April 5, 2015

Lunch Wraps

April 5, 2015
Like all patterns of behavior, you can change food habits, too.

Last October I went cold turkey on sugar. I didn’t intend to quit sweets permanently, but wanted to experiment what – if any – short-term benefits reduction of glucose has on my health. Little did I know how much it would affect my cooking, eating and well-being!
Up until I was 40, I had a healthy relationship with sugar, and honored a sweet treat usually on Sundays during a feast in the temple ashram. When my interest in cooking developed, I found desserts to please most people: serving a knock-out cake or fudge would patch whatever shortcoming the main course might’ve had. When I started to organize cookery courses, baking pies and cobblers along with preparing candies and puddings became everyone’s favorite class. To the degree I enjoyed inhaling the scent of caramel, cardamom and butter in the kitchen – who wouldn’t – my tongue acquired more and more sweet taste, and sooner than I realized, I was buying ice-cream, chocolate bars and vegan gummy bears from the shop – something I hadn’t done since my teens.

Within a couple of years an innocent pleasure transformed into sugar addiction. Instead of supplying energy for the body, the constant munching of confections made me chronically fatigue and contributed to all sorts of ailments from brain fog to eczema, hot-waves, insomnia, heartburn, over-weight and other endocrine complications. Finally, when a blood vessel in the wall of an ovarian cyst ruptured and caused me to bleed all September and the beginning of October last year, I was inspired to break up the love affair with sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, I was ready to do anything to alleviate the physical mayhem, hoping that paying a closer attention to nutrient intake would help my hormones to moderate energy reserves and balance out the metabolism.
Of course I had cravings at first. Every afternoon around 4 pm, when the blood glucose levels hit rock bottom, the mind knitted hypotheses to refute my new found sugar-free lifestyle, and statements like “you are seduced by righteous eating” and “you have orthorexia nervosa or abnormal attachment to health food”, and “eating is a social experience you are ruining by your fanatic attitude” ambushed my determination. At the same time, there were results that counteracted these arguments: the eczema I had battled with for six years cleared out; I regained a normal sleep rhythm; and all premenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, heartburn, irregular periods and moodiness ceased. When I figured out, in two or three weeks, how to maintain a steady energy level by increasing fats and proteins in the morning, and consuming highly concentrated nutrients from items like raw beets, avocadoes and cruciferous greens on each meal, I no longer hankered after creamy tarts and pastries. My body started to burn fat instead of sugar and, as a bonus, I lost 12 kg (26lb) within six months. It seems that by replacing excess sugar and carbohydrates with more substantial elements, the body will gradually burn its fat supplies, and find its ideal state.
From the point of view of food-blogging, I’m facing identity crises. The most viewed posts on this site have been infused with sugar. Some of you may wonder if I’ve become a food-fascist that will  torment you by condemning all syrup-dripping desserts by uploading only vitamin-laced recipes from the platform of entitlement!

I haven’t worked it out yet how to proceed or whether I will ever cook with sugar again. Probably when time goes by, I might start adding a teaspoon of sweetness to cancel overly sour ingredients like tamarind or tomatoes, but for now I’m happy to stick to recipes that don’t require even that. My objective is to be stronger and more active in my 50’s than I ever was in my 40’s and, somehow or other, I hope this blog will reflect the mood, too.
Letting something go is never one dimensional. Omitting sugar from the diet bound me to fresh foods – salads, sprouts and all kinds of greens, and fruits – which I hardly ate before. In some ways I think I have been “a carbohydrian” or “a protenian” rather than a vegetarian, because grains and pulses covered my plate in a larger extent than vegetables. Now I find myself thinking of food in a different way, and couldn’t imagine a meal without an uncooked component that gives the instant burst of vitality. Instead of eating cooked beans and lentils daily, I prefer them three or four times a week in small portions. Unlike before, I can well skip rice and bread.
I’m developing new recipes every day. Here is one of them:

Butterbeans, cashews and oven dried cherry tomatoes wrapped in lettuce leaves

250 - 500 ml (1 - 2 cups) butterbeans + water for soaking and cooking
Lettuce leaves
A bunch of watercress
A bunch of sage leaves
Oven dried tomatoes (recipe here)
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp hing powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
250 ml (1 cup) cashew nuts
1 Tbsp desiccated coconut
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dry roasted jeera (powder)
½ tsp amchoor powder (green mango powder)
1 tsp kala namak powder
1 ½ tsp Himalayan salt

Sort, wash and soak the beans overnight. Cook them in a pot or pressure cooker until they are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Wash the lettuce, watercress and sage. Set aside to dry.

