Written by John Immel,
Crafting your own recipes can seem like a mystical or magical talent, a knack you're born with or without. The fact couldn't be further from the truth. Designing recipes for taste and medicinal effect is a skill you can acquire through a bit of training. The skill is both fun to learn and even more fun to eat. You'll find that in Ayurveda, the better the food tastes, the healthier it is for you.
Naturally, artistic vision is one essential part of this creative process. You close your eyes and envision what you want to eat. But as necessary as this is, artistic vision isn't sufficient to create a delicious recipe. You need a technique to pull it all together, to compose the recipe. The thoughtful composition of recipes is essential to your skill in wielding food as medicine.
Experienced artists don't just sit down to create; they form a plan, organize the basic elements, and arrange the pieces and parts they have envisioned. Architects, composers, painters and photographers all study composition. They are aware of certain key elements in their vision - the structure of the their design. A photographer knows where to position their subjects. An painter knows which colors will evoke which feelings. An architect is master of building materials, and knows their strengths and properties.
Similarly, a chef must also study the basic building blocks of recipes, something we specialize in at the Joyful Belly School of Ayurveda. We give our students a method to design recipes. Once you begin to see the composition behind recipes, complex recipes seem simpler and easier to remember. With this method, you too can design incredibly complex meals without it being overdone or garish. There's nothing worse than creativity gone wild when it comes to food - all the flavor is lost in the overwhelm. Good art and medicine is simple, yet subtle and profound.
Why Learn this Simple Technique?Have you ever flipped through the pages of a recipe book, found something tantalizing, only to find the ingredients are missing in your cupboard? Or that they are mismatched to your body type? Or, that you like the idea of the recipe but you may not like a particular ingredient?
Once you know how recipes are designed as a whole, how they are composed, you can easily swap out ingredients. You can adapt the recipe to a very similar result uniquely suited to you, balancing the qualities of foods that might normally be problematic for you. The composition helps you think strategically about the recipe.
Composition helps you to see the recipe as an expression of an idea, rather than a specific formula. In addition to crafting deliciousness, when you can see the composition of a recipe behind the particular ingredients, the recipe becomes modular - meaning you can remove and insert components according to your fancy and constitution. Composition reveals the reason why certain ingredients have been included, and how it all fits together. Here's how we do it.
How to Compose Your First RecipeFirst, we'll explain the building blocks of composing a recipe. Next, we'll provide a worksheet you can download to create your own recipes.
Step 1: The BaseBegin your creative process by selecting the base ingredient(s). The base usually consists of one carbohydrate and/or one protein. These base ingredients are the ones that fill your belly and give you satisfaction. They are the foundation upon which flavors are added. The base ingredients constitute the heavy, grounding, substantive macronutrients of the meal.
Often, base ingredients will be very versatile and suitable for many recipes. Some of the most common base options include rice, potatoes, legumes, chicken, flaky fish such as flounder, taro root, tapioca, most grains, pasta, and bread. The blandness of these ingredients makes them compatible with many different recipes. Foods that still fall into this category but are less bland include beef, lamb, and eggs. As you construct your recipe from the bottom up, build from these bland base ingredients then work your way up to more flavorful choices. If you start with flavorful ingredients first, you choices will be more restricted later on.
We'll walk you through how to do this with an example - Spaghetti Squash Pasta Primavera. Rather than use traditional, heavy to digest pasta which is typically aggravating for Kapha types, we've substituted a lighter food called spaghetti squash - making the base ingredient of the dish suitable for all doshas. It's similar texture and consistency to pasta and the fact that it's a generally bland ingredient on its own, make it an easy fit.
The above example illustrates of how you can easily substitute elements in a composition, swapping butternut squash for pasta.
Step 2: AccompanimentNext comes the accompaniment which is usually 1-2 ingredients. Accompaniments generally have more flavor than the base and offer micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Veggies like carrots, beets, turnips, kale, peas, and bell peppers can all fit this bill. In the Spaghetti Squash Primavera example, tomato is the accompaniment. While the accompaniment is often a vegetable, it doesn't have to be. For example, bacon could accompany your potato salad. Sunflower seeds could add crunch to your hummus wrap.
Ayurvedically, the accompaniment can also balance the medicinal qualities of the base. If the base were a heavy ingredient like potatoes, the accompaniment could be a light green such as kale. In this way, practitioners create balanced recipes that also serve as medicinal "herb formulas".
Step 3: The SauceOnce your base is adequately accompanied, move on to choosing your sauce. Sauce is about taste, not flavor. What's the difference you may wonder? Flavor is perceived in the nose, while taste is sensed on the tongue. The sauce is what tickles your taste buds, defining the experience of your masterpiece on your tongue. Your sauce creation also determines the liquid, salt, fat and ratio of the 6 tastes present in your meal. Typically most of the meal's fats are concentrated here.
Sauces are important! Typically, even non-Ayurvedic chefs spend alot of time studying the chemistry and composition of sauces. Think of roux, bechamel sauce, hollandaise, and gravies. We can divide the sauce into two components, texture and taste.
