Born to Indian immigrant parents in Rochester, New York, Annika Dhariwal (17) says the early years of her childhood were spent shuttling between the United States and Chandigarh, Punjab.
Besides dealing with the instability that schooling in two different continents brought to her life, she recalls falling sick a couple of times every month, eventually receiving a diagnosis of Celiac disease at the age of nine.
“I was abnormally skinny for my age and the shortest in my class. In 2013, I was rushed to a hospital in Chandigarh after developing a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit and was misdiagnosed with Typhoid. It was only next year, when I visited my pediatrician in the US, that I was made to undergo a trans tissue glutaminase (TTG) blood test. One’s considered to have Celiac disease if their score on the test comes above 20, and mine was 179,” she says.
Often mistaken for merely being a gluten allergy, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where consumption of the protein causes damage to the small intestine.
According to Annika, it has over 200-odd symptoms, ranging from diarrhea, abdominal pain, migraines, eczema, acne, cramps and swelling in the hands, among others.
She points out that the condition, typically resulting in malnourishment, has no known cure with the exception of following a gluten-free diet, and taking monthly blood tests to ensure that TTG levels are in sync.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) estimates that Celiac disease affects anywhere between six and eight million people in India.
When Annika was enrolled to the UK’s Cheltenham Ladies College in 2015, she was pleasantly surprised at how accommodative its catering administration was of their students’ dietary restrictions.
“Their common mess had a separate section for children with food allergies, and it wasn’t difficult at all to find gluten-free options at restaurants or supermarkets either. But when I first returned to India after my diagnosis, there was only one store in Chandigarh that offered limited alternatives — a couple of gluten-free biscuits and one brand of flour. Such support systems abroad are helpful considering that about one in 96 people are estimated to have Celiac disease. In India, there was essentially no awareness about its severity. Even now, people tend to look at a gluten-free diet as a fad rather than [a requirement for dealing with an] an autoimmune disorder,” she tells The Better India.
So in 2018, Annika, then 14, decided to launch ‘Gluten Free Jio’ (‘Live Gluten Free’) to help raise awareness and increase sensitisation towards Celiac disease in India.
It is an online repository of resources where she helps people adapt to a gluten-friendly lifestyle, whether at home or while traveling, by sharing tips and tricks online as well as via physical workshops. Presently, the community has over 50,000 members across its website and social media channels, she says.
A pan-India ‘Gluten Free Jio’ phone application is also in the works, she adds, where users will be able to look up gluten-friendly restaurants within a 10-kilometre radius, nearby ration stores that stock gluten-free groceries, and access instructional pamphlets in 28 regional languages to aid them in their dining out experiences.
During her summer break in 2018, Annika led discussions on Celiac disease at five government schools in Chandigarh, ultimately resulting in the diagnosis of 11 students.
“The idea was that biology teachers could introduce them to what Celiac disease was. We also tied up with a local pathology lab to conduct blood tests for children who had been reporting symptoms consistently. After their diagnosis, I was able to provide them with information that helped them transition to a gluten-free lifestyle. But it was the COVID-19 pandemic that helped fast-track my work at ‘Gluten Free Jio’,” she notes.
“During the 2020 lockdown, I organised a camp at an IT Park to distribute food grains such as jowar, bajra, rice and homemade gluten-free flour for slum-dwellers from the tri-city areas of Panchkula, Mohali and Chandigarh. But there were many other people who weren’t able to access gluten-free alternatives, and we also gave them pasta and canned sauces,” she says.
During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Annika has organised five webinars with Celiac disease experts, such as gastroenterologists and nutritionists, to help those diagnosed manage their lives better.
Last year, she received an appreciation letter from the Governor of Punjab in recognition of her efforts to educate people about Celiac disease in the state. She also became the first Indian ambassador to Beyond Celiac, a US-based research and advocacy organisation working towards accelerating a cure for Celiac disease by 2030.
“My mother deserves the credit for ensuring that our home kitchen was free of gluten ingredients. One also has to be careful about not using the same cookware for gluten and gluten-free dishes. If they do, it’s recommended to not use the same scrubber to wash the utensils,” she says.
“The most common misconception in India is people equating wheat with gluten. But wheat is just one of the many foods that gluten is a part of. One also has to be careful about avoiding rye and barley products. With the exception of rotis and parathas, recipes in the Indian cuisine are gluten-free by default,” she notes.
“For instance, one can easily eat dosas since they’re made of rice, which is often mistaken to have gluten. Sambhar, too, can be enjoyed as it is, with the exception of adding heeng (asafoetida), the only Indian spice that has gluten. Even desserts like motichoor laddoo and kheer can be enjoyed by people with celiac disease,” she says.
