Spring cleaning

Last night I accompanied Axel to a friend’s house for a cooking and information class about Ayurvedic self care. Our friend is the one who has been massaging our sore and traumatized limbs and bodies since July 2007. While we were away in Afghanistan she took classes in Ayurveda, an ancient approach to life and health.

And so last night we learned about the doshas, their elements and attributes: vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water). It’s ancient, complicated and endlessly fascinating. Since Axel is in transition, weaning off all sorts of medicines, he had decided that this cleansing might be a good idea. Cleansing means removing foods from our diet – for awhile – that are not so good for us: alcohol, sugar, red meat, processed foods, dairy, shellfish and more and substituting them with foods and spices that are decidedly Indian: pulses, rice, vegetables, and all sorts of spices.

The staple food for the cleansing is a rice and lentils mixture that is cooked in ghee and enriched with spices and just about any vegetable you want. It is called kitchari. When I first looked up recipes I typed in ‘kedgeree’ and discovered that this is an English breakfast adaptation with fish, often with eggs, butter and whatever else was left over from the previous evening meal (this from before the days of refrigeration).

Curious about the history of that transformation I learned that not everyone believes that India informed the British kitchen: one source claims that the dish went from Scotland to India during the Raj time and then back to the UK.  Whatever way it went, the transformation remains mysterious.

An important aspect of the doshas is taste (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and astringent) and this informs the choice of spices and vegetables to add to the mixture. We were a little loose last night with the spices and produced a very yummy and spicy kitchari. As we sat down to eat the meal I realized that I was eating ‘shola,’ one of my favorite Afghan dishes. I had no idea our cooks, at work and at home, were offering us ayurvedic meals. Except for the oil and salt, used rather lavishly, our diet in Afghanistan is improving in our rear view mirror.

We have now successfully completed our first day of cleansing. Axel went cold turkey off beer and tea and me off chocolate. It’s only for a week so eventually we will be able to return to these eating habits. This is a relief as I just learned from a reputable medical journal that eating chocolate staves off stroke in older women.

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