Indian Stuffed Okra

I love the okra. My mom used to cook fried okra and it was so good, but I don’t eat it much any more. I learned from my friend Todd about stuffed okra – an Indian dish that calls for stuffing okra with a mix of intense spices. We cooked it once during one of our Thursday night regular cooking sessions and it was an instant favorite.

Below: Start with fresh organic okra. Preferably from Texas, if you happen to be a Lone Star stater like me. 🙂

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You make a slit down the side of each okra. Your goal for making this cut is to create a pocket inside the okra into which you can stuff a half teaspoon or so of powder. To make my mix, I used 2 tsp mango powder, and one tsp each of chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. Next, you toss the okra in the leftover spices and saute them with some chopped tomato in a hot pan. I sauteed them in some ghee, which is clarified butter. (I can handle ghee since the proteins have been removed.)

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Now, after a super hot meal (I also added some whole dried chiles), I needed something to cool me off. Luckily I had some NadaMoo! in the freezer. Ahh…

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Dosa!

I love dosa. I think I might go out to Swad and get some dosa later. I just think I could over-dosa on this delicious gluten-free flatbread from India.

Dosa, Basically

Dosa is made from ground urid dal (a white legume) and ground rice. Some methi seeds (fenugreek) are added for flavor. The blend is mixed with water and left to ferment, which gives it more flavor. The batter is spread thinly and cooked to crispy, golden-brown-and-delicious perfection. If you’re in Austin, I recommend the aforementioned Swad (up North) or Nomad Dosa (South). Then, make it yourself.

Below: Chanha dal, soaking. We used this to make a thicker dosa.

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One of our recipes called for fresh coconut water AND we had a recipe to make a chutney from fresh coconut shreds. So, Chef Maya showed us how to open a mature coconut. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with young coconuts, which are relatively easy to hack open with a cleaver or even a regular chef knife. Mature coconuts required a bit more force, however…

Step one is to drive a pointed object into the coconut so you can drain the water.

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Below: Chef Maya about to pierce the coconut with a screwdriver.

20120701-111514.jpgBelow: Draining the coconut.

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Below: You have to smash up the mature coconut to get at the white fleshy part.

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Below: Making a perfect dosa takes some skill as the batter lacks gluten to make it stick together. I’m still working on my technique…

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Below: A fresh dosa with yummy chutney and savory potatoes. Welcome to yummytown!

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Chutneys and Oils

Ghee and chutneys are like key parts of an ayurvedic sandwich. The ghee is the bottom slice of bread; chutneys the top slice. The main stuff goes in the middle, but without that bread, your sandwich wouldn’t be the same.

Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter. There you have it.

To expound on the topic, clarified butter is when you heat butter to a simmer, thereby pulling out the milk solids and boiling off the water. The result is pure milk fat with no proteins or sugars – this would render the butter digestible for people with dairy allergies and lactose intolerance. If those are properties of interest to you, I recommend you only buy ghee that claims to be casein free and/or lactose free.

Ghee is used as a foundation for many dishes – it provides the oil you’ll saute your aromatics in. It works like olive oil does in Italian cooking. Or pork fat in less health conscious recipes. Ghee gives the silkiness, the fat, that makes life sweet and delicious.

Ghee is considered a prized ingredient in the ayurvedic arsenal. Quality ghee is said to produce ojas, the element considered the foundation of immunity in ayurveda. Ojas is really good. One website said ghee is the recipient of a “crowded river of praise” (1). Wow.

To make the ghee, you just cook the butter at a fairly low temperature and bring it to just a simmer. You don’t want to burn the solids.

Below: About to make some ghee.

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Below: Pouring off the ghee. The milk solids are the brown bits you see in the saucepan.

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Below: Two ghees – the darker one is close to burned, but OK.

