Behold the healing power of Ayurvedic cooking.
The gluttony is almost over. Much to my surprise I lack the energy to make a final pot of turkey stock, ice the last batch of gingerbread cookies and lick the blondie bowl clean. I'm gorged out. In this economy, who knows when such abundance will appear again, but I can honestly say I'm looking forward to leaner times.
At first I thought I'd undertake a radical detoxification program like Beyonc�'s, in which I subsisted on a hot beverage of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. While this steamy pick-me-up is delicious, invigorating and highly recommended for the season, I couldn't imagine drinking six cups a day and supplementing it with laxative tea. The transition seemed too extreme--going from thrice-daily portions of turkey and stuffing to an exclusive relationship with a ceramic mug. After exploring every detoxification program I could find, Ayurvedic cooking seems to offer a moderate path toward alleviating bloat, both physical and material.
Developed in India more than 5,000 years ago, Ayurvedic cooking focuses on food's healing properties. Each meal aims to include six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. The recipes are simple, often highlighting one main ingredient--such as a vegetable, pulse or grain--and then adding layers of flavor using traditional Indian spices. These dishes are wholesome, nutritious and aid digestion.
Maya Bhagat, a holistic health practitioner who teaches Ayurvedic cooking classes at Mt. Airy Learning Tree, says the recipes are less about following rules and more about following human intuition. She suggests a breakfast of brown rice, ghee (clarified butter), milk and honey. For dinner, she sautees onions, tomato and spinach with turmeric, cumin and coriander then poaches an egg in the mixture. Lunch might be a simple bowl of lentil soup and flatbread.
Bhagat believes that the American diet is "based on taste and sight, not on the true wholeness of the food." In other words, craving a second helping of cranberry sauce comes from your mind calling out for heaps of ruby sweetness, not your body alerting you to its nutritional deficiencies and needs. Learning to listen to your body's needs is what Bhagat's teaches in her class.
"I focus on quality. Is the food lively and fresh? Does it offer vitality? You're allowing your body to respond. It's a philosophy about your personal energy, your relationship to the food and vitality to the food."
Bhagat also encourages us to reexamine the notion of cravings. The word has taken on a negative connotation, but Bhagat sees cravings as extremely positive.
"The body takes over and it will give you craving. It's a barometer, a way of the body saying, 'Yeah, I want that.'"
The key concept here is to allow the body to place the order, not the mind. What better time to experiment with this approach, with memories of overindulgence fresh in our minds? Ask yourself, "Do I want that third helping of Christmas dinner?
I remember so well the feeling of beaching myself on the carpet a short month ago, deep in a food coma. My body hated me that day. So why not opt for a bowl of broth this time 'round? It's counterintuitive--especially at this time of year--to think of food's healing properties when so often the focus is on overindulging in the name of holiday cheer.
"Go back into your kitchens," says Bhagat. "You've got all the medicine there."
Learn about Maya Bhagat's upcoming Ayurvedic cooking classes at www.pranabalance.com.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014