Ayurveda


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Yogurt rice – summer comfort food

IMG_1614In Ayurveda, summer is a season where digestibility is lower than at cooler times of year.  When the ambient heat is high, the body tends to be in the mode of dissipating heat, as opposed to concentrating it in the core during cold months.  When this occurs, we digest heavier foods poorly.  Hence eating a seasonal diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are filled with nutrients and water, often consumed raw in salads, makes it easier on the body.  Heavier proteins like egg, dairy, dry beans, and meat must be eaten sparingly, and saved for the cooler seasons when these foods provide the necessary fortification, heaviness, and warmth after digestion.

In Ayurveda, stools are considered the repository of body heat, allowing the body to maintain homeostatic temperature within the range of a few decimal points everyday, all day! Much like the earth holds onto the sun’s heat after the sun has gone down, stools help keep the body warm even when there is no active eating and digesting going on. When a body becomes too hot, the natural tendency is to have a few loose bowel movements to get rid of the excess heat.  Losing the stool allows the thermostat to be reset quickly. So when too much heat is created during the summer in the form of alcohol, peppers, hot spices and condiments, along with being outside on a hot day, a game of tennis in the afternoon, etc. guess what happens! 😁

Enter yogurt rice! This simple dish is ubiquitous in South Indian homes and restaurants, found tucked into even in the most fancy buffet tables, during the hot summer months. While this dish does have dairy, it is seasoned and lightened by addition of spices and water to make a easily digestible buttermilk from the yogurt.  Mix this yogurt with rice and you have a cool and creamy one-dish meal that can settle even the most sensitive summer bellies. The probiotics in yogurt restore digestion rapidly. Often this dish is the only starrer in a light summer supper with a dabble of a spicy-sweet mango chutney as accompaniment.  There are many variations of this basic dish, much like add-ins to a plain bowl of  pasta.

It is comfort food in every sense!

INGREDIENTS

1 cup cooked short grain white rice (cooked almost mushy)

1 cup full fat PLAIN yogurt, preferably home-made

1 small bunch curry leaves, washed

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 small green chili, washed and scored or chopped

Tempering Spices -1 tsp  mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp hing or asafetida; often in South Indian cooking, a couple of teaspoons of a white lentil or split yellow peas (dry, uncooked), are added to this tempering mix to bring a crunch into the dish.

Salt to taste

4 Persian (or any seedless thin-skinned) cucumbers, diced small

Handful of washed cilantro chopped fine

 

 METHOD

TEMPERING – This is a process of quickly releasing spices into hot oil.  Heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a skillet.  Add the mustard seeds, white lentils if using, green chili, ginger and curry leaves.  The seeds will state to pop and sizzle within a minute.  Shut off heat and add hing.  This add the unique South Indian Umami and crunch to most South Indian dishes. The oil allows the spices to easily release their flavor.

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  1. Whisk yogurt with enough water to make it pancake batter-like.
  2. Mix yogurt and rice – using your dominant hand and fingers for an authentic process!  This allows you to break up clumps of rice and render the dish smooth and creamy!
  3. Add salt, tempered spices, diced cucumbers and herbs.  Fold them in well.

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Enjoy with a dollop of mango chutney!

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Vegan Ramen (dare I say Ayurveda-style? 😃)

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All I can say is this recipe feeds a crowd! Easily a meal for four.  While the prep is quick (under 20 minutes tops!), the key to a complex and flavorful broth is in the simmer.  So be patient.  It pays off! 

Ingredients and prep for broth: 

1 large red onion, few cloves garlic, and 1 thumb sized piece of ginger – peeled, thinly sliced

Several stalks celery, 3 carrots, 1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 sheet Nori seaweed, torn into pieces – this adds a ton of Umami so don’t skip

2-3 tablespoons of a white miso (I used a chickpea miso)

Put all the veggies on a sheet pan, and drizzle of a couple of tablespoons virgin sesame oil; add the miso and toss to coat all the veggies liberally

Put pan under the broiler at 500 F for about 7 minutes, keeping an eye; when the veggies start to sear mildly and the onions looks almost roasted, remove pan from oven.

