Welcome Home & Palak Paneer

Evenings in Rishikesh

We have just returned from India where we taught at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, a delight nearly impossible to express. I brought back two souvenirs for you ~ a refined recipe for Palak Paneer, below, and a few words to try to convey the essence of the experience.

At the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies, we were spontaneously asked to speak to help welcome the Participants. It captured so much of what it means for me to be in that divine place, so I wrote it down the next day to keep as a kind of memento. I share it here with the hope that it brings you, wherever you are in the world, some of the magic of Rishikesh ~ because Rishikesh is more than a place: it is a state of mind, a Heavenly presence, a way of being that belongs to all.

H.H. Puyja Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji

Namaskar.

In the words of Puyja Swamiji, “Welcome…Home.”

Welcome ~
 To the Home of Yoga;
 to the Source of the Vedas;
 to the Place of the Rishis whose profound wisdom has given us Yoga;
 to the Divine Love of Mother Ganga, the holiest of rivers;
 and to the Land of Shiva, who is the Grace in the Mystery of Eternal Silence.

Welcome ~
 To this Place of Deep Peace and Immense Beauty that allows us to rest and soften into our own deep peace and immense beauty within, a peace and beauty that has been beckoning us, calling us home the whole of our lives.

Welcome ~
 Above all, to this, the Heart of All Existence, where we discover the true gifts of the heart and where we remember that in the Heart, We Are All One. Where Immortal mountains point us towards Heaven – and the very real possibility of creating Heaven here on earth. Where in the Heart “a river runs through” – an eternal stream connecting us back to our own ancestors, to our own wisdom, to our own Source, to our own Infinite Heart.

Sadhvi Bhagwatiji at Opening Ceremonies

Pranams, great gratitude, to Puyja Swamiji for your generous heart that called to us, and gathers all of us here, in the name of Love. To all the great Swamis and Sages here tonight and all the Swamis, Yogis, women and men throughout the ages whose Sadhana has enabled ours, thank you. To our beloved Sadhvi Bhagwatiji, for your inspiration and example, thank you. To all the Parmarth Niketan family, for your humble, devoted service that makes our temporary home here comfortable, we thank you.

In particular, to all the participants of the 2011 International Yoga Festival, thank you for the courage, effort and devotion it took to come here and join us in this One Heart where we celebrate Yoga as Divine Union.

To that One Heart, we say “Welcome.” To that Radiant, Infinite Heart in You, we say, “Namaste.”

IYF Opening Ceremonies in the rain

This was our third trip to Rishikesh, but the first time we stopped in at the Green Hotel, just behind Parmarth Niketan Ashram where the Festival was held. We had heard that the restaurant here serves the best food in town, but we had no idea that this rooftop restaurant also offers one of the most exquisite views of the mountains from anywhere in Rishikesh.

It is simply stunning to sit there in the early evening and watch the play of light on the Himalayan foothills as the sun sets over the river Ganges behind. In those moments, you really feel the blissful serenity that Yoga promises. It’s as if you’ve plugged into the mind of Yogis who meditated here since time immemorial and become one with that eternal stream of consciousness. Pure Ananda

Ganges flowing through the Himalayan foothills

We went back numerous times, as much for the view as for our favorite meal, Palak Paneer and Navrattan Korma. The Green Hotel Restaurant’s version of these dishes is so fresh, so delicious, so fortifying, heart-warming and soul-stirring that, beyond the best in Rishikesh, it is easily the best I have ever had. I vowed to improve my own recipes at home and learn how to make a Palak Paneer every bit as creamy and rich.

Palak means Spinach

I have always made Palak Paneer without reference to any recipe. It seems easy enough: spinach, a bit of cream and some spices. But since our return I have been mining the seemingly infinite number of recipes to see if there are any particular gems that would make it especially creamy and delicious.

My Palak Paneer experiments: this one with tomato

It turns out I was missing something. Tomatoes! Every recipe I am reading recently includes tomatoes, canned, stewed, diced or as a paste. But I don’t care for tomatoes, they are too acidic for me, and the Green Hotel’s version definitely did not have them. So I am going back to my own version, but with some adjustments to the spice, a finer chop to the spinach, and a crunchier, firmer Paneer.

