Sunday, January 10, 2010

Simple Lunches - 19 (cabbage paratha with tomato relish)

If you want something "ask". This is the philosophy by which DH leads his life and he never hesitates to ask. I on the other live by the opposite philosophy, think 100 times before asking and if possible never ask. Psychoanalysts might give this a different diagnosis but we won't go there. We have saved money, learned stuff that we would never have and saved time because of his policy. We have 2 Japanese made cars (no not that company, the other one). I drive one and DH drives the other. The engine malfunction light came on in the one I was driving, the manual asked not to drive too far and take to the nearest shop/dealer. I should have checked if the car was under warranty before taking it to the shop but I would have been someone else better if I was that perfect :) The shop ran the computer diagnostics and charged about $150 and also told us the car was under warranty and should be taken to the dealer. If we had taken the car to the dealer directly, the problem would have been taken care of without charge. For me that would have been THE END but not for DH he called Honda and asked them about reimbursement for the diagnostics. He asked and they gave, it was that simple. Most companies want to do the right thing if only we would ask.

The same theory applies to grocery shopping as well I guess but not exactly in the same sense. Even in an impersonal supermarket or a large chain store if we have questions about a product we should certainly ask.I am not sure if you all do but I certainly don't. I get home and send an email or call and talk to the headquarters, which always does not give the best results, it is too impersonal. I am changing and now learning to ask then and there. The more people ask questions the more careful the businesses will be about where and how they source their products don't you think?

I want to add a disclaimer before we proceed to the second installment of the knowledge gathering posts. These articles are more for my benefit and learning experience than anything else. I am not in favor or against organic, local or conventional food and I will not make any recommendations. I will best describe what works for me and sometimes maybe forcefully but that does not in any way mean it is the only possible way. To be a good consumer we have to be an informed consumer as well. That is my primary motivation.

In the last post we discussed about the different type of seeds. Today we will focus on Organic farming practices.

When can something be labeled organic?
Say for eg. tomatoes, just if the tomato had been grown from an organic seed, can it be called organic? No. A conventional farm takes a minimum of 3 years to be converted to an organic farm. In other words it is the optimal time required for the ill effects of fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide usage to recede and the land can regenerate itself. The farmer also never uses any chemical products(pesticides, fertilizers, herbicide, fungicide etc.,) to increase yield. The organic label is not a purity test rather a standard for a product to be deemed organic.

Can produce be truly organic?
An organic farmer purchases seeds that are labeled as organic but there is no independent test conducted to see if the seeds were contaminated prior to usage, so if a batch of GMO contaminated seeds are mixed with the package of seeds, then the produce is still marketed as organic.

If there are conventional farms nearby using GMO seeds the contamination can lead to the produce not being truly organic. There are also uncontrollable external factors like water, pollution and cross pollination which can affect the organic index of a produce.

All said and done, produce grown without direct application of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides is in itself worth the higher price.

Source- The organic and non-gmo report

Differences in Organic vs Conventional output

"Our rice yields under the organic system are almost as good as before," he says, as his wife scoops up cow manure with her hands and pats it into disks to fuel the cooking fire. "And we're spending much less money on inputs, since we're not buying pesticides and fertilizer — although labor costs have increased."

- Amarjit Sharma,Punjab-India, an organic farming convert from conventional farming.
Excerpt from NPR 'In India, Bucking The 'Revolution' By Going Organic'.
Listen to the full story here.

The yield of wheat were about half after he switched from organic to conventional farming.

With my limited understanding of organic farming methods I was under the impression that organic farming yields were lower and the costs higher when compared to conventional farming methods. But this is not true, proven by the farmer from India quoted above and a 22 year farming trial study conducted here in the US showed that organic farming produced the same yield as conventional while using 30% less energy, water and no pesticides. Source

The single forceful argument given by conventional farming, industrial farming supporters has been the need to feed the growing world population. But the reliance on chemical products to increase yield has hurt the land, taking away the ability to regenerate itself and has harmed the land irreversibly denying future generations the ability to feed themselves. Short term profits and food supply cannot be the only goal. Male trout in the Potomac river are growing female sex organs - if we deny that chemical products in the atmosphere had nothing to do with it, we are probably all kidding ourselves.

Let's go back to 60s and 70s to India, India was a new democracy, food shortages were threatening millions and it needed badly to become self reliant in food production and hence the government's green revolution program. Many farmers like Sharma abandoned traditional farming practices and switched to pesticide, fertilizer usage and high yielding varieties of seeds. Crop rotation was abandoned, the same crop was repeated year after year. In the short term yields soared but then things went south. More fertilizer application was required to produce the same amount of yield and pesticide resistant insects destroyed large portions of crops.

Sharma again,
"We are not worried about how much yield we will get," he says. "We are worried about our families, and our children. We want them to be healthy. We will never sell or eat poison."
In the end isn't that what it is all about.

Huge companies promoting genetically modified seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have money and a big megaphone to promote what is best way to feed the world, (of course thereby increase their profits manifold) equating organic farming to a yuppy feel good kind of thing. Nothing can be further than the truth.

