As the United Nations declared 2023 the Year of Millets, Chef Vikas Chawla has taken a bold step in the culinary world by opening North India’s inaugural millet-intensive restaurant, Jhumroo. Nestled in Chandigarh, Jhumroo epitomizes Chef Vikas Chawla’s mission to reintroduce the nutritional powerhouse of millets to modern dining tables. With a career spanning 25 years in the culinary realm and a penchant for innovation, Chef Chawla’s venture into millet-focused cuisine is a timely and significant milestone.
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Millets: A Return to India’s Culinary Roots
Chef Vikas Chawla passionately advocates for a return to India’s culinary roots, emphasizing that traditional foods like bajra, jowar, and ragi were staples before the prominence of wheat and rice.
Having personally embraced millets nearly two decades ago, he believes that it’s high time for others to make the switch too, not just for the sake of human health but also for the environment.
One of the remarkable attributes of millet agriculture is its minimal impact on the environment. Unlike conventional cereals like wheat and rice, millet cultivation demands fewer fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery equipment. Additionally, millets possess the extraordinary ability to preserve themselves for 10-12 years, a crucial advantage in a country where 30-40 percent of food is lost due to storage and weather-related factors.
Millets: The Food of the Future
The history of millets runs deep in India, dating back to the Yajurveda, which references foxtail and barnyard millets. This places millet consumption well before the Indian Bronze Age, around 4500 BC. As we look to the future, millets offer an eco-conscious and sustainable approach to agriculture.
Millets such as barnyard, foxtail, kodo, little, and brown top can be transformed into a diverse range of dishes, from pulao and khichadi to sweet porridge, biryani, upma, and salads.
Millet flours made from finger millet, pearl millet, and sorghum can be used to prepare chapatis, paranthas, pancakes, cakes, biscuits, and even smoothies. This versatility is one of the many advantages that millets hold over other grains like wheat and rice.
Health Benefits of Millets
Embracing ancestral foods like millets comes with a multitude of health benefits. These grains have largely evaded modern processing and refining methods, retaining their natural nutrients. A diet centered around ancestral foods may play a pivotal role in preventing hormonal imbalances and improving overall health.
Chef Vikas Chawla firmly believes that it’s time to revive the importance of millets in Indian agriculture and cuisine. At Jhumroo, he ensures that the menu is a reflection of regional Indian cuisine and street food, with a twist – all made using millets. From chaat to pakodas and aloo tikkis, the starters showcase millets’ versatility.
The main course boasts regional delights like Jammu style poori, Moradabadi Dal with Ragi Mathri, Litti Chokha, Jammu Rajma Chawal, Bajra Mooli Paranthas, and Barnyard Millet Khichadi, among others. South Indian flavors find their place too, with dishes like Pongal, Ragi special dosa, and a special sweet Vada.
The dessert spread at Jhumroo is equally enticing, featuring Gurhwali Jalebi, Gulab Jamun, and a never-before-seen ragi barfi that’s exclusive to the restaurant. Notably, Chef Chawla takes pride in using no vegetable oil or artificial fats in his dishes, relying instead on jaggery, millets, and a generous dash of love.
The Nutritional Advantage of Millets
Millets are naturally gluten-free, making them an ideal choice for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. The elimination of gluten from the diet can alleviate symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, while also potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
In addition to being gluten-free, millets are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Each variety of millet offers a unique soluble fiber, contributing to benefits like lower cholesterol levels, detoxification, improved lung health, anti-cancer properties, and better blood sugar control.
Furthermore, millets boast a low glycemic index (GI) score, which can enhance insulin sensitivity, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and promote a prolonged feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management.
The Sustainability of Millets
Throughout history, millets have played a pivotal role in agriculture due to their versatility and resilience. Their ability to thrive in diverse environments, including nutrient-poor soil and drought-prone regions, makes them an essential staple where other crops struggle.
By incorporating millets into our diets and supporting local farmers who cultivate them, we can contribute to a more sustainable and equitable food system. This shift benefits both people and the planet, aligning with the global imperative to embrace conscious and sustainable agriculture.
Chef Vikas Chawla’s pioneering endeavor, Jhumroo, is not just a restaurant but a testament to the transformative power of millets. As we celebrate the Year of Millets, this culinary innovation by Chef Chawla serves as an inspiration to embrace the nutritious and sustainable potential of these ancient grains. By doing so, we can foster a healthier future for ourselves and the environment.
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