Ayurveda – Cooking with Five Elements.

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Thousands of years before even contemporary medicine provided scientific corroboration for the mind-body inter-connection, the profoundly wise scholars of India gave birth to Ayurveda, which persists to be one of the world’s most advanced and ardent mind-body health technique. More than a mere system of treating disease and ailment, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers the body of wisdom of traditional medicines designed to help people stay vibrant, energetic and healthy while realizing their full human potential and capabilities.

The main fundamental rules of Ayurveda are that the mind and the body are connected in a way that are impossible to seperate, and nothing has more strength to cure and transform the body than the mind. Immunity from illness depends upon augmenting our own understanding, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. This process isn’t as intricate as it may sound. For example, when you meditate you effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner peace that reinvigorates the mind and reinstates stability. Since the mind and body are inseparable, the body is naturally balanced through the implementation of meditation. In the state of relaxed consciousness created through meditation, your heart rate and breath slow, your body decreases the production of “stress” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and you increase the production of neurotransmitters that enhance wellbeing, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
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The age old practice of Ayurveda believes we’re made up of three different ‘body types’ that equates to our physical and personality attributes, known as doshas. These are: vata, pitta and kapha, each of which represents two of the five universal elements (a combination of either, air, fire, water, earth). Ayurvedic principles believe that each individual contains diverse proportions of each dosha, generally one or two in dominance. Our naturally predominant dosha does not denote imbalance, but rather how – or who – we are in our most healthy, balanced state. Mind-body health and harmony may be challenged when any of the doshas become aggravated or unstable. Understanding Identifying your predominant dosha and potential imbalances, which an Ayurvedic practitioner can assist with, is the secret to keeping your mind-body balance in check.

Ayurveda in its journey to transform dishes that create the perfect balance in the body has also invented cooking methods that are termed healthy today, like pan frying, roasting, steaming and blanching. The answer to why dishes in Indian cuisine are fried while others are steamed or roasted can be found in Ayurveda. This ancient science actually discovered how cooking and the time taken to cook can change the composition of a particular food and its effect on the body. Like the lycopene in tomatoes, which intensifies while cooking can be easily extracted. The same goes for onion. Tempering it with hing (asafoetida) balances the diuretic properties in onion that makes it good for cough and cold and helps in digestion. In fact, ayurvedic cooking prohibits from using fried brown onions that have lost all their nutrients and can cause acidity in a few cases. Blanching carrots robs them off their betacarotene, and so best eaten raw. In fact the all-popular steam cooking done by wrapping vegetable in a leaf is also quintessentially Ayurvedic practise.

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Kheer (Rice Pudding) , a dish that was first mentioned in the Ramayana was in fact an Ayurvedic invention. It combines the fat in milk with the starch in rice to boost energy.

The art of lactic fermentation and its use was yet another invention of Ayurveda to the culinary world. The proof of this is the high use of ghee and yogurt in Ayurveda to treat a huge array of diseases, from constipation to ulcers and even hangovers. An old scripture traced to the Gupta period states that Ghee was consumed by Khastriya soldiers before the war. It is said that after the Kalinga war, Emperor Ashoka gave up meat in favour of vegetarian food, five times a week, because it kept him agile and alert. Soups, yet another innovation from Ayurveda, too were hugely consumed back in time. In Chola dynasty back in the 3rd century BCE, it was used both as a morning beverage and for enhancing appetite. Soup was often the food given to new lactating mothers to regain strength.

Salads, mostly prepared raw with ginger julienne and lemon juice, were first consumed during the 200BCE was also credited to Ayurveda. The ‘raw food diet’ was adopted by the Buddhist from Kalinga (present day Odisha and West Bengal) who took it to other countries and continents while they travelled. Many food historians attribute the tradition of eating raw food or par boiled food in Chinese cuisine to Ayurveda and to the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien (c. 337–422 AD), who visited India to document the culinary and health system, notes that Indian cuisine then, especially the vegetarian side, used minimum spices and cooking time so as to impart that right flavour to the dish without compromising on the nutrients.

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According to Ayurveda, the best way to cook vegetables is to sauté them in ghee with spices. By first sautéing the spices in ghee, the volatile oils of the spices are drawn out into the ghee. These spices have therapeutic value. Turmeric, for example, has been found to be an antioxidant, and other spices such as cumin and coriander help with digestion and assimilation. The spices cook into the vegetables act as carriers, transporting nutrient from the vegetables into the bloodstream as we consume them. They also make the food taste aromatic and delicious.

