauces and now she makes them hassle free and adds it to cooked quinoa, brown rice or cooked oats.
For the coconut rice, I made a simple tempering with mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and dry red chillies. A little shredded coconut is added towards the end of cooking and then mix the rice and garnish with some roasted peanuts or cashews for added crunch. Your thengai sadam is ready is less than 10 minutes. This is one of the rice dish offered to Lord Venkateshwara during “purattasi” month Saturday prayers (thaliyal menu) in Hindu household. Serve warm with any curry or plain potato chips will do.
THENGAI SADAM / TAMIL NADU STYLE COCONUT RICE
Source: My mother
Serves : 4
2 cups cooked rice (I used basmati rice, you can use Ponni rice or any variety you have at home)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon urad dhal / Bengal gram
10 curry leaves
3 dry red chillies
2 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut ( found in Indian grocery stores)
Salt to taste
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews
Heat oil in a kadai/ pan. Once they get heated up, throw in the mustard seeds and let it pop. Then add the urad dhal,asafoetida, curry leaves, dry red chillies and saute for couple of minutes. Switch off the flame and add the coconuts and salt. Give it a complete mix. Add the rice and mix well. Garnish with peanuts on top. Serve right away.Additional notes
1. Coconut rice makes an awesome entree for parties. Just cook the rice in bulk and add your coconut base. I have served mine Indian potato curry or fish or shrimp or chicken curry.
2. They are an excellent picnic food. I like packing them in air tight containers but make sure be keep it warm dry weather. Too much heat will spoil the coconut and make the rice taste bad.