Step 3a: Select the TextureIt's the sauce part of the recipe creation that determines the ultimate texture. The texture of your dish will be on a spectrum from soup to roasted. Vata types do best with plenty of fluids, and will often choose a soupy texture. Kaphas need less moisture and may opt for no sauce at all resulting in a dish that's roasted, dry, or baked. Even a simple sautee of your ingredients in oil creates a small amount of sauce.
Textures where moisture is added:
Step 3b: Add Tastes to Your SauceNext, choose one item for each of the following six tastes. In Ayurvedic nutrition, it's important to get all six tastes in your meal much like in western medicine it's important get a variety of minerals and vitamins. If you miss a taste in this category, you can be sure to get it in the flavor and/or garnish, so this part is a bit flexible. Here are some examples of possibilities:
Ultimately, your recipe will be delicious if the sauce has the right amount of oil, salt, and sweetness. When you recipe seems unappetizing, try adjusting these three factors.
Step 4: Flavor (Aroma)Now onto the flavor. For this part, your nose comes in handy as this aspect of your recipe will hit the high notes with aromatic spices. These give the dish a distinct flavor. Highly aromatic spices includes peppermint, cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, and many others. Note how these ingredients are very potent, and the quantity used is only a fraction of the amount used in the base.
Choose one to three aromatic ingredients at most, especially while you are a novice - otherwise the recipe easily slips into sensory overload. Once you've got more experience under your belt, you can make this layer more complicated. Many cultures have traditional spice formulas that have been handed down for generations such curry powder, Cajun spice blends and Herbes de Provence. In the prototype recipe, basil and lemon zest harmonize to provide the flavor without over-stimulating your senses.
Step 5: GarnishGarnish is the icing on the cake. Often fresh herbs or crushed nuts are added after cooking. This adds texture variation, a bit of crunch. Fresh herbs can be an attractive garnish that adds freshness to your dish. They can add a nice splash of color, such as chopped cilantro or parsley. Your meals should always be pleasing to the eyes.
In some instances the garnish might be added during the cooking process, such as melting cheese atop your enchiladas. The garnish could be as simple as fresh black pepper or a condiment like chutney that guests can opt to use or leave off. In the sample recipe the garnish is parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and basil.
Note that even in the prototype recipe ingredients may fit into one of more categories. In the real world recipes may also be built without all the elements above. Not every recipe has a garnish for example. In art, there are guidelines but the rules are often meant to be broken. Sometimes, ingredients appear in more than one category, as in tomato, lemon zest, basil and black pepper above. In a traditional meal, there is often one major recipe, and two sides.
Composition may also include the amount of cooking, from raw to slowly simmered. Texture may be varied by mashing, processing, or pureeing. Composition of recipes is a rich and enjoyable topic.
Starting Your First RecipeCompose your first recipe by printing and filling out the following worksheet, which will help you in this process. Don't fret too much about filling in the boxes. Using this method of composing recipes, you can fill them out somewhat randomly and often your recipe will still be brilliant.
Let's start with looking at the Spaghetti Squash Primavera example. You've already seen how we effortlessly substituted butternut squash for pasta. If someone had an issue with nightshades or was experiencing Pitta aggravation (rash, acne, inflammation, etc) they could also substitute a cooling accompaniment like zucchini instead of tomato. Since removing tomato will remove a lot of moisture from the recipe, it may need more olive oil. Add some lemon juice if you want to replace tomato's sourness.
Now, using the recipe you created above, create a completely different recipe by finding a substitute for at least 3 different boxes in the worksheet. Notice how easy it is to create variation that still sound delicious! You can even make a game of it. Without showing your recipe to a friend, ask them to choose a different base.
Now that you've created two recipes, try creating a medicinal recipe. Look through all your choices above, identifying ingredients that don't match your body type, unbalanced gunas, and tastes. Then, go to the ingredients section on Joyful Belly and look for substitutes using the guna / taste menu at the top. The main gunas to balance are:
Examples & ConclusionYou can even take a pizza and make it Ayurvedic using this technique. To balance Pitta, prepare your pizza dough, but leave off the tomato sauce and substitute cilantro pesto made using peeled almonds instead of cheese. Top it with Pitta pacifying veggies such as summer squash, broccoli and mushrooms. Garnish with sunflower or pumpkin seeds for extra crunch and protein.
Or, create Kapha pacifying cookies by using pumpkin seed butter as the base instead of flour. Stir in Kapha pacifying spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla extract. Sweeten it up with a little honey instead of sugar and toss in some tart, unsweetened cranberries for added texture. Mix all of the ingredients well and then roll into small balls and press into cookie shape and voila - raw Kapha pacifying cookies!
Use this step by step formula as your training wheels for creating healthy, delicious and balancing meals. Allow your kitchen to become your studio, your knowledge of Ayurveda to become your inspiration, your spice cabinet your palate of color, your plate your canvas, and your meal your masterpiece. Soon, you'll be a five star chef and master of home remedies!
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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(5.00 out of 5 stars) 2 reviews, 43 likes
Thank you so much! You really help me on the way to harmony!
This is a very useful article! It has broadened my ayurvedic cooking choices! Thanks a heap!!!Maria