Ayurveda


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To smoothie or not to smoothie….that is the question!

 

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Is a smoothie Ayurvedic – that is a frequent question from clients and workshop attendees.

To which, the emphatically Ayurvedic answer ALWAYS is, it’s not the food, it is your digestion!

What does that mean? It all depends on what one’s digestion is able to handle.  Ayurvedic Vaidyas tend to stay away from recommending this convenient food because most impaired digestions cannot handle combination foods like a smoothie.  It is always a good idea to observe how a particular food affects one’s body and mind.  Some checkpoints are –

  • Do you feel any digestive distress after consuming the food – the 3 B’s…burn, bloat, or burp? Gas, abdominal unease?
  • What about satiety – does it keep you satiated (not full which implies a certain sense of discomfort) and then allow for a natural hunger at the next meal, which optimally should be about 3-4 hours later
  • Do you have any signs of Ama – the post-digestive gunk that didn’t quite get assimilated or discarded via the elimination channels?  How can you tell if there is Ama, you ask?  In the short term, it shows up as a bad odor (breath, elimination), and a coating on the tongue.  In the medium to long-term, it can show up in diagnostic blood-work as dysfunctional lipids, and potentially inflammatory conditions with auto-immunity involved.

To keep things simple and optimize digestion –

  •  more is not always better! Start with a simple recipe with not more than two or three ingredients (and protein powders with complex compositions do not count as one ingredient – they count as 50 or whatever the label says!).  Blend with water; if you use a milk then do take into account all the ingredients it is made of, especially if it is store-bought.
  • don’t be afraid to use spices like fresh turmeric and ginger in your smoothie – they will allow for better digestion; cardamom and vanilla add sweet notes without adding the sugar; use seasonal herbs like basil, mint, and thyme in spring and summer for their naturally clearing and immune-boosting properties.
  • consume foods at room temperature or warmer.  So if the smoothie ingredients are cold blend with hot water.
  • ‘eat’ the smoothie in a bowl as opposed to gulping it in a glass.  This allows for chewing and digestion in the mouth; also sit and eat slowly, consuming the whole meal in one sitting.  Sipping over several hours disturbs digestion by continually adding undigested food over partially digested food, thereby creating more Ama.

I enjoy a smoothie for breakfast during the spring and summer. Here is my personal favorite  that likes me back as much as I like it:

I like to add good fats to my breakfast smoothie because they keep me satiated, without any cravings, and provide steady energy all morning long.

  • 1/4 ripe avocadoIMG_2262
  • 1/2-1 very ripe banana (much more gut friendly than firm, semi-ripe fruit)
  • handful of seasonal berries
  • handful of seasonal greens – often, that is baby kale
  • a small piece of peeled ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut cream
  • Another good way to add good fats is to soak a spoonful each of flax seeds and chia seeds, and separately, some almonds and walnuts in hot water overnight.  In the morning, add these soaked seeds and nuts to the smoothie.

Blend with just enough room temp water and enjoy as a bowl – it allows me to chew my breakfast thoroughly (allowing for digestion in the mouth even though the food is pureed).

One can also garnish as desired – flax and sesame seeds add an interesting crunch and more good fats!

Alternately, the ingredients can be diced and put into a bowl and eaten as well!!

 

 


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Pongal

Today is one of my favorite seasonal observances.  It marks the day in the solar calendar of the sun moving into Capricorn on its northward trajectory. In agricultural societies, it is also the culmination of the winter growing season and a time of harvest. So this day is a celebration all across the Indian subcontinent (Nepal and Bangladesh as well), a giving of thanks to the sun, the rain, and hardworking farm animals for a plentiful winter harvest. I love that this festival is named for a food!

Pongal’ (in Tamizh) literally translates to ‘spilling over’ as in a pot left untended on a fire that then boils over.  It is a symbolic celebration of a plentiful harvest and a wish for prosperity in the year to come.  Pongal is also the name of the porridge-like dish made on this day.  Suffused with celebration and hence a particularly sacred meaning, this dish is cooked in a special bronze pot adorned with fresh sugarcane, turmeric, and ginger just harvested.   It elevates everyday fare like porridge to a feast.  There are savory and sweet versions, both usually made on this day.

While today dawned rainy in my part of the world, Sweet Pongal is ready. The kitchen window is steamed up! Here is a simple recipe for this immensely satisfying dish!

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For generous servings for 8 ~

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups short grain rice (I prefer any short-grain from India; Ponni is grown in the south of India and is available at Indian markets.)

