INSIGHTS – Bon Appétit! The Ayurveda Way

Bon Appétit! The Ayurveda Way

Shunya Acharya Mathurby Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur
Founder, Vedika Gurukula, College of Ayurveda and Vedic Studies, Emeryville, California** and Member, Council of Advisors (COA), TI School of Integrative Medicine (SIM)
(YSN Vol. 4, No. 2 – May 2016)

*Originally published in TathaAstu Magazine (2010)


A New Year’s Resolution

No matter who we are or where we come from, new beginnings hold a special fascination for all of us, right from our childhood. The start of any new calendar year is one such occasion that gifts us the spiritual opportunity to start again with a clean slate.

The revelries of the holiday season and the all-night celebrations often leave us pretty stunned with our sliding standards in food choices, and our complaining bellies stand witness to our great fall from our own expectations. More often than not, post merry making, many of us become spontaneously ready for an inspiring New Year resolution to eat better and make better choices.

Invite Ayurveda’s Wisdom into Your Kitchen

If you are one of those people who have resolved to introduce well-being into your being through food, then perhaps it is time to also gift yourself the wisdom of foods from the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda. Fortunately, Ayurveda has some simple tips that are easy to incorporate into our daily lives without having to change our pantries and partners inside out! Ayurveda’s recommendations come from a place of ease and reassurance, and people have attested the efficacy of its dietary principles for centuries in India, and more recently, in every corner of the world.

Yes, Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine, a healing modality that is systematic and in-depth, and responsibly addresses body, mind, and soul. Any eating plan is typically individualized and customized according to age, digestive capacity, current state of balance and imbalance, configuration of dominant Doshas, current season, time of the day, etc.

However, Ayurveda also teaches universal dietary principles and wisdom facts about certain super foods that can be easily included in the food culture of any average home. Millions all over the globe are finding the joy of eating to heal the body and optimize its vitality and strength versus merely eating to satisfy the incorrigible tongue! Are you ready?

A little planning ahead of time, and equipping ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom (the why and how) of dietary modifications (howsoever minor) is good, especially when making New Year’s resolutions. Executing them and sticking to them makes all the difference to our joy and self-confidence.

First Things First – Understanding the Doshas

According to Ayurveda, everything in this universe, animate and inanimate, is made up of five great elements or energies – space, air, fire, water, and earth. In a living being, these energies or subtle states of five elements combine to form a triad of bio-intelligent forces called Doshas that help a living being “live.” The three Doshas are: Kapha, Vata, Pitta.

Air and Space combine to form the force of Vata, which is responsible for all movement in the body, and it mainly governs the nervous functions.
Fire and Water combine to form the force of Pitta. This Dosha governs mainly enzymes and hormones. Pitta is also responsible for digestion, pigmentation, body temperature, hunger, thirst, sight, courage, etc.
Water and Earth combine to form the force of Kapha. Kapha regulates the other two Doshas. Kapha is responsible for the connections of joints, the solid nature of the body and its sustenance, sexual power, strength, patience, etc.

In Ayurveda, we not only recognize these forces, but we also learn to harness them and develop an optimum food and lifestyle program that balances the three Doshas called Tridoshas. A visit to an Ayurvedic consultant as an additional step will further equip you with a list of optimum foods that will balance these Doshas inside you. Balanced Doshas lead to health and unbalanced Doshas lead to disease.

Let’s begin…

Number of Meals and Timings

Ayurveda recommends that three meals, if eaten at regular times, are sufficient. Often we think that snacking will resolve our hunger or lack of energy – but usually that ends up in undigested Aam (toxins) that wears us down some more. The three meals should be eaten at fixed times and also eaten warm, in a quiet and still manner with minimum distraction and with full concentration. Ideal meal times are: From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. in the morning for breakfast, noon to 1 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the evening for dinner. A meal just before bed can often lead to weight gain or compromised digestive ability.

Temperature of Food

The temperature of food depends upon the state of one’s digestive fire called Agni. In general, Ayurveda recommends that all foods should be eaten warm (not necessarily burning hot) as the Agni within us is “warm” and benefits from like substances.

Emotions and Food

Ayurveda recommends eating when we feel the desire to eat. Negative emotional states like anger, negativity, grief, etc. disturb the digestive fire and thereby lead to the production of toxins (even if you are eating an Ayurvedically balanced meal). Ayurveda recommends that one should settle oneself and approach the food in a centered and balanced manner. In fact, a meal eaten in silence, every morsel enjoyed, transforms into Oja (body’s immunity factor), Teja (body’s intelligence), and Prana (body’s vital force).

