We’re in the heat of summer, a season understood to be governed by the Pitta dosha in Ayurveda. This is a time when we are at our most active, when the hot environment can cause us to get “fired up” and easily overheat — not just physically but mentally as well. Examples of high Pitta emotions are frustration, anger and irritability, which are not uncommon when things heat up! To create balance we need to make lifestyle choices that promote a more cool, calm and collected state of being, and the foods we eat can be either a help or a hindrance (think about the heating, aggravating qualities of chilli, coffee and alcohol). An easy assumption to make for anyone who has come across Ayurveda is that our “Agni” or “digestive fire” will be burning brightly at this time since everything else is so hot, but in fact it burns more slowly as our system attempts to drive the excess heat out of the body in comparison to winter when the heat of the body is driven into the core to maintain warmth. This explains why we have big appetites for heavy foods in winter and on very hot days we lose our appetites or crave fresh juices and salads.

In the summer weather we’re drawn to seasonal foods like sun-ripened fruit (much easier to digest than cold, under-ripe fruit so often available at the supermarket).The sweet taste is cooling, as are bitter and astringent flavours: think apples, fresh herbs, leafy greens and juicy, hydrating foods like cucumber, watermelon, avocado and salad leaves. Care must be taken to balance the low-lying Agni of summer with the heat from the rest of the body, so while we might want to dive into fridge-cold salads and frozen foods, we don’t want to further weaken our Agni. Summer is the time when I enjoy tucking into raw foods for lunch and sipping on cool glasses of water during the heat of the day rather than my standard hot water flask. I still take the time to chew well, and even smoothies are taken at room temperature, savoured and “chewed” rather than blended with ice and gulped down. Come evening when the Agni is naturally even lower again I prefer lighter, more cooked foods like soups, seasoned and garnished with cooling herbs and spices like fennel, dill, mint and coriander leaves, a squeeze of refreshing lime (lemon is much more heating) and cooling coconut. The cold nature of red lentils, as well as tridoshic mung beans, makes them a great mainstay ingredients for meals. Cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric are good for the Agni if enjoyed in moderation, and raita — a minty-cucumber yoghurt — is a deliciously cooling condiment, which is why you find it alongside (heating) curries.

Try the following dishes: