One style of cooking in India that is advertised everywhere, but is an ancient tradition from Kerala (South India) is ayurvedic cooking. Cooking is just one aspect of the ayurvedic lifestyle, which seemed popular while we were in India, but in reality we only ever saw tourists buying into the philosophy. Ayurvedic cooking is based on extremely natural ingredients and processes. We were only exposed to the lifestyle from our ayurvedic oil massages and cooking class, but we were tourists in India, so why not.
I’ll admit that we weren’t too excited about the cooking class at first because it was advertised as overly healthy - we had grown to love the abundance of butter, oil, and spices in our Indian food. I wanted no part of “clean eating,” but it seemed all the rage so why not at least give it a try?
We walked into a small ayurvedic café and were greeted by the “doctor” who would be giving our cooking class, which was really more like a cooking demonstration. I say doctor with some sarcasm because she didn’t have a medical degree in the western definition of a medical degree, but was rather respected as a doctor and master of ayurvedic science and traditions.
The table was pre-prepped with neatly organized fresh vegetables, and other ingredients, pre measured in their respective bowls. The food looked extremely fresh and healthy.
Before we started cooking, she explained a little bit on the philosophy of ayurvedic cooking traditions to us.
Breakfast foods were steamed and included fiber and protein.
Lunch consisted of approximately 50% fiber, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates.
Dinner was typically a light soup and cooked salad.
All meals were cooked in clay pots, which are similar to dutch ovens.
Vegetables and fruits are washed by first washing them in water, then soaking in a mixture of salt water, turmeric, and tamarind powders, and then rinsed with water again.
You practice seasonal, farm to table cooking, meaning you use only local ingredients that are currently in season.
Most dishes are only cooked halfway or ¾ of the way on the stove because the heat from the clay pots will cook the rest once removed from the flame.
While the table was lacking spices, Jesse and I love the idea of seasonal cooking and want to practice when we get home, using vegetables from the vertical garden we also plan to create. This combined with the freshness of the vegetables on the table was enough to hold our interest.
We would be cooking four courses this evening (listed in cooking, not eating, order):
Cilantro Lemon Soup.
We mostly just watched, listened, tasted, asked questions, and occasionally chopped ingredients, but the results were extraordinary. We were blown away when we sat down to taste the final products. We couldn’t believe that such flavors came from the ingredients on that table. The final meal didn’t even look appetizing at all to be honest, but looks can be deceiving.
I regret not taking more pictures. Like I said, the food didn't look good while we were making it! I challenge you to cook one of these recipes though. The flavors blew us away.
Kichadi (serving size: 2 people)
Description: A starch dish.
White rice soaked for 1 hour
3 tbsp. ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
3 tbsp. mugtal
a pinch of tamarind powder
2 small brown potatoes
Soak a two person serving of rice in water for 1 hour prior to cooking.
Drain rice from water after 1 hour.
In a large pot, add 2 parts water, 1 part rice, and 1 tbsp. ghee. Mix and turn heat to high.
Add cumin seeds, garlic, and salt to pot.
When mixture is halfway to boiling, add chopped cucumber, mugtal, and a pinch of tamarind powder.
Prepare potatoes: skin, and cut in thin slices.
Once boiling, reduce to a flame.
Add potatoes and 2 tbsp. of ghee.
Mix and let cook for 30 minutes on low - medium heat.
Aviyal (serving size: 2 people)
Description: A vegetable medley
1/2 cup cucumber type 1 (cucumber melon/yellow sticks)
1/2 cup cucumber type 2 (dark green)
1/2 cup eggplant with skin
1 small carrot
1/3 raw banana
1/4 cup yam
6 thin green beans
2 french green beans
1 green chile
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. tamarind powder
5 tbsp. of seasoning mix (cumin seeds, garlic, coconut)
Prepare the vegetables: Cut the cucumber into slices, cut the eggplant into thin slices with skin on, skin the carrot and cut in thin slices, cut banana into thin slices (thinner than veggies), cut the yam into small chunks, cut green beans into inch chunks, split green chile down the middle and keep seeds.
Add all ingredients in step 1 into a pot.
Add water to the pot to barely cover the vegetables.
Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes until well tender.
Add spice mix and 1.8 cup of water
Increase heat and continue to cook mixture until water is reduced.
Njavara Payasam (serving size: 2 people)
Description: A rice pudding desert
Medicated rice (it's a secret how it's made)
1 tsp. ghee (clarified butter)
1 tbsp. chopped cashews
2 cardamom pods
8 generous tsp. of sugar
2 cups whole milk
Cook rice in a pressure cooker before hand.
Heat ghee on low to the bottom of the pan and let warm up for 1-2 minutes.
Add chopped cashews, cardamom pods, and sugar to pan, mix, and let sugar brown.
4. Add milk and mix after sugar is browned.
5. Increase flame to a boil. Right before mix boils, add rice and cook for 2 minutes on high.
6. Reduce flame and slow cook mixture.
Cilantro Lemon Soup (serving size: 2 people)
Note: All around the world, people call what Americans know as cilantro, coriander. It's strange, but it seems like we are the only ones who call cilantro, cilantro.
3 cups of water
1 tsp. of pepper
1 tsp. of salt
8 stalks of cilantro
Add the water into a pot.
Add salt, pepper, and half of the lemon squeezed into the pot.
Bring all water to a boil.
Chop cilantro into large pieces
Once water is boiling, add chopped cilantro and let boil for another 2 minutes.
Turn off flame when very fragrant.