Broth

Bring a stockpot with about 10 cups of water to a boil.

When the roasted veggies are ready, add to the stock pot. Now start building up flavor complexity – I added several dashes rice vinegar, Tamari sauce, another couple of tablespoons of white miso. I also added diced, firm sprouted tofu.

Let the stock SIMMER slowly for about an hour reducing to almost 2/3rds.

Noodle

Now add a dry noodle of choice.  I used a very thin Asian rice noodle I can buy at the Indian store.

Continue to simmer until the noodles are done – keep an eye so they don’t overcook.  The stock would now have reduced to about half.  Taste test and adjust seasonings.

Some optional taste notes – 1/2 – 1 cup plain soy milk to the finished broth, fermented bean paste, Japanese red chili in oil.

Garnish with finely chopped fresh cilantro and scallions.

Enjoy!


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Bitter for Dessert?

In the Ayurvedic meal protocol, the bitter taste is consumed last, in order to cleanse the palate, signify to the brain that the meal is over and digestion may begin. By contrast the Sweet taste is eaten first in order to get the taste buds going, to rev up the digestive furnace and fill the body with the pleasurable and eager anticipation of food!  So of course, when we eat the sweet taste last or completely skip eating the bitter taste, we are left with a mysterious craving for the sweet taste even after a fully satisfying meal! Yes, Ayurveda says eat dessert first!

The tradition of enjoying the bitter taste after a meal, as a ‘digestif’ seems to be a universal one.  In some cultures, it is a bitter drink, called bitters for short; usually a decoction of roots and herbs in alcohol.  In India, fresh betel leaf is chewed after a meal to act as a digestive. The leaf by itself is astringent, spicy and bitter.  It is often used a wrap for spices and delicacies like roasted fennel, sweetened ginger, rose petal jam, dried coconut, etc. to make Paan.  Paan traditions vary according to region and families even have their own recipes.  A Paan serves to cleanse the palate after a meal, in addition to boosting digestion and even acts as a small one-bite dessert.

Those of us who are more Pitta than others (more Fire in the constitution, wiry in physique, hunger cues to set a clock by, easy to rise and get going, prone to become irritable under stress…) love and crave the bitter taste. It is hard to come by in modern day diets, unless one eats bitter greens regularly.  More often, this taste is sought after in bitter chocolate, coffee, or even alcohol. While all these have their place, they are not necessarily what I consider foods, more fuels.

The bitter taste in nature has drying, cooling, scraping, decongesting, cleansing and detoxifying actions.  It is the taste nature makes an abundance of in Spring, when all of those actions are needed by the human body.  Berries, fresh and young leaves, and some edible bulbs have this taste in plenty! Even domestic pets will go out and eat some greens to cleanse themselves in the spring time!

Enter the bitter melon – easily available in an Indian or Asian market. I prefer the more ridged and smaller Indian variety because it is more bitter than its Chinese cousin, a larger and smoother fruit. Bitter melon  has blood sugar regulating and insulin-sensitizing properties, in addition to being a powerful microbial cleanser.  It is very valuable in blood and skin disorders.  Its juice is great for everyday blood sugar levelling especially after a heavy carb meal.  It is cooked all over India, in various dishes.

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As a child, I would cringe when it was on the day’s menu, but as an adult, my Pitta nature loves this fruit and its natural, clean, fresh bitter taste.  I like to juice it in a blender, and drink a shot after a meal for better glucose regulation.  I actually miss it when I eat out – there is demand and a sizable market out there for bitter deserts besides chocolate for Pitta people like moi!

Note: If taking insulin, blood sugar regulating medicines, and/or blood pressure medications, talk to your doctor before adding bitter melon to your protocol.  Medication dosages may need to be adjusted. 