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Chef Charlotte Jernigan had us infuse some oils. I chose a roasted peanut oil, added lime and garlic with red pepper flakes. See photo below…

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Chutneys

Chutneys are intensely flavored condiments you can eat with breads or along with your main dish. What really helped me envision chutneys was Chef Charlotte’s direction that you’re going for something really salty/spicy/sweet. This is because you want the chutney to hold up to whatever else you’re eating it with. Also, you’re not going to make a meal out of a chutney, so it can be extra salty or spicy. The main idea is to create something really strong and unique to provide a counterpoint to the meal.

I guess you could make a chutney out of a lot of different things, but I ended up making a few variants on the classic coconut+cilantro+spices theme. Another favorite was apple+spices. Chutneys are a great tool to have in my culinary toolbox.

Below: Apple raising chutney at bottom.

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Below: A cool, herby and delicious cilantro-coconut chutney. Really great with any Indian meals.

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Below: A palate of chutneys! One of them is coconut black peppercorns. A few of them are apple based, and some cilantro based.

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(1) http://www.amritaveda.com/learning/articles/ghee.asp

Ayurvedic Theory II

When we last discussed Ayurvedic diets, I wrote about doshas, tastes, and energy (oh my!). I’ll add a few more helpful details in this post.

Use All Six Flavors

Last time, we discussed the six flavors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent). It is important to try and incorporate all six tastes in each meal, even when one of those tastes might already be aggravated in your body.

This is because you need all six flavors and the elements they bring to your body. Your body is a complex system. Just because you have dry skin, doesn’t mean you should eat only oily things. It just means you need to rebalance your food intake to account for your condition. If you’ve been sleeping too much, it doesn’t mean you need to stop sleeping altogether.

Below: The six flavors, as pictured in the book Eat Taste Heal (our Ayurvedic texbook and an award-winning one, at that).

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The Gunas

Gunas are known as the “doshas of the mind.” Gunas are qualities that we see in our mental states and are affected by food, just like doshas. The gunas are:

  • Sattva – clarity, brightness, calmness
  • Raja – stimulation, movement
  • Tama – groundedness, heaviness, inertia

Just like doshas, the gunas can be out of balance. You can experience excess stimulation (rajas) or be overly settled and reach a point of stagnation and decay (tamas). What types of foods affect gunas?

  • Sattva – vegetables, fruit, very good dairy foods, fresh foods
  • Raja – meat, spicy foods, garlic
  • Tama – sweets, fats, alcohol, mushrooms, stale foods

It doesn’t mean that tamasic foods (foods that produce tamas) are bad – just something to be wary of. Usually, people strive for sattvic energy and foods producing sattva because clarity and calm are valued.

Doshas and the Seasons

Certain energies – doshas – are more active during certain times of year. Summer is hot and sultry – pitta is strong at this time. Fall and early winter is windy and change is in the air – vata energy is strongest. And late winter and spring has grounding, but steady energy – the growth regulating energy of kapha takes the lead.

Below: Cacao nibs are primarily bitter in flavor.

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With doshas varying by season, it’s important to avoid aggravating the dosha that is already naturally high in that season. So, in summer, it’s important to avoid hot, pungent foods, especially for someone with a strong pitta constitution. If not, such a pitta person might experience symptoms indicating too much pitta energy (e.g., inflammation, irritability).

Doshas and the Daily Cycle

Each time of day is associated with doshic energy. For example, the middle of the day is when our digestive fires are burning strongest and when the heat of the day is at it’s peak – that would be a time when pitta energy is more strong in the environment relative to the others. And how about when people generally feel most productive and have the steadiest energy for work? Morning (6 – 10am) and late afternoon (after 6pm). I know those times are when I feel most productive and those are kapha times, since kapha is about steady energy. Inconsistent, variable vata is highest in mid afternoon and in the very early morning (2 – 6am).

Random: On a break from class, I saw this walking stick in the parking lot.

