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Modern Rituals: 5 Healthy South Asian Culinary Traditions to Incorporate into your Wellness Routine

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April 2, 2019
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Cultures all over the world have their own set of rituals, some religious, some celebratory, and some connected to wellness. To achieve long-term health and wellness goals, consistency is essential, which is why creating our own set of daily rituals can be so powerful. This could be as simple as lighting a candle when you wake up and prepare for your morning yoga routine or having a cup of herbal tea before bed to help you wind down. In this series, sponsored by Rancho La Puerta wellness resort, we explore ancient traditions from around the world that can enhance you modern wellness practice.

Wellness in South Asia

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, there is so much we can learn about health and wellness from South Asian culture. India is the birthplace of yoga, circa 3000 BC, and the mind-body connection plays a major role in the sister practice of Ayurveda. This Hindu approach to medicine translates to “knowledge of life”, with an emphasis on total mental, spiritual, and physical preventative health. If this practice could be summed up in one word, it would be balance, which is something we all could use help to maintain in both our lifestyles and bodies.

The Tradition: Ayurvedic Eating

Ayurveda  is all about balancing opposites (light heavy vs light or hot vs cold), and that includes eating combinations of foods that offer balanced nutrition. Just as important as what you eat is how you eat. The ayurvedic belief is that humans are naturally perfect, and any deviation from our perfect state is merely an imbalance. Different body types, from thin to solid are seen as healthy, but must be nourished differently. There are no good foods or bad foods, but ideal combinations to help our bodies thrive.

Modern Ritual

Try to approach your meals differently. Instead of focusing on what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, or seeing food as a pleasure devoid of nourishment, focus on creating balance on your plate. Are you preparing an especially rich main dish? Think about balancing it out with a crisp, light salad dressed with bright citrus. Having a vegetable-based meal? Make sure to add some protein in the form of legumes or dairy. When you think in terms of balancing your plate, rather than restricting it, it will open up a new world of what wellness can look and feel like.

The Tradition: Plant-Based Eating

Not all Indians are vegetarian, and most Pakistanis and Bengalis eat meat. However, vegetarian cuisine is a major part of nearly every diet in South Asia, with an emphasis on legumes and paneer cheese for protein, and some of the most luscious vegetable-based dishes imaginable, from saag paneer (creamed spinach with fresh cheese) to dal makhani (butter-fried black lentils), none of which lean on heavy “mock meats”.

Modern Ritual

If you struggle to eat less meat, then try cooking an easy Indian meal. The vibrant flavors and loads of protein from legumes will ensure you are satisfied and not in the least bit hungry. Keep it simple with chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad served alongside quick chana masala. To make it especially easy, you can use canned chickpeas and even buy a chana masala seasoning packet from your local Indian grocery store for a meal that comes together in less than 15 minutes. Add a side of yoghurt seasoned with fennel seeds and some rice or naan.

The Tradition: Pickles and Yoghurt

Indian pickled vegetables and yoghurt might be the original probiotic. These two foods are essential to the South Asian table, served in the form of chutneys and raita (seasoned yoghurt) alongside heavier meals to help balance them out. Fermented or pickled foods and yoghurt have been shown to support good bacteria in your gut, which leads to healthier digestion and even reduced sugar cravings.

Modern Ritual

Select Greek yoghurts or yoghurts that contain active cultures to gain the benefit of the probiotics they contain. Eat yoghurt for breakfast and add a few pickled vegetables to your dinner plate. Alternatively, you can add a probiotic supplement to your diet.

The Tradition: Turmeric

Long before the golden milk latte was trending, people in South Asia were turning to turmeric as an essential ingredient and medicine. Archeologists discovered turmeric residue from 2500 BC during their digs in New Delhi, and the spice is documented as an important part of Ayurvedic medicine that calls for everything from turmeric juice or paste to heal wounds and skin conditions, sites the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and even helps to improve brain function. It is also a key ingredient in many Indian spice blends (sometimes lumped together and called ‘curry powder’ in the west), lending its iconic yellow hue and subtle, earthy flavor to everything from rice to pickles.

Modern Ritual

One of the easiest ways to add turmeric to your diet is by adding a few dashes to your meat marinades, soups, smoothies or sprinkling it over roast vegetables. Because turmeric doesn’t have a very strong flavor (when used in moderation), the most noticeable difference in your preparations will be the yellowed color and an added layer of complexity. The medicinal properties of turmeric are enhanced when it is paired with black pepper, so add a few grinds to dishes where a little heat makes sense.

The Tradition: Thalis

Thalis can be found throughout India. Served on a thali plate with many individual indentations, on a banana leaf, or in small bowls, a thali is a meal composed of several small dishes, all of which are seasonal, local, and made using popular local cooking techniques.

Almost always present are cooked vegetable dishes, a lentil dish, rice or flatbread, pickled vegetables, and some kind of tangy palate cleanser. The variety of dishes ensure a balanced meal that provides all the nutrients you could need. There is debate as to whether this style of eating originated in the temples or in the royal courts, but most agree the namesake plate and style of eating originated in the south of India, where the meal can include 15-20 small dishes at celebratory meals. It has since become an essential style of serving all over the country.

Modern Ritual

It wouldn’t be practical to have a thali-style meal every night, but making a Sunday supper with two or three different cooked vegetables, cooked lentils or beans, tart pickles of some kind, seasoned yoghurt, something crunchy (like fried pakora or even just chopped cucumber), a flatbread or rice, and something sweet, will provide you with an amazing meal and plenty of leftovers for your weekday lunches.

If that sounds too overwhelming, try implementing the thali-style of dining to your usual fare. A taco bar could just as easily implement the elements of vegetable, bean, tangy salsa, and crema. The key is variety and small portions that will leave you nourished and satisfied.

About Our Sponsor

Rancho La Puerta has been changing lives for over 70 years. Family-owned and operated since June, 1940, the first guests arrived at a beautiful Baja California campsite created by Edmond Szekely and his young wife Deborah. Since then, the Ranch's approach to sustainability has been "Always Better," as the property and its employees offer the best guest experiences possible, while continually striving to reduce their environmental impact.Throughout the property’s history, programs have been developed to initiate and explore forward-thinking activities in the community of Tecate, the trans-border region, and beyond. With a depth of activities at Rancho La Puerta coupled with the organic evolution of Ranch itself, no two experiences are ever the same, but guests can expect the unexpected as they connect with themselves and the natural world around them.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Felicia Campbell
Felicia Campbell is the author of the award-nominated cookbook and culinary history, “The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway...
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