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Back to the basics

The recently launched “Sukham Ayu” by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain is a layman’s guide to Ayurvedic food, says SHONALI MUTHALALY

Photo: R. Ravindran

Right recipes Jigyasa Giri (left) and Pratibha Jain at the launch of “Sukham Ayu”

Shrikand studded with almonds and laced with saffron. Fudgy coconut burfi bright with beetroot. Fenugreek parathas twanging with powerful spices.

Ayurvedic food? No wonder the country’s diving into the science with such enthusiasm. Thanks to the influence of decades of western diets, it’s become only natural to believe that health is about deprivation. No sugar. No oil. And definitely no ghee.

Then Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain released “Sukham Ayu: Cooking at home with Ayurvedic Insights.”

Authors of the popular “Cooking At Home with Pedatha” which won the Best Vegetarian Cooking book in the World 2006 at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, the duo spent the last two-and-a-half years researching, writing and cooking to create this book. Bright, friendly and practical, it’s a layman’s guide to Ayurvedic food. “We found that there are thousands of books on Ayurveda, and lots of good writing. But for a common person you have got to break it up,” says Jigyasa, adding that Ayurveda is really a way of living, a science of life.

The idea

Though both authors now expertly use the vata, pitta, kapha terms, they really did just trip upon the idea for this book. They met Dr. Prakash Kalmadi, a doctor of modern medicine turned Ayurvedic doctor in Mumbai, at one of the Pedatha launch parties. Dr. Kalmadi currently runs KARE, the Kerala Ayurvedic and Rejuvenation Establishment, at a retreat close to Pune, in the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats. Dr. Roli Rangappa, Chief Medical Officer of Kare, who was in Chennai for the launch of “Sukham Ayu” talks of how Dr. Kalmadi was suffering from cervical spondylitis till he discovered Ayurveda. “Then,” smiles Roli, “his life was transformed.” Swept up in the enthusiasm of rediscovering this traditional Indian science of healing Dr. Kalmadi converted his weekend farmhouse into KARE. Then, his team began working on recipes for the retreat. Documenting them in a book was just the next logical step.

“People always say you are what you eat,” says Roli, adding, “but really, according to Ayurveda, we are what we digest.” She talks of how indigestion is really the root cause of disease. The solution? Demystifying food.

The book, thank goodness, doesn’t call for obscure herbs and plants that involve long walks on mountains, rummaging through forests or shaking off morning dew. In fact, ingredients are almost disappointingly prosaic: bittergourd, yoghurt, pumpkin. The recipes are really pan Indian, involving good old stand by spices like coriander, turmeric and mustard.

Reassuringly, there’s plenty of tasty food listed. Like a kheer made from dates, that works as a body energiser and helps increase levels of haemoglobin. Or an aromatic biriyani twanging with coriander, poppy, pepper corns and the wonder food saffron, which reportedly balances all doshas. Even the ‘basic home-style roti’ is to be “brushed with ghee” for vattas and pitas.

If you’re looking for something more ‘healing’ there are soopas, which are nourishing home-style soups. Like the basic one with bottlegourd, garlic, wheat flour and milk. There’s also a recipe for tossed vegetables in milk, made with mustard, pepper corns and rock salt. And everyone’s favourite comfort food: khichadi, rich with ginger and fresh coriander leaves.

Of course, there are also the predictable let’s-be-healed-by-the-universe type lines. Like the theory that “Indian sweets are more wholesome if they’re made with the milk of an animal that has been treated with tenderness and love.” Or ideally rotis should be “served from the skillet directly to the plate by the lady of the house.” Or instructions to “cook with joy” and “eat meals in a dear and cherished place of one’s home” (Oh dear. That’s going to be hell on our social lives.)

You can just see this book being a resounding success with the ‘I’m-seeking-spirituality-In-India’ types, wandering around in their Osho slippers and yoga pants. But its strength is that it also manages to convey at least the essence of eating Ayurvedically in a slick, clear, glossy format. And, in the process, it allows us those golden pooris fried in cow’s ghee.

Ayurveda says

* Our digestive fire is at its peak around noon. So start lunch with a sweet dish.

* Eat a little ginger and rock salt before your meal to stimulate taste buds and aid digestion.

* Good news. Ghee promotes digestion, enhances memory and gives you glowing skin.

* Here’s a surprise. Buttermilk is not just a cool, calming drink. It’s also an aphrodisiac.

* Dieters beware. Honey and hot water should not be mixed as heating honey is harmful.

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