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India's Healing Cuisine Of Ayurvedic Cooking
Ayurvedic Cooking - India's Healing Cuisine
In India, roughly 80% of the population is cared for under the auspices of ayurvedic medicine. It is estimated that about 70% of the population lives in rural country. It is not surprising then that most of India's population also has its cuisine tied to the properties of ayurvedic cooking.
Ayurvedic cuisine is also called by some the 'Healing Cuisine.' Still others call it 'Yoga Nutrition.' Other labels for this unique kind of cuisine are the 'Asian System of Tastes' and 'Individual Body Type Nutrition.'
Don't be confused, however! Ayurvedic cuisine is not a fad diet or a flash in the pan theory about nutrition. This basic lacto-vegetarian diet that is so widespread throughout all regions of India is truly a way of life.
This cuisine is very complex and has many ties in spiritualism and the overall care of one's body, mind and spirit. I am giving an overview of this fascinating and complex Indian cuisine. Seek out more information if you are interested at indianfoodsco.com.
Photo Credit: Flickr BEP PHOTO
Photo Credit: Flickr EmmyBoop
Tridosha Theory of Ayurvedic Cuisine
One of the main tenets of ayurvedic cuisine is the tridosha theory and how it describes individual temperaments.
What does this have to do with cuisine? The dosha theory isolates certain characteristics in people and uses food to create a positive balance in the individual's life.
It should be noted that people can be different doshas on any given day which may be caused by life circumstances or imbalances - but the attributes for each dosha remain the same. The foods that one consumes is then meant to stabilize that individual dosha for the time being.
Pitta Dosha Characteristics:
- Passionate about many things
- Good digestion
- Strong willed
Vata Dosha Characteristics:
- Agile mind
- Mentally and physically always on the go
Kapha Dosha Characteristics:
- Fluid in movement
- Focused or grounded
It is the belief that these 3 life forces or energies control the activities within a person's body. It is further believed that certain diseases or maladies are directly related to the way the doshas are balanced within the individual, the person's physical state and mental and lifestyle factors.
Through food combinations and proper nutrition using ayurvedic cuisine principles, it is believed that illness can be cured or at least kept in check and wellness will fluorish.
Photo Credit: Flickr Kirti Poddar
The Six Tastes and Other Theories
In ayurvedic cuisine, it is believed that there are 6 tastes - and that as much as possible, these 6 tastes should be consumed at every main meal. The 6 tastes are as follows:
Note: Chutney has 5 of the 6 tastes in it! The only one lacking is salty. Indian spice blends also can have all 6 of the tastes in them but most often, meals are a combination of foods from each group to assure balance.
Another way that ayurvedic cuisine classifies foods and applies them to eating habits is by the effect they have on non-physical aspects of the body - the mind, heart, senses and spirit. There are 3 such classifications:
1. These foods are the purest form of foods.
2. They evoke mental clarity, emotional well-being, sensual balance and help to coordinate function between body, mind, heart, senses and spirit.
3. These foods should be prepared fresh and consumed whole as much as possible.
4. These foods are good for overall fitness and balanced energy.
5. Sattvic foods include cereals, honey, herbs, sprouts, seeds, nuts, legumes, butter, milk, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, leafy greens, juices, whole meal bread.
1. These foods are salty, dry, sour, hot and bitter.
2. They are not necessarily good for mind and body balance.
3. These tend to over-excite the body and cause restlessness of the mind.
4. Rajasic foods include chocolate, sharp spices, tea, coffee, eggs, salt, fish.
1. These foods are not good for the body or the mind.
2. These foods can cloud the mind and take away energy. They also cause a feeling of lethargy.
3. These foods can destroy disease immunity.
4. Overeating is a tamasic manifestation.
5. Tamasic foods include alcohol, meat, tobacco, onions, garlic, over-ripe foods and any food that has been fermented.
Note: Even though rajasic foods are not as 'good' for the individual as sattvic foods, they are a necessary part of the ayurvedic diet to incorporate some of the 6 tastes.
It is recommended that sattvic food choices be selected at every meal to promote a healthy diet and nourishment for all the senses.