Ghee is considered beneficial oil in Ayurveda. According to traditional ayurvedic texts, it is a rasayana – a Sanskrit word, with the literal meaning: Path (āyana) of essence (rasa). It is a term that in early ayurvedic medicine means the science of lengthening lifespan, good for overall well-being and longevity. Modern research shows that it is an antioxidant and contains beta- carotene. Since the milk solids have been removed, ghee does not spoil easily like vegetable oils do. If you are on a weight loss program, limit your intake of ghee or oil to judicious amounts. It is this philosophy of cooking that is still followed by those practicing Ayurveda, and makes it a healing and restorative cuisine. What also lends ayurvedic cooking its unique identity aside the cooking method used for each food and the good use of local ingredients, is the use of certain herbs and practices. Most recipes in Ayurveda call for kasturi (curcuma aromatic), a fragrant variety of turmeric root instead of ordinary turmeric (curcuma longa) because of its aroma and nutrients. It also uses a lot of flowers and berries in its dishes instead of spices like chillies to extract the required flavor without too much cooking. So assuming that Ayurvedic dishes are all bland is truly a misconception. A spice and meat jaded palate will find it high on subtlety, but that is because each dish is made to suit a person’s character, which is a mix of Vatta Pitta and Kapha.

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10 common herbs and spices used in Ayurveda.

HARIDRA:

Commonly known as turmeric, haridra has a bright yellow color and it tastes bitter and astringent. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Turmeric is used in the treatment of health problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, eye disorders, dysentery, parasites, hemorrhoids, high cholesterol, coughs, lupus, conjunctivitis, diabetes and many types of cancer like breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.

Curcumin (Active Ingredient In Turmeric Spice) Very Effective At ...

Picture Credit: Fanatic Cook 

AMALAKI:

Also known as amla or Indian gooseberry, Amalaki is a small fruit, pale green or yellowish green in color. The taste of this fruit is very sour. It has antioxidant, diuretic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anemia properties. For centuries, people have amla to treat a wide range of illnesses like hyperacidity, constipation, ulcers, hepatitis, colitis, high cholesterol, diabetes and anemia. It can prevent cancer and protect the liver, heart, kidney and nerves.

Gooseberries

BRAHMI:

Also known by the name of Bacopa or Indian Gotu kola, Brahmi is a small, creeping herb with numerous branches. It is bitter in taste. Research has shown that Brahmi has Antioxidant, Cardio tonic and anticancer properties. Brahmi helps restore memory, higher cognitive and neurological functions. It is highly effective against diseases like bronchitis, asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, hoarseness, arthritis, rheumatism, backache, constipation, fever, digestive problems, depression, autism and all sorts of skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, abscess and ulcerations.

File:Bacopa monnieri W IMG 1612.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MANJISTHA:

Popularly known as Red Madder Root, Manjistha is a climber, usually growing over other bushes or trees. The roots as well as the stems are used for medicinal used. It has astringent, anti-bacterial and diuretic properties. This plant is used to treat dropsy, paralysis, jaundice, amenorrhea, menopause, visceral and hepatic obstructions, skin diseases, chronic diarrhea, intestinal debility, rheumatism, tuberculosis, intestinal ulcer gallstones and stones of the urinary tract, bleeding disorders, and much more. It also works as a blood purifier for skin diseases and to improve the complexion.

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 Picture credit: Felicity Ford 

NEEM:

Also popular by the names of Indian Lilac or margosa, Neem has been used for centuries by millions of people for its medicinal properties. It has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-ulcer, blood purifier, and antipyretic, anti parasitic, antiseptic, and antiemetic properties. Various parts of the tree are used in Ayurveda for treating a plethora of health problems. This herb is used to treat diabetes, leprosy, itching, blood disorders, intestinal worms, piles, dysentery, jaundice, vomiting, wounds, eye disease, paraplegia, female genital diseases and all kinds of fevers.