1/2 heaping cup yellow mung daal (an easy to cook and easy to digest lentil, usually baby’s first food; used extensively in Ayurvedic cuisine as part of a pacifying and soothing diet; also available at Indian markets)

2 cups Indian Jaggery, broken into bits with a mallet or heavy rolling pin (a traditional rustic sweetener made from cane syrup without separation of molasses)

1 tablespoon green cardamom pods

1 tablespoon sugar

Ghee or coconut cream/oil; any nut milk will works as well.

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Method

  • Rinse the rice and daal separately.  If using a pressure cooker, the two may be cooked together with about 4 cups of water.  If cooking stove top, simmer and cook the rice in 3 cups of water and the daal in 2 cups of water separately, covered, adding water as desired until they’re both creamy and done. It is customary to overlook the rice for this porridge like dish. Mix the cooked rice and daal together.
  • Combine cardamom pods and sugar in a coffee mill and powder smooth.
  • Heat a cup of water in a pan and add the jaggery pieces.  Shut off heat and stir to dissolve.  Add the cardamom sugar and mix well.  Filter this sweetener with fine mesh sieve to take out the husks and grit from the cardamom and the jaggery itself.

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  • Add this sweetener to the rice and daal mixture.  Heat thoroughly in a heavy bottom, adding ghee (clarified butter) or any nut milk to blend the dish into a smooth porridge.  At this point, it is tradition to let this pot boil over to mark this occasion! The cook yells out ‘Pongalo-pongal’ as a celebratory salud and everyone within earshot echoes this greeting!
  • Garnish with almonds and cashews that have been toasted in a little ghee.

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Serve warm and enjoy! Pongalo-Pongal!!!!


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Food Musings

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Sunny afternoon walk in Sodermalm, Stockholm

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Avocado toast ~ Cafe Louie Louie. Sodermalm, Stockholm

 

 

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Playtype ~ Danish brand and design agency e-Types’ type foundry in Vesterbro, CPH

One of my favorite authors Pico Iyer, says  of travel, “it has shown me a whole other way to live, without a steady prop, not hemmed in by familiarity.” A recent trip abroad showed me a whole other way, and a chance to interact with food without being hemmed in. The comforting props of daily habit and a familiar language were largely absent. Although smart phone apps made it easy to search and get to the right groceries or restaurants, once there, the shelves and menus posed some challenges.

 

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Morning light – Gamla Stan, STHLM

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Artipelag Museum, STHLM

Travel in a foreign country can be exciting and unsettling, forcing even the most thought-bound of us to live in the moment. Usually days are spent discovering and nights dropping into bed in a state of contented exhaustion mixed with anticipation of the unexplored. One is able to truly reflect upon the experience only after returning home.

 

A couple of weeks after my trip, what percolated up for me is the idea that there is a collective food consciousness. It is a palpable thing, a product of identity, history, tradition, and life in a particular time, topography and climate. It lives and breathes and sets the stage for the most essential of all human activity – producing and consuming food.

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Coffee break ~ Rist Coffee, Vesterbro, CPH

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Kaffe, Sodermalm

A place exudes it and as an outsider looking in, you sense it everywhere you turn – from railway station kiosks to street vendors to hole-in-the wall mom and pops to fancy restaurants with stars behind their names. It is in the shop windows filled with daily baked bread, in the stands filled with fresh fruit in a busy bus stand, in the sign that beckons train weary passengers to pick up organic pasta at the railway co-op. It is in the manner food is prepared, the care over a freshly brewed cup started after you ordered it, in the time spent eating a meal, and the flowers gracing a sidewalk table.

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Rooftop kitchen garden ~ Artipelag Museum

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Bread ~ Urban Deli, Nytroget, STHLM

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Tomatoes ~ Urban Deli, Nytroget

 

Everyone within the folds of this ethos contributes to it by their very act of choosing – from what to grow and how to grow, harvest and transport it; how to process and package; how to stock and sell; how to buy, store, cook, serve, and consume. As a people, we create this fabric and it in turn nurtures us, our environment, and ultimately future generations.

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La Bomba ~ date nut rolls, garnished with flowers ~ Cafe Tradgard at Rosendals gardens, STHLM

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Cafe Tradgard ~ Rosendals gardens, STHLM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In many countries, this consciousness is geared towards food that is produced with stewardship, with respect for the due process even if it takes time, with focus on purity of ingredients, and with minimal messing around – additives, and preservatives absent because shelf life of only a few days is a collective Ok.

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Breakfast bowls ~ GROD, Norrebro, CPH

Of course fast food is ubiquitous and cheap, junk food is instantly recognizable in its gaudy packaging and advertising no matter the language, and modern day ailments are impartial to place and race. But the sense I got was of an ethos that is decidedly skewed toward human good and not human greed.