Heat up the olive oil over a moderate heat and add the hing and cayenne powder, immediately followed by the cashews. Roast the nuts until they are light golden on all sides.

Add the coconut and toast until they change the hue and become fragrant.

Add the beans, tomatoes and sage leaves. Sprinkle everything with black pepper, jeera, amchoor and kala namak powder, and salt. Remove the pan from the stove.

Place a spoonful of beans in the middle of each lettuce leaves, and add a couple of stalks of watercress. Wrap up the leaves and secure them with cocktail sticks.

If you cook the beans and roast the tomatoes in advance, it takes only couple of minutes to assemble a quick lunch or snack.

I sprinkled the tomatoes with olive oil, cayenne powder and Himalayan salt before roasting them. You can use other spices and herbs for variety.

Thank you.


  1. I am so happy to hear this! I adore your blog in every way, but since I don't "do" sugar or wheat I found many of the recipes were limited to enjoying your stunning photography. Enjoy your new journey and thank YOU.

    1. Thanks Marianne, I’m happy to hear you are pleased!

  2. Dear Lakshmi,

    What an inspiring post. As someone who can easily talk myself into a sweet treat, I am impressed by your patience! Will you one day present a typical day of eating to spur me on my own quest? :)


    1. Dear Indira,

      Sure, I will be happy to write a post about our typical table throughout the day. Thanks for the suggestion.

      It’s the beginning of all good things that is hard. Once you practice something – anything, really – you develop a habit that changes your outlook and becomes your nature. We all need help and support to start a task.

      Ideally, transformations should be smooth and gentle. When we are forced to change in the face of a bigger threat, it takes more radical measures.

  3. Thank you for shaing your story.

    I find it quite hard as a relatively new food blogger because it is clear that baking blogs are probably the most popular out there. And it's easy to see why: cakes look so pretty and just the thought of eating them puts a smile on my face. But of course the reality is eating those things regularly doesn't make me feel particularly good and hence dedicating a blog to sweet treats I know isn't the right thing to do for me.
    Therefore, I am so, so excited to see what will happen here on your blog. Keep the healthy food inspirations coming :)

    Wishing you much strength on your low sugar path.

    1. Kimberly, I’ve been thinking of what you said about the popularity of “sweet” blogs. It’s true; yummies draw most attention because they transmit a guilt-free ideal. Who of us wouldn’t like to indulge in pleasures without worrying about consequences? But, in this world, every scientific and common sense analytics show that excessive sugar intake contributes to physical deterioration. Ignoring the fact doesn’t remove the problem.

      Personally I always ask the question: what is my motivation? It also crossed my mind that omitting desserts will probably result in lower interest and statistics on the blog. But whether one person reads and finds something valuable here or hundred thousand people read the blog, won’t really affect my reality and life. Why to worry about such things? My job is to do whatever I’m designated to do as well as I can in the consciousness that aligns with proper values and philosophy – that’s the field I can improve and influence. The rest is less important.

      As someone who photographs, I’m a bit sad that I can’t shoot cakes and cookies anymore because they are so much easier subjects than eggplant stew or beetroot casserole. It’s a new challenge to find attraction in seemingly unattractive objects.

  4. Thank you this post is inspirational!

  5. Lakshmi:
    I love your blog and your food journey. No matter what you post about, you are always thoughtful and inspirational. I haven't cut sweets out of my diet entirely, but I find I eat them less and therefore write about them less on my blog, Gathering Flavors. You have a way of making everything beautiful. Like the photos in this post, I look forward to seeing more.

    Thank you.


  6. Hello!

    I read you for a long time but I never commented.
    But I wanted to say that this is exactly why I visit your blog: I came and stayed here for fresh recipes, new inventive ways of healthy cooking according to the seasons. So please, stay true to yourself and thank you for this courageous and valuable content and editorial line.

