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.

madder-roots
 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.

cumin
 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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The Great Indian Culinary Odyssey

Its always given me immense pleasure to write about good Indian food and spreading its glory across the globe. Indian Cuisine has spread its wings all over the world and people savour this delicious cuisine with great joy. But to actually sample the cuisine at its birth place is an experience in itself. I write about my culinary adventure to India where I had the privilege of tasting some of the most astounding delicacies from the entire sub continent.

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I started my journey from the financial hub of the country Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city attracting various cultures and traditions. Being on the coast of Arabian sea- Mumbai boasts of a vast produce of sea food. So i decided to sample the best coastal cuisine, and when it comes to coastal food you cannot beat Gajalee. Started as a stand alone restaurant in the humble suburb of Vile Parle, this restaurant now boasts of 7 restaurant all over the world. The word Gajalee means an informal gathering in Malvani or Konkani.

I started of with Bombil (Bombay Duck) fry which is a signature fish delicacy. The fish is coated with rice flour and semolina which imparts the crispy texture, its marinated with spices and ginger garlic paste and deep fried. I have to confess this was absolutely divine.  The next dish was another Gajalee classic called the Clam Koshimbir – fresh clams prepared in a coconut and green masala. The mains were equally tantalising with Mutton masala dry and Chicken liver masala accompanied by fresh soft chapatis. I ended my meal with a glass of Sol kadi made with coconut milk and kokum which is blackish red fruit thats sour in taste and acts as a great digestive.

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http://www.gajalee.com

My next stop in Mumbai was at Rajdhani’s Rasovara– a pure vegetarian restaurant serving royal Rajasthani and Gujrati cuisine. A must visit for all vegetarian lovers. This humble eatery is situated at the Palladium Mall in Lower Parel. Everything is served in a thali. Service is absolutely brilliant, its Indian hospitality at its best. They make you feel at home right from the word go. As soon as you are seated the waiters put a traditional copper thali with small copper cups in them. The meal starts of with a refreshing shikanjvi (sweetened fresh lime water ).  For starters I was presented with 2 different chaats and 2 farsaan (Gujrati snacks or appetisers). For the mains there were 5 different vegetarian selection and 2 varieties of daal and 1 kadi. Gatte ki subzi, papad ki subzi, paneer ki subzi, vaal papdi and daal baati churma were to die for. The veggies were accompanied by fresh chapattis drizzled with desi ghee, bajra (millet) roti and theplas. For the desserts I was presented with basundi (thickened sweetened milk with nuts) Jalebi with rabri and Gaajar halwa. I was stuffed at the end however its one of the best vegetarian meals I have had in a long time. The restaurant boasts of 70 different set menus and Chef Bhawar Parmar with 25 years of experience under his belt doesn’t fail to impress with his exceptional food.

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http://rajdhani.co.in/rasovara.html

My next stop was the Capital of India-New Delhi and I was amazed by the food culture here. Its difficult  to narrate my experience in just one blog but i must say if anyone travels to India, one must visit New Delhi as it has some amazing food on the offer.

My first stop was Eau de Monsoon a contemporary fine dining Indian Restaurant at the Le Meridian that delivers exceptionally great food. Chef Anil Jaiswal has engineered a stunning menu. For starters I strongly recommend mille feuille  of sole with tamarind glaze and mint chutney and Tandoori lamb burrah with pineapple carpaccio and crispy naan. For the mains –Chicken infused with with home ground spices, upma and chettinad curry  hit the taste buds just right and not to mention the Daal Makhni is definitely a must try. If you are a sea food lover then definitely go for the Sea Bass with Madras curry, artichoke, asparagus and steamed snow peas. The service also is brilliant, Ankit Joshi the Caption served us and i must say he did a pretty good job.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eau-De-Monsoon-Le-Meridian/116828015065985

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My second stop was at Chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent. Absolutely flawless is what i have got to say. For starters baked paneer pinwheel with Indian coriander pesto, foie gras stuffed galawat with strawberry and chilli chutney, ghee roast mutton boti with roomali roti pancake were an absolute delight. For the mains rice crusted john dory moilee and pine nut porial and slow cooked lamb shank, Kashmiri ab gosht are strongly recommended.  The food was beautifully presented and was a feast for the eyes. The flavours were perfectly balanced and wasn’t over spiced. For dessert fresh tandoori figs and daulat ki chaat was a perfect end to the meal. I have to say overall it was an unforgettable experience, exceptional food complimented with brilliant service and beautiful ambience. Please do try this place out if you are in Delhi.

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http://www.indianaccent.com

My third stop was an humble oriental restaurant called Chopsticks situated at the Asiad village in Delhi and a part of Kwality group. This restaurant has some brilliant Oriental food on the offer. General Manager Sugandh Khanna and Head Chef Amit Gurund have designed a brilliant menu. A 200 cover restaurant gives you an option of buffet for lunch and a la carte for dinner and lunch. Food is fresh and locally sourced and Sugandh makes sure that consistency and quality are maintained. My personal recommendations for starters are Sesame crusted Thai chicken, classic salt and pepper prawns, for vegetarians I would recommend cottage cheese stuffed jade balls and crispy okra tossed with five spice. For the mains one must try the smoky kung pao chicken and the sizzling Hunan lamb. Well this had been a good change for my palate after savouring Indian meal through out the week. Definitely try this place out and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

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https://www.facebook.com/chopsticks.rest.5?fref=ts

My final leg of the journey in Delhi took me to this European inspired cafe in Gurgaon called Di Ghent Cafe. Di Ghent means from Ghent and Ghent is a city in Belgium. This cafe has become an inspiration for me. Serving up some hearty European breakfast, meals, breads, desserts and coffee. Every thing is made in-house. Freshly baked breads like French baguettes, Focaccia and Brioche are baked every morning. They boast of a good variety of desserts which are produced in house as well. To sum up i would say that the cafe brings an honest and heart plate of food to your table. Simple yet elegant and full of flavours.

https://www.facebook.com/DiGhent

My final stop stop in India was Kolkata– The City of Joy. The city has its own charm and beauty and my love for bengali food drew me back here. “oh Calcutta” the home of authentic Bengali Cuisine. We started our meal with Kakra Chingri Bhapa (steamed crabmeat and shrimps with mustard and chillies.) and fried Betki fish with traditional mustard dip – Kashundi. for the mains we feasted on Kosha Mangsho(pot roasted mutton), Kancha lanka murghi(dry cooked chicken with coriander and green chillies) and the famous bekti fish curry served with boiled rice. I must confess it was one my best meals in the entire trip. The flavours still linger in my mouth and bengali food doesn’t get better than this.

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http://www.speciality.co.in/oh_calcutta/index.html

Its been an amazing journey full of emotions and I have to thank everyone for their wonderful hospitality and special thanks to Sharun Khanna my companion, food guide and wife who accompanied me to all the above places.

India I will be back soon.

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