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Tacos at Tavurnehalle, CPH

Our choices may most often be driven by monetary constraints. While that is inevitable, this concern is also universal. So, what is our collective food consciousness especially to an outsider? Right where we live, in our communities….is it worth our while to ponder that? Are we doing our best and how can we choose better?

We may be well served by recognizing it isn’t just about our food, yours or mine. Our actions create and sustain this living, breathing food soul if you will. After all, our collective body, mind, and heart depend upon it.

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A cafe table in Gamla Stan, old city, STHLM

 


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A Spring Superbowl

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Growing up, we ate with fingers, off plates.  Vegetables, condiments, and other sides were placed individually and apart from the bread or grain topped with lentils/sauce.

I still love a meal eaten this way; it is both comforting and very satiating!

But I also love the idea of a one-dish meal eaten out of a bowl. So even though the above picture is reminiscent of Thali-style of eating, all the ingredients went in willy-nilly for a delicious spring feast in a bowl!

Full of bright, crunchy greens and bursting with flavor, easy to prepare and very satisfying!

For 2 generous lunch portions ~

1 cup cooked brown rice or any whole grain of choice

1/2 of a Daikon radish, washed and grated

1 cup packed arugula; 1 small bunch cilantro washed and chopped fine

1/2 jicama, peeled and sliced, diced, or grated fine

For the massaged kale ~ one bunch of kale leaves, washed, dried and chopped fine; 1 teaspoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger; a dash of lemon juice and (optional) Braggs Aminos; a drizzle of EVOO.  Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and with clean washed hands, massage the kale with much love 🙂  Set aside for a few minutes.

For the dressing ~ In a bowl with some hot water to cover all the ingredients generously, soak the following for at least 30 minutes: 2 tablespoons of raw white sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons of raw walnuts, 1 tablespoon raw hemp seeds.  After about 30 minutes, add the soaked ingredients with the water, some lemon juice, 1 pod garlic, and salt to taste into a blender and blend smooth! This should keep in the fridge for a few days.

For the Bowl ~ Layer rice, massaged kale, fresh greens + herbs, Daikon, and Jicama. Drizzle the dressing as you wish.  Enjoy this season’s best!

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The Anatomy of a Pickle

In Indian cuisine, mind-bogglingly diverse as it is, a pickle is present at every meal, no matter how elaborate or frugal the circumstance. It may even take the place of sides, making the meal complete with just the addition of a grain like cooked rice or bread, some plain yogurt and not much else. While the intent is to up the ante of the meal in terms of flavor and heat thus rendering the food amenable to all palates at the table, a pickle can also be medicinal making the meal itself more digestible, maybe settling an upset or queasy tummy, or even adding a much needed immune boost.

The ‘pickle’ could be a fruit, vegetable, or a combination thereof, or even smallish fish or other animal-sourced components. These could then be used raw or cooked, marinated in salt and spice, most significantly cayenne pepper, cured with an acid medium like vinegar or lemon juice if the main ingredients lack it, and preserved in oil. A pickle commonly has a telltale color – shades of orange to red from the cayenne! And although there are a myriad versions depending on region and season, one can recognize a jar of pickle on the table pretty easily. I say usually because pickles need not use cayenne, instead relying on heat from ginger, fresh green chilies, or fresh peppercorns and hence not have the striking red color.   There are pickles that are shelf stable for years, curing and becoming tastier as they age; and then there are some meant to be consumed in days, needing refrigeration.

Cauliflower-Turnip-Carrot winter pickle

The anatomy of a pickle? Main ingredients + Salt & Spices + Optionally ~ Acidic medium and Oil

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Nothing says winter on an Indian plate like a seasonal pickle and this one is a personal favorite. It showcases three of early winter’s fresh vegetables and by curing and preserving them one is able to enjoy them as the season deepens. There are many recipes to be found online – I condensed several into a version I used for mine. One key substitution is lemon juice instead of white vinegar – it may have altered the shelf life but I don’t eat vinegar and honestly, I don’t think this batch will last long 🙂

Ingredients

2 cups of white turnip batons and 2 cups carrot batons  (3-4 medium sized turnips, and 8-10 medium sized carrots, washed, trimmed, peeled and sliced into batons; I love the bag of multi-colored carrots that are now available at my local grocer; I avoided using the yellow carrots because I find they discolor easily upon peeling).