To prepare bitter melon juice with a blender:

  1.  Pick firm and green fruit that have a pleasant characteristic aroma.
  2. Wash and cut the fruit length-wise.
  3. Scoop out the creamy pith and seeds with a spoon and discard.
  4. Dice the fruit and add to a blender jar.  Add 1 cup of filtered water for 2 small diced fruit.
  5. Blend well.  The juice will look foamy coming out of the blender.  Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean glass jar.
  6. This juice will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge.
  7. Drink a shot after the biggest meal. (Or if you are like me, steal a refreshing sip after a walk or exercise!).

 


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Ritu Sandhi

That tell-tale nip in the air? Dew on the grass? Fall approaches!  Fall solstice is September 22 and we are in Ritu Sandhi.

In Ayurveda, Ritu-Sandhi (meaning ‘Season’ – ‘in between’) is the transition period between seasons, 7 days leading up to the equinox/solstice/season change and seven days after.

What does this mean?

“During this period, the regimen of the preceding season should be discontinued gradually and that of the succeeding season should be gradually adopted; sudden discontinuance or sudden adoption gives rise to diseases caused by Asatmya (non-habituation)” – Ashtanga Hridayam.

Ayurveda pays a lot of attention to annual cyclical self-care, shifting with change in the seasons to allow for optimal adaptation to the environment.  As we get to the end of summer, our bodies have accumulated excess Heat or Pitta, especially if we have not eaten from summer’s offerings of cooling fruits and vegetables, or if we had an intense lifestyle of harried schedules, partied a little too much, or got a little too much sun. In addition, the cooling, drying influences that we naturally tend to gravitate towards in the summer are accumulating as well, and as we go into a cool, dry, season, it becomes essential to hit the reboot button.

Ritu Sandhi offers a two-week period to tune into our bodily rhythms and maybe do a mild seasonal cleanse to prepare for the colder months ahead.

Diet for Fall Ritu-Sandhi

For a two-week period:

  1. Reduce or eliminate caffeine, white sugar, white flour, and alcohol.
  2. For a warm drink first thing in the morning, especially to stimulate the bowels, switch to a tea like Holy Basil or Tulsi with rose – this is a Pitta reducing tea that will cleanse summer’s heat buildup.
  3. Have a regular habit of elimination; if you don’t have one, pay attention at this time and start cultivating a morning hygiene routine that includes making time to clear the bowels.
  4. Restart daily Abhyanga massage before showering – as the weather cools, this ritual protects the skin from the drying effects of the colder temperatures.  Suitable oils are coconut or olive for late summer, early fall and sesame for winter.
  5. Eat a light breakfast of ripe seasonal fruit that is at room temperature. Avoid dry cereals, protein bars and multi-ingredient smoothies.
  6. Sip warm water throughout the day.
  7. Take advantage of slightly cooler days to soak in some mid-morning sunshine.
  8. While still enjoying summer’s fresh vegetables and fruits in salads and lighter fare, avoid eating raw food in the evenings. Switch to a small cooked supper instead. Grilled veggies with a light grain like quinoa or Poha (rolled rice) is a great option.
  9. Start to reduce ice-cold beverages and heavy foods like ice-cream that are an American summer staple.
  10. Eat dinner/supper at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  11. Adjust bedtimes to reflect the change in sunlight.
  12. During this transition, listen to the body’s cues – appetites tend to increase as the weather cools; and a desire for cold and light foods naturally decreases.  Sleepiness may set in a little earlier and the body may need a few more minutes in the morning to wake up.

As the weather cools and we move fully into the season, move your diet to fall’s bounty – apples, pears, squashes, sweet potatoes and yams, heavier legumes and beans, and whole grains soaked and prepared correctly.

My personal to-do list:

  1. Set up daily Abhyanga (self-massage) oils, moving from coconut to warming sesame as the season approaches. A few drops of an aromatic essential oil like lavender or sandalwood can make this daily ritual aromatherapy and massage rolled into one.
  2. Clean out spice pantry and restock the warm spices – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Make the Garam Masala blend that I love to cook with in the fall and winter months.FullSizeRender 19
  3. Make ghee – I tend not to use ghee in the summer much, preferring to dress salads with extra virgin olive oil and cook with coconut oil instead.IMG_0473
  4. Stock up on some favorite fall teas – Pukka’s Three Tulsi (immune boosting), Traditional Medicinals Tulsi with Ginger (appetite regulating as well), Organic India’s Tulsi, various Licorice teas (moisturizing). Checkout this link for more options!