JEERA:

Jeera also known as cumin seed has been used in Indian cooking for centuries. The nutty peppery flavor of cumin seeds can make any food yummy. In Ayurveda this common spice is used to treat different health problems due to its antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, antispasmodic, anti inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-flatulent properties. It is used in the treatment of various health problems like indigestion, amnesia, diarrhea, morning sickness, nausea, acidity, flatulence, stomach pain, common cold, cough, and insomnia.

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 Picture Credit: Kris A

DHANYA:

Also known by the name of coriander, dhanya has been used as a flavoring agent and medicinal plant since ancient times. In Ayurveda both the seeds and the leaves of this plant are used for treating many health problems. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-septic, antipyretic, anti-fungal, cooling and diuretic properties. It is used to treat health problems like arthritis, stomach gas, urinary tract infections, and nausea, mood swings associated with menstruation, menstrual cramping, bloating, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, diabetes, bladder infection, intense itching, conjunctivitis, and eczema.

Whole Coriander Seed
 Picture Credit: Emily Barney

DHRUT KUMARI:

Also known as Aloe vera, this herbal plant is often described as a “wonder plant”. It is a succulent and mucilaginous plant that can grow up to 40 inches in height. The thick and heavy green leaves contain the precious healing gel that provides many health benefits. Aloe vera gel has disinfectant, anti-biotic, anti-microbial, germicidal, anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal and anti- viral properties. The gel is used in the treatment of cuts, minor burns, constipation, enlarged liver, hepatitis, bronchitis, asthma, tumors, Candida infections, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and various types of skin infections. 

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TULSI:

Also known as Holy Basil this plant is actually considered sacred by many religious groups. It is a small plant with small leaves, and has hairy stems and very soothing fragrance. It has demulcent, expectorant, anti catarrhal, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, digestive stimulant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti parasitic and antibacterial properties. Ayurvedic practitioners use holy basil to treat a myriad of ailments like arthritis pain, back pain, headache, influenza, common cold, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, fever, viral hepatitis, diabetes, malaria, tuberculosis and ringworm.

Tulsi (Holy Basil)
 Picture Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel

YASHTI MADHU:

Yasthi Madhu or licorice root has been used as a powerful medicine in both Ayurveda and various forms of modern medicine. Licorice root works as an expectorant, anti-spasmodic, anti- inflammatory, laxative, hypertensive, anti-ulcer, estrogenic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and immune stimulant. The sweet and cooling taste of licorice root is used to treat peptic ulcers, canker sores, acid reflux, cough, asthma, eczema, osteoarthritis, liver disorders, malaria, tuberculosis, food poisoning, sore throat, common cold, ulcers, nervous exhaustion, cystitis and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

licorice root
 Picture Credit: denAsuncioner

Apart from the above mentioned spices and herbs, there are many more natural ingredients that are used in Ayurveda. When choosing an herb or spice to consume for whatever health problem that you have, make sure to do thorough research and always consult your doctor if it’s okay to take any of these natural ingredients.

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Dhabe Ka Gosht (Highway Lamb Curry)

Inspired by the “Dhabas” of India, this dish features not only on their menu but is now cooked around the globe. A simple rustic curry is slow cooked over charcoal heat traditionally. I was keen to share this recipe. It’s simple to cook and full of flavour.

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Preparation time – 15 mins
Cooking time – 20 mins
Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients

750 gms leg of lamb diced (on the bone)
3 medium size onions
2 medium size tomatoes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste (2 parts of garlic and 1 part of ginger)
5 fresh green chillies
1/2 bunch coriander
Ginger Julienne for garnish
1tsp turmeric
2tsp red chilli powder mild
1tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Garam masala
1/2 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek)
Salt to taste
3 pods green cardamom
1 pod black cardamom
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
6 tbsp mustard oil or vegetable oil
1 tbsp desi ghee
Juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Wash the lamb in cold water and drain the water. Finely slice onions. Finely chop tomatoes and slit green chillies.

2. In a cooking pot heat mustard oil. Once heated add all the whole spices. Cook the spices for about a minute till all the flavour is released in the oil. Now add the sliced onions and cook until slightly golden in colour.

3. Add the lamb and sauté for further 10 mins. Add the salt. Now add ginger and garlic paste. Cook for further 10 mins.

4. Add the powdered spice except for Garam masala and kasoori methi. Cook for further 5 mins until the spices and incorporated evenly. Add 2 cups of hot water. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on low heat for 20 mins.

