You’ve all seen my food pics with me oogling over the chutneys and the fresh fruits here in India, so I thought we’d take a bigger dip into the meals here on retreat. Some of you foodies back home have asked for recipes, so I’ll try to throw in a simple chutney for you to try from Chhaganlal’s seemingly endless repertoire. But first, what are the humble beginnings of our amazing food? The garden, of course, where they harvest corn, peas, beans, all kinds of root vegetables, celery, and so many herbs… tons of cilantro, a big Ayurvedic staple here.
Plenty of fruits and veggies come from the vast local markets too, which have things I’ve never seen on a farm back home; drumstick vegetable, anyone? Bitter gourd (the green one with the reptile-looking bumps)? Some kind of orange watermelon-looking squash? There are rows and rows of eggplant and radishes piled so beautifully, it’s really an art form. I’ll try to find out what that puckered thing is, too.
And the fruit! One word: papaya. Every morning we eat the sweetest, most beautiful papayas (see first pic above). We could fill up on this magical orange fruit alone… but then there are the mangoes, so juicy… and jewel-red pomegranates! Kalu makes us fresh juices from whatever fruits are in the kitchen, which could be black grapes, guava, pineapple, oranges and clementines… And there are so many kinds of bananas here, most of the ones we get at the retreat are the length of an index finger and very stubby and fat. The little rust-colored ones are my favorite! Guavas and melons and little pineapples… it is just too much!
The spices abound and are integral to Indian cooking. Of course there’s lots of ginger and garlic and turmeric, but the fun ones are the mustard seeds, fenugreek, fennel and cumin, the cloves and hunks of cinnamon hiding in a spiced rice, the masalas in our soups and dosas. It is not uncommon to have a sambar soup at breakfast or some kind of rice cake like idly (little flying saucer shaped rice and urad dhal patties), or even rice noodles with fresh coconut milk and red chili chutney to spice things up! Chagan tells us what spices we need to get, one of which is a sambar churna for soups and veggie dishes. The market sells spices by the bag or by weight from big bins, so I’m hopeful we can find it here:
Somehow our cooks make magic in the modest kitchen and turn out the most beautiful meals. Here are Chagan and Mohan, our dynamic duo, serving up another amazing breakfast with fresh coconut water, kaman dokla, papaya, coconut green chili chutney, and mangoes… o…m…g. I know you can tell from this picture below what a pair of characters these two are; they sing as they set up the tables for breakfast and make us feel like family as we rush into the garden after yoga practice, hungry for whatever goodness they are serving up!
Okay, so I know not all of these items are hanging out in your pantry, but if you are creative, you could come up with something that resembles this most wondrous condiment that sells out every single morning at breakfast:
*1/2 cup roasted chickpeas (not the same as canned or cooked)
*1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
*1/2 a fresh tamarind pod (you could use tamarind paste to taste)
*1 green chili, finely chopped
*1 tsp chopped ginger
*1-2 curry leaves
*pinch of black mustard seeds
Blend ingredients with a mortar & pestle until ground to a paste. Add water to desired thickness, and add a pinch or two of salt to taste. Voila! You could toss this all into a little Bullet blender and pulse a few times, but Dr. Mouli tells us that blending with an appliance vs. mixing by hand will actually affect the flavor of the food—that the structures of the ingredients are altered, which in turn changes the balance of tastes in the food; something to consider, since the coconut chutney I make at home in my blender can’t hold a candle to this here green sauce!
Here’s another breakfast shot, this time of a chutney-slathered masala dosa, my single most favorite thing here at the retreat; I literally get happy feet just thinking about it! Second picture thanks to my co-leader buddy, John, who captures my breakfast ecstasy (I admit, it is my favorite meal of the day).
Just to be fair, here is a photo of John getting excited about his pile of kitchari with John’s brother, David, egging him on, of course! (Photo courtesy of Carol, one of our sweet retreat guests 😊). Even though we all love eating here, the Ayurvedic diet during panchakarma is pretty important. Food is “taken” the way you think of taking a medication; in fact, food is the ultimate medicine; and when medicine tastes this good, you can’t help but feel healthy, happy, and whole (and maybe just s little giddy)!
Speaking of kitchari, there is a lot of it here at the retreat, but typically it is only given to those of us who go through the ghee cleanse and / or the purgation process. For those of you who don’t know about kitch, it’s a one pot meal made of urad dahl and basmati rice, spices and ghee, resulting in a tridoshic dinner with the perfect balance of protein and carbs, easy to digest, filling, and very grounding for the body and mind.
Below is a sample day at lunch—always an array with some kind of yummy soup, savory veggies, this beautiful shaved salad salad with lemon juice and sea salt, and, of course, chappati flatbreads, on which we drizzle ghee and sprinkle salt. YUM!
Our days here at the retreat are drawing to a close this weekend, and all fifteen of us, I am sure, would say one of the most interesting, fun, and favorite things about India and the Ayurveda Retreat specifically, are the culinary delectables. I’m going to miss the fruit, the dosa, the papaya, the chai… too many wonderful things to mention. No doubt, we will return for more of this love-infused food. On that note, sending much love from India to wherever you are!