Making Paneer

After much experimentation, here is the recipe I have come up with to get that rich, creamy, almost sweet, absolutely divine Palak Paneer, without tomatoes. If you want it sweeter you can stir in a teaspoon of jaggary, just before adding the Paneer. Most recipes call for that.

I would love for you to try it and let me know what you think.

For a Print version, double click on Recipe

A few notes ~

Paneer is a fresh cheese used often in Indian vegetarian cooking. It has a great texture and holds flavors better than tofu. You can buy it at Asian/Indian ethnic grocery stores, but it is so easy and great fun to make. Manjula will show you how ~ Making Paneer.

Cumin Seed is so much tastier than cumin powder. You can purchase it at ethnic food stores, but more and more healthy grocers are stocking it so you might find it at your local. If you cannot find it, by all means substitute with the powder: same amounts, just stir it into the heated oil with the other spices.

BBC Food has a unique version they call “Crunchy Palak Paneer” which I look forward to trying as well.

Palak Paneer with Channa Masala & Raita

Is it trivial to go from Ananda to Spinach? I hope not. Love is the foundational principle of existence. Out of love, you and everything in this world were created. Remembering that the natural world is an expression of love, that food is a sacred offering of that love, and that our meals, therefore, are a primary, intimate relationship with boundless love helps us restore our sense of place, purpose and meaning – and encourages an experience of life as profoundly, satisfyingly sweet and sacred.

This is why I call it “Food: A Love Story.” Food comes from Mother Nature wanting to love, support and merge with you. When you cultivate that sacred relationship, and eat love everyday, you become a living vessel of Love shining a radiance so bright that Heaven can look down and see its own reflection in you. You come home to yourself.

Parmarth Niketan

And then you might even hear your Palak Paneer whispering with love, Welcome Home!


Food as Medicine

Morning TeaAyurveda recognizes that the key to optimal health is a strong digestive fire. In this coldest and darkest time of the year, we need to be vigilant about strengthening that Agni, our inner fire of digestion and metabolism, to maintain the immune system’s robust vigor.

To that end, I am hosting a unique, experiential class on the subject later this month. Stoking the Fires: Ayurveda, Nutrition and Cooking for Winter Wellness is part of our continuing series on Kitchen Wisdom, in which we share with you the concepts and techniques of eating for optimal health.

All of my Ayurvedic Cooking Classes cover nutrition, food choices and preparation, spices, teas, tonics, and tips in a joyful, interactive, intimate evening. This January class will also describe the 6 Tastes and their application, the miraculous medicine inherent in your spices, and the ideal  recipes for wellness, warmth and comfort in this cold, blustery season.

The workshop includes lecture, preparations, cooking, tasting, and a rich, sumptuous, shared meal. Our class Winter Wellness Menu is above.

If you live in our region, I invite you to join us Friday, January 28 from 6-9 pm. Details are on our website.


Channa Masala

Chick Peas in Masala Sauce

My husband Bhava and I are going to India in February/March to teach at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. A group of wonderful, heart-centered Yogis are coming with us for a twelve-day Retreat, including 4 days of Ayurvedic treatments on the banks of Ma Ganga.

It is such an honor to take people “home” to the source of our practice, to meet wise sages and saintly swamis, to bathe in the healing waters of the Ganges, and to dwell for a time in the pure possibility of such enduring peace.

For this opportunity we feel humbled, blessed and deeply grateful.  Jai Guru!

This past weekend, we hosted a dinner for those who will be traveling with us. We wanted to give them an idea of what to expect and help them to prepare, both physically and emotionally. With my most fabulous husband’s help, I prepared our favorite dishes from a typical meal they might enjoy in India.

Fortunately, the dinner was appreciated. Two of our guests even said that they would become vegetarian if they could eat like this everyday. I am not sure if they knew just how that motivates me! Since I stopped eating meat at age 16, I promised I would never proselytize, but who does not see the reason in Paul McCartney’s statement ~

“If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you could do. It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.”
*

So, when a flurry of requests erupted at the end of the evening, of course ~ despite an impossibly full week ~ I enthusiastically said, “Yes, I’ll post the recipes.” I love cooking, I love blogging, but mostly, I love it when people taste and feel the love that is in their food. So, yes!