5. Remove the lid after 20 mins and add the chopped tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5-7 mins. Lower the heat add another cup of hot water and simmer for further 20 mins or until the meat is tender. I always add potatoes to my curry so if you prefer you can add two potatoes cut in quarters at this stage.

6. Remove the lid and mix well. Add Garam masala, kasoori methi, finely chopped coriander, lemon juice and desi ghee. Increase the heat and cook for 2-3 mins. Once done transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with ginger Julienne and chopped coriander . Serve with hot chapatis or steam rice and onion salad.

You have to cook this dish to believe how simple and easy it is to make a curry. I have attached a brief video about the recipe below. Do leave your feedback.
Happy cooking.

Chandni Chowk to Chowpatty – Indian street food at its best.

I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.
Andy Rooney

A quote that sounds just right when we think of the rustic Indian street food served on the roadside stalls, in open markets, beaches, melas, railway stations, bus stops, offices and various other colourful locations all over India

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With a huge increase in fine dining restaurants, cafes and bars the Indian street food was somehow loosing its identity along the way, however a modified version of them was being served on fancy plates with overdone garnishes, served by sophisticated waiting staff in a cozy and posh environment, accompanied by a glass of a good vintage wine served by the best sommeliers in town and to add the cherry to the cake the dishes being ridiculously over priced.

Well these places never did justice to the great Indian street food dishes. It didn’t even come anywhere close to their original roots which had the taste, the smell, the rustic serving plates which were made of either dried leaves, newspaper or clay, imparting a distinctive flavour to the the dish, the hustle and bustle of the market place and more-over digging your fingers into the dish rather than using cutlery was an experience in itself, it had its own magic and in every way contributed to the dish as a whole. This experience is irreplaceable, and no matter how much one tries getting close to creating that whole experience in a restaurant there will always be that one element missing.

With a sudden increase in Indian street food restaurants popping up all over London I thought it would be a good idea to write about this great concept and how it evolved. From its birth to finding its way to the streets and now on your dinner plates at a restaurant near you.

Some of these restaurants have painstakingly created a replica of this great institution and have tried to bring an honest plate of food to you combined with age old traditions and culture.

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The History

The birth of Indian street food was mothered by The Grand Trunk Road which is the longest and the oldest road built to connect western and eastern regions of the vast Indian subcontinent by the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC, however it was Sher Shah Suri who renovated and extended this road in the 16th century and was later upgraded in the British period between 1833 and 1860.  It runs from Kabul in present day Afghanistan to Calcutta in the eastern part of India.

The Grand Trunk Road is where the present day Street food found its first stepping stone. The route was used by traders, travellers, armies and being such a long route people couldn’t store food with them while travelling  hence the locals starting setting up food stalls to feed the travellers.

These food stalls were typically called “Dhabas” which were often run by single families and mushroomed all along the trunk road serving fresh regional cuisine. The dhabas mainly gained popularity in the Northwestern part of the country from Peshawar to Punjab. The dhabas were characterised by open kitchens, clay ovens also know as tandoor and used brass and copper utensils. Dhabas today have become very popular all over the country and many modern versions have evolved.

Food was always the landmark of these Dhabas some offering the best teas often referred to as the ‘sau meel waali chai’. This concoction is a heavenly  mix of fresh milk,   sugar and tea leaves all brewed with a hint of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger to provide flavors impossible to reproduce anywhere else.

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While some dhabas boasted of a vegetarian menu; lip smacking chanaa bhaturas for breakfast, the all time favourite  tadka daal with liberal dosage of ghee; the crisp tandoori rotis and succulent paneer dishes.  Some excel in the kadi (made with yoghurt and gram flour) while others sweetened  the palates with a great array of desserts.

The non vegetarian fare was the one to watch out for, tender juicy kebabs made with chicken, quail, lamb, beef and delicate seafood preparations along with large pot or handis of curries being cooked in an open kitchen on slow charcoal heat. A few examples are  Dahi Bhalla, Chaapli Kebab, Sofiyani Machhli, Paneer ke Soole  Dhaba Murg, Kosha Mansho, Chingri Lau Ghanto, Gobi Mussalam, Pindi Chana, Yakhni Pulao, Daal Makhni and the ever famous Tandoori Chicken.

