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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Host of MPTV's new "Healthful Indian Flavors with Alamelu," Alamelu Vairavan.

Local cook debuts "Healthful Indian Flavors with Alamelu" on MPTV


The smell of curry blends and fresh chutneys can be tantalizing as you step foot into one of Milwaukee's many Indian restaurants. The menus, often lengthy with foreign words, produce dishes with exotic flavors that are distinctly treasured traditions from the various regions in India.

It's often a treat to indulge in an Indian lunch buffet, returning to the line time and time again to sample and breads, dips or entrees you might have missed the first time through. It's a joy to experience such a variety of flavors and textures in one meal because, admittedly, not everyone who enjoys these foods has the ability or time to prepare these seemingly complex dishes at home.

Alamelu Vairavan hopes to change that with her new cooking show, "Healthful Indian Flavors with Alamelu," debuting May 15 on Channel 10 at 11 a.m. and repeating May 16 on Channel 36 at 12 p.m.

"I'm very enthusiastic about my TV program where I will share my passion for healthy and flavorful cooking using spices and legumes," she says. Her goal is to instruct the masses to make tasty, nutritious food within minutes. Literally.

"In the beginning, these dishes may take 20-30 minutes to prepare, but once you start to make them on a regular basis, you can do it in 10 minutes," she promises.

It takes longer than that to make meatloaf.

Each program will feature three entrees and flavored rice dishes, such as Chettinad chicken masala (Chettinad is the region of Tamil Nadu in southern India where Vairavan was born and raised), with cauliflower rice, spinach and lemon rice, eggplant masala and lima beans.

This is her first television show, although Vairavan is no stranger to the spotlight. She's completed three cookbooks here in the States -- "Art of South Indian Cooking," "Healthy South Indian Cooking" and the "Expanded Edition of Healthy South Indian Cooking" -- and is in the final stages of her fourth, a healthy cookbook for the Indian audience.

She's lead culinary instruction for groups from university outreach to the James Beard Foundation. She also has a special affinity for children and it seems the feeling is mutual.

While teaching cooking classes in public schools and at the Bay View Community Center, kids ages 8-10 not only ate the food, they also asked for more to take home to their mothers -- as well as putting in not-so-subtle requests for Vairavan to help improve the food at their schools' cafeterias.

"If you think your kid doesn't like vegetables, send your kid to me. I'll get them involved in the preparation, cooking and tasting. They are my biggest audience."

As a cook, she's able to connect with a vast spectrum of eaters -- she's turned meat-loving men into vegetable eaters in a single class -- but perhaps the most interesting part of her story is how she arrived in this country, married and 18 years old, without an ounce of culinary know-how.

"When I was growing up, I was brought up in a loving home where all three meals were prepared and served to me because we had a full time cook. As a child, my responsibility was to go to school and do very well, not help in the kitchen. When I came to the U.S., I hardly had any clue about cooking. I knew nothing at all."

But as a married woman with no cook of her own, she knew she had to figure it out fast. She spent a summer with her uncle, a foreign diplomat living in New York, who had hired a well-known south Indian chef for his home. It was from him that she not only learned about how to prepare meats and vegetables with appropriate spices, but also how to do even much simpler tasks such as make coffee and tea.

Today, she's an accomplished and respected cook who can't wait to share her passion and knowledge -- did you know turmeric has intrinsic health benefits such as helping to prevent arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant? Vairavan is ready to dish up this, and more, on her new show.


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