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  1. Stock upon a good Nasya oil – I like several and use one before setting out for a walk in the cool morning air. A facial oil is also wonderful to keep the cool air from drying out tender skin.
  2. Stock upon Ayurvedic herbs – Triphala or Amalaki to keep the colon healthy and bring in bioflavanoids that naturally boost immunity; and Chyavanprash – this multi-herb jam is Ayurveda’s antidote for the travails and bugs of winter; it is rich in anti-oxidants and immune-boosting. It is suitable for all ages, particularly valuable for the wee ones and the seniors in the family.

 

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Albert Camus

 

 

 

 

 


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Pesto by any other name…

Pesto, from the Italian Pesta meaning to pound, is a sauce made by pounding or crushing pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, pecorino, and some salt.

The Tamil word ‘Tho-hai-yal’, also meaning ‘to crush or macerate’, is also a sauce made by grinding together a vegetable, some roast lentils in oil, salt, and Chile peppers.  So, in other words, a pesto except it is nut and dairy free! And in my opinion, although I love a good Italian pesto over pasta, a well-made Thohaiyal adds a most delicious punch to a steaming bowl of rice like nothing else can!

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And just like a pesto, Thohaiyal is quite versatile.  It can be made with any fleshy vegetable, or even peels.  A very popular version uses fresh Cilantro (a take on the basil pesto!).  One can add some grated coconut to the roasting stage and get a rich pesto that is still tree-nut free. (Cross-reactivity with tree nut allergies is quite rare). When using herbs like cilantro and mint, or any vegetable that is also astringent/bitter like eggplant, adding a dash of sour tamarind or lemon juice picks up the flavors!

My favorite Thohaiyal uses Chayote squash.  This vegetable is easily available at many supermarkets now.  I found a ‘black Chayote’ at my local farmer’s market with the skin a rich, bottle-green unlike the more common pale green version.  This one is also a good bit larger, the size of a small melon. When cut, it usually has a soft seed that can be discarded.  This one appears seed-free (a hybrid?).

CHAYOTE SQUASH THOHAIYAL

1 medium size Chayote squash, washed, and coarsely grated

1/2 sweet onion diced (optional)

1 tablespoon each of yellow-split pea lentils and white, Urad lentils (black gram)

1 or more dried red chiles to taste

Pinch of Hing or Asafetida

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  1. Start with washing and coarsely grating the vegetable – in this case, the squash. This allows the vegetable to flash-cook; a larger dice would need a longer cooking time and one would lose the crisp, fresh flavor of the vegetable.

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2. To a hot skillet, add a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil.  Add the lentils and red chiles and roast for a few minutes until they turn golden brown and smell divine!

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3. Remove into a bowl.  To the same skillet, add onions if using and sauté for a few minutes till they turn translucent.  Then add the grated vegetable.  Add salt to taste – this allows the vegetable to release its water and cook in its own juice without diluting the flavor.  Cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat – the vegetable just needs to steam quickly.

4. Add Hing to the vegetable mixture and blend all ingredients smoothly in a blender.  Enjoy as a side with any dish.  Thohaiyal is traditionally eaten mixed into a warm bowl of rice with some raw sesame oil drizzled over it.

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Greece Travel Notes

A recent trip to Greece gave me a chance to dust up some tired food habits, try new things, and infuse the familiar with a newness that travel always brings. Food is an effortless way to hook into a new place and culture – after all, we eat several times a day and every time is a fresh opportunity to look at the world around anew.  And in a country like Greece with a myriad food traditions and highly local ingredients, one could be in food nirvana for a long time.