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Ayurvedic Food Philosphy – Introduction

We started our study of Ayurveda with a visit from Felicia Tomasko, an expert from Los Angeles on Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic counselor, and a yoga teacher. Felicia is also editor of LA Yoga, which you would certainly have heard of if you do yoga in Los Angeles. Similar to Warren Kramer, it was really nice to have a person teaching us who has a national reputation in their field.

Below: Felicia Tomasko (far right) discusses Ayurveda with Natural Epicurean students.

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Ayurveda – A First Impression

Similar to macrobiotics, Ayurveda is a study of the energy of everything and naturally food is a key part of how that energy is transferred to our bodies. So according to Ayurveda, food is very much tied to health – imagine that! One of the things we students have observed and enjoyed about Ayurveda is that spices are a key element in the energy of a particular food. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric – we’ve been playing with these any many, many more. In fact, Ayurvedic food is very much about the study of the taste of food.

Below: Spices for in-class tasting. 

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Ayurveda – The Basics

Ayurveda is “the science of life” (ayur + veda = life + study) and dates back around 2,000 to 5,000 years. Ayurveda identifies three doshas, or types of energy which are constantly varying in intensity within the universe and within us. Each of us is born with a given balance of these doshas:

  • Vata – governs movement, lightness. Is ephemeral and active, and prone to dryness and coolness.
  • Pitta – governs transformation, digestion, discernment. Is fiery and driven in energy.  Tends to be hotter and brighter.
  • Kapha – governs growth and lubricating elements of the body (e.g., joints). Is more settled and steady in energy. Is colder, heavier, and wetter than the other doshas.

Doshas are prone to fall out of balance, in fact that is where the word “dosha” comes from – that which can fall out of balance. Since vata energy is more active and ephemeral, it is the most likely to get out of balance. What can throw your doshas out of balance?

  • Food (e.g., too much spicy food can aggravate pitta’s already fiery nature)
  • Weather (e.g., too much cold weather can aggravate kapha’s coolness)
  • Physical activity (e.g. too much movement/travel can aggravate vata’s tendency to be overactive)

So where it gets interesting is that physical problems are tied to doshas. For example:

  • Feeling tired and sluggish? Kapha dosha is likely overactive. Pungent, bitter foods may help lighten you up.
  • Feeling acid reflux or burning in your digestion? Pitta dosha is too increased. Cooling sweet or astringent foods may be helpful.
  • Dealing with dry, flaky skin? The dryness of vata may be aggravated. Moist oils or sweets could help.

Food and Doshic Balance

How can you know which foods will keep your doshas in balance? Ayurveda starts with the flavors of food, of which there are six:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Pungent
  • Astringent

Each of these tastes affects doshas in different ways because each taste carries energy of it’s own. An example is that pungent food is fiery and hot (e.g., jalapeno peppers). When you combine pungent food with a person with a strong pitta dosha, which is already fiery and hot itself, the person’s doshic balance is harmed – the person will tend to have overactive pitta-ness. To calm that over pitta quality, you could eat tastes which are more cooling – astringent and bitter (e.g., eggplant, leafy greens, turmeric, cucumber).

Learning how to identify tastes was one of the more enjoyable parts of my time at The Natural Epicurean – we spent a lot of time in the past few weeks focusing in on flavors. I think that it’s going to make me a better cook primarily, and secondarily will help me a better healing cook.

Note – foods can have multiple flavors at once. For example, oranges are both sweet and sour. Bananas are sweet and astringent. Tomatoes are sour and sweet. Onions are pungent, and their sweetness intensifies when they’re cooked.

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Summary

Ayurveda is a really old way of planning for health. Although it is not intuitive for Westerners, the more we work with it the more we’ll understand it. Then, we can incorporate Ayurvedic philosophy into our daily lives more easily. And one does not need to live and eat Ayurvedically all the time, agonizing over the doshic balance of every meal – you can use it as part of your overall health plan.

I’d like to write more about Ayurvedic philosphy and food, but I’ll save it for another time!