Deconstructing Ayurvedic cuisine for the hipster diner
AD participated in a pop-up dinner curated by luxury destination spa resort Ananda in the Himalayas and came away equipped to give Ayurveda a shot, or at least a tap on their new recipe app.
Probiotic, ketonic, paleo, gluten-free—I have kept pace with the health conscious subscriber’s flavour of the season with some interest—more out of rabid curiosity to see how people put their digestive tracts through a contortionist’s paces, than an inclination to attempt one. I adopted veganism in my late teens and persisted with the non-dairy, non-animal prescribed diet for close to six years before my body and mind gave up. So, it would seem, I wasn’t the ideal candidate for an Ayurvedic experiment, especially one that would preclude meat, and as I assumed, flavour, texture, or colour.
I stand to be corrected.
The pop-up dinner curated by Ananda by the Himalayas—an award-winning destination resort-spa that encourages holistic living and eating—was preceded by a detailed questionnaire sent to participants a couple of days prior, the responses to which would form the basis of the customised, three-course meal that would be served. The form prodded me to share details about a multitude of things: my emotional nature, propensity to stress and anxiety, work style, the current status of my skin, and the constituent elements of my daily meals.
Sandeep Biswas, executive chef at Ananda in the Himalayas, who conceptualised the menu for the pop-up dinner, explains, “The body is made up of three elements or doshas: vata or air, pitta or fire, and kapha or water. In Ayurveda, health exists when there is a balance between what constitutes these elements.” A person with a pitta body type, would have a high metabolic rate, would sleep in short but deep bursts, and have a lot of nervous energy. If the predominant dosha in their body goes off-kilter, it would impact their overall health and traits. I was a pitha dosha.
Chef Sandeep’s cuisine style revives the food traditions laid down by the ancient texts of Ayurveda through a contemporary and inspired interpretation of the late scholar, Vaidya Bhagwan Dash (1934-2015), who is noted for his study and translations of Sanskrit texts that provide expositions on the medicine, diet and prescriptions of Ayurveda. However, the omnivore in me was pleasantly surprised to learn that an Ayurvedic diet didn’t exclude any food groups, least of all animal products. In fact, counts meat and fresh produce as one of the fundamental components of a wholesome meal.
Deconstructing the Ayurvedic three course meal:
Participants at the pop-up Ayurvedic dinner were served a three-course meal based on their dosha type. As per my pitta dosha, I was recommended meals that are cool (cucumber, watermelon), sweet (fruits and certain vegetables, as well as dairy products), containing astringent properties (asparagus, broccoli, celery), cooked in oils such as coconut, olive and sunflower, and lastly, using seasoning that will soothe the system (cilantro, saffron, fennel).
On the other hand, a kapha dosha comprises earth and water elements, and the main principle for balancing kapha is to introduce some pitta elements in the diet so that the other two elements are balanced and lead to more energy. A kapha dosha diet would include bitter and astringent tastes, including green leafy vegetables and lentils, all of which need to be cooked.
Chef Sandeep's plating technique could have competed with the best French or Japanese fine dining experience. The teal-coloured plates definitely added an extra dimension of desirability to the Ayurvedic concoctions.
Thai cottage cheese and lemongrass skewer: cottage cheese is heavy yet easily digested. It is also one the best sources of protein for vegetarians, and makes it versatile for use across cuisines. The lemony flavour also balances the pitta dosha by making the cottage cheese more alkaline. This dish is very good for balancing the pitta dosha.
Stir fried vegetables and tofu timbale: the vegetables and the apple and mint puree in this dish is sweet and cooling. As there is no use of any raw ingredients and the entire dish is warm and cooked, it's ideal for both pitta and vata dosha.
Curry leaf-flavoured pumpkin stew: rice and pumpkin in this dish are sweet and heavy by nature, and also possess cooling properties. The green vegetables added to this dish also bring down the high glycemic index of the carbohydrates. Hence, this dish is ideal for pitta dosha.
Blueberry bavaroise: berries are good for all the three doshas and are excellent sources of antioxidants and natural fibre. They help fight and eliminate free radicals in the body that might lead to the formation of carcinogens.
So far, so good. The predominant feeling following each meal was one of quiet delight; both flavour and satiety levels were taken care of, and I felt a sense of lightness and space despite having consumed portions which were small, yet filling. This is Ayurvedic cuisine with a contemporary twist. It’s customisable, flexible, light and lean enough for regular meals, but at the same time it abounds with flavour, texture, and freshness. Modern cooking techniques also allow us to seek our own interpretations of these ancient recipes and prescriptions, allowing us to create unique, gourmet dishes.
The team behind Ananda by the Himalayas are now promising the convenience of accessing this traditional diet through their new app, Ananda Healthy Cuisine. How does the Ayurved recipe app work? By answering a simple questionnaire on lifestyle and habits, a guideline to your major dosha is determined. Every dosha has food ingredients and cooking styles that are appropriate for balancing your body’s elements as prescribed in ancient Ayurveda. Through the app, you can choose from an array of healthy gourmet dishes ranging from Indian, Asian and European cuisines, from breakfast to salads, and mains to dessert. It covers all aspects, including seasonal variations in cuisine as well as recommended styles of cooking.
The mobile food app ‘Ananda Healthy Cuisine’ is available in both android and iOS version.