We enjoyed a number of dishes, in the Indian Style. Of them, Channa Masala is the simplest and quickest to prepare. Since we are soon to depart, rather than typing it out, I encourage you to try this great recipe,  similar to the one we made, from my favorite Ayurveda recipe book,  Eat, Taste, Heal.

eat taste heal
You can use any Korma and Garam Masala spice mixtures. If you can’t find Korma, use Curry powder. If you can’t find Garam Masala, just make it by mixing cinnamon, coriander, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper: a little more of the first three, a little less of the last three.

You can serve Channa Masala with rice, or with Chappatti or Naan. If you can’t find these Indian breads at your local market try an Italian flat bread. Garlic was the favorite with our guests!

I hope you enjoy this protein-packed meal.

To your Good Health ~ Namaste!

~

I invite you to join me, Friday January 28th, from 6-9 pm, for a class on “Stoking the Fires: Ayurvedic Cooking in the Winter Season” to learn to prepare at home fresh Garam Masala and Korma Powder used in these recipes.

Sadhvi Bhagawati with Children at the Ashram
Sadhvi Bhagawati with Children

For a great close-up on what to expect in India, please read our beloved friend Sadhvi Bhagawati’s article, “India: Let It Inside You.”

Linda McCartney

Paul McCartney’s wife Linda was an original food pioneer who turned her passion into a food brand. Her family has maintained her company and a website where you can find her recipes for wholesome cooking. With so many delicious recipes like these available today, you might succeed in convincing your friends, too!


Stoking the Fires

Remember when Grandma would make a home remedy of hot lemon and honey whenever someone was sick? Some grandmothers might have added ginger, others a dash of cinnamon, some a pinch of black pepper, and the bold even added a shot of Brandy!

Grandmother’s medicine is a lot like Ayurveda. It is based on Intuitive Intelligence, and includes a lot of what I call Kitchen Wisdom, with healing ingredients you can find in almost any kitchen.

For instance, Grandma knew that in the winter, when it is chilly, often windy and dry, the very best way to prevent or treat a cold, is to keep warm and hydrated. From this simple premise came chicken soup, the hot toddy, spicy teas, and as my friend Jane from Bournemouth, England says, “A po’ o’ lemon.”

A wonderful “Grandmother Recipe” that we drink at home and that exemplifies the best of Ayurveda ~ botanical, simple, accessible, and highly effective ~  is the  Lemony Ginger Tonic.

To make two servings, put one half-inch slice of fresh ginger root into a blender. Add the juice of one whole lemon, 2 cups of water, 2 heaping teaspoons of raw honey (our favorite is Honey Gardens’ “Northern Raw” ), three shakes of cinnamon, two shakes of turmeric and one shake of cayenne powder. Blend thoroughly and pour into glasses.

Lemony Ginger Tonic can be heated and served warm, but in that case do not add the honey until you have poured your Tonic into the mug and allowed it to cool to drinking temperature. Honey should not be heated past 120 degrees.

This drink can be taken first thing in the morning to kindle the inner fires and hydrate the tissues, with meals to stoke the digestive fires, throughout the day to keep metabolic fires blazing and stay warm, any time to banish the blues when the days are gray, at the onset of a cold to clear the respiratory passage, and every day to strengthen your immune system.

Cinnamon is antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-clotting, balancing to blood sugar and energizing to the brain. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, blood and liver cleanser with a history of reducing tumors. Cayenne, or Capsicum, is a powerful antibacterial, pain-relieving, fat and mucus busting, cholesterol-lowering, blood pressure-regulating, cancer fighter. All three of these everyday spices are amongst the most highly researched herbs in the U.S. today, for their multiple use and safe potency in healing.

To your Good Health ~ Santé!

A Vegetarian Christmas

Vegetarian Christmas Menu
I wanted to share with you our Christmas Dinner Menu, in case you are still looking for ideas. Feel free to print out this menu – just double click on it for print version. I have attached links below to all the recipes.

Chestnut Porcini Soup is featured in Edible San Diego, and is the creation of Patrick Ponsaty, Chef de Cuisine at Mistral, the signature restaurant at Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

Sage Bread is from Delicious Living, the magazine for Real Food, Natural Health, Green Planet.

Brioche Stuffing With Chestnuts and Figs is from the New York Times Well Recipes, but I’ve adapted it and posted  my vegetarian version here. This Christmas I will add to it raisins, fresh cranberries and rosemary.

