My father is an excellent cook! He makes the best palak chicken I have ever tasted. During my childhood living in Kenya, he would cook the chicken in the garden on a typical African hot stove called a Jiko surrounded by friends and family. These gatherings are popularly known as Koroga Parties. Koroga being the Swahili word for “to stir”. Made with butter, finely chopped red onions, the freshest tomatoes, fragrant coriander and tender, baby spinach – and finally a whole chicken cut into pieces – it was truly delicious.
As children we only ate meat once or twice a week. It was a treat. The beauty of Indian food is that there is a huge variety of delicious vegetarian dishes that means we didn’t miss having meat everyday. I never felt I missed out. It was only as an adult living in the UK that I turned to eating meat almost everyday. In fact, my partner Jeremy, doesn’t consider a meal is complete without chicken, fish or red meat.
It is well documented that both red and white meat are rich in proteins, fats and carbohydrates and essential minerals like calcium, iron and Vitamin B12. However, meats can be high in saturated fats leading to high blood cholesterol levels. High consumption of red and processed meats has also been linked to bowel cancer.
A vegetarian diet can be very healthy – provided that a balanced diet is consumed. Protein deficiencies, lack of iron and Vitamin B12 and, if you are a vegan, calcium can be issues if you do not eat the right variety of foods.
One of my friends Cheeku is an excellent cook – and has recently written Cook To Jhoom! – a cookbook on healthy Indian food. (This will be released this month – so watch this space!) She was a vegetarian for over 15 years and although she regularly cooked meat dishes – she never tried them. She relied on friends and family to tell her what they tasted like. Then, out of the blue, she started eating chicken. Whilst writing the cookbook and doing the nutritional analysis of each recipe she realised that she wasn’t getting any lean protein. Lentils and beans do have a lot of protein but they are also carb heavy. She also started running and learnt how good protein is to help build muscle. Since re-introducing chicken and fish to her diet she has lost weight and gained lean muscle! Read more about this on Cheeku’s blog http://cook2jhoom.wordpress.com
My sister is a wildlife conservationist in Kenya. She decided to give up meat on principle. It went against everything she believed in. She has now been a vegetarian for almost 20 years. Although she lives out in the Kenyan bush she has quite a varied diet – with plenty of pasta, rice and potatoes, lentils and beans, and fresh vegetables brought in from the nearest town. Even on a vegetarian diet she has bags of energy and seems to cope with living in the hot, dry and unforgiving bush environment.
The debate on who are healthier – vegetarians or meat-eaters will rage on at ad infinitum. Fortunately, we are all able to make our own choices – based on moral, spiritual or religious beliefs. A really good source of information is the NHS site – www.nhs.uk – which gives you some excellent tips on how to make sure you are getting all the right nutrients from a vegetarian diet and if eating meat – what types of meats and in what quantities are good for you.
As for me, I’m not ready to give up my father’s palak chicken, or my lamb sheekh kebabs, or my chicken tikka – but I do balance these out with healthy salads and lots of fresh vegetables!