Distractions and Food

We can sit away from gossip (or not contribute if it is unavoidable); switch off the TV, radio, and internet; and not read newspapers and magazines (or even spiritual books) while eating. Instead, concentrate on the sadhana (spiritual practice) at hand – eating our food with mindfulness.

Water and Food

Ayurveda recommends that people with dull and inconsistent Agni should drink warm water, not necessarily hot. The water can be warmed on the stove, in the sun, or stored in heating containers such as copper vessels; those with sharp Agni should drink water at room temperature or even naturally cooled water (such as storing the water in silver or clay containers – not iced water, never that). Generally water should not be consumed right before or after eating a meal, but it should be consumed in small sips, as and when the urge arises, during the course of the meal.

Conscious Habits to Cultivate This Year

  • Cultivate a habit to eat only three-fourths of your capacity. When you are just a little bit hungry – walk away. Stop before you become loaded and bloated.
  • Ideally, fill the stomach with one-third solids, one-third liquid, and keep one-third empty (air) for proper digestion.
  • Take a few minutes to sit quietly after eating your meal.
  • Do not eat honey or yogurt that’s cooked or heated.
  • Do not mix milk with fruits (mango is the only exception), other salty and sour tastes, meats, or fish. It is best to consume milk as a meal in itself.
  • Cook foods slowly on lower heat so it goes through all the proper transformations of cooking.
  • Avoid frozen, processed foods. Ayurveda recommends meal planning. If frozen food is unavoidable, reheat it well and infuse as much energy into it as you can (such as not eating it from the original plastic container – but using proper dishes, etc.)
  • Use organic food; avoid genetically engineered food. This is a necessity to stay alive!
  • Avoid leftovers. Don’t eat leftovers out of the refrigerator as they are hard to digest and clog the channels. But I say that in your own kitchen, hand prepared and stored leftovers are much better than packaged food, fast food, or not eating at all!

This Year, Eat to Feed The Soul
May the journey of food from soil to the stomach, from earth to your hearth, and from seed to your seed, be an auspicious one.

There is something about fresh food, home grown, or at least bought from wholesome sources – known to have grown or dwelled in soil or water or air that is saturated with well-being and natural goodness, and cooked lovingly with healing blessings that Ayurveda continues to emphasize.

Long before the world of cuisine and temperaments got divided into fast and slow food, Ayurveda has been recommending taking out adequate and attentive time for food procurement, processing, cooking, and imbibing it with our own love and wholesome attention, because we are not only what we eat, but also what we digest. And unfortunately, we are also what we do not manage to digest, what we do not break down – the hydrogenated carbons, the pesticides, the chemicals, the artificial colors, fillers, flavoring agents, etc. They influence our body in more ways than we can count.

Choose to Live – Resolve to Go Organic

Organic is not an option; it is a necessity. Or, at least buy seasonal, locally grown, and as chemical-free foods as you can. Plant a little kitchen garden or at least begin dreaming of one. Even if you live in an apartment, the magic of seeing live herbs grown on your kitchen window or balcony will turn your kitchen into a healing space that infuses cooked foods with life and vitality.

Ayurvedic Spices to Heal and Nourish

Add a dash of Moon, a pinch of Sun, shake it with vigor and stir in love.

Ayurvedic spices are natural medicines into themselves. When used in moderation on a regular basis in our cooking, they keep us happy and healthy.  Above all, they keep our digestive fire burning bright, so that parasites, toxins and our food excesses get the “burn out and away” command.

Spices are the key to digestion, tissue nourishment, and cleansing of the body. Food needs to be properly spiced for good digestion and metabolism. Decide not to eat heavy foods this year.

Procure whole seeds, leaves and roots (if you can) versus pre-crushed powders sealed in plastic bottles and boxes. Expose them to the sun before you store them (in glass) and grind them with hand each time you use them. Whole herbs hold on to their healing properties much longer.

Sauté seed spices in oil or clarified butter, to bring out their flavor and biological activity. It is okay to add a small amount of the spices you have sautéed directly to the water portion of soups and curries to bring out the water-soluble properties of the spice. Buy only small amounts of spices at a time as they have a shelf life of less than three months.