Some standouts to try at home – tahini-honey (tahini blended with honey) to drizzle over yogurt, pancakes, porridge or what-have-you – this one certainty for the fall because both those ingredients are very heating; tomato pesto – fresh, ripe tomatoes, minced really fine mixed with a generous glug of olive oil, crushed pine nuts, fresh garlic, basil, salt + pepper, and served over crusty bread; white bean salad with tangy capers, lemon juice, garlic, salt+pepper, served on spicy arugula; cold cucumber/avocado/yogurt soup with red peppercorns and basil-infused olive oil; rice with edamame and dill, topped with avocado/yogurt-cream.

Besides the food, what stood out whether it was a restaurant in bustling and buzzing Athens or a small quiet island tavern, is the Greek custom of bringing a sweet treat to the table at the end of the meal, on the house. It ranged from a platter of fresh cut watermelon to shot glasses of delicious house-made liqueurs, and the unique sweet called Mastiha – sticky, white, fondant-like served on a popsicle stick, immersed in a shot glass of cold water, it is unlike anything I have ever eaten before but instantly evocative of childhood treats like lollipops and sticky toffee.

This custom of serving a sweet end to the meal, free of charge maybe a lure to get one to come back. Nevertheless, it is infused with a certain hospitality and an invitation to linger at the table without worry of seating times and table turnovers.  It allows one to skip dessert and yet have a delicious nibble before hitting the road again. This custom even translated to meals on the go, with a maybe a couple of free doughnuts in the bag along with the coffee or a free pastry with the sandwich.

In these global times when a particular cuisine/dining experience is only a click and a short car-ride away, travel still has the potential to inform and awaken the senses in unexpected ways.  My idea of Greek food certainly blossomed into deep appreciation of a vast and rich cuisine that is at once a product of place, people, and nature interacting for centuries to satisfy a most primal need – food!

 


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Ayurvedic Self-care for Summer

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SUMMER = FIRE ELEMENT/PITTA DOSHA is DOMINANT; heat increases in our environment and in the body; as a result, our appetites naturally decrease; irritability may increase as the temperatures rises.  So in all matters, keep it cool and keep it light!

“If you’re feeling dehydrated, sweaty, or irritable, you probably have excess pitta. Other telltale signs include skin inflammation, acidic stomach, burning sensations in the body, red eyes, and a flaring temper.” – Dr. Vasant Lad

Some Ayurvedic tips to stay cool:

Start the day with a glass of fresh water with a squeeze of lemon.

Cultivate a regular bowel habit that kicks off the morning – it actually regulates body heat!

 This is a good season to kick the java and try a cooling tea instead! Cardamom tea anyone?

Eat earlier than later, saving the lightest meal for the evening hours. Keep hydrated, drinking water away from meals.

 Eat more of the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes = seasonal fruit, greens, and vegetables; sweet dairy like milk, ghee, and even a small bowl of home-made ice cream or a sorbet could be refreshing!

 Eat less of the sour, salty and pungent tastes = go easy on fermented dairy (cheeses, yogurts, sour cream, etc.), vinegars, condiments, spicy relishes, and even seafood! Honey is not a suitable sweetener for summer.

 Do not disturb normal metabolism by drinking ice cold beverages with meals; drink them away from meals and when actually hot! Reduce alcohol!

 Avoid exercising in the hottest hours of the day! This is a season to enjoy the outdoors during the cooler morning and evenings hours.  The moon has a cooling energy, so a moonlit walk is most nourishing and enjoyable!

Learn and gently use the calling-breath Pranayam practice called ‘Shitali’.  It is a good way to lower the internal thermostat quickly.  

Use cooling herbs and spices – cardamom, fennel, cumin, coriander; use seasonal herbs but make sure the sharp/spicy ones are balanced well in the food.

Rose and sandalwood are cooling aroma therapy fragrances.  Keep a rose water spritz handy!

 Aloe vera is skin’s best friend – keep some in the fridge to add to your drinking water for a cooling beverage or to apply topically for soothing relief!  Always buy aloe juice of the inner pulp only.  

Use sensible sun protection. The Environmental Working Group’s list of clean products is very useful!  They have a handy smart-phone app with a bar code reader for quick scanning of a product on a store-shelf.  

Also, shop for clean products for safe bug protection!

HAVE A GREAT SUMMER!