Unani Recipes for Health
After reading the principles of Unani dietetics, also in this section, we present a sampling ofUnani recipes based upon these concepts. These dishes are balanced, meaning that all of the elements of heating and cooling properties are nearly equal.
Sometimes the hotter spices are present to offset cool vegetables, and vice versa. The overall effect of one of these meals, which would include bread, main dish, side dishes, and fruits, will produce the correct effects in the body. However, if one has been eating the so-called typical American diet of fast foods, many snacks, and lots of sugar, unusual effects may be felt. In such cases it is not uncommon to experience a flush of warmth or a slight fever. This is one of the effects from cumin and ginger. However, such things disappear within a day or two, and one is on the way to restoring the full functioning of all bodily systems. It is also common the first time one eats this cuisine to be excused from the table with great urgency to empty the bowels or bladder.
You will note that we do not present recipes for hundreds of different dishes. It is an unfortunate fact that most people live to eat, instead of eating to live. They make eating a contest to find ever more delicious and sumptuous meals, and seldom duplicate a meal in a whole year. However, the body will work much more effectively if a simple and basic diet is followed. There is ample variety in ten or twelve different main dishes to satisfy nutritional requirements. This cuts down on preparation time and costs less too, and the tendency to overeat is lessened.
In the various sections are basic recipes in the Unani system of health. They are derived from the cuisine of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and other places where the Unani system is in use for both health and medical treatment. Some minor adjustments have been made for transposing them to the United States. All of the ingredients can be obtained easily from health food stores or from Pakistani and Indian groceries.
The key to Unani cooking is producing a spice-oil-vegetable base. It does not matter which meat or vegetables are used, for they all turn out vastly delicious and satisfying. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that it will prove to be the most delicious food you have ever eaten, and is at once so simple and elegant that any guests will think you are a master chef, even after just a few tries at producing these recipes.
The most impressive features of Unani traditional cooking are its simplicity, the extraordinary deliciousness of its dishes, ease of preparation, and inexpensive ingredients.
The basic food around which the Unani cuisine is formed is rice. Rice is an annual species of cereal grass called Oryza sativa, which Confucius said is "a necessary and appropriate food for the virtuous and graceful life." It is said that eating rice increases pleasant dreams and produces an abundance of semen.
The "Lord of Rice"
While certain natural diets include brown rice, most Americans eat little rice. The average yearly per-capita consumption of rice in the United States is only twelve pounds, while the consumption in many Asian countries is as high as 400 pounds per year per person. In an informative article in East West Journal, nutrition writer Bill Thomson revealed the astonishing fact that there are more than 30,000 rice farmers in the United States, who harvest about seven million tons of rice annually, but two-thirds of it is exported. Mr. Thomson further points out that of all the rice consumed in this country, only 1.6 percent is brown rice, and he estimates that just 0.3 percent is organically farmed.
My own preference and recommendation for the staple rice in the diet is that variety called basmati. Known throughout the world as the Lord of Rice, basmati is a thin-grained, slender white rice, minimally milled. You should make certain to obtain genuine Indian or Pakistani basmati rice, which can be purchased from a health food store or Indian grocery. Even Sams club carries it now!
Some health food stores and cooperatives also sell what they call texmati, which is a hybrid strain of basmati grown in Texas and cannot be considered equal to the genuine basmati, which is hand-seeded, hand-cultivated and hand-harvested, and watered from the snow-fed rivers of the Himalayan mountains, then sun-dried. Brown rice could also be used, but for most of these recipes, the texture and flavor of basmati is preferred, and you will not get the same results using any other type of rice.
Skillets and pots should be of cast iron or stainless steel, and implements such as spoons of stainless steel or wood. There is a special frying pan called tawa that is useful if you make chapatis or other quick breads on a daily basis. It is slightly concave and proportions the heat in just the right manner to give the best results. If you do not have a tawa, you can use a regular frying pan, but watch the heat so that the breads do not burn. Some people cook with woks, but Unani is a slow cooking system, and the metal of woks is so thin that many of the sauces will burn. There is a special curved Indian pot, shaped just like a Chinese wok but much thicker. You can buy one at a good East Indian grocery.
