My Mother's Ayurvedic Kitchen
Honoring Three Generations Of Women And Their Adaptations To Gujarati Cuisine For Food Sustainability.
Over the years, we continued to adapt our family recipes for a modern and increasingly Western world. The result is food that’s nourishing, comforting, and nurturing. These recipes focus on the six tastes of Ayurveda — sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent — and they come together to create a meal that brings balance to the mind and body. If you’re unfamiliar with cooking Indian food, this cookbook is a great place to get started. Keep reading...
When clients of my Ayurvedic practice ask me what they should eat to feel better, I wish I could give them a simple answer. If only curing ailments and disease was as easy as preparing the recipes in my cookbook! But I’ve learned over the years how there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to health and wellness. In Ayurveda, health encompasses the mind, body, and spirit, and there is no single formula for what’s best for your body. Healing doesn’t just happen by consuming “good” foods and avoiding the “bad” ones.
Although she didn’t have any formal training, my grandmother Baa inherently understood this idea. She followed the principles of Ayurveda in her cooking, especially regarding the eight dietetics and six tastes of Ayurveda. My mother attempted to follow Baa’s recipes, but she couldn’t find many of the ingredients when she moved from India’s hot climate to Canada’s cold winters. Not only that, but it was too cold to follow traditional processes like fermenting food, and she found herself needing warmer, richer meals in this climate. The balance in her life had shifted, so she learned to make substitutions and adapt Baa’s recipes to suit her new environment.
My mother and I wanted to write this book to share our family’s experience with Gujarati cuisine. Over the years, we continued to adapt our family recipes for a modern and increasingly Western world. The result is food that’s nourishing, comforting, and nurturing. These recipes focus on the six tastes of Ayurveda — sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent — and they come together to create a meal that brings balance to the mind and body. If you’re unfamiliar with cooking Indian food, this cookbook is a great place to get started. Gujarati cuisine is simple, featuring vegetarian ingredients that come alive with the addition of a few key spices. Although some of the recipes take a level of dedication and courage to get started, most of them are surprisingly simple to cook. The longest recipe in our collection takes 90 minutes, and many of the recipes can be made in a single pot or pan in about 30 minutes. Don’t be overwhelmed by what may feel like a long list of spices, either. You’ll notice the rest of the ingredients list is quite short, and we use many of the same spices throughout the recipes. This isn’t one of those cookbooks that requires you to overhaul your pantry! Whenever possible, we’ve also offered suggestions for making substitutions if you don’t live near an Indian grocery store.
Making these types of substitutions hasn’t taken anything away from Baa’s recipes. If anything, it has added a new layer of complexity. When I was studying to become an Ayurvedic practitioner, I recognized something interesting in the way my mother and I have adapted Baa’s traditional recipes. The process of adaptation showed what happens with the evolution of food and family traditions when we open ourselves to the principles of food sustainability. In Ayurveda, this means eating in harmony with the time and place you live, and it ties into the eight dietetics, guidelines to help us understand how to prepare and combine foods to create nourishing meals. Much of Ayurveda considers what a person should be eating, but we often overlook two important guidelines when determining our body’s needs: time (kal) — how our digestion works during different times of the day and seasons of the year — and place (desh) — the environment and the climate, as well as the habitat where the food was grown.
These two guidelines have been critical to my health and well-being. During my childhood, I had two homes — India and Canada — and I enjoyed meals with slightly different ingredients while I was in each climate. When I moved to the United States, I lived in a high-elevation mountain town in Colorado. I didn’t feel healthy, and so I called a trusted Ayurvedic teacher and shared my concerns. When I told him how everyone here ate a lot of meat, he asked me about the elevation. Next, he asked about the climate. I responded that we were living at over six-thousand feet, and it was hot and dry in the summertime with long and snowy winters. He advised me that eating meat was the people’s way of practicing Ayurveda. Elk and deer were native to this area and provided high levels of heat and fat as compared to the region’s vegetables, which grew deep in the ground where it doesn’t freeze at night. These meats were high in saturated fats to provide much-needed sustenance for the cold winter days, and they could also support brain health and reduce anxiety at high elevations.
So I met a Medicine Man, who offered me elk meat processed through ceremony. At first, my body didn’t take well to it. I had trouble digesting this foreign substance. Over time, I learned that meat didn’t have to be the entire meal, and I began incorporating small amounts of animal protein into my diet. I felt happier, healthier, and more in balance. Later, when I moved to a warmer climate closer to sea level, I went back to my vegetarian ways, consuming saturated fats through other means like yogurt and dairy.
These types of adaptation for time and place are one way to heal the body through Ayurveda. They show how there is no one right way to cook and eat, and how food’s power lies in more than being a collection of healthy ingredients. True Ayurveda is shopping, preparing, cooking, and eating in balance with your individual constitution and your environment. It’s the connection between the mind and body and becoming in tune with how food makes you feel physically and emotionally.
While you won’t find the answers to the “Ayurvedic diet” in this book, you will learn about Gujarati cuisine and the ingredients we use to create simple but flavorful dishes. As you discover the eight dietetics and the six tastes of Ayurveda, you’ll see how these components work together in each of the recipes. And, when you pair the recipes together to create a traditional Gujarati thali, you’ll find yourself with a complete and balanced meal.
You’ll also meet three generations of Indian women who lived in different areas of the world, sometimes without access to the foods we grew up with. Today, it’s less challenging to move far away from home. It’s easier to find familiar foods when grocery stores fly in ingredients from around the world, and online retailers will ship anything to your front door. While I appreciate this benefit of modern technology, I also realize how it was easier for Baa to be intuitive in her time. The markets she shopped at only had foods that were sustainable and seasonally available in her region. But the challenge of knowing which foods are best for our bodies during different times of the year can be achieved by reconnecting with nature. Ayurveda teaches us to create these connections by getting in touch with our bodies and forging a relationship between what we eat and how we feel. All we need to do to benefit from nature’s guidance is to open ourselves to time and place, becoming in tune with the seasons and eating in harmony with the food anthropology of the area where we live.
My family’s recipes highlight making these connections by celebrating the time and place where we’ve lived. By using the collective knowledge of our ancestors and the wise people in our region, we have connected to something larger than ourselves. These recipes already represent Ayurveda in that way, but I’m so excited to see how many more connections and health they can create by being out there in the world.
I am honored to share my family’s recipes with you in the hopes that they can do for you what they did for me: Find the balance within the inevitable imbalance of life.