    I am trying to regulate my relationship with sugar too....
    To be honnest, I have never been craving for it but never stopped eating some. I try to restrain myself to once or twice a week. Rest of the time, I totaly avoid rafinated sugar and only eat fresh fruits or soy/rice yogurt. But it's hard! I really find your way of living interesting and admire you for cutting off totaly.
    I really find myself in what you write: the social bound that food can represent. I'm French and food has a special place in our culture. I have turned vegetarian and I am trying also to cut drasticaly on animal products. I won't become vegan but I really watch this carefuly. Eating with friends and family became difficult and the same problem exists with cutting sugar: my friends can really feel armed if I refuse to try out a cake they would have baked for us when we pay a visit. I never asked for special menu because visiting a friend or anybody is highly symbolic: it's like this person is inviting you in his/her inner culture, and it is a beautiful and touching priviledge and mark of confidence, that I can't refuse. But even refusing to eat something which would have been cooked for the occasion can be a vexation... At least, everything is far more simple when I invite people to our place, because no one ever complained about the food, and friends are often surprised when I say they loved a 100% vegan plate! ;) Or cookies that only used 3 taplespoons of raw sugar. They love to laugh about my "nothing cookies": no eggs, no butter, no milk and barely no sugar. Whereas they love to eat them! ;)

    I hope I don't bother you too much with my dilemas! But it is one of the first time I read an honnest testimony on this!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience and understanding of the social importance of food. You are making a very important point: sharing food with friends and family enhances the experience of eating and nourishes the mind and intellect as well as the body. If you look at any of the old food-cultures in Europe and Asia, gathering around the table is prominent. Only in modern times people no longer have time or interest to do it. Following special diets makes it also more difficult, as you describe. I understand you very well when you say that you never ask for a special menu when visiting others and rather take the inconvenience upon yourself than imposing it to the host. In a place like France where there is such a strong culinary tradition, it must be very difficult to be a vegetarian. You have a great attitude and openness, and I’m sure you’ll be able to eventually work out the dilemma. Good luck!

  7. I also appreciate your writings & your will power to go completely off sugar. I am vegatarian & try to limit sugar. Please continue describing what you are eating & how to prepare. I would also like to know the source of many of the uncommon spices, etc. that you use. The butter bean dish sounds really good, but I am unfamiliar with some of the spices. You are so right about sugar - it is addictive & harmful- and have a strong will power. Keep the writings coming!! Thanks. Mary Ann

    1. MaryAnn, thanks for the interest. The spices I’m using are from India. I buy them from an ethnic store here in Finland, and sometimes online directly from India. All of them are very common and you can find them anywhere in the world. Jeera, for example, is cumin, but I call it jeera instead of cumin because at least in Europe people often mix it with caraway. If you look at the index of this blog on the navigation bar on the top of the page, you’ll find that I’ve previously introduced most of the spices. Please click any of the links there to familiarize yourself with those that you don’t know yet.

  8. Very inspiring, as always, Lakshmi. I have to admit that I have a sweet tooth and it hits hard after dinner. Even though I don't make dessert for daily dinner, I do munch on dried fruits often. I am trying to carb carbs and sugar, not sure if I can omit entirely yet. However, you've motivate me. Thank you!

    1. If you are healthy and have a balanced lifestyle – eat well, exercise, sleep properly and feel satisfied – there is no reason to completely give up sugar! Of course it is better if you get it from natural sources like vegetables, grains, fruits and berries, but it’s not detrimental to eat processed sugar every now and then. When it becomes an addiction and emotional need, then it might be a good idea to evaluate the situation. How everyone’s body deals with garbs is different.

  9. Thank you for sharing! I'm looking forward to more of your new recipes!

  10. Hello Lakshmi....you would think getting older only meant getting wiser but I too nearing 50 have noticed weight that will not roll off with some brief exercise and portion meal control. The carbs, sugar and larger meals are not working for me anymore what use to burn off all this delicious foods broke!! I say broke but my body basically is saying NO MORE. Working with portion control has been easy and cutting some of the carb somewhat easy but the sugar that is so difficult. One reader wrote about family gatherings well coming from a Hispanic family that is soooooo hard. I will never go cold turkey from carbs or sugars but will be more in control to daily intake. Holidays have to have a little carb and sugar!!! I am so happy to read that you are doing better and will post new meals for your readers I have and will always be a big fan of yours and look forward to any and all new meals you post.

    1. Dear Monica, I’m there with you! Moderation is a good policy regarding garbs and sugar, and eating in general. Only when things go out of hand would I recommend drastic measures. For me, testing recipes and cooking for the book during the past two years was too much. I had to make a radical turn before it’s too late.

  11. Lakshmi, I love that you've cold turkey on sugar and are not only loving it but are seeing great benefits to it.

    I've eliminated refined sugars from my diet and have noticed a huge difference in my body as well....actually now fruit is so much more satisfying then something sugar-laced. Eliminating sugar has actually got my creative juices in the kitchen flowing more :)...and I have to say my family is also enjoying my new sugar free, simple, fruit inspired desserts, too :).

    As always, your pics are beautiful and your writing is ever so inspiring!

