Monday, October 1, 2007

Indian breakfasts

When my son joined playschool in Gurgaon, I was quite surprised at the habits of many of the kids and their parents. I was working part time - in the afternoons - and so preferred the morning classes, which began at 9 a.m. In any case, I believe school should start early and let the kids go early so they can rest in the afternoon and have a nice long evening ahead for play. One term, it so turned out that the morning class had very few people registered and would be combined with the afternoon class. The playschool required a parent to go with the child. I couldn't shift my work schedule, so I asked if the afternoon class ( starting at 12 noon) could be moved to 11:30 am, so that I could attend, then rush off to work. All the other mothers, who happened to be stay at home moms, flatly refused, saying that it was hard enough for them to get their kids out of bed, bathed and breakfasted by 12 and it would be too hard to move it up by half an hour. It wasn't their refusal but the fact that they saw it as perfectly natural that their kids would go to sleep really late ( around 11 pm, or even midnight in some cases) and wake up anywhere between 10 and 11 in the morning!

Anyway, this is a blog about food, so on to the second shocker - despite living in India, barely 1 or 2 kids out of the 15-20 in my son's class had anything Indian for breakfast. Most of them had a boiled egg or toast or cereal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a banner-waving purist who insists only on Indian food, but there's such a lot of variety in Indian breakfast foods that it just seems a travesty that people are disregarding them and rushing into white bread/ sugary cereals. The other food shocker was what most of the mothers saw fit to pack for school picnics/ lunches. Without exception, cookies, maida-cakes, bags of potato chips, fried potato smileys, white bread sandwiches with mayonnaise and colas would be packed, whereas I, like the ultimate nerd, would have worked overtime to make healthy whole wheat, sugar free muffins. In fact, at a recent birthday party, I saw a mother carefully helping her 2 year old child to drink a whole glass of coke. When the kid said he'd had enough after draining 3/4ths of the glass, the mother actually pushed him to finish the glass. All this while urban India, particularly among the educated classes, is going through a child obesity epidemic. I just don't get it!

Anyway, so we usually have a varied breakfast through the week, with lots of Indian dishes thrown in. A couple days of toast ( wholewheat, natch, with fake boursin - the recipe is in the archives somewhere), a day of muesli with fruit and skim milk, upma or poha a couple days. Maybe idli one day. Sprouted moong salad on some extra-healthful mornings. Besan chillas in the winter. And moong dal chillas in summer. Of course, occasionally the gourmand in me comes out and grins evilly at a plate of puris with tari wali aloo ki sabzi!

We had moong dal chillas today, and as always, I was amazed at how delicious, yet how simple and healthful they are. Moong dal chillas are a pretty filling meal too, so lunch can be as light as you like. They are quite a bit like Pesarattu which is another thing I love for breakfast.

Moong Dal Chillas
2 cups moong beans, soaked overnight
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
Salt to taste
2 small Onions, chopped fine - optional.
1 tbsp oil
(Makes about 8-10)

In the morning, grind the soaked moong dal into a smooth paste, with water.
Add the cumin seeds, chillies and salt and stir to mix evenly.
Add the onions if you like ( I usually do like).
The paste should be of a pancake batter consistency ( thinner is better if you want the chillas to be crisp) - add more water after grinding, if necessary.

Heat a tawa ( frying pan) until it is medium hot. Use a rounded tablespoon to pour a tbsp of batter in the center of the tawa and working quickly, spread it using the back of the spoon in a spiral motion outwards.
Spread a tsp of oil ( peanut oil for choice) around the edges of the tawa.
Wait till the chilla batter starts looking dry on top, and brownish in the center.
Use a flat spatula to lift the chilla, working at the edges to smooth it away from the pan.
Flip over and cook on the other side.

When spread well, the chilla comes out deliciously crisp on the center, with mealy edges. Its spicy taste and green appearance is well complemented with roast red pepper chutney, red chilli ranjaka ( I'll blog about that later) or just plain mint and dhania chutney and ketchup.