1 head cauliflower, separated into florets and washed well

Seasonings

4 heaping tablespoons crushed dry mustard (I just ran yellow mustard seeds through a coffee mill)IMG_5036

Powdered cayenne pepper and sea salt to taste

1 heaping tablespoon powdered turmeric

6 tablespoons of raw coconut palm sugar

½ – 1 cup lemon juice

1 cup of virgin expeller pressed sesame oil to coat and cover the veggies in the jar

Method

Heat water in a large pasta pot to a rolling boil and shut off heat; add all vegetables and blanch for 1 minute; drain well; spread several kitchen towels on a counter or tabletop. Pour the veggies onto the towels, spreading them out into a single layer to blot and air dry for the next several hours, even up to a day to make sure there is no moisture at all.  It is customary to let the veggies dry in the winter sun outdoors.

Heat the oil in a pan and add in all the spices; toast for minute or two; shut off heat. IMG_5042

Take the fully dried vegetables in a large clean, dry bowl. Add the seasoned oil to the vegetables along with the lemon juice, salt, and sweetener. Toss well with a clean spoon to coat.

Cover and keep on the counter for a few hours, tossing often.

Remove into sterile glass jars.

Store in the fridge and allow the pickle to cure for a couple of days, tossing the jar whenever you open the fridge.

Use sterile utensils to spoon out the pickle – to avoid spoilage, it is best to pour out some into an everyday jar and refresh as it empties. Enjoy as an accompaniment to any meal!


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Sesame Coconut Energy Bites

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Sesame is a valuable addition to the winter pantry.  This seed is a powerhouse of nutrients and is extensively used in Ayurveda to nourish and fortify the body’s tissues against the cooling and drying effect of Vata (the Dosha governing winter).  Sesame is used internally and topically to rejuvenate skin, hair, teeth, and bone; it is also used in tonics for nourishing a woman’s reproductive system and cycle.

One of my favorite ways to get this food into my diet is this sweet snack – a few of these is like an energy bar! These snack bites are easy to make and quite lovely with an afternoon cup of warming Chai.

If one tends to be Pitta (warm~hot) in nature, it is best to reduce or avoid this seed especially in the summer.

Ingredients

1 cup sesame seeds – I like to use a mix of black and white sesame (Black is richer in nutrients with a IMG_5012stronger flavor.  White sesame seeds are just hulled black sesame.)

1 cup fresh, grated coconut loosely packed

Coconut palm sugar to taste – I used about 2/3 cup

Method

Heat a skillet on medium flame and toast the sesame seeds for a few minutes till they crackle and pop.  Do not leave them untended since they burn easily;  when toasted remove into a plate and let cool.

To the same skillet, add coconut and toast until it is light brown and fragrant; if using dry coconut flakes, this step can be avoided.  Allow coconut to cool on a plate as well.  (If you add the hot ingredients to a bowl, water may condense in the bowl as they cool.  This would tend to make the food moldy if kept unrefrigerated! So it is best to keep everything dry.)

Pulse sesame seeds, coconut, and palm sugar in a dry high-speed blender jar until the oil is released and the mixture starts to ball up.  One can add crushed cardamom seeds , a few strands of saffron and/or a few drops of vanilla for added flavor.

IMG_5014 Remove from blender and using fingertips, roll out the dough into small bite-sized morsels.  Alternately, press onto an oiled plate and cut into bites.  Enjoy!

Since this recipe has fresh coconut, it is best to store this in the fridge – it should keep up to 2 weeks.

 

 


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Another anytime meal….Akki roti

IMG_4847Akki Rotis are a popular gluten-free bread option in the south of India; Akki meaning rice.  Rice has enough gluten to hold these puppies together.  My friend Anpu has her own version – she throw some rolled oats, a handful of rice flour, and a handful of millet flour into a mixing bowl.  Then some fresh grated ginger and garlic.  To this basic dough starter, she adds any veggies she has on hand – grated carrots, zucchini, corn, edamame, peas (the latter three preferably blanched) and chopped herbs.

As you start to mix this together with some sea salt, the veggies start to release water and make the flours moist;  then add enough water to pull this altogether to make a dough the consistency of pizza dough.  Separate this into balls about the size of tennis balls, pat them out as flat as you can get them on wet paper towels.

IMG_4844Flipping them onto a hot griddle is easy – pick up the paper towel placing the roti face-up on the palm of your hand.  Then flipping the wrist over, place the roti wet side down onto the griddle and peel back the paper towel gently to keep the roti whole.  Allow a few minutes each side to brown and cook;  drizzle some virgin expeller pressed coconut or sesame oil onto each side to give the roti a nice crunch!

Serve with any relish or chutney if they make it to a serving dish!IMG_4845