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Ex-IAF pilot tells you how to make a meal out of plants

After a documentary made him give up meat, a former IAF pilot shares plant-based recipes

Captain Joseph Pinto’s workshop on plant-based cooking next week might be primarily for men recently stepping into the kitchen, but women are equally welcome. "The idea is to spread the benefits of a lifestyle that can work wonders for your health and the environment," says Pinto, who at 47 has an athletic build, with no trace of the visceral fat that many in this age group find hard to rid.

A platter of dahi wada. While dahi is made by blending almonds with brown rice, the vada is prepared with black udal, green moong, onion and chillies
A platter of dahi wada. While dahi is made by blending almonds with brown rice, the vada is prepared with black udal, green moong, onion and chillies

It comes with the profession, you might say, considering he was a former pilot with the Indian Air Force. However, Pinto assures us that he owes it to the whole-food, plant-based diet centred around unrefined, or minimally-refined plants, which he has adopted for over a year now. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers (think potatoes and sweet potatoes), whole grains, and legumes. You won’t find meat (not even chicken or fish), dairy or eggs in the kitchen at his Andheri West home, let alone refined products like maida, sugar or oil. What do they eat?

Joseph Pinto prepares mayonnaise. PIC/ONKAR DEVLEKAR
Joseph Pinto prepares mayonnaise. Pic/Onkar Devlekar

"Our diet includes tubers, starchy vegetables like corn and peas, whole grains like millet, quinoa and buckwheat. We even have ice-creams and cakes. But, not as you know it," smiles Pinto, who flies helicopters in the Civil Offshore Industry in Saudi Arabia.
For starters, he whips up a mayonnaise (without eggs) for us. In his clean, open kitchen, the ingredients have been kept ready — onions, cashew, mustard and pepper powder, garlic, salt and water. He grinds them into a paste, adding about half cup of water. He offers us the creamy textured fluff.

It’s not as dense as your average store-bought stuff and has a tangy aftertaste. The lunch menu for today is brown rice, soya burji, beans and carrot sabji and salad. There’s a lime pickle that piques our interest, considering that it has no oil. "It is prepared using lime and lime extract, and can last for three months," says Pinto’s wife Rose, who is a homemaker. For dessert, Pinto has prepared ice-cream made of tender coconut, cocoa and dates. The sweetness of dates doesn’t compare to the sugar and the texture is more icy than creamy. But, it is an acquired taste.

Pinto, Rose and their two daughters, were meat lovers till last January. Life changed when Pinto watched a documentary, Earthlings, by Shaun Monson. About humanity’s dependence on animals, the documentary also illustrated our disrespect for these "non-human providers". Shaken by footage of the suffering endured by animals at factory farms, research labs and puppy mills, Pinto adopted a plant-based diet. "Being a Christian from Kerala, I loved non-vegetarian food but now, nothing could make me pick up meat again," says the man, whose dining options are now limited to an organic food café in Bandra. It’s not just his conscience that has been saved he says.

"A plant-based diet can prevent diabetes, lower blood pressure and keep you feeling fuller on fewer calories." It was first Rose who attended lessons on plant-based cooking, and then turned tutor to her husband, whose workshop is scheduled for
2 pm at Sea Crown, Juhu Versova Link Road.

"She has more knowledge than I do. I teach people basic plant-based recipes that come handy when you live on your own, which I do six months annually," he says.

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