Annika shares five gluten-free recipes of traditional Indian dishes:
1 kg chicken
2 tbsp refined oil
1 tsp red chilli powder
6 pureed tomatoes
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 crushed cinnamon sticks
5 sliced & slit green chillis
500 gm butter
4 broken and de-seeded red chillis
1 tsp coriander powder
1 1/2 tsp kasoori methi powder
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
2 medium-chopped onions
4 handfuls of crushed, dried fenugreek leaves
2 tsp onion paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1/2 cup curd
3 green cardamoms
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp mace powder
2 black cardamom
1/2 tsp sugar
- Mix yogurt, onion paste, green chillies, ginger-garlic paste, sugar, salt, green cardamoms, black cardamoms and mace powder.
- Add pieces of raw chicken to this bowl and mix well. Allow the chicken to marinate overnight, and roast it in a tandoor or an oven till done three-fourth.
- Heat butter in a kadai, and add bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, red chillis and crushed coriander seeds. Sauté the ingredients for half a minute.
- Add chopped onion, red chilli powder, coriander powder, kasoori methi powder and tomatoes. Sauté them for five minutes and transfer the mixture in a blender to make a puree.
- Heat the remaining butter in a pan. Add the pureed mixture and bring it to a boil. Add marinated chicken pieces, salt, fresh cream and mix well. To make sure that the consistency is not too thick, add some water to the mixture.
- Now add sliced green chilies, crushed fenugreek leaves and let it simmer for a few minutes. Bring to a full boil.
- Transfer the dish to a serving bowl and garnish with coriander leaves and cream.
Tomato & Coriander Puris
Gluten-free chapati flour – 1. 5 cups
Maize flour – 1/4 cup
Besan – 1/4 cup
Flaxseed powder – 1/4 cup
Tomato puree – 1/2 cup
Chopped coriander leaves – 3 to 4 tbsp
Oil – 2 tsp
Spices – salt, red chili powder, dhaniya powder, ajwain, haldi powder
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and knead the dough with a very little water.
- Let the dough rest for 15 to 20 mins.
- Fry the puris.
1 cup sabudana (sago)
1/2 cup peanuts (shelled and coarsely pounded), roasted
2 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 sabut lal mirch (whole dried red pepper)
1 spring of curry leaves
2 tsp sendha namak (white rock salt)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp coriander leaves
1 tsp green chillies, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
- Wash sabudana till the water clears. Soak in water about three cm above it, for about an hour.
- Drain in a colander, then spread over a thick cloth for about an hour.
- Mix sabudana, peanuts, salt, and chilli powder very well, so that it is coated well with this mixture.
- Heat the ghee in a wok and add cumin seeds, red chillies and curry leaves. When the red chillis darkens a bit, add the sabudana mixture and turn around over low heat till cooked through. It takes a couple of minutes to cook properly.
- Take it off the stove, add the lemon juice and mix well.
- Garnish it with the coriander and green chillies.
250 gms (1/2 lb) bhindi
2 medium onions, sliced
2 tbsp besan, roasted
2 tsp cumin-coriander Powder
1/4 tsp turmeric Powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
1/4 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp dry mango powder
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
1½ tbsp + 2 teaspoons oil
Salt to taste
- Cut head and tail of bhindi and slit it lengthwise into halves. Heat 1½ tablespoons of oil in a pan or kadai. When the oil is medium hot, add bhindi.
- Shallow fry it until it turns dark green and shrinks in size for around seven-eight minutes. Stir in between occasionally to fry evenly and prevent sticking.
- Add turmeric powder and salt.
- Mix well and cook for a minute. Turn off the flame and transfer it to a plate.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in the same pan. Add cumin seeds; when the seeds begin to crackle, add sliced onions and sauté until it turns light brown or for approximately two minutes.
- Add shallow fried bhindi, mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Add roasted gram flour and dry mango powder.
- Stir and cook for a minute. Add red chilli powder, garam masala powder and cumin-coriander powder.
- Stir and cook until bhindi is evenly coated with all ingredients for around two minutes.
- Turn off the flame and transfer prepared bhindi fry to a serving bowl. Garnish with coriander leaves and/or onion rings.
3 cups ragi flour
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
10 curry leaves, finely chopped
A small bunch of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
- Mix all ingredients except water.
- Sprinkle water and mix the ragi flour. Add water until you get the dough to make it into balls.
- Take a clean square-shaped cotton cloth. You can take a new washed handkerchief and keep it for this purpose.
- Dip the cloth in a bowl of water, then squeeze the water out and spread it on a flat platform.
- Now, put the ragi flour ball on the center, and pat it with your palm to make a circular shape.
- Heat the tava on stove and keep it on medium flame.
- Lift the cotton cloth and place the roti on tava by flipping the cloth slowly.
- Put a little oil around the roti, and close the lid. Increase the heat.
- Take off the lid, turn the roti to other side. Cook for another one or two minutes.
- If you see the change in color, the roti is cooked by now.
For further information, you can reach Gluten Free Jio here.
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