Chinese food is a family favourite. And I love cooking it too. I find prepping a Chinese meal calming and therapeutic. I enjoy the precision and organising that goes into it. Cutting the veggies uniformly and neatly placing them in individual bowls before firing up the wok for a quick stir fry is what this cuisine is all about. But I have not cooked Chinese that often of late because of the noodles.
The ones most commonly available are made of refined flour. Added to that, they are loaded with preservatives.
Still, a bowl of spicy noodles is the ultimate in comfort food! As my kids got older I felt the need to educate them about their food choices and that put an end to us buying the noodles that did not in any way conform to those health standards. The yummy flavours of ginger, garlic and vinegar infused sauces now had to be eaten only with a fried rice.
But a recent trip to the departmental store changed all that. I found millet noodles with no preservatives. There were noodles made of Kambhu, Ragi and multi-millets. Just perfect to feed hungry 11-year-old footballers (my son’s friends) waiting back at home.
The instructions on the packet were very clear. I set a timer, as I did not want to risk overcooking the noodles and getting them al soggy and clumpy. I drained them and then tossed them in cold pressed peanut oil before mixing the stir fried baby corn and capsicum. I gave the packet- seasoning a miss to use another time. The kambu noodles could not have been more perfect.
It’s not often that one gets to cook a dish, using such healthy ingredients that will appeal to children. I was pleased as punch when the kids went back for seconds. They loved it. I shared this discovery with some of the other mums, and they were equally thrilled.
I made the noodles again and this time with the multi-millet variety. I added peanuts, lots of finely chopped green spring onions and mushroom. And it turned out just as good as the last time. If cooked for the stipulated time, the noodles are wonderfully al- dente.
They are neither grainy nor dry. They work beautifully with cold pressed sesame or peanut oil. There is no unfamiliar aftertaste, no funny smell, nothing. The noodles are made fresh and dehydrated before packaging. They are not fried. Hence they need to be tossed immediately after cooking in a bit of oil, otherwise they can get a bit sticky as they cool.
The millet noodles are made by Coronet foods under the brand name ‘Dhaaniyam’. This is a Coimbatore- based company, that is family owned. Mrs. Poomalai and her son Naveen own and oversee the operations of their factory. They wanted to offer a product that was beneficial to the consumer.
At first, they approached the farmers directly to source the ingredients. This proved to be rather an arduous task. The small farmers who were actually involved in growing organic millets were hesitant to get into a formal agreement due to lack of awareness. Help came from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, which formed the Agriculture Business Development (ABD) to give support to the Agricultural Industry. They set up a Millet Farm Consortium. This was an easy outlet for procurement of millets where farmers could trade with the producers without any risks. Naveen says that this was just the push they needed to venture into manufacturing other millet based products also. They also make millet cookies in addition to the millet noodles. Malarum Velaamai proposed Coronet Foods for the Krishi Shree Award. The award was conferred upon them in 2013. It is a National Award to recognise worthy contribution towards reviving the millet sector.
For Mrs. Poomalai, customer appreciation is the real medal. Poomalai says that theirs was a predominantly millet-based diet. To feast on rain fed grains which could withstand harsh climatic conditions were the age old method of living off the land while adding to health !
Over time, a change in lifestyles led to a change in diet which was detrimental to health. The idea then to switch back to natural drought resistant grains took root.
This idea spilled over into their commercial food venture. Millets we know have a very low glycemic index and is a great diet option for people of all ages.
They are also a hardy crop, good for the environment and cost effective. Everyone benefits from the smallest farmer to the end user. Businesses such as these go a long way in uplifting the health of a nation. I could not be more proud to have such enterprises in our own city. That, and the fact that my ‘noodle dinners’ are back on track is reason enough to be as pleased as punch. Guess what’s on the menu tonight…