5 ESSENTIAL AYURVEDIC INGREDIENTS
Ayurveda is a philosophy for life rather than an actual cuisine, so I use local ingredients in my recipes alongside a range of exotic spices, that are thankfully, also available at the local supermarket. While the majority of ingredients you'll find in my cookbook, East by West — and in the recipe section — use common enough ingredients, there are a few that might stick out like a sore thumb and leave you guessing. Nothing is left to chance in Ayurvedic cooking, and you can reap benefits from every ingredient — here are five that are absolute must-haves.
I'VE GOT THOSE MOVES LIKE JAGGERY
As seen on the most recent season of the Great British Bake-Off, jaggery — pronounced jag-uh-ree — is made in India from sugar cane juice and date or palm sap. Unlike white and brown sugar, the molasses and crystals are not separated, which creates a concentrated block of unrefined natural sweetener.
I love raw honey, pure maple syrup and dried fruits to sweeten my dishes, but jaggery has to be a massive favourite thanks to its being affordable, as well as its wide range of flavours — the lightest coloured has the lightest flavour and vice-versa. It also works really well in baking when you don’t want to add the liquid content of maple syrup. And when it comes to cooking sweeteners, I prefer to keep my honey raw.
Find jaggery at local Asian or ethnic stores and supermarkets (look for “piloncillo” in South American shops), or online at Ocado. Stick to jaggery sold in blocks rather than granulated, as the latter has usually been treated. Otherwise, your closest bet is unrefined sugar cane, rapadura or coconut sugar — usually much more expensive when found in health food shops!
Pronounced Aso-fa-tee-da, Asafoetida is a ground spice we don’t see every day in Western cooking. It derives from a special kind of fennel and adds tonnes of flavour to every dish it’s in. It also has anti-viral properties — nurses in WWI even used it to treat the flu!
Asafoetida is a potent ground resin usually mixed with rice flour and only a little is needed to add to your cooking. It is a great flavour substitute for garlic and onion— which aren’t favoured in Ayurveda — and I use it in all my dal recipes, because it makes beans and lentils easier to digest. If you’ve had issues with those pulses in the past, the spice could be your new best friend. Find it in local Asian or ethnic stores, or online at Amazon — and if you can’t find asafoetida, ask for hing, which is the spice’s other name.
Mung beans are common in supermarkets, recognisable by their green jackets. Cheap and nutritious, mung is filling and satisfying, as well as healing and cleansing — it’s the perfect detox food! It’s Tridoshic and Sattvic, which is the ultimate in Ayurveda, not to mention its high protein and fibre content. It is especially suitable for the warmer days, as it has a cooling effect.
To cook mung beans into soups, stews, dips and patties, be sure to soak for 8 hours or overnight, rinse and drain before cooking until completely tender. The addition of spices, especially asafoetida as mentioned above will make them even easier to digest for those with poor digestion.
The hulled ‘split’ versian (‘dal’ means split) beans), while not common to supermarkets just yet but easily found at your local Asian store, are much easier to digest, don’t require soaking and have a faster cooking time. Not to be confused with yellow split peas, or any other dal, check the shop page to pick some up online.
WHITE ON (BASMATI) RICE
We’ve all seen white rice before but you might be curious as to why basmati — and why white when it could be brown?! White basmati rice is the golden grain of Ayurveda, not least of which for its GI (which is much lower than in other white rice). Although brown rice is very popular at the moment — as everyone jumps on the whole-grain train (it rhymes), brown basmati not as easy to digest as its white counterpart, so choose wisely. If you can find aged basmati rice at your local supermarket, even better! This grain is suitable for all doshas.
There is a very specific method for cooking rice in Ayurveda: it should be soft, not al dente, and you can add a bit of ghee and sea salt at the end for flavour. For more on how to get the best out of your basmati, including how to prep brown basmati if using, check out my book East by West.
Please excuse this awful pun. Pronounced Guee or Kee, ghee is THE fat to use in Ayurvedic cooking. It’s also used as a moisturiser and even as an eye treatment in Ayurveda! Yes, it can do everything, enjoying the same status that the modern wellbeing world gives coconut oil today. A special kind of clarified butter, it has a slightly sweet taste and is a very balancing ingredient. Importantly, it is heat-stable, making it the perfect fat to cook or fry with. Be sure to look for pure quality ghee (and organic grass-fed if you can afford it), as over the years it has been tarnished with the same brush as butter: some companies mix it with vegetables oils in a bid to make it appear healthier à la margarine...