A four-day cooking workshop at Navadarshanam in Bangalore emphasizes that healthy food can be quite delicious
It’s only when we are pushed into a corner do we wake up and decide that we have to change. Just like any other urbanite pressed for time, I have always eaten food for its taste and presentation rather than for the nutrients present in it; if it looked and tasted good I was sure to have it. Then my health took a beating and I was forced to look for healthier options and examine what I was mindlessly eating.
Manipulating food by adding chemicals to it can have a profound effect on the biochemical balance of our body; these chemicals alter our taste so much that even good home cooked food seems very bland in comparison. These poly-syllable chemicals are the reason why one can never seem to replicate the taste of Chinese food at home, or easily limit the number of chips we eat.
A four-day organic food workshop at Navdarshanam, located about 50 kilometres from Bangalore, changed my belief that anything healthy would not be welcome to the taste buds. The Navadarshanam way of cooking is wholesome, healthy and most importantly-for a foodie like me- also very delicious. The kitchen at Navadarshanam works on principles that have evolved from the Ateetha Ashram established by Swami Sajananda, which has been working towards creating awareness about the Natural Way of Living for more than 15 years now.
I have come to understand that the secret of good and healthy food is to eat those food items which are easier to digest and those that are least acidic in nature. Raw foods are given top-most priority as they are highest in alkaline content, and in that raw state are bursting with nutrients, vitamins and all other goodness. The spices here are ground in stone (not in electric gadgets), while organic food is grown within the vicinity.
Working in a group of a rather diverse 15 participants, we made salads out of all kinds of locally grown and readily available vegetables like ash gourd, chow chow, ridge gourd etc. and were quite surprised when they turned out so tasty. Who would have imagined that the ordinary gourd could be so flavourful? Ananthu, one of the founders of Navadarshanam, gave a new dimension to this type of cooking when he said ‘Raw salads are sun-cooked foods, for they have been cooked by the sun while they were still on the plant’. He also described it as “Fireless Cooking”.
The next best way to eat food is to steam it; e.g. idlis made with urad dal (whose skins have not been removed), unpolished rice and methi seeds.
After raw foods and steamed foods, the next healthy option is boiling, then roasting, and last in the order is frying.
Of Chips and Coconuts
With so much emphasis on food, its nutrients and effects, understanding the science behind ‘digestion’ is equally important. At the workshop, Ananthu explained that an enzyme called ptyalin which breaks down the carbohydrates is present only in the saliva in the mouth. On the other hand, the enzymes that digest proteins come from the stomach while the fats are broken down at the duodenum (part of the small intestine). To help understand this better, the example given was the difference between eating fried chips and raw coconut.
Chips have fat in the outer layers while raw coconut has it in the core. When one eats raw coconut the carbohydrates are broken in the mouth and by the time it reaches the duodenum only the fat is left to be broken down, after which it is completely digested.
In chips, this process is reversed; the carbs are surrounded by a film of oil so the carbohydrate digestion doesn’t take place in the mouth and it moves in the undigested form to the duodenum, where the juices find it difficult to reach the fat as it is still surrounded by carbohydrates. Thus a lot of undigested carbohydrates and fats go into the small intestine, often causing poor digestion and settling in the body as foreign matter.
Navadarshanam aims at maintaining ecological balance within the body thereby enabling good health. It is believed that food has to be digested in full for good health rather than end up undigested, which is often the starting point for “Dis-ease”. Other interesting experiences in the cooking workshop included baking whole wheat breads with honey and jaggery syrup as well as making health drinks with wheat grass, various herbs and vegetables.
Navadarshanam is the collective effort of a group of concerned professionals who, after a decade of study, introspection and dialogue, had come to realize that:
- People all over the world today are caught in the dangerous, swirling, currents of the materialistic, urban industrial way of life.
- Alienation of the individual from self, nature and the Creative Power is going hand in hand with societal disintegration and ecological destruction.
This Trust was formed in 1990 to provide facilities and a forum to come out of this cycle of disintegration and alienation by changing our thinking, actions and lifestyle. It is located in an expanse of 110 acres of hilly land bordering the Thally reserve forest, 50 km south of Bangalore along the TN-Karnataka border.
For more info: www.navadarshanam.org
A Great Gourd Salad
- Chow-chow or ridgegourd or ashgourd
- ( cut into small pieces) - 3 katories
- Tomatoes (cut into small pieces) - 3
- Grated coconut – 1 katori
- Dhania leaves/ coriander - 1 small bunch
- Salt and pepper - to taste
Mix all the above ingredients together just before serving.
- Soak a variety of whole grams for 12 hours in water.
- Drain. Cover with a damp cloth and leave till sprouts appear.
- Clean the sprouts. Add salt and boil till tender for a few minutes. Drain and cool.
- Make the sweet and coriander chutneys as for bhel puri.
- In a bowl, put the boiled sprouts.Cover with chopped boiled potatoes, grated and finely chopped raw vegetables like carrot, capsicum, cabbage, onion etc.
- Add curds. Sprinkle both the chutnies, jeera powder.
- Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve immediately.