    1. Dear Kajal, I'm glad to hear you have an encouraging experience, too. Fruits and berries taste much better now.

  12. Lakshmi....as usual your post made me think and re-evaluate. For me, giving up the sweets is not a problem. I have reduced it to a large degree over the years but it is the other carbs - breads, rice and fried foods that are my downfall! I would love to know how much and what kind of grains you typically eat daily. Like Indira in a previous comment, I would love to see what you typically eat during the day!


    1. Dear Bina,

      Thanks for stopping by, and apologies for my late reply! We are moving to the countryside, and I’ve been catapulting between two places for a month. More about that later.

      At the moment I don’t eat grains other than rice occasionally. I use buckwheat, millet and quinoa instead. If you are accustomed to roti, it is austere. When I want to have bread, I make it from buckwheat flour.

      I’ll write a post about what our plates typically look like throughout the day once we have settled down in our new home.

  13. The voice in your writing has always set you apart from other bloggers, (and of course the photos and recipes as well), in my mind. It's soothing and it's contemplative.

    Sugar, fruit sugar in particular, takes up half my days diet. I've always been so conflicted about fruit sugar- that of dates and bananas and even the apple I put in my green juice. There's a crowd that says it's nourishing and hydrating to the organs and there's a crowd calling it poison. Something that can't be disputed is it's addictive nature- much like thinking :) (Ah samsara)

    I think you've convinced me to at least try removing and limiting these high fructose things from my diet simply by talking on your eczema clearing up. I've had it my whole life and well... surprise, I've always cared much about my sweets!

    Thanks Lakshmi,

    1. Dear Tricia,

      Thanks for your kind feedback. As far as I’ve understood, a balanced diet should contain naturally occurring sugar like fructose or lactose in order for the brain to function properly. Brain cells require more energy than other cells in the body. So, sugar itself is not hazardous – consuming excessive amounts of added sugar in processed foods is.

      Eating whole fruits, melons and berries triggers only small amounts of insulin – the principal hormone that regulates blood sugar level and stores fat – because the fiber content acts as a buffer. When you eat high-fructose and low-fiber fruits like bananas, dates, figs and raisins, or fruit and vegetable juices, it elevates the blood sugar much more. This applies even to carrots when you process them. It’s not an issue if you are healthy and strong, but if your insulin production is constantly high, other hormonal functions will be disturbed, causing all sorts of additional problems for the pancreas, liver, adrenal glands, thyroid and ovaries. Even if the insulin level is just slightly too high, the body will not burn fat but sugar for energy, while converting the extra carbohydrates – sugar, fiber and starch – into fat. In order to keep the sugar levels steady, to my understanding, it is better to snack on whole, high-fiber fruits and vegetables.

  14. Hi Lakshmi, I just found your blog, and I am loving it. Your food's delicious, and your write-ups are delightful. Being on the wrong side of 40 myself, I have been struggling with my own weight issues, but giving up food of any kind, especially as a food blogger, has been hard. Add to this the fact that we recently adopted a six-year-old who loves eating sweets, and it's hard to keep things balanced around here. Kudos to you for doing such a great job-- you've inspired me to try again.

  15. Wow... I have to stop drooling over ur pix first to check the recipe.. it's simply amazing.. i saw elsewhere in ur blog the pix of beets.. wow.. who could give the simple beets such powerful attraction.. loving ur blog

  16. Great receipt! I've done it 2 times.... One time without dried tomatoes and it was good... But the second one was EVEN BETTER since I added dried tomatoes like you suggested! Thanks for the idea, I don't usually use these.

  17. Oh, those wraps really look amazing. I especially love your oven dried tomatoes. Definitely have to try your recipe for lunch wraps. Thank you so much for sharing it!

    Warm wishes,

  18. Dear Lakshmi,

    I have always been a silent, though regular reader of your blog. I would still like to remain in that position, but for now, I would like to thank you for the inital sentence of this post: "Like all patterns of behaviour, you can change food habits, too."
    I have read this sentence a year ago, when you have uploaded the post on sugar-free lifestyle, however, the sentence stayed with me and echoed in my head several times. I woke up today morning with an urge to change something in my life and I caught myself verbalizing it with this very same sentence. I believe every single letter of it.

    Thank you for the inspiration,


    1. Dear Barbora, thank you for sharing your thoughts. If you are a silent reader, I'm a silent blogger, judging how seldom I update this space!

      Changing a habit, any habit, is a challenge. The mind has to be convinced; a desire or will has to become a need. If the change, however, is an improvement, it will become your nature in time and easy to deal with. Best of luck to you!