Many south Indian recipes use coconut milk to make a curry rich and thick. Popular in Kerala, the land of coconuts, it gives the signature delicious taste to their cuisine. I had grown up with the belief that eating coconut is bad for you because it was high in bad fats and was full of calories.  Recently I have been seeing more coconut milk being sold in health food stores and chain groceries because coconut milk is being substituted in recipes by vegetarians who do not consume animal products and by those who are lactose intolerant. In discussions with some of my Indian friends and family, I began to question my lifelong assumption.

 

Coconut Milk and Heavy Cream

 

1 cup Coconut Milk Heavy Cream
552 calories 414 calories
Fat 57g 44g
Saturated Fat 51g 28g
Cholesterol 0mg 164mg
Fiber 5g 9g
Protein 5g 2g

 source: nutritiondata.self.com

 

 can of coconut milkYes, coconut milk has 33% more calories and 30% more fat than heavy cream. It even has a whopping 82% more saturated fat. On the positive side, it has no cholesterol and more protein. Experts will argue that coconut milk’s saturated fat is plant based rather than from animals so it is not as unhealthy as cream.

 

My sources believe that coconut milk is superior because those who include it in their diets have lower cholesterol and incidence of heart disease. I think there is more to it. The question should be stated: Which do you prefer? Since the data are not that horribly different and both are high in calories and fat, the answer should be use whichever you like, but in moderation: use light cream, light coconut milk dilute your cream with milk, or dilute your coconut milk with water. The bottom line is use them in you Indian recipes but don’t go overboard.

 

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During my first visit to India over 25 years ago, my husband and I feasted on many delicious meals in some of the five star restaurants in Mumbai and Chennai. Unfortunately the wine lists offered only a small set of locally grown Indian wines. Since I enjoy a good glass of wine at dinner, I was disappointed with the options. Most of the wines were sweet and tasted as though the grapes had been harvested earlier in the week. I knew that people in India didn’t drink wine or any alcohol in those days but India has a long, rich history with growing grapes for wine.

 

Grapes have been grown in India for over 5000 years ago during the Bronze Age when Persian traders brought them to the region. Wine has been made from these grapes for about 3000 years. Over time various groups for either religious reasons, as directed by some of the ancient texts, or for pleasure consumed wine. During recent history wine production and consumption flourished during British and Portuguese rule but public opinion eventually changed and alcohol was banned during most of the 20th century.
 

By the 1980s, attitudes started to shift and wine production started once again as India started to participate in the global marketplace and the incomes of the Indian people started to rise.  The early wines were syrupy and not very good. They could barely be compared to the cheapest California or French wines. Today, the story has changed.

 

During my trip to south India, wine lists at the best restaurants included some very good wines (offered at reasonable prices). The wine that was most often listed is produced by Sula Vineyards, located near Mumbai. Started in the 1990s, the owner started the winery and brought a winemaker from California to create Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines with their first release in 2000. The Chenin Blanc was available on almost all of the wine lists (including Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana in Dubai). The Sauvignon Blanc was listed but was only available at one of the restaurants at which we dined. I look forward to my next trip so I can taste more of Sula’s offerings.
 

Sula Wine from India

Sula Wine from India

 

Other wines that were occasionally listed on menus include:

 

Four Seasons Wines – produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Rosé at reasonable prices from grapes grown in Maharashtra, India since 2006.

 

Nine Hills Wine – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc produced by Seagram India, the Indian arm of Pernod Ricard since 2006.

 

Big Banyan Wines – produces seven distinct varietals of whites, rosés, reds and dessert wines in India.

Zampa Vineyards from the Valle de vin offers Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, sparkling rose wine and sparkling red wine of cabernet sauvignon sincd 2006.

 

In researching the wines I listed above, I noticed one thing they have in common – they started production in 2006. I strongly suspect this is due to changing values, interests and incomes of the young, upwardly mobile Indians who have been educated in the west or work with people in the west. As they started drinking fine wines, they wanted access to them at home or to be able to share them with family and friends. With increased demand for wine, it was only natural that resourceful Indian entrepreneurs would buy into foreign wineries and growing grapes to create moderately priced local wine.

 

Wine in India seems to be a growing trend and will be an exciting journey to follow.

 

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In my post on April 9th, I introduced you to my favorite instant coffee called Bru. It is from India and tastes just like cappuccino. Hindustan Unilever Ltd., India’s leading consumer goods company makes this delicious beverage. Known as a fast paced and progressive company, it is rapidly becoming the Starbucks of India. (I’ll tell you more about Starbucks in India in a future post.) The reasons for this are simple: young people in India have more disposable income due to their rapidly increasing salaries from the technology industry, they have more interaction with people from around the world thereby learning about the coffee craze and they spend more time outside of the home than their parents did.

 

Bru from Hindustan Unilever is meeting the competition head on.

Bru from Hindustan Unilever is meeting the competition head on.