Roasted Root Vegetables: Red Beets, Indigo, Orange & Cream Colored Carrots, and White Parsnips ~ Nestled alongside the Stuffing, this will roast in a bit of olive and safflower oil tossed with rosemary, covered in foil for the first thirty minutes and left uncovered the final 10.

Oregon Blue

Vegetarian Gravy

Cranberry Chutney

Winter GreensRogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese

Buche de Noel

Egg Nog Lassi

Enjoy ~

I wish you a Holiday Season full of Love, Light and Peace.

Are you Vegan?

In our own home we are “Ayurvedis” and Yogis, if we are anything. This means that we eat mostly a vegetarian diet with the emphasis on locally grown, seasonal, organic, whole foods, balanced in terms of the six tastes and the Doshas. We are not fundamentalists, we don’t believe in denial as a methodology, nor do we claim to be Masters. We enjoy life, for all its beauty and all its bounty, but we try to be conscious about it, to make conscious choices, so that the health, energy, passion, joy, and abundance that we enjoy can be shared by all.

My intention in creating Food: A Love Story is to share that wisdom with you, in the simplest, most accessible manner, so that you are encouraged to love yourself Ayurvedically.

Photo: Getty

Traditionally, Ayurveda has called for milk and ghee as important staples of any diet. I remember an Ayurvedic Doctor in India telling me, “As you know, we love the cow. Cows are sacred for us not only in mythology, but  as a practical matter. We value her gifts and use everything she gives – milk, ghee, even dung for fire!”

In India cows are (mostly) free-ranging, grass-eating, and as a sacred animal, are treated with loving reverence. Milk, according to custom, is only taken in the Spring during calving season, AFTER the calves have had their fill. The milk for human consumption, then, is fresh, whole, organic, non-homogenized and collected according to the principle of Ahimsa, or non-harming.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, “Milk provides special and unique nutrition that cannot be derived from any other type of food. When digested properly, milk nourishes all the tissues, promotes balanced emotions, and helps to balance all the doshas. It is one of the most important foods to promote Ojas.

According to Ayurveda, Ojas is a refined substance the body produces from the most subtle level of proper digestion. Ojas brings strength, strong immunity, happiness, and contentment. Therefore milk is a very important food to include regularly in one’s diet especially if you follow a vegetarian lifestyle.”

What to do, then, if you are Vegan?

If you avoid dairy, building Ojas will need to be a priority. Fortunately, there are Ojas-building foods of the non-dairy variety. Generally, those are the foods that are naturally “sweet” in taste. Examples are grains, pulses (split-mung dhal, lentils, split beans), root vegetables, seeds, dates, figs, raisins, olives and nuts (we are loving chestnuts lately for a “meaty,” incredibly tonifying snack – look for my soon-to-be-posted recipes for Chestnut Hummus and Chestnut Pesto).

By the way, canned, frozen, processed and microwaved foods must be avoided, as well as eating on the run, in front of the telly or while angry or stressed. All are highly Ojas-depleting!

In my recipes, Vegans can replace ghee with safflower or coconut oil for sautéing. A Vegan option like Earth Balance substitutes ghee for spreading on toast, dolloping on a dish as a final flourish, even for cooking. Coconut milk is a good stand-in for cream or milk, and is so delicious added to stews and stir-fry, it is always my first choice.  Milk can also be replaced with a grain or nut “milk” like Rice Milk, Almond Milk, Oat Milk, etc. For instance, in the Ojas Rasayana recipe under Basics, I recommend Almond Milk as the best substitute for cow’s milk.

I would warn, however, against soy milk as we just don’t know these days where all the soy is coming from, and GMO is definitely not Ayurvedic! Besides, most people get plenty of soy in their diet from its many forms and appearances across the spectrum of “health” food.

Think of Ojas as another way to describe what love does to us physically and mentally. It makes us stable, patient, inspired, confident, happy. It strengthens the immune system, improves organ function, increases clarity and fires up the brain.

So, Vegans, whether you are in love or not, love is in your food, so be sure to get enough healthy oils, enjoy your grounding staples, and relax with sweet, warm, comfort food. Indulge in Ojas-building foods and let love nourish you.