What is a consumer to do?
Does this all mean I only eat organic produce? No! I try to make choices the best I can. Organic produce are expensive and in most cases not always available. Some produce more harmful than others, so I either eliminate them or find the best source to get them. My uncle, refuses to eat eggplants bought from the market because they are doused with pesticides. I have witnessed them first hand when I started growing them in the backyard, they are highly pest prone. Best case is to avoid eating them when I cannot grow them but not practical as I don't live in a tropical country. Cut back immensely when the only option is to eat them from the store. I am no way saying this is an ideal solution but this is what I chose to do till I find another viable alternative. There are many such vegetables that have disappeared from our diet this way :( Not an ideal situation. What about tomatoes, onions and other staples. I don't look for organic, they are not available in most stores and so I buy them.

Only a few years ago the price of organic milk was astronomical, fast forward a few years to today, while the price is still high compared to regular milk (which has all become hormone free) has reached affordable levels or we have just learned to live with the higher costs.

If there is enough demand and education the days for good pesticide free produce is not far off.

If buying vegetables is this hard, consider buying fish, there is no organic labeling or is there?. We will tackle that next time.

After all this talk if you are still interested in food here goes,

I mostly have a like, dislike relationship with cabbages. This leads to them either being bought week after week or ignored for months on end. I was going through this dislike phase when I saw the recipe for cabbage roti on Veg Inspirations and went out and bought cabbage and made them the very next day.

Cabbage Paratha
1. 3 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
2. 1 tbsp yogurt whey or yogurt
3. 1/2 tbsp chili powder
4. 3 tsp of ajwain
5. 1 tsp cumin seeds crushed in the palm of your hand
6. 3 cups of finely cut cabbage
7. salt
8. 1-2 tbsp water
9. all purpose flour for rolling

1. In a wide mouthed mixing bowl mix all the ingredients together and make a stiff dough and set aside for half an hour.
2. Pinch of lime sized balls of dough and roll them evenly to 4 inch diameter circle, use the all purpose flour to dust the board and sprinkle on the dough to avoid sticking.
3 Heat a tava and place the rolled dough, cook on one side, flip and cook on the other side. Apply oil if desired.

Tomato Relish
1. 5 Red tomatoes
2. 1/2 Red onion sliced
3. 3 green chilies cut in 2
4. 2 tsp grated ginger
5. 4 garlic cloves sliced
6. salt to taste
7. seasonings: mustard, cumin and curry leaves

1. Heat oil in a pan and add the seasonings and when mustard starts to splutter
2. add the onion and saute till translucent. add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes
3. add the tomatoes and salt, cover and cook till mushy.


  1. This year, I tried to use only organic fertilizer in my little backyard garden. That, and your garlic-chilies pest-control advice kept me organic through the summer, at least. But you could drive yourself crazy with this -- what if your next-door neighbor uses conventional fertilizer and that blows across his yard to yours... etc. The best we can do is just that -- do the best we can!

    Concerning your DH's asking -- I am a firm believer that the only stupid question is the one you *never* ask ;)

    Cabbage paratha looks great, esp with the relish!

  2. Food shortages during the 60s and 70s in India forced us to bring Union carbide and the rest is history...
    Cabbage & Paratha is a different combination, I am not big fan of cabbage but would love to try it.

  3. I am more like you in that I won't go and ask questions or demand explanations but I hope to be able to grow out of that phase soon! I have read that some produce (more than others) give more bang for the buck for the organic premium: eggplant is surely one example. I try to atleast buy these organic. This is one of the many reasons I like our farmer's markets so much.. they make it so easy to buy seasonal local organic produce and eventually build some sort of relationship with the growers which is beneficial to both parties!

    Cabbage paratha looks great, btw!

  4. There are quite a few worms and pests in the veggies that I buy here - someone said that's good because they haven't been sprayed enough - I just think the pests have developed immunity.
    Eggplant - who hasn't cut into one and also cut a worm in half?
    Indo, or anyone here, have you used those bio-washes that claim to get rid of chemicals and dirt from the veggies and fruit? Are they good?

  5. wow..the paratha loos so tempting..

  6. Haha! Good disclaimer. I know some take everything literally instead of reading betn the lines and what we really are trying to say. I should do the same too! :))

    If something I see looks better and priced reasonably, I would buy it. Some are almost $2 more just because it's organic, then I will skip. There is nothing like homegrown veggies, let me tell ya. I don't even spray anything. If I see some plants (usually green beans) has holes and bugs, I will just pull it out and throw. Most plants grow nicely without any pesticides. I never use it.
    When we clean up the veggie patch, we just add some leaves and stuff to mix with old compact soil and loosen it before we plant. That's it.

    Yeah! In US specially, if you don't ask, you don't get!! That's what I tell my kids. Need help? Go ask for it. Did the teacher made mistake grading, TELL him to correct it. They do correct and they apologize!! :D

    Love Cabbage although it stinks at first, paratha looks yummy.

    Trisha left, a bit unhappy and sad today. Oh!!

  7. I ask questions at the stores, call/mail the companies and speak to CSRs - absolutely no problem there! but I cannot ask for personal help. Does that make sense?

