The basis of all Indian cookery is the ancient science of Ayurveda, the system of holistic healing which is the oldest known form of medicine. It was transcribed about 5,000 years ago by Himalayan sages who understood the value and health effects of the various herbs that grew around them.

Ayurveda believes that we can achieve optimum health by nourishing the ‘dhatus’ or the seven major kinds of tissues, both liquid and solid, including the blood, plasma, muscles, fat, bone, bone marrow and reproductive fluids, and by cleansing the body of ‘ama’ or the toxic waste that accumulates in the body due to poor digestion.

The kitchen is therefore an apothecary which tends to the everyday health and well being of a family. Daily food must be fresh, use healing spices and herbs such as turmeric and coriander and include a host of food groups. A traditional Indian meal is balanced so that there is always a carbohydrate, a protein-rich curry, fruit and vegetables and dairy in the form of yogurt, cheese or milk.

Ayurvedic wisdom is passed down the generations and children are often told to eat certain seasonal foods or food combinations that work well together. Indian recipes ensure healing ingredients are cooked in the best way to retain all of their goodness. Thus, vegetables are lightly cooked to improve their digestibility (over raw vegetables) and basmati rice is sometimes dry-roasted for a few minutes before being boiled to make it lighter and easier to digest.

Ayurveda addresses individual nutritional needs and suggests eating foods that suit your own constitution or ‘dosha’. Each ‘dosha’ is created by the proportion and balance of the five elements - earth, fire, water, air and ether - in your body and therefore everyone will respond to foods in a unique way.

The three doshas are Vata (governed by air and ether), Pitta (governed by fire and water) and Kapha (governed by water and earth). The core of a good Indian diet is one where you are aware of how your body reacts to various foods at different times, and you eat accordingly. Often two doshas can be present in a person at the same time or they can change according to the seasons. At times all the doshas combine in an individual making the constitution a balanced or ‘tridoshic’ one. It’s not always easy to follow an Ayurvedic diet but cooking simple meals with fresh, seasonal, varied ingredients that give you a sense of well being is quite achievable.

Some Healing Spices

  • Cinnamon (दालचीनी) - Lowers blood sugar, antioxidant

  • Garlic (लहसुन) - Lowers cholesterol, anti-clotting

  • Ginger (अदरक) - Alleviates motion sickness and indigestion

  • Turmeric (हल्दी) - Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

  • Chilli (मिर्च) - Aids digestion

  • Asafoetida (हींग) - Helps digestion and prevention of flatulence

  • Cumin (जीरा) - Aids digestion

  • Fennel (सौंफ) - Eases colic

  • Coriander (धनिया) - Aids digestion; high in fibre and vitamin C

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