Certain foods are also classified as best eaten in autumn and winter months to fortify immunity and prepare the body for the coming spring and summer. This is called the cycle of nature. (See table below)
Still further, there are foods for each day of the week that are consumed according to color because of their astrological associations. (See table below)
Photo Credit: Flickr Joisey Showaa
Cycle of Nature - Foods by Season
(March 21-June 20)
(June 21-September 21)
(September 22-December 21)
(December 21-March 20)
Apples, bananas, mangoes, pears
Apricots, bananas, berries
Barley, maize, rice, wheat
Buckwheat, millet, wheat
Barley, buckwheat, wheat
Bitter melon, cantaloupe, grapefruit
Mung beans, peas, red lentils
Garbanzo beans, kidney beans
Garbanzo beans, lentils
Grapes, honeydew melon, lychees
Split peas, urad beans
Mung beans, red lentils
Mung beans, split peas
Mangoes, peaches, pineapple
Cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber
Split peas, soybeans, urad beans
Asfoetida, cardamom, cumin seeds
Plums, water chestnuts, watermelon
Egglant, mustard greens, squash
Arwi root, bitter melon, carrots
Fenugreek, honey, mustard seeds
All juicy fruits
String beans, tomatoes, zucchini
Green vegetables, mushrooms
Oregano seeds, saffron, turmeric
Squash of all kinds
Apricots, bananas, berries
Onions, peas, plantain, potatoes
Bitter melon, cucumber, eggplant
Salads with celery, kohlrabi, spinach
Coconut, dates, figs
Red beets, spinach, string beans
Ginger, pumpkin, radishes, zucchini
Salads with lettuce, radishes
Winter squash, turnips, butter
Buttermilk, cheese, ghee, kheer
Cream, milk, rabri
Foods for Each Day of the week
Moon Color/Pale Blue
Photo Credit: Flickr Missy and the Universe
Cooking Utensils for Ayurvedic Cuisine
Very few utensils are used in the preparation of ayurvedic cuisine.
In many parts of India, plates and eating utensils are not used.
Breads are used to scoop up foods and only 2 fingers (usually the first 2 on the right hand) are used to eat with. Food may be presented on palm leaves and eaten from there.
Some common utensils used in India in preparing ayurvedic cuisine are:
- Heavy wok
- Cast iron skillet
- Mortar and pestle
- Rolling pin (thin, tapered kind)
- Round rolling board
- Ladle or large cooking spoon
- Skimmer or perforated spatula
- 4-sided grater
- Cheesecloth or cotton tea towels
- Bread cloths
Another theory in ayurvedic cuisine and in keeping with the tenet of eating sattvic foods is that bread that is older than 8 hours old is becoming a rajasic food and within a short period of time will also become a tamasic food. The theory behind this is that foods should be eaten in as fresh a state as possible to promote health of mind, body and spirit. Foods should also be eaten in as pure a form as possible - or as near to their natural state as possible.
Grains, nuts, and other nonperishable foods are considered sattvic because they are still in their natural state, although ayurvedic principles dictate that you not store beans or flours for long periods of time. They, too should be consumed as soon as possible.
Foods - The Basis of Ayurvedic Cuisine
Milk- This can be converted into cheese, yogurt and buttermilk. It is also used to make up many dishes such as the basic 'butter' called ghee and help make up sweet dishes such as kheer. Milk is also used as a milk fast for curative purposes for many ailments.
Grains - Wheat is a staple but is not consumed raw. It is made into wheat flour which in turn makes the many natural breads. It is ground just prior to using to ensure freshness.
Rice - Brown rice is regarded as healthier because the husk is still intact.
Dals- These are the beans and legumes that make up the bulk of the Indian ayurvedic protein source.
Fruits- Apricots, bananas, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, grapefruit, lemon, mangoes, papayas, peaches, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, raisins are all part of ayurvedic cuisine. They are all used for their taste properties from tart to sweet. Most desserts come from fruits.
Vegetables- Arwi Root (taro), bitter melon, red beets, sweet carrots, cucumbers, plantains, white potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips are all used with the same eye to maintaining the 6 tastes.
Sweetners - Honey and raw cane sugar.
Nuts - Nuts are used to make nut milk, nut oil, and nut butter. Almonds are used to make almond paste, almond milk, almond milk yogurt, almond butter and almond oil. Cashews are used to create cashew nut milk. Pistachios are used in cooking though not in great quantities to prevent indigestion. Walnuts are used but sparingly as well.
