When preparing any meal, the principles of Ayurvedic cooking can help to make your meal more balanced and healthful. It is not necessary that the menu be Indian, rather Ayurvedic cooking is conscious cooking where the needs and personalities of the diners are considered long before sitting down to eat. Ayurvedic cooking begins with the planning of the meal, continues with the food choices and spices and culminates in a sumptuous feast that is in keeping with the season in which it will be consumed.
When planning the meal, one considers how to incorporate all six tastes into the meal. The six tastes are:
The sweet taste provides the bulk of the meal and is usually found in grains, dairy, nuts, root vegetables, fruits and sweets.
The sour taste is found in condiments such as yogurt or lemon juice.
The salty taste is provided by salt, usually added at the table.
Spices provide the pungent taste, for the fall-winter seasons consider using cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, pepper and clove to provide the heat in the dishes.
Greens typically provide the bitter taste and may be served alone or included with dals or vegetable dishes.
Astringent taste is a drying quality found in many vegetables and beans, lentils or dals.
Once the menu has been set, the shopping begins. When buying produce for the meal, purchase fresh, organic, locally grown items whenever possible. The purer your food source, the better the meal will taste and the more nutritious it is for the diners. With spices, look for fresh, aromatic herbs and spices. Opt for small quantities of bulk herbs from a local herb shop or whole-foods grocery over any prepackaged product. Replace your cooking spices regularly to keep their flavor and potency. A good rule of thumb is to replace your herbs each season, as you will be flavoring your dishes based on the season and many of your winter’s spices will not be the ones to serve you in the spring.
Ayurvedic cooking is conscious cooking. You begin this with your choice of ingredients and continue it with the way in which you prepare those ingredients. Gather all materials needed for your food preparation in one area. This includes all your pre-rinsed foods for the meal. Your food preparation should be free of distraction and disturbance and allow you to focus all your energy and attention on the meal at hand.
Once the space is prepared, pause for a moment and envision the meal you are going to prepare. Envision those people that you wish to feed with the food and how it will nourish them and allow them feel better in their bodies and have energy to do greater good in the world. Send out loving thoughts to the food, the people who have participated in bringing the food to your table and to those who will dine on it, to yourself, your family, and your teachers. Remember that this meal connects you to the creative force of the universe and to each person who is touched by the food.
While cooking, remain present. Stay mindful with what you are doing while preparing the ingredients and cooking the food. Bring your mind and awareness to the actions you’re engaged in. Infuse the food with the vibrational energy of love, healing, and nourishment. You may affirm to the food in preparation, “This food will impart good nutrition and energy to all who eat it.” Consider what you’d like the food to bring to the diners and frame that as an affirmation. Avoid contemplating the problems of the day, your own or others or allowing yourself to be distracted by television or other media. Your meal needs your attention. Everything else can wait.
When one cooks with this level of attention, the meal is infused with the cook’s intention. If that intention is for the advancement of the health of the diner, then that is what is realized. Ayurvedic cooking, then, is not a specific menu or type of food, but a conscious effort on behalf of the cook to uplift everyone who is nourished by the meal.