How jaggery adds just the right amount of sweetness to your cooking pan and life
In Ayurveda, jaggery is used to restore energy. It can be used the same way in your every day cooking, too.
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I can’t make a sabzi without wading into the pool of 'too much' — too much salt, too much fat, too much contrast, too much intensity. I’m pretty terrible at holding back — both in my cooking pan and in my life.
In the same way, I can’t go along with the no-sugar edict.
I’m suspicious of the idea of privation when it comes to food. Anyone who regularly reads my columns will glean that this is because food and I have a history.
Food has felt — at different times in my life — like both home and exile. And a to-and-fro approach to 'sweetness' has been part of the journey.
When I was growing up, Mum used to keep an open can of condensed milk at the back of the fridge. Sugar was not forbidden fruit. Our diet was filled with spice and wholefoods. It was an Indian home — dried red chilli and coriander seeds ground fresh, onions diced, tomatoes parboiled, skinned and chopped. Never a pre-prepared packet opened — except for the odd can of refried beans on the rare nights Mum made burritos.
Mum dipped into that open condensed milk tin with a teaspoon whenever she needed a sweet hit. She knew that a little bit of sweetness brought a touch of the diaphanous to a quotidian existence.
Jaggery adds an extra buoyancy to everyday spices. (Photo: Author)
I don’t have an open can of condensed milk in the fridge, but I do keep my balls of jaggery in a silver tiffin on my kitchen bench. My youngest son, Ashok, stands up at the counter and nibbles on the jaggery with me, while I spice my nightly pans.
A nibble of jaggery. A lick of ghee. A finger in the salt.
For those of us with easy and abundant access to food, sugar is not a nutritional necessity. Neither is laughter as essential as breath. Though where would we be without both?
In Ayurveda, jaggery is used to restore energy. I use it that way in my pans, too. The rich molasses and buttery sweetness of this minimally refined sugar lends spice buoyancy.
A small knuckle of jaggery rock in a blend of chilli and tamarind is the bubble of delight that brings welcome effervescence to overt acidic heat.
In a cup of winter chai, jaggery cooked with tea and elaichi lights a low flame at the base of the belly.
Blending the sweetness of jaggery with the heat of red chillies adds a welcome effervescence to a boring sabzi. (Photo: Author)
Jaggery powder in a beautifully bitter sabzi of baingan is the light that allows us to digest all of that deep shadow.
These preparations I value more today for having lived my twenties in a self-imposed no-sugar exile, where my own weight of confusion around what life should mean led me to view deprivation as strength.
It isn’t. Deprivation is self-punishment.
Rediscovering jaggery in my thirties led me back to the arena of food as joy. Magic is important. Without its remembrance, life easily becomes a bog of work-deadlines and pressing practical chores.
Mum knew this.
Adding jaggery to food helps curb sugar cravings. (Source: IndiaToday.com)
Jaggery reconnects me with her and with that magic. In being reconnected, I can tap into the high-note energies that exist both in the world and inside me. When I can touch those feelings, I have no need of chocolate bar sugar-highs. Life feels sweet enough.
Jaggery is whimsy. It is the laughter in my pan and the sweetness that ensures my feet step lightly on the earth. It is the reminder of the diaphanous aspects of my own nature.
All of this is why I love jaggery.