Kate O’Donnell, author of the new The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook (Shambala), is an Ashtanga yoga teacher, a nationally certified Ayurvedic practitioner, an Ayurvedic yoga specialist, and a cook. Her vegan and vegetarian dishes are not only healthy, they are easy to prepare, which isn’t something that can always be said about Ayurvedic cooking.
The recipes are organized seasonally, and some of my favorites, like the Warming Tomato Dal (recipe below) and the Sweet Potato Bisque are cozy winter dishes.
Here is a Q&A with Kate that you’ll want to read, before you rush to cook the Dal (it really is that good).
RB: Why Ayurveda?
KOD: I was always interested in medicinal diets, and at some point my yoga practice became such a motivator in my life that it just made sense to stick with the Ayurvedic diet, which evolved side-by-side with the yoga tradition.
What is it about Ayurvedic cooking that speaks to you?
Ayurvedic cooking makes everything medicine. All substances in our world have qualities which can be used to promote health, or can be poisons. The key is understanding how to use the substances at the correct time, and in the correct amounts.
Are you vegetarian, and for how long?
I have been a vegetarian since I was 16, when I realized you could feed more people with plants than with animals. At this point, I might take a small amount of fish or fowl, a couple of times per year, if I feel a deep need for proteins. I notice if I get enough rest, and take care to eat well, I don’t feel the need to eat meat at all.
Many people think Ayurveda is complicated; what is it about your approach that makes it easier?
I’ve seen a lot of people get confused about “dosha” and what their body type is, to the point where they discard their Ayurvedic cookbooks. I have chosen to focus on the general principles of HOW we eat, and the benefits of a seasonal diet. Understanding the qualities of foods and seasons is an intuitive sense, and available to anyone who wants to pay attention.
What are the three top takeaways from your book?
1. Preparing some of your own food is integral to wellness.
2. Ayurveda is not all or nothing and small changes actually work wonders.
3. The Sunbutter Truffle recipe!
Warming Tomato Dal
While red lentils and tomatoes together are primarily a heating combo, this dish also satisfies the pungent, sour qualities we crave in winter. The bright colors—yellow, green, and red—are a welcome sight in deep winter. Balance the heating qualities of the dal by serving it over a sweet grain, such as basmati rice, or with a sprouted wheat tortilla.
4 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp Winter Spice Mix
2 whole fresh tomatoes or one
16-oz can whole tomatoes, chopped (reserve juice)
2 leaves lacinato kale
1 tbsp ghee
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp salt
In a large saucepan, bring the 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Rinse the lentils until the water runs clear. Add the lentils to the water along with the spice mix.
In a separate, small pot, parboil the whole fresh tomatoes, stem and all, in water for 4–5 minutes. Pull out with a slotted spoon and cool them until you can slide the skins off. Discard the skins, coarsely chop the tomatoes, and add to the dal. If you are using canned tomatoes, add the tomatoes and their juice to the dal. Bring to a boil again, then turn heat down to low and simmer, uncovered. Set a timer for 30 minutes, then slice the kale leaves into thin ribbons and add to the pot. Continue to simmer, partially covered, until the timer hits 30 minutes. Let the dal simmer on low while you warm the ghee in a small frying pan over medium heat and saute the cumin and mustard seeds until you can smell them, just 2–3 minutes. If the mustard seeds are jumping out, cover the pan.
Add the spiced ghee and the salt to the lentils and boil, uncovered, 5 minutes more.
Stir and serve in 4 wide bowls with rice or tortillas.
NOTE: This recipe also works great in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Red lentils don’t need to be soaked overnight, although any dal will be creamier if you do soak the legumes.
Tomato skins are difficult for some people to digest and contain more acid than the inside of the tomato—making skins a potential irritant. Parboiling tomatoes to remove their skins is the traditional method in India, where there are many tomato dishes. One cannot digest so many tomato skins in a day. Removal of skin creates a milder dish, one that’s easier on the gut and also nicer to look at, as there will be no floating pieces of skin.
Canned tomatoes, though convenient, will not have the vitality of fresh ones. However, if you put the energy into growing and canning your own, you are likely to feel great eating them, thanks to the prana and sattva fresh food provides.
From The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O’Donnell, © 2015 by Kate O’Donnell. Photographs © 2015 by Cara Brostrom. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA. shambhala.com