A common perception about ‘Ayurvedic’ food is that it is Indian food and vice versa. Hundreds of years ago, this may have been true, but over time, trade, economics, immigration, migration, personal tastes, priorities, availability, population, media, etc…have influenced India’s cuisine. Creating a distinction between Indian food and ‘Ayurvedic’ food. Although the spices may be similar, Indian dishes tend to a bit spicier, oilier, heavier, hotter or at times more processed than a dish deemed ‘Ayurvedic’.
As the proverb goes, “what you eat becomes your mind, as is the food, so is your mind”.
‘Ayurvedic’ food is based on a holistic approach to ingredients, preparation, and serving. Each aspect accounts for the mind-body connection, to ensure a meal is not only nutritious but that it has soul!
Ingredients are fresh versus highly processed to attain the highest nutritional value. They align with the season to support digestion, absorption, and elimination. Meals are prepared with an intention along with calm, steady and happy mindset to infuse the meal and ultimately the mind-body-soul with the same energy. When food is served, it’s to appease the eyes and the nose, preparing the body and mind to receive. In-turn, igniting the digestive process prior to the first bite.
Some of these aspects may not be measurable, but it’s the combination of the tangible and the intangible aspects that defines holistic nourishment. I like to approach all the aspects from spices to emotions as ingredients. The quality of all the ingredients will speak to the meal’s nutrients and how it gets digested, absorbed and assimilated on a mind-body-soul level.
‘Ayurvedic’ cooking may stem from India, but the science behind it is universal. It can be adapted to any country’s food. Very simply put, an ‘Ayurvedic’ meal consists of all six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter, accounting for the season, any current imbalances and the quality of the ingredients. Mix this in with personal temperament and you are on the path to a whole-listic, holistic approach to cooking. Simply put, cook with love, eat with love to be love.
Today, I wanted to share a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. This recipe is a new favorite of mine and has been a hit at several recent potlucks. It has the qualities—moist, soft, warm and tastes—sweet, sour, and salty that Ayurveda recommends for fall and winter seasons. The squash is soft, moist and sweet in taste, and the tahini is sweet too, along with being warming and rich in calcium, magnesium, and that good omega-rich fat! The touch of lime (Ayurveda recommends lemon in the fall) puckers the mouth and activates digestion with its sour taste. As for remaining tastes—pungent, astringent and bitter, we have warming and sweet spices. Now it’s up to us to cook it with love and eat a quantity that suits our constitution. Happy eating—happy digesting.
Tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Astringent, Bitter
Total Time: 60 mins
What you need: a heavy bottom baking sheet/pan
Recipe: adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
- 3 T olive oil or sesame oil
- 1 butternut or acorn squash (2lbs)
- 2 medium yams
- 2 1/2 T cardamom pods/seeds
- 1 1/4 tsp all-spice powder
- Himalayan pink salt to taste
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or vegan yogurt
- 2 1/2 T tahini
- 1 T lemon juice (recipe call for lime)
- Himalayan pink salt to taste
- 2 lemons (recipe call for limes)
- Himalayan pink salt to taste
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 green chili, thinly sliced
- 2/3 cup cilantro leaves
Recipe adjustments: Since I added in yams/sweet potatoes, I used acorn squash vs butternut to balance the sweetness. In adding more veggies, I increased the quantity of spices slightly. I also replaced Malton sea salt with Himalayan salt and lime with lemon. The other adjustment I made was soaking the green chili with the lemon mixture, to mellow out the spiciness and infuse it into the topping. It’s also one less ingredient to bring with you, if you are finishing this at someone’s house.
Alternative dressing option: the last version I made of this dish, I skipped the lemon topping and added a little extra lemon juice, olive oil and the chilies to the tahini dressing. It makes it a little extra tangy, but still tasty!
Step 1. Slice a little off the top and bottom of the limes, this will give you a stable cutting surface. The lime will ‘stand-up’ making it easier to trim away the rest of the peel. Start at the top and slice downwards—following the curve of the lime with a sharp knife. Try to cut away all of the skin and the pith without taking too much of the lime with it.
Step 2. Cut into one of the segments—slip the knife between one of the segments and the connective membrane. Cut until you reach the middle of the lime, but try not to cut through any of the membrane. Go slowly and be careful—fingers are a good thing. Scoop out the segment and with all the other segments. The first one is the hardest. If you don’t end up with perfect segments—don’t worry, mine were all different shapes and it still tasted great!
Step 3. Take the lime ‘segments’ and the juice and let them soak in a bit of salt and olive oil. I like to add the green chili slices in as well. Set aside. This can be prepared up to 3 days in advance.
Step 1: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Step 2. Prep your squash and yam/sweet potatoes. I like to cut mine in different shapes to distinguish between the two veggies. I try to choose the thickness of my cut based on the cook time, so they cook at the same rate. I found thick-cut fries style for the yams and 1/2 inch-half rounds for the squash worked out nicely. I peeled the yams but kept the skin and seeds for the squash. You can also use 2 different cooking sheets for the yams and squash, if you want to take the guess work out of the cooking time.
Step 3. Using a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle grind your cardamom seeds into a semi-fine powder. If you can do this versus buying cardamom powder, it will result in a much stronger and aromatic flavor—its worth it. (If you are using pods, lightly pound them with the pestle or back of a big knife to pull out the seeds and then grind.)
Step 4. Mix together the cardamom and all-spice powder, salt, olive oil and then toss the squash and yams with it. I did this directly on my baking sheet. Once coated, it may seem like alot of spice—I can’t believe I went down this path, but, even I, a spice lover, had a moment of—is this going to be too much spice?! Don’t worry, trust Ottolenghi. He knows his spice ratio! The sweetness of the veggies along with the dressings meld really well together and it’s not as strong as it smells.
Step 5: Place the baking sheet, in the middle rack of the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Check every 5 mins or so and give the tray a little shake to ensure even cooking and browning. When you can pierce with a toothpick or fork easily, it’s done. Remove the tray from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. It’s okay to slightly undercook, as the veggies will continue to cook once you pull them out of the oven.
Step 1. Mix together 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 2 1/2 T tahini, 1 T lemon/lime juice and salt to taste in a bowl. I added a dash of water as I wanted to make my dressing a bit thinner. Can be prepped 1 day ahead.
Step 1. Once squash has cooled, drizzle the lime juice and dressing over and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve! (I had extra tahini dressing that I served on the side for people who like a little extra sauce—perfect for vata constitutions)
Tips: If you make the dressings ahead of time. I recommend removing them from the fridge a few hours before roasting the veggies to bring them to room temperature. Cold food constricts the blood vessels and hinders digestion. If you are taking this to dish to a party, dress and garnish it at the party or prior to serving.
*Kapha constitutions or imbalances, this dish can be a little heavy. Enjoy it, in moderation or serve it over a bed of dark leafy greens