The same chilla is also made using besan ( chickpea flour) instead of moong dal. The difference is that the besan version is instant - you just mix the besan with the other ingredients and water, cook it and serve. No soaking, no grinding. My kind of food!


Raaga said...

Well... consumerism has made things the way they are.

I must admit that I too eat stuff like froot loops every once in a while for breakfast so if I had children, it may be dificult for me to not let them eat the stuff. But hey, cakes in my time were all flour cakes... we didn't have access to much coke and fanta then, and I still don't crave them. I don't believe that a lot of the stuff you've mentioned is all bad :-) we ate bread so often :-) But yes, I agree completely that some parents don't make the effort AT ALL. And then there are those that do... and their kids have to fight peer pressure.

And the late nights!! I have seen people bring their kids to parties and restaurants as late as when we're about to leave... and we're full grown adults!! I am so with you.

Happy cook said...

When i was small it was always indian breakfast, but then it was years and years and years :-))))) ago.
I can't have any opinion about it as i am not living in india.
Here i never make indian breakfast. It is always toast bread with jam or nuttella etc.
Once a week i do egg and bacon for my hubby and daughter.
But my sister live in India and she have 2 kids, she makes every day Indian breakfast dishes like, dosa, puttu, uppama etc. When i am in her place for holidays i have never seen her kids having bread or cereals ad their mom makes these breakfast dishes for them.
That doesn't mean her kids are not having all the sweets etc which is widley available.
I guess everthing in moderation is my theory.

Asha said...

I agree with Happy cook. We as kids ate Indian breakfast, good ones and no sweets at all.
After we left India, we just don't feel that hungry here,so it's just cereal,Toast,juice etc for us. My daughter doesn't want to eat at all in the morning but I won't let her go to school without eating something, bit of juice and a multi Vitamin.
Moong Chilla sounds wonderful, healthy and tasty.I would make that for dinner!!:))

bindiya said...

I totally agree with you and great thoughts and a great recipe are such a good combo!

bee said...

this is a wonderful post. i don't get these attitudes, either.

Pooja V said...

I completely agree wid u, Early to bed , Early to rise makes you healthy , wealthy n wise. It is a very good habit and kids should be taught this at a tender age otherwise it becomes very difficult later on.

Latha said...

a good post. I most certainly agree on putting kids to bed early and getting up early. Most parents don't realise less sleeping hours makes the kids go crazy and they just can't express that they're tired.

Well... living in Europe we eat Indian b/fast only on weekends. With the variety of good n healthy breads and i suppose also for this climate it's good n filling. And also my boy must get used to eating such b/fasts since we often meet our friends over brunch.

Even though our son sticks to routine of getting into bed at 8 and getting up at 6.30 i find his routine is spoilt, no matter how hard I try, whenever we visit India. First of all the surrounding is too noisy.. here people barely make a noise after 7 and he's used to that. And plus we adults don't want to give up on non-stop serials. I read somewhere TV-noise can make the children restless and hence they just can't hit the bed in peace:)

Suganya said...

Not sure about the non-Indian nfast foods. But chips, coke and cakes...Westernization comes as a package, I guess.

bird's eye view said...


I agree that not all the stuff is all bad. But like Happy Cook said, everything in moderation. My viewpoint isn't never indulge, but do it occasionally and especially teach the kids that it's an indulgence, not everyday behaviour.


I bet it will make a yummy dinner too, it's just usually so hot here that our dinner tends to be very light.

Thanks Bindiya, Bee and Pooja.


That serials thing is one of the things that surprises me, especially when parents let their young kids watch the kind of serials telecast today, with all kinds of adult content.


I guess it is part of 'westernization' but it is also up to us parents to choose selectively. I'm not a health food purist, and enjoy a bag of chips or an occasional glass of coke as much as the next person, but because I bring it home so rarely, my son already knows this is 'junk' food and not to be had every day.

Dhana said...

This is a great post! Especially as childhood diabetes (and adult) has reached crisis levels in India, with little or no awareness about it. You should work with the school to teach a class on what food the kids get to school me thinks (a la Jamie Oliver ;))