Chetna Makan: ‘Takeaways are not healthy!’

-Jan 29, Caroline Blight, Living -

Chetna Makan's new book Healthy Indian is perfect if you want to avoid the high fat and salt content found in those foil packages that come from takeaways.
Chetna Makan wants to change the way we all think of Indian food and introduce us to a clean eating, healthy version of the classics – which is in fact more representative of the dishes cooked in Indian households. Here, she tells Lumity Life magazine how she’s teaching her kids balance, what they eat at home and why she’s on a mission to introduce us all to a really nutritious way of enjoying Indian meals.

Many of us see Indian food as the ideal late night ‘comfort food’ takeaway option and then lie awake groaning that we have heartburn and insomnia. Curry, whether that’s vindaloo or a madras, is often listed as one of the top five worst foods that you can eat before bed, when in fact if done right it could be incredible for your health. Think of all the good that vegetable options for curries and a side of cauliflower rice topped with turmeric could do.

Chetna Makan’s new book Healthy Indian is perfect for anyone who loves the fragrant spices of Asian cuisine but without the high fat and salt content found in those foil packages that come from takeaways. It’s the third book for Chetna, 40, who found fame on the TV show ‘The Great British Bake Off’ five years ago. We caught up with Chetna to find out how we can all enjoy much taster, healthy food in a flash.

Your book has so many easy recipes – do you think the idea that Indian food is tricky is something we need to banish?

I hear that a lot from my friends [that Indian cookery is hard]. When I cook for them they think it will be too hard but that is the popular thinking. That it would take ages when it doesn’t. I am surrounded by people who are not big cooks but they like to eat good food but don’t have the time, they are working mums but would like to make good food for the kids. So Indian food is great for that. Most of the kids I know love a good curry! 

Would you say Indian takeaway food is not generally healthy?

Takeaways are not healthy, there’s a shocking about of oil and butter which goes into takeaway food. You can’t really consider it as healthy and we don’t eat like that every day in India at all! I want to say to people this is not how we actually eat but the food in my book is how we eat.

What is your go-to quick dinner dish?

On a Monday our dinner is fixed – I am usually working from home and I will just go for tarka dal or any form of lentils. That’s how I start the week, I don’t even think about it, it just automatically happens. Everyone indulges a little over the weekend and come Monday everyone just wants that comfortable, warming food so I just cook lentils every Monday without fail. Lentils and beans are my go to actually. The black eye bean dal too because we all love it in my house.

People think that lentils and beans are just as tricky to cook as Indian food!

I don’t know why! I just don’t understand why people shy away from them and think they are time consuming as that’s not the case at all. Dal is so easy and so healthy. You can just put it on and go off and do something. With many curries you can just put them on the hob and just go off and do your bits, it’s so easy. That’s why I have chosen these recipes with ‘four ways with’ because you can make the base and change what you add to it. My husband is a vegetarian so I would usually make a version which is vegetarian, I love a chicken curry so I will put chicken for myself but you can use the same base but they taste totally different with different toppings. Which means the same dish you can get more dishes out of it.

Do your children cook?

They are at school so I can only cook with them at weekends really. Coming back from school they have clubs and homework so they aren’t free. Or they want to chill which I can understand. At the weekends yes and last weekend my daughter Sia said she wanted to make something. If it’s baking she will pick a recipe book and make it all by herself, I don’t help except for putting things in the oven. My son Yuv is not that keen right now but the other day I had made rice and curry and he really loves chapatis. He really wanted them and I had the dough in the fridge but was working so he took the dough out and rolled it himself and I thought, ‘actually why can’t you? You are old enough to make it yourself.’ 

Are they foodies?

They do love their food and they love Indian food as much as they love any other cuisine. Recently we were travelling and when we came back they just wanted tarka dal and rice. The first thing I did when we got home in the evening was to cook dinner and just to get back and make normal simple food was wonderful.

Are you conscious of what you eat?

For the family I am but I’m more relaxed when it comes to me. For them I’m conscious I am feeding them good food daily as they do sports and they are growing kids and they’re not fast food junkies at all. It’s so much easier to eat something at home. They have inherited their sweet tooth from me so because they eat so much sweet food I do like them to have healthy food. I still bake and we will have pudding after a meal and I don’t stop them at all, they can have their chocolate and cake but because they are having that much extra sweet they need to have a healthy meal. They can’t have fish fingers every day then cake!

Really you are promoting balance…

I don’t talk about diets in front of them as I don’t believe in them at all but I will say ‘this ketchup has so much sugar’ so they will sometimes mention it to their friends and tell them not to have too much! The cupboards are full of chocolate because of my work so I am trying to develop healthy habits so they know what they are eating. They have never had a fizzy drink or a diet Coke and they are 11 and 9 now and I’m not going to give it to them because I don’t drink fizzy drinks, there’s none in the fridge and I have told them how bad they are and that’s why we don’t have them. It’s those little things that they can understand so if they want a massive slice of homemade cake then go for it as on the other hand you are being more sensible.

How do you stay slim surrounded by food?

I love my food obviously and I love homemade cake – in fact I am just about to make some now – but I don’t snack. I’m not a snacker and I think that does help. I have had my lunch and will have dinner with the kids but I will only have maybe a cup of tea in the middle. I do exercise, time permitting, because I also love how I feel after I have exercised. But I genuinely think it’s a balance.

What is your favourite exercise?

I do like spin and I love running – it’s not happening right now though! Anything really but spin is nice, generally I go to the gym and do a few bits here and there.

What’s your beauty routine?

The only thing I use is eyeliner. There is no beauty regime in this house! The kids are so used to me not wearing makeup, I didn’t even wear foundation at my wedding as I do not like that at all. I am fond of my eyeliner and when I put it on my daughter will be asking ‘where are you going’ because that’s how little I use it. They know I must be going somewhere. I say just drink lots of water and eat the slice of cake!

Chetna’s Supper Club takes place on Feb 2 at Great Guns Social, check out for tickets. You can follow Chetna on Instagram @chetnamakan and read part one of her interview with us.

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