After the fear of my mother’s health, I learned to cook desi rich food in a healthier way.


This first-person column is written by Hina Husain, a second generation Pakistani Canadian. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.

I have always loved eating Pakistani food – desi the food is rich, spicy with aromatic flavors and packs a punch. And the stereotype that it can be bold… well, it can be true.

Even though I knew heart disease was rife in our family, it was not something my family actively considered.

This is why my mother’s angioplasty at the age of 54 was a wake-up call for me to better understand and manage my health.

It was only after his diagnosis that I learned that South Asians (including my Pakistani family) had some of the highest prevalence cardiovascular disease compared to other ethnic groups in Canada.

The fault is a more sedentary lifestyle, higher percentages of body fat and a diet rich in carbohydrates and added sugars, in addition to a genetic predisposition to this chronic disease.

Steamed veggies alone weren’t going to cut it

I could see that if I didn’t make a change in my life soon, I could very well end up on the same path as my mother.

So we both decided to manage our diet better.

The trick was how to incorporate these changes into our Pakistani diet.

The steamed carrots alone weren’t going to cut it. The idea of ​​cutting desi the nourishment of our daily intake was simply not a lasting possibility for our palates.

Hina Husain’s family has given up Pakistani cuisine. This boneless chicken curry was made with avocado oil instead of the more traditional vegetable oil. (Hina Hussein)

However, Pakistani food is very high in processed carbohydrates and high in starch (naan, roti, paratha, rice) and the consumption of fresh vegetables is not very high.

Back in Pakistan, salad meant serving a small side of diced carrots, radish or cucumber next to heaps of roast Where Naan to eat with a meaty main course. Red meat was consumed daily at home, often in the form of lamb or mutton curry. So the first thing I decided to tackle was my vegetable intake. To reduce my meat intake, I started to introduce two vegetarian days per week in my house.

I bought Pakistani cookbooks and discovered the mouthwatering vegetarian dishes of Pakistani cuisine such as turnip kebabs, sindhi karri (yogurt and turmeric soup), Cashmere haak (braised collard greens), and all the different kinds of dals (lentils) you can cook.

Vegetable and canola oils are a staple in Pakistani cuisines, but the type of unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils can increase the risk of heart attack.

After doing some research, we switched to avocado oil and moderate amounts of coconut oil for our daily cooking needs.

This Christmas, I bought my mom an electric steamer that she used every day to make steamed sweet potatoes.

She swapped white sugar for brown sugar to add to her daily cup of chai. She reduced her meat intake and started exploring more vegetarian foods to cook at home and in her steamboat, such as Gujarati. dhokla. With a flavor profile similar to Pakistani food, my mom quickly developed a taste for Indian vegetarian dishes, especially dose.

Hina Husain says she was surprised at the variety of local fruits, vegetables and grains that made delicious side dishes, like this chamborough made from Hunza apricots baked with cream and apricot kennels. . (Hina Hussein)

We have also started to pay more attention to local products.

Balance meat and vegetables

At the grocery store, I started shopping for vegetables that I normally walked past, thinking there was no way I would enjoy eating them. Most Pakistanis stick to turnips, spinach and eggplant for their curries (normally cooked in too much oil). If we’re open to more experimentation and exploration, I’m sure many of us are bound to find veggies that we can eat and consume that aren’t just steamed carrots.

Now instead of eating stacks of fries parathas with shami skewers at home for dinner, I serve a generous side of salads made with newly discovered vegetables, such as rapini, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts and leeks from my grocery store. I also make my own salad dressings at home, as the sodium content of store-bought brands tends to be very high.

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy a Pakistani meat meal nihari and butter naan, with just a pinch of cilantro on top. But these days are a treat that I make sure to limit.

Change is difficult, and it was not easy for my mother to give up foods that she has loved to eat all her life.

After years of experimenting and adjusting my eating habits, I now have a healthy weight and BMI for my body type, in part thanks to incorporating more exercise and physical activity into my body type. everyday life.

But knowing how many wonderful varieties of fresh, affordable, local and healthy foods are available all around us, tweaking a traditional Pakistani diet to be more heart-healthy isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

We must not give up skewers and tandoori chicken and saag gosht. We just need to add healthier alternatives to starch heavy carbohydrates and incorporate more fresh produce into our daily diet.

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