 Begin Using Popular Ayurvedic Spices Today

Ginger powder/Shunthi Add powdered dry ginger to food while cooking or drink as warm tea. Tridosha BalancerPrevents loose or multiple stools, nausea, flatulence, and stomachache; enhances the digestive fire; prevents toxin and mucous build up; prevents colds and allergies; prevents hemorrhoids; and is a general tonic in post-partum weakness.
Coriander/DhaniyaSeeds can be used to make coriander tea. Freshly ground seeds can be added while cooking foods and fresh leaves can be used for garnishing also. Tridosha BalancerIt is a digestion stimulant without overheating. Its intake on a regular basis ensures proper elimination and detoxification; alleviates excessive thirst; is a general body tonic; prevents burning sensation in urine; counteracts hyperacidity.
Cumin/ZeeraUse as whole seeds in cooking, boiling, stir-frying or dry roast lightly and then ground into powder. In indigestion, it can also be consumed as a warm tea. Tridosha BalancerCumin is added to almost every Ayurveda-inspired meal; it prevents indigestion and pain in abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea, loose motions, flatulence, and even vomiting. It is also useful in irritable bowels; and scanty or irregular periods.
Turmeric/HaldiThis legendary herb is used raw as well as cooked. For obesity – swallow a small amount (¼ tsp.) with warm water. In cough and cold – boil in cow’s milk along with black pepper. Mix with water and gargle for soar throats. Tridosha Balancer (when cooked in fats or milk)It acts as an appetizer by imparting a pleasant color to Ayurvedic food; it is anti-toxic, antiseptic, and a blood and skin purifier; makes the body inhospitable to parasites; enhances complexion; boosts immunity.
Saffron/KesarBoil in milk for common cold.  Tridosha BalancerIt specially benefits people with Vata and Kapha doshas. Improves appetite and digestion; enhances the quality of blood tissue and complexion; it also acts as an aphrodisiac.

Ideal Spices for Vata – Benefit from a variety of spices, but in the pepper family they should stick to using only black and white peppers.

Ideal Spices for Pitta – Benefit from the use of turmeric, coriander, and lots of fennel.

Ideal Spices for Kapha – Kapha generally benefits from all spices, including all varieties of peppers.

Two Ayurveda Super Foods

Green Mung Lentils

This is what we may call an Ayurvedic “super food,” because when eaten on a daily basis, it remarkably nourishes all the seven tissues of the body; balances all the three Doshas; it is easy to digest (light in its effect upon digestion and does not tax our metabolism); and cleanses the entire system. When combined with cooked rice or with wheat chapattis (Indian bread), it becomes a well-balanced meal of excellent plant-based protein with carbohydrates for energy. In Ayurveda, the Green Mung is especially celebrated for its healing properties in enhancing vision and in combating fevers.

Readers can buy Green Mung in the form of whole or split lentils or even ready to use flour (or self grind after briefly dry roasting the lentils).

Homemade Buttermilk

Homemade buttermilk is called Takra in Ayurveda. It is recommended as a special drink to be consumed daily after meals especially in spring and winter; and for those who wish to lose weight, it can even be consumed as a meal substitute daily, year round. Typically, it is taken post meals and consumed in 4-8 fl oz cups. It has great anti-toxin properties. Buttermilk, made the Ayurvedic way, boosts digestion, stimulates metabolism, cleanses the bowels and is an excellent antidote to the polluted foods we are consuming nowadays. It helps us combat common digestive conditions such as stomachaches, constipation, flatulence, piles, and when consumed on a regular basis, the Ayurvedic buttermilk helps counteract the tendency towards weight gain, food poisons and toxic sluggishness.

Given below are a few traditional Ayurvedic recipes that you can introduce into your kitchen this year and begin enjoying their wholesome benefits right away.

Green Mung Lentil Soup – “Daal”

This soup can be eaten in accompaniment with hot cooked rice, or Indian bread, or eaten on its own. The latter option is especially recommended for weight loss with generous amounts of garlic added for the extra kick to the sleep metabolism.

Weight Loss Ingredients

  1. 1 cup Green Mung lentils (whole)
  2. 2-3 cloves Garlic
  3. ¼ tsp. Black pepper powder
  4. Salt to taste
  5. 2 tsp. Ghee
  6. 2-3 cups Water

Lightening Procedure

  1. In a pan/skillet, heat the ghee and add Mung daal, roast it on medium heat till the daal is brown in color for about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Just before the daal turns brown, add the garlic and roast together.
  3. In a pot, put the roasted daal and garlic, add salt, water and black pepper powder, cover and cook on medium heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally; if the soup is too thick, add some more water for desired consistency.

Note – For enhanced flavors add vegetables like chopped carrots and greens.

Green Mung Lentil and Basmati Rice Gruel – “Khichadi”

There is a belief that if one goes “Ayurvedic,” one begins eating Khichadi on a daily basis! Such is the cult following of this legendary recipe worldwide that Ayurvedic blogs are full of happy grunts and nods after Ayurveda-inspired meals of Khichadi that leave one’s taste-buds satisfied, the belly feeling light and filled just right, and the body feeling strengthened. We also know that Khichadi benefits all the three Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Bon Appétit!