Spice mixtures can be purchased from whatever source you like, or you can make them yourself from individual ingredients from the health food store. However, even health food stores may not buy the particular quality of spices or herbs used in these blends. Therefore, for superior results, invest in the basic stock of herbs for Unani cooking.
When you buy powdered coriander, garlic, cumin, or cinnamon from the East Indian sources, you will find them much less expensive than they are at a grocery store. For example, eight ounces of powdered cumin in only about $4.00, compared with nearly the same amount for one ounce in a supermarket. And these spices are really fresh and pungent, rather than the dried-out, tasteless spices sold in jars in most stores.
Ghee is a necessary ingredient in some dishes for best results. Ghee is clarified butter, which is made by boiling butter to separate the milk solids. You can buy prepared ghee for about the same price as raw butter. A little ghee goes a long way and will add a tremendous depth to your foods, especially curries. Some breads, such as parathas, cannot be made properly without ghee.
Chapatis are the basic bread I recommend to eat with the Unani cuisine. These are five-inch round, flat, unleavened breads, similar in size, shape, and consistency to the Mexican tortilla. Chapatis cannot, however, be made with either white or whole wheat flour, but require a special blend of whole wheat and semolina that is specific to chapatis.
Most people love chapatis when they eat them in a restaurant, but are sorely disappointed when they try to make them at home from whole wheat flour. It took me some time to discover that it wasn't my or my wife's fault that we weren't getting a good result. This special flour is a must. And it is very reasonable, only $6.00 or so for almost twenty-five pounds, enough for all the daily breads for a family of five or six for many months. You should make up enough dough to last several days (even for a week) at one time, and store it in a tightly sealed plastic jar in the refrigerator. The opportunity to eat steaming hot, delicious bread with each meal will be an ample reward for the small effort required in making these breads.
Honey, Salt, Spices & Oils
I recommend that honey be used wherever conceivably possible, and that refined white sugar be eliminated from the home and the diet, totally and forever. The single exception to this rule is that sugar is required to activate yeast when making breads. Otherwise, honey can always be substituted for sugar. Honey in and of itself is a healing substance, and the disastrous effects of refined white sugar cause a reasonable person to shun it entirely. You can sometimes obtain unrefined or minimally processed sugar in East Indian food stores. This substance is called gur (also known as jaggery) and resembles hard brown sugar. It can be used in some of the recipes in lieu of white sugar.
Salt is a necessary ingredient in cooking for health. I recommend sun-dried, unprocessed sea salt. The macrobiotic sea salt mined and sold by Niguro Miramoto (usually called Miramoto Salt) is the best in the world, but definitely expensive (up to $6.00 a pound). Read the label carefully on any salt bought in the store. Find one that does not contain sugar (yes, dextrose, or sugar, is the main adulterant in almost all salt sold in stores, believe it or not).
Some time should be expended on shopping for food and preparing and eating the meal. The cooking fragrances that fill up a homey kitchen and house send important signals to the body to conclude the digestive work of the prior meal. Even persons who work at full-time jobs will find these recipes easy to prepare, with a complete meal for five or six persons requiring not more than one hour of preparation. The secret of Unani cooking is in the spices and proportions used, as well as in the sequence in which items are added and cooked.
Generally speaking, I recommend using a pure, high-grade olive oil for cooking and frying. While it seems a bit of an extravagance to some, olive oil is the purest oil there is, and it will not turn rancid, not even in a thousand years (all other vegetable or nut oils soon turn bitter). Olive oil contains zero cholesterol. After olive oil, in terms of preference, come peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil.
Garam masala ("heating spices") is a spice blend that forms the basis of many dishes, particularly rice and meat dishes. The best garam masala can be purchased from an Eastern grocery. But if you want to make your own, its easy. Mix equal parts of powdered ginger, powdered cumin, powdered coriander, powdered black pepper, and powdered cinnamon with one-half part powdered nutmeg. There are quite a few different blends of garam masala, but this is a good basic one.
If you want to make a curry powder, make up the garam masala, and add to it:
1 part turmeric
1 part red pepper
1/2 part fenugreek
1/2 part black mustard seeds
Do not use ready-made curry powders. Actually a curry is a particular kind of dish and never uses a curry powder blend as an ingredient. As you will see in the recipes, the curry dishes combine all of the ingredients in a special sequence of preparation. Curry powders can never provide an eating experience comparable to these carefully crafted dishes.