The first thing Hindustan Unilever has done is to import, roast and sell rare, premium coffees from Brazil, Columbia and Kilimanjaro to attract the upwardly mobile young Indian coffee connoisseurs. These coffees are marketed under the Bru Exotica brand. The company says it freeze-dries the coffee in a unique method of processing that it retains the taste and aroma so it seems “farm-fresh.” This is really a surprise to me since India is a major producer of the best coffee beans, peaberry, in the world!

 

The second thing Hindustan Unilever is doing is to emulate the Starbucks coffee shop craze by opening its own stores. They already have over 40 kiosks across the country for people on the go that sell their Lipton tea and Bru coffee as well as other popular food. Now they have opened Bru World Café in trendy Mumbai that targets people who want to drink their favorite beverages in a social and comfortable environment just like several of the U.S. based coffee house chains.

 

This dynamic company is on the move by experimenting with products and outlets that meet the changing demands of the internationally sophisticated, young Indian professionals. I wonder when they will be opening a store in Dallas…

 

For more information check out these links:

 

http://www.hul.co.in/mediacentre/news/2011/bru-introduces-finest-coffees-from-across-the-world-inIndia.aspx

http://www.unilever.com/mediacentre/news/coffeeretailinginindia.aspx

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Good coffee is the key factor to starting the day off on the right foot in my household. So important, my wonderful husband brings me a cup first thing every morning (or, on busy days, he at least sets up the coffee maker). Back in December 2011, I gave my honest opinion of the instant coffee in Europe and south India in a blog entry. This time, I want to tell you what I think about an instant coffee that is made in India.

 

Bru, the instant Indian coffee that tastes likes Caupccio.

Bru, the instant Indian coffee that tastes likes Caupccio.

 

The coffee that contains chicory is called Bru and is distributed in the U.S. by Unilever. It is available in Indian grocery stores in both instant and ground coffee. My husband prefers the convenience of the instant coffee because he can heat a cup of hot water and cream, stir in a spoonful of coffee and be ready to enjoy his first sip. He has been drinking this as long as I have known him. He went through phases during which he drank my favorite Starbucks blend, decaffeinated blend from Costco and New Orleans Cafe du Monde coffee. Each time he has returned to Bru.

 

On the occasions when I run out of coffee, he makes me a cup of Bru. It tastes just like Italian cappuccino with a hint of chicory! It is delicious. (I don’t drink it every day because it is too strong without milk and sweetener.)

 

Why does he stick with Bru? It could be the chicory flavor that attracts him. Maybe it is the convenience when half awake at 5 am. Perhaps it is the cost. I can buy a bottle of Bru for between $4 and $5 each. That means each cup costs only 5 cents! (Major coffee manufacturers: look out!)

 

I will never know which reason is correct for why he likes it but I suspect it is a combination of all three. Yum!

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Since this is a very busy time of year in which people look for opportunities to save precious minutes by eliminating time-consuming activities like cooking I thought it would be appropriate to review another ready to serve dish that could be included in the evening menu. This way more time can be spent enjoying family with a hot meal rather than spending it alone over a hot stove.

 

This month I am reviewing Ashoka’s Punjabi Choley. Ashoka is the export brand for the major manufacturer ADF Foods which is located in Mumbai, India. This is another product that I purchased at an Indian grocery store rather than a national chain grocery. The package was priced at $3.99 but, with the buy one get one free offer, the price was comparable to other products on the shelf.
 

Ashoka's Punjabi Choley

Ashoka’s Punjabi Choley

 

As you may be able to tell, I love to eat chickpeas with their delicate flavor and high nutritional value.  This dish actually looks authentic. The curry, or sauce, has the texture of one that is homemade – I can see the bits of vegetables that were cooked down into the curry. The chickpeas had a nice flavor, not over cooked.

 

My only concern is that I think it has a bit too much chili powder. I don’t think this dish needs to be quite this hot. I also think that it could use a small bit more garam masala. I think that flavor compliments the chickpeas nicely.  Overall, this is a good dish.

 

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Continuing the series of taste testing ready to eat products, I selected Amritsari Cholle by Kohinoor that I found in one of the local Indian grocery stores. It is also available at chain grocery stores and wholesale clubs.

Known for high quality rice, Kohinoor, which is headquartered in New Delhi, India, brought its convenience foods to the U.S less than a decade ago for the Indian American market. They quickly realized that they had a huge market for their food with the entire U.S. population who wanted heat-and-eat foods so they expanded aggressively.

My hypothesis for the Amritsari Cholle was that a product made in India and sold in an Indian grocery would be authentic in flavor, texture and taste. After tasting this dish, I proved my hypothesis to be false.

 

Kohinoor’s Amritsari Cholle

Kohinoor’s Amritsari Cholle

 

The picture on the package depicted a wonderful 100% natural chickpea dish with a thick gravy that had some texture to it. When I poured it into a bowl, the sauce was thin with no character at all and there was way too much of it. In addition, it had more than a tablespoon of oil on top! The chickpeas were unusually dark so they looked unappealing and unappetizing.

A diagram on the box advertised that this dish was medium spicy. Actually, it had no heat. It had no flavor or taste. I will have to try a different Kohinoor dish in the future to get more data.