    Brinjals - argh!! I had not given a thought about the pesticide levels in them. Yikes!! since it didn't show up on the high pesticide list (which I think they did only with commonly used veggies and fruits), I never gave it a second thought. No more brinjals at home from now on.

    I should send some of the people I know to your blog - They use Miracle-gro, buy conventional seeds or conventional plants, use sprays and boast they have organic garden. If not for the last part, I wouldn't have any problem with this arrangement. but the girl that I am, I prefer to keep my mouth shut.

    Parathas have been on my mind for sometime now. DH and Dd loves them (me too but I cant eat it) so I guess I will make some.

  8. The combination is very different and nice.But anything tomato, I am all for it:)Looks lovely!

  9. Linda, a resounding yes. We need to know that what we buy as organic is not always organic because of contamination but I agree there is no point in stressing about the veggies in the yard.

    Cilantro - sad right?

    PJ, finding orgnaic organic eggplants has not been easy, but I will buy European eggplants without a second thought - perceptions!

  10. Sra, no I have not used those. If I were to buy one I would look at the active ingredients to see if there is chemicals there.

    I mostly soak veggies and fruits in water with some salt and in some cases a tsp of vinegar.

    Asha exactly. hopefully T will feel better soon.

    Kay, organic eggplants are not easy to find :( soak them for a while with common salt and then use them.

  11. Indo

    I am like you :) I ask but not like where I don't know the people I am supposed to ask.

    I agree with you that because of consumer demand --> bigger companies jumping in, prices of organic milk has reduced. Even my price club carries a lot of organic stuff as opposed to before.

    My only concern in this whole thing is "Am I being selfish, trying to eat the best because I have a choice in sharp contrast to people striving for 2 square meals a day ?"

    Baby A's nanny says in Bangladesh, food is so expensive that a regular middle class finds it hard to buy and feed the family unless a member of the family is working abroad.

    And that is the story across many countries. But yes short term goals as you said will not work wonders.
    I had a post some time back inspired by a NatGeo article(

  12. Sandeepa, We are confusing eating right to eating the best. Refusing to eat pesticide laden food make you a yuppy - so be it. Eating it without reservation does not help the poor family who is struggling to get 2 square meals a day. We cannot deny the fact that what we refuse to eat will not be sold and change will happen.

    In the same vein,
    1. Fast food is cheap, does that mean poor people should be encouraged to eat more of it?
    2. How about tobacco farming, should that be encouraged becasue it provides livelihood for poor farmers?
    3. How about farmers in third world countries using chemical products and land losing their farming capacity in a generation?

    The article you mentioned in that post is a timely reminder. exactly what I am trying to say.

  13. The story is a bit different at ours..If N wants to ask something he is not sure of, he'll make me ask that Q and look stupid..Hmmm..Or sometimes I look like the geek who knows everthing because of that..

    Yup, choose organic as much as you can and work your way around others..Our garden didnt have pesticides but it came out well, we could taste the "pulippu" of home grown tomato that is missing in the roma tomatoes here..

    Tomato relish is my fav..

  14. Indo

    I think you are correct but you know somehow I feel guilty of having too many choices. Man, you make me think so much ;-)

  15. Very informative post, did not know that eggplants required more pesticides to survive. That will definitely make me rethink buying regular eggplants from now on ! I agree that organic is now priced better than before but sometimes they can still be quite pricey !
    Also I am so glad you tried these parathas,loved the relish you made to go with it !

  16. The proponents of Industrialized Farming who say it is required for the growing population never take "ghost acres" into consideration. All those petrochemical fertilizers do come from somewhere else, don't they? IF is one of the main causes of depletion of top-soil.


  17. My dad would always buy vegetables not so good looking and with holes and bugs. I would get irritated if i ever went to bazaar with him until the day he explained that he does it as these veggies had not been sprayed on... he himself is a botanist.

    I rarely use fertilizer in my yard.. infact never did (but i do some for my indoor deco. plants)

    Here we are trying to move to as much organic we can afford at this time.esp. the fruits etc.. which we eat without cooking, milk, meat. Love farmers market - organic is cheaper there.

    Love the sound of the tomato relish. I make something similar; never thought of posting it, but will do some day.a

  18. Awesome!saved it for my future venture.helpful write up toooooo.


  19. I think as Indians we have been taught not to question much - we were even told not to ask someone where they were going when they left the house!!!!

    Old habits die hard, but yes like you, have been asking many more questions now!

    I love gobi parathas even more than alu parathas - the crunch is fabulous!

  20. Wow,thats a powrful statement from a farmer "will not eat or sell poison". How long should we wait to hear this from all the rest of the world ? I feel humankind in th name of research dandle themselves into unresolvable problems and return to primitive lifestyle after realizin it! Why should we do research at all ?

  21. Oh how did I forget the cabbage paratha? That looks fabulous and the relish is actually striking a chord. I am making it for this pongal!

  22. Thanks ISG for the informative post. I watched Future of Food last week and that provided me information about GM foods. It also brought in a sense of rage, fear, helplessness. Even after watching that I was not sure if a produce can be truly organic. You have answered that question very well. Great post.

    Love the cabbage paratha and the tomato relish.


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