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Ayurvedic Cooking

Written by Mary Thompson

Ayurvedic cooking begins with meal planning and ends with the accolades from family and friends about the most delicious and nourishing meals they’ve ever had. Ayurvedic cooking is a name given to a style of cooking and does not refer to any particular cultural or ethnic emphasis on the cuisine.  Cooking in this manner can easily be done by anyone because all this is required is your conscious presence and positive intention with the process of preparing your meal. 

Ayurveda literally means “knowledge of life” and the greatest part of this knowledge is self-knowledge.  When we slow down enough to recognize ourselves, we begin this process of self-knowledge.  It is a holistic healing science from India that recognizes each individual’s unique nature.  By understanding this nature we can use food, herbs, and lifestyle choices to improve and maintain our state of health.

Meal planning is the first step to cooking with consciousness and intention.  Because everyone’s food needs are different, we will consider the seasons of the year for this article, rather than specific individuals dietary needs.  Because we are all affected by seasonal influences dining in season is a good, balanced approach for most people.  Start by checking out what foods are sold at local farmer’s markets or health food stores.  Foods grown locally are your best choices year round.

Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent are the six tastes that Ayurveda recognizes in food.  In order for a meal to be complete, all six tastes must be included, though not in equal portions.  The size of the portions of each of these six tastes changes seasonally.  Sweet taste is found in most of our foods and is often used in the greatest quantity.  Sweet taste is found in grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, root vegetables, meats, and fruit.  Sour taste is found mainly in condiments such as fermented or lacto-fermented foods and in sour fruits.  Salty taste is found in salt, seafood and sea vegetables.  Spices and peppers provide pungent taste.  Many vegetables, especially greens, provide bitter taste to our diet.  Astringent taste, a unique drying quality, is provided by foods that are drying in nature such as beans, lentils, and many vegetables.

During the fall and early winter, we give greater attention to the sweet, sour and salty tastes in our food.  The other tastes are still included, though in less quantity.  Think nutrient dense whole grains, root vegetables, winter squash, nuts, and dairy for a winter meal.  Brown rice, scalloped root vegetables, beans with butternut squash, and mixed vegetables is an example of a heavy, sweet, nourishing dish.  Sweet taste appears in the rice, root vegetables, butternut squash, sour taste in the cheese, salty in the cheese and salt, pungent in spices, bitter in the vegetables, and astringent in the beans.

During the late winter and early spring, think of all the greens peeking through the moist soil; these have properties that can rid the body of toxins built up during the winter months of inactivity.  The best tastes this season are bitter, pungent and astringent; greens, vegetables, drying grains and legumes fill our plates and provide these tastes.  Gingered greens, millet, lentils cooked with onions and spices, and steamed vegetables are good springtime fare.  Sweet taste is found in ginger, millet, cooked onions and spices,

Summertime brings a host of fresh fruits and vegetables to our stores.  The readily available abundance allows for meals that are rich in sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.  These are found