Nourishing Ingredients 

  1. ½ cup Green Mung Daal (split)
  2. ¼ cup Basmati Rice
  3. ¼ tsp. Turmeric
  4. Salt to taste
  5. 2 cups Water
  6. 2 tsp. Ghee (clarified butter)
  7. Pinch of Heeng/Asafetida (optional, it especially benefits Vata Dosha)
  8. ¼ tsp. Cumin Seeds
  9. Few whole black pepper corns (optional, it helps balance Kapha Dosha)
  10. Chopped coriander/cilantro leaves (optional, it helps balance Pitta Dosha)

Steps to Self-nourishment  

  1. Combine rice and daal in a pot and rinse clean in running tap water.
  2. Add 2 cups of water, salt (to taste) and turmeric; put the mixture to boil on low-medium heat and covered, for about 20-25 minutes.
  3. Scoop a little Khichadi to test if it is cooked thoroughly and for consistency. If it is dry and undercooked, add a little more water (no more than ¼ cup), cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Depending on how you like your Khichadi – if you want it mushy, stir it for about a minute using a wooden spatula; if you like it textured, there is no need to stir.
  5. For the garnish – heat ghee in a pan, when hot, add asafetida (if using) until it sizzles (5-7 seconds), then add cumin seeds and black pepper corns (if using), and swirl till they become fragrant (5-7 seconds) and pour it on top of the Khichadi and mix well.
  6. Serve hot and for additional garnish, sprinkle coriander leaves on top.

Green Mung Dessert Balls – “Laddus”

Ingredients to Self-satisfy

  1. ½ lbs. Green Mung flour
  2. ¼ lbs. Ghee
  3. ¼ lbs. Sugar (or more, according to taste)
  4. ½ tsp. Cardamom powder
  5. 2-3 spoons Raisins

 Self-satisfaction procedure

  1. In a skillet, heat ghee, add mung flour and over medium heat, slowly roast the mung flour for about 10-12 minutes until light golden and aromatic.
  2. To the roasted mung flour add sugar, raisins and cardamom powder, and over medium heat mix all the ingredients well, till the sugar granules disappear.
  3. Set aside the mix and let it cool for about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Moist your palms with ghee or a sprinkle of water; take the mix and roll them into about 2-inch balls (if the mix is too dry and won’t roll into a ball, add some ghee to it and moisten your palms with water).

Ayurvedic Buttermilk – “Takra”

Super Drink Ingredients 

  1. ½ cup Yogurt
  2. 2 cups Water
  3. Salt to taste
  4. ¼ tsp. roasted Cumin powder
  5. Pinch of Heeng/Asafetida (for Kapha and Vata)

Super Steps to Super Health

  1. Using a wooden/hand blender, blend the yogurt with salt, cumin powder and heeng (if using) for about 2-3 minutes, till it becomes smooth and creamy.
  1. To this yogurt mix, add 2 cups water and blend again for 2 minutes until everything is evenly mixed and smooth.
  2. For visual pleasure and more flavors, add chopped coriander leaves (if handy).
  3. Buttermilk is ready to drink.

Ah…delicious! Enjoy the wisdom of Ayurveda this year in your food choices. Go deeper, explore, and read more books on Ayurvedic foods and cooking. Simply, cook more this year for yourself, you deserve it. Enjoy the gifts.

 May you respect each morsel, each bite!  

May you treasure the food that you have on your plate today and always!

May you love the food you eat today and always!

May you share your food with love and joy with all beings!

May you cook your food with a healing intention – to heal the self and the universe! May you digest your food with the potency of a thousand Suns!

May you radiate your food in all you feel, think, and do. This is my prayer for you.

© Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur and Ayurveda Lifestyle Medicine, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

About Acharya Shunya: Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur is Founder of Vedika Global, Inc., a non-profit Vedic foundation that supports an awarded international School of Ayurveda and Vedic Studies, sponsors community welfare initiatives, and delivers charitable wellness through global projects. She is also current President of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (CAAM) and an Advisory Board Member of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA). For her trailblazing work in reviving Gurukulam system of education in Ayurveda, Acharya Shunya was formally bestowed the Mother Padmavati International Ayurveda Award by the prestigious Institute of Indian Medicine, Pune, India (2010); the Nalanda Award for Excellence in Ayurvedic Education in North America by AAPNA (2010); and was honored by Ayurveda Yoga Upachar Research Activity Foundation AYURA (2013), and, Foundation for Education and Research in Ayurveda and Traditional Systems of Medicine – FERATSM (2009) in India. Acharya Shunya’s work has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Yoga Journal, and Tathaastu Magazine. She teaches year-round to medical students and lectures in classrooms, conferences, and seminars worldwide. Read more of her writing on her blog, Ayurveda Lifestyle Medicine.