As cities started developing, the street food got Urbanised and found its way into the main streets, now street food outlet became a destination where the whole family came to enjoy the delicacies, a cuisine in itself, it became very popular among the middle class in the early 20th century. Food stalls started mushrooming on busy and important locations in the cities and the stalls became a landmark in itself.

The famous chandi chowk in old Delhi known for chaats .

(Chaat is a term describing savoury snacks, typically served at roadside tracks from stalls or carts in India. With its origins in east India, chaat has become immensely popular in the rest of India and the rest of South Asia.In cities where chaat is popular, there are popular chaathouses or dhabas, such as Mumbai’s Chowpatty Beach. Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi. The chaat specialities vary from city to city. Chaat from Agra and Mathura are famous throughout India.)

The famous Shirmal Wali Gali, Chowk, Lucknow know for Tunde ke Kebab a dish made with Lamb mince and is said to use around 160 spices along with other ingredients.

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(India is proud of its Kebabs.The kebabs of Awadhi cuisine are distinct from the kebabs of Punjab insofar as Awadhi kebabs are grilled on a Chula and sometimes in a skillet as opposed to grilled in a tandoor in Punjab. Awadhi kebabs are also called “Chula” kebabs whereas the kebabs of Punjab are called “tandoori” kebabs.)

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Calcutta the capital of West Bengal is another famous street food destination. The Puchka refers to the crisp sphere that is placed in the mouth and eaten one at a time and because of the bursting sound in the mouth it was named puchka. This dish is a very famous street food all over India served in different ways and the recipe changes from region to region, its also referred to as “pani puri” and “gol gappa” It consists of a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavored water (“pani”), tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas.

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Jhal Muri is another classic which consists of puffed rice, boiled potatoes, chickpeas and coriander all tossed together with tamarind, chilli sauce and spices, served traditionally in newspaper cones.

The Kati rolls were yet another popular delicacy. Spicy chicken, lamb or beef kebabs char grilled and wrapped in parathas (soft flat bread cooked on a griddle or tawa) with onions and peppers with a spicy chutney. It was to die for.

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Moving towards the western part of India, Bombay the financial capital of India boasts of a wide array of dishes.

Vada Pav a popular spicy vegetarian fast food dish native to the Indian state of Maharashtra. It consists of a batata vada sandwiched between 2 slices of a pav. The word batata vada refers in Marathi to a vada (fritter) made out of batata, the latter referring to a potato. Pav refers to unsweetened bread or bun. It is also known as Indian Burger. Finely chopped green chillies and ginger are added to mashed potatoes and is further tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and dipped in a gram flour batter and deep fried.

Pav bhaji is a Maharashtrian  dish that originated in Bombay. It is native to Bombay and has now become popular all over India, especially in those of central and western Indian states such as Gujarat. Pav means bread. Bhaji in Marathi means vegetable dish. Pav bhaji consists of bhaji (a thick potato-based curry with vegetables) garnished with coriander, chopped onion, and a dash of lemon and lightly toasted pav. The pav is usually buttered on all sides.

Dosa, a common breakfast dish and street food, is rich in carbohydrates, and contains no sugar or saturated fats. As its constituent ingredients are rice and lentils, it is gluten-free and contains protein. This dish originated in Tamil Nadu a state in the southern part of India.

A mixture of rice and urad dal that has been soaked in water is ground finely to form a batter. The proportion of rice to lentils is basically 2:1 or 3:1. The batter is allowed to sit overnight and ferment. Sometimes a few fenugreek seeds are added to the rice-dal mixture. The rice can be uncooked or parboiled.

A thin layer of the batter is then ladled onto a hot tava (griddle) greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter). It is spread out evenly with the base of a ladle or bowl to form a pancake. A dosa is served hot, either folded in half or rolled like a wrap either stuffed with potatoes or on its own with lentils and coconut chutney.

And the list continues. There are hundreds of other dishes and as i said in my previous blog its difficult to narrate a story that starts from the Bay of Bengal to the Coasts of Konkan, from the rugged peaks of the Great Himalayas through the land of Five rivers ‘Punjab’ right into the Gangetic plains and the southern coast.

India’s language, religion, customs and food differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. India is the only country in the world to have so many religions and beliefs. The food culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse subcultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old.

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