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In this entry I am reviewing MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala. This is another product that I purchased at an Indian grocery store rather than a national chain grocery. I am really impressed at the pricing of the convenience foods from India. At about $2 a package, they offer a healthy yet inexpensive way to put dinner on the table in just a few minutes.
 

I have seen the wide array of MTR products for years. The name, to me, doesn’t jump at me and scream “buy me”. When I looked up MTR on the Internet, I found that it is a huge company that began with a restaurant in Bangalore, India. It expanded into 100% natural convenience foods, mixes, pickles, chips, etc. with the construction of state of the art facilities for cooking and production. Now MTR’s food products are exported all over the world.


This dish contains chunks of paneer (Indian cheese made by boiling milk) in a tomato gravy. The flavor is very mild and would be an excellent selection for a novice to Indian food. It almost tastes like spaghetti sauce with a pinch of chili powder. I thought that the paneer was too rubbery. Unfortunately, fresh paneer stays soft and fluffy for just a day or two. When packaged, the texture changes. This is not something that MTR can change.


My only negative comment is that they have added too much sugar into the sauce.  I would prefer the sauce to be a bit spicier. After being married to a South Indian for 24 years* and living in Texas, I like my food pretty hot.

MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala, read to eat Indian food

MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala, read to eat Indian food


Overall, my husband and I both think this has an authentic taste and is a good buy.  Try it with rice or with a hot Paratha.
 
 

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* Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. Sorry the blog posting was late – we had a romantic  celebration dinner for four people (we rarely go out without our children).

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Continuing on the Tasty Bite path, I am reviewing their Madras Lentils this month. I may have given away my opinion of this dish when I talked about the company two weeks ago when I stated that I had purchased several boxes of it.


The Madras Lentils are very mild but have lovely flavor and texture. With an appearance that looks authentic, they can be served as an Indian side dish or, as I often do, as a bowl of vegetarian chili for lunch.  My husband commented that he would like it better with just a pinch of Madras chili powder stirred in but that is easily done based on your preferences. This is a dish with an authentic taste that is ready to eat in 90 seconds.

Tasty Bite's Madras Lentils, ready to eat Indian food

Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils, ready to eat Indian food


Enjoy!

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Tasty Bite is owned by Ashok Vasudevan who is originally from Bangalore, India. It was originally founded by a father and son team in Mumbai, India to bring high quality convenience foods to the Indian market. With a deep-rooted, traditional “cook it from scratch” mentality, the idea of convenience food didn’t explode like it has in the U.S. It was bought by Vasudevan and his wife, Meera, who now live in Connecticut. They expanded and marketed the line of convenience foods to grocery stores and wholesale clubs across the country.  

logo_TastyBite

Tasty Bite has become successful by living its values: “company, community, and consumer”.  It takes care of its employees by providing health care and education. It owns the farm where the vegetables are grown and focuses on conservation and renewable energy. The plant that produces the food is located nearby in Pune. And, it delivers a wide array of healthy, all-natural products at a reasonable price. Tasty Bite even contributes its food to relief efforts following natural disasters, like Katrina.


In my next entry, I will share my thoughts on some of Tasty Bite’s products…

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A few years ago I tasted a sample of Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils during one of my weekly visits to Costco. It was so delicious that I bought 2 boxes (8 packages). Since then I have bought many more ready to used Indian products and always keep a few in the pantry. This product intrigued me. It was made in India and looked to have the sophisticated marketing of a U.S. company.


Twenty years ago I would see a shelf about 2 feet wide of Indian food products on one shelf in the grocery store chains. From simmer sauces to heat-and-eat dishes, Indian convenience foods had hit the U.S. market; however, none were actually made in India. Ok, a few were made in the U.K. which has had a love affair with Indian food for 150 years. I now see a wide array of products in every grocery store. Not just one shelf but an entire section, from top to bottom. This tells me that Americans have caught the bug that infected the British a century ago and that they want Indian food without any fuss.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.


Indian grocery stores have experienced similar changes. Years ago, they sold mainly rice, vegetables, spices and cooking equipment. Now about 25% of the floor space is dedicated to frozen or pre-packaged ready to eat Indian food. Simmer sauces don’t exist but premixed spice blends are popular. Just heat some oil, onion, tomato, and garlic then add the spice. Dinner is moments away. U.S.-based Indian grocery stores have apparently wildly embraced the concept of convenience foods. Patel Brothers in Irving, Texas has dedicated the entire back wall of the store (the wide side of the rectangle) to frozen foods and a whole aisle to ready to eat foods that just need to be heated. National Imports in Carrollton, Texas and Taj Mahal Imports in Richardson, Texas have also dedicated significant freezer space and entire aisles to these foods.


It sounds to me like Indian food in the U.S. has caught on but people in the U.S. don’t want to spend the time to prepare.  Just heat for 90 seconds and enjoy!


I will be traveling to India in a few months and will check out to see if the same changes have occurred in the stores there. Has the “cook it from scratch is best” mentality changed? Stay tuned.


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