Flavorings and Spices- These can be categorized into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic and are each used for their properties according to recipes. (See table below for categorization)
Photo Credit: WikiCommons Flickr Deepak
Flavorings and Spices of Ayurvedic Cuisine
Photo Credit: Flickr Eliazar
Some Ayurvedic Cuisine Tenets
- Mealtime should be pleasant - stones, flowers and garlands should create a beautiful atmosphere
- Serve guests, elders, and children first - offering grace to God for the food
- Wear loose-fitting garments to aid in digestion and promote health
- Eat when relaxed - wash hands, face and even feet before eating
- Only use clean utensils
- Eat only freshly cooked food to absorb its energy
- Eat only when hungry - lukewarm water should be taken between meals and meals set at 6 hour intervals (except for the ill or children)
- Avoid between-meal snacks - even liquids - except lukewarm water
- Do not take water with a meal or before - avoid it for 1 hour after eating
- Do not eat too slow, do not eat too fast - thoroughly chew all food
- Eat at regularly scheduled times of day - even 2 meals a day, breakfast and a meal before sunset are acceptable
- Rest after lunch and walk after dinner
- Eat fruits, nuts, seeds, cream, yogurt, rice, cereal or sprouted grains for breakfast
- Eat freshly cooked breads, boiled or sauteed vegetables, curries, dals, sweet dishes for main meal
- Regularly consume milk, yogurt, cheese or cream
- 1/4 of the stomach should be filled with grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, and 1/4 with fruits and raw foods, 1/4 with water - the rest should be left empty to allow digestion
- More liquids need be consumed in summer and more solid food in winter
- Brushing teeth after meals is essential
- Avoid eating before sunrise and after sunset
- Do not eat facing south as this drains energy and creates anger - according to Hindu scriptures
- Do not eat or drink while walking
- Cooked food should never be reheated
- Avoid canned foods
- Do not mix temperatures in the same meal
- Do not laugh while eating
- Do not sleep within 2 hours of eating
- Avoid tea and coffee for 1/2 hour before meals and after meals
- Avoid physical or mental exertion or concentration for 2-3 hours after meals
- Do not drink hot milk before going to sleep - lukewarm is okay
- Add lemon zest to tea or lukewarm water to aid in digestion
- Avoid ice or ice in drinks at all costs
- Bring aromas to the table - 30 minutes prior to eating, aromas should be used to stimulate appetite and calm the senses
- Drink room temperature water or warm water throughout the day and plenty of it
- Avoid eating on the run or while doing something else - take time to sit at the table or somewhere to simply enjoy the food and eat it leisurely
Photo Credit: Flickr Sean Rogers1
Summing up Ayurvedic Cuisine
This is a cuisine that is at least 5000 years old and is still most prevalent in India. It has become integrated into a way of living that has endured for centuries and is a holistically balanced cuisine and diet.
This is a cuisine that does not focus on fats, carbs, proteins, calories, vitamins and minerals. Instead, it focuses on the tissues that make up the body, aeration, salt levels, balance of body chemistry, and the inherent properties of individual foods and how they interact with each other within the individual body. It also focuses on the tastes and quality of foods and how the body absorbs these foods.
In short, it is a very well thought out diet that is simplistic in many ways and still teaches principles of good, sound nutrition and advocates healthy eating. Even though this is a cuisine that is thousands of years old, the tenets it supports are still true today in many ways.
Some of the ideas are perhaps singular to the Indian culture, such as not eating facing south, but the overall message of this cuisine still has much to offer Western cuisine, especially when it comes to eating fresh and whole foods.
I have but briefly touched on some of the aspects of this holistic Indian cuisine. There are many, many recipes available but most are based on a few simple 'starters' such as Indian ghee and other key elements of their cuisine. There are many sources for recipes for Indian breads, dals, vegetables, grain dishes and desserts. Check out the links to recipes below.
Ghee Recipe and More Links to Recipes
Ghee (clarified butter)
- 8 ounces unsalted butter
- 4 whole cloves
Place butter in heavy pan and melt over medium heat until foam rises to the surface. Be careful not to burn the butter.
Add cloves which will help clarification and lend flavor - gently stir. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking uncovered until milk solids collect on bottom of pan and turn golden color.
Remove any crust that rises to the surface and set it aside. Ladle off the ghee, taking care not to disturb milk solids at bottom of pan.
Solids can be combined with reserved thin crust to use later for making parathas (griddle-fried whole wheat bread) or for serving with steamed vegetables or cereals.
Recipe for Garam Masala (spice mixture)
Recipe for Chapatis (bread)
Recipe for Parathas (bread)
Recipe for Paneer (like cottage cheese)
Recipe for Moong Dal Soup
Recipe for Kheer (dessert)
More Information on Ayurvedic Cuisine
- Ayurvedic diet, healthy eating and recipes - Pukka Herbs
Tips on Ayurvedic diet and recommended recipes for healthy eating. Fresh, organic and seasonal foods.
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