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 Cooking

Time to cook Ayurvedic stuff!

I loved macrobiotics – the theory made sense to me and the food was very grounding. But at times I found myself craving some pungent spices and heat. Garlic, cinnamon, chiles, and sweet fruits are not things you get in large quantities in macrobiotics.

Ayurveda, on the other hand, comes from India, where spicy foods rule (or so I’m told). Depending on your dosha, you may be encouraged to pump up the salty, sour, pungent and sweet.

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One of my first tasks in our Ayurvedic cooking labs was to make a chutney from cilantro, chiles, salt and coconut. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Chutney is a salty, sweet, spicy condiment. Kind of like a jam or a sauce – it can be sweet or savory. More on chutneys in a later post…

Below: Blending up a chutney.

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Mr. Natural

After several months of blogging I can’t believe I never got around to posting about Mr. Natural!

Mr. Natural is a vegetarian restaurant less than a mile from The Natural Epicurean and a favorite stop for students. I’ve loved their healthy spin on Mexican, Latin, and more since I moved to Austin five years ago. They have great smoothies, baked goods (including gluten free and vegan) and other stuff, too. The East location even has yoga and meditation classes.

Below: One of two Mr. Natural locations in Austin. Notice the little “I (heart)” peeking out from behind the store. How nice!

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Masa Class

Being located in Central Texas, we couldn’t get away without a class on masa, a classic Mexican blend of cornmeal, water, and usually some kind of fat. Masa has a number of applications: tortillas, sopes, and tamales are popular ones. I just love the flavor of corn and it’s a great grain to use in the summertime. It’s sweet, light, and fresh tasting. No wonder it has been popular in Latin America for thousands of years (1).

Below: Spicy chilaquiles – a traditional Mexican dish of tortillas, tomato-based sauce, and spices.

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Below: One of my favorites, a posole soup (at bottom). Posole is made from a large whole variety of corn and is usually cooked with a meat-based broth. We, of course, used onion, cumin, oregano, cilantro, lime and others to create a deliciously savory soup to go along with the starchy, yummy posole.

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Below: Some lovely grilled vegetables – zucchini, yellow squash, and a variety of peppers (including the very trendy shishito peppers – the long green whole peppers).

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Below: Chef Alex Lopez, always in command.

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Below: We made tamales with a sauteed mushroom filling.

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Below: Delicious posole soup with a melon-mint agua fresca.

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(1) http://www.campsilos.org/mod3/students/c_history.shtml

Clowning Around

So, you might think that culinary school is all serious, all the time, but we actually can let our hair down for a few moments at a time. So, besides showing some images from our recent day rolling sushi and wrapping spring rolls, I thought I would include some shots of Natural Epicurean students hamming it up for the camera.

Below: Okay, a serious photo to start. Some collard-wrapped rice and veggies.

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Below: We are taught to minimize waste in the kitchen, so alternative uses for mushrooms are encouraged.

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Below: Chef Rachel Zierzow showing off a very serious spring roll, made with Continue reading

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!

Making Tempeh

This past week we have been off from school and I’ve kept myself quite busy. For three days this week I assisted a private macrobiotic cooking class and today I spent 8 hours doing some cooking for a local vegan catering outfit, Green Island Catering. I made seitan, which is ironic since I don’t eat gluten, a red wine reduction sauce, and four trays of lasagna, including a delicious tofu ricotta

I was first introduced to tempeh about two years ago. My father in law sliced it up, toasted it in a frying pan with some soy sauce, and put it in a Reuben sandwich. I was pretty hooked from there.

Tempeh is really just a pressed block of soybeans that has been fermented with a special culture of mold. Like tofu, it’s rich with nutrients and takes on seasonings well, and it’s got a great texture for sandwiches and stir fries.

Below: Soaked soybeans, the first step in the tempeh-making process.

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Warren Kramer – Part Two

I promised another post regarding the visit by internationally-recognized macrobiotic counselor Warren Kramer, so here it is. Overall, I’m just really glad to have gotten the chance to see someone who is such an authority in the healing art of macrobiotics. The appreciation for alternative approaches to health is one of the things that sets The Natural Epicurean apart from what other culinary schools offer, so I’m glad to be a part of the program.

There were a number of highlights from Warren Kramer’s visit that I figured I’d jot down in hopes that it would help me remember them!

  • A healthy person tries to keep empty, not full. Eating just enough to be strong is the goal, not feeling full all the time.
  • People tend to crave more of the foods that exacerbate their current condition. Continue reading

Plants in the Kitchen

One of the recommendations made by Warren Kramer (the noted macrobiotic counselor from New England) on his recent visit to Austin (and my culinary school) was to surround yourself with green plants. Well, I’ve never been a very successful grower, but I like the idea. By chance, I got two free plants from a graduate of The Natural Epicurean who is moving out of state to take a personal chef job for a CEO. I’m very grateful for this because they really liven up my view while I’m cooking.

According to Warren, they reduce air, noise, and electromagnetic pollution and he recommends them mostly for the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms. They also have a positive effect on your mood, which I have already noticed. :) They have taken up residence on the window sill above my kitchen sink, between my pressure cooker books and my mortar and pestle.

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Warren Kramer, Macrobiotic Counselor (Part One)

The Natural Epicurean brought Warren Kramer in for several days to teach some macrobiotics classes to the professional program students and in a couple of public classes. Warren is an internationally recognized macrobiotic counselor based in the Boston, MA, area who also studied with Michio Kushi, one of the chief pioneers of macrobiotics in the world. (For more on macrobiotics, read below and check out my posts here and here.)

Group Consultation

I participated in a group consultation with a few other students one evening. Warren reviewed our brief health histories, evaluated our morphology very quickly, and made some high level recommendations. Each of us had 20 minutes, so it couldn’t be very in-depth, but it was a wonderful way to see how a top macrobiotic counselor works with clients. It was a really useful experience.

Below: Warren discusses umeboshi plums, which are a condiment used in Japanese cooking and macrobiotics. They are very salty, but good!

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