I went to Santa Fe for some rest and relaxation. I was with some of the most enchanting women in my life. They are all full of freedom, mystery, and the occasional needed spice. We did an ayruvedic cooking class while we were there and I loved it. We made a traditional cleansing dish called Kitchari.
I had a very elementary understanding of Ayurveda but without getting into all the hoopla the basics are that food is alive, that when you prepare it…the focus is on maximum nutrition and easy digestion. It is very incorporative of gut health, and is pretty inclusive to individual nutritional needs. This style of eating does have condemning opinions about meat, some of that is due to its religions and philosophical beliefs about the animals. But I found that our instructors were open minded to say that people with a balanced style of eating can and even should consume meat in some cases. They had some of the same convictions about the quality and quantity of meat that I totally agreed with. So I’m here for that!
I wanted to tell you about some spices that I learned about. There were spices that I used and loved but never in the combinations that we cooked with. Some I had never heard of before. It was delicious and I felt very inspired to come home and start experimenting.
They focus on 6 flavors and the balance of them all in every dish:
pungent astringent sweet salty bitter sour
The first spice that I wanted to tell you about is Hing.
It has a very pungent smell, and its used as an onion and garlic substitute. It is an herb in the celery family. Look past the smell and add a pinch to the oil heating in the pan and it naturally elevates all the flavor in the dish. It must be heated in oil for the flavor to develop. You can just sprinkle it on the top of a dish, that would be unpleasant. But it is also used for digestion. It is primarily added to dishes that are naturally harder to digest…cruciferous vegetables and grains. It really counteracts the bloating and gas.
The second ingredient that was new to me and I thought was interesting was Jaggery.
It is unprocessed sugar with a glycemic index similar to honey and is loaded with minerals. It is similar to coconut sugar, but has much more of a molasses taste. It is high in iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese which is why it is used as a sweetener in Indian dishes. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index and is also loaded with a unique set of vitamins and minerals.
Glycemic index is just a measurement of how your blood sugar reacts to foods. Lower glycemic index means that it metabolizes slower and your body digests slower. Pairing these foods with a protein and fat, or high fiber content are also important in keeping your blood sugar balanced, even better if you can incorporate all three in the dish when you use a sweetener.
The third ingredient is Curry leaves. I have only ever used curry in the form of a powder. But they use the whole leaves in every dish because of its medicinal qualities. They use curry leaves to treat many illnesses in India, and it is part of their nutrition for people that are hospitalized. You eat them whole and they are sort of citrus to me. It is mild but definitely adds a robust and vibrant flavor.
I loved learning about this culture and the beliefs about food being medicine. And as I learn about traditional foods from different cultures, I find that they all have ingredients that are native to their location and have unique healing qualities. What a wonderful way we get to live and enjoy food in this century, taking elements from each other and creating diversity in our kitchens to honor these cultures and learn from them. Ahhh…If you need me, I will be dreaming up recipes and playing in my kitchen. My goal this year is to become more fluent in Indian dishes. so stay tuned to for some yummy recipes!
Michal P.S. I lost my Kitchari recipe, sad day. BUT Martha Stewart has one that is slightly elevated with a with a chutney, YUM! I will actually be trying it this week!
here is the link!
Disclaimer: I went to this cooking class for research and learning purposes, obviously I don’t align spiritually with Ayurveda. But I can appreciate the cultural aspects and nutritional beliefs on food—its beautiful!
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