Saturday, August 22, 2009

Almost Spring Salad Recipe

One of the great joys of living in a cold climate is witnessing the passing of four distinct seasons, and spring always seems like such a particularly joyful time after a bleak winter. I feel a growing excitement as, with each day, we move towards this time of renewal - evidence of new life is popping up everywhere. Early blossoms are out; azaleas, camelias and daphne are all starting to flower; and the first brave daffodils have popped their heads up and turned towards the sun.

I can feel this in my yoga practice too. Having just completed day 27 of a 30 day Ashtanga yoga intensive, despite the aching muscles and fatigue, I feel as though my practice has just been "spring-cleaned". My practice feels new and fresh; I think I have learned to listen even more closely to my body, and to be more intuitive in my practice so that I don't keep repeating the same old injury patterns; and I feel an incredible joyousness inside. My spirit feels light and my heart feels open.

Warmer days are making me happier too, and with the official start of spring now just days away, I am starting to dream of spring food - I feel I've had my fill of squash and root vegetables - I'm longing for asparagus and broad beans. In fact, the first of the new season's asparagus is in the supermarket already, but at $51.99 per kilo I think I will be waiting for it a little longer. It should be mentioned that asparagus is probably my absolute favourite vegetable, and once it becomes readily available I tend to eat it every day until the end of the season. I steam it, roast it, grill it, make soups, risottos, salads and tarts. In short, I can't get enough of it.

Broad beans are another real favourite of mine and, knowing that fresh ones are just around the corner, I made this salad the other night to use up the last of the frozen ones I had in the freezer. I make this salad a lot with fresh broad beans when they are available, with local Jersey Bennie potatoes of course, but it works just as well with frozen ones (beans that is, not frozen potatoes). This salad has great texture, and the creaminess of the avocado and the lemony vinaigrette give it a real lusciousness. This salad is a great accompaniement to fish or grilled lamb, or is perfect on its own for a light lunch.

Almost Spring Salad Recipe

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

10 small/4 medium salad (waxy) potatoes
1 avocado
200g broad beans, after removing pods (if fresh)
1 lemon, zest & juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
dash maple syrup
salt & pepper

Cut potatoes in half (if small), or in quarters (if larger), and boil in lightly salted water until just tender - don't overcook. Drain, cool enough to be able to handle, then cut pieces in half again, and set aside.

If using fresh broad beans remove the outer pod first. Bring water to a boil, add beans, bring water back to the boil, and cook about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water. Once cold remove the thick outer shell from the beans, you will then be left with the gorgeous, glossy green beans.

Cut avocado in half, remove the seed and skin, then cut into chunks.

Combine cooled potatoes, broad beans, and avocado. Zest the lemon and sprinkle over the vegetables.

In a small jug or jar combine the olive oil, juice of the lemon, wholegrain mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. You may also need to adjust the balance of oil to acidity depending on the juiciness of your lemon.

You will need to dress this salad quite liberally as the potatoes are quite thirsty, so you may want to increase the quantity of dressing accordingly.

Footnote: I am off to Bali next week for 3 weeks to do a yoga retreat with Graeme & Leonie Northfield. As I imagine I won't have time for blogging while I am away, this will probably be my last post for a few weeks. Hopefully I will have plenty of food and yoga news for you when I get back in late September. Maybe fresh asparagus will be waiting for me then too.

This post is also linked to Seasonal Saturday at la bella vita.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Winter Vegetable Nonya Curry Recipe

It is no secret, amongst those who know me, that my culinary style is predominantly influenced by the flavours of the Mediterranean. However, Asian flavours also play a big role in my culinary repertoire - Indian and Thai food being particular favourites.

In fact I like nothing better, on a leisurely Sunday, than having the time to prepare an Indian feast from scratch - having the time to roast and grind spices, grate fresh coconut to make coconut milk, a trip out to the Asian supermarket to pick up any ingredients I may not have, making my own curry pastes, pickles, chutnies and home-made flatbreads, and maybe even a batch of ice cream to finish off with.

I love the way that being involved in every step of preparing such a meal somehow makes me feel closer to generations of women who still spend much of their daily lives preparing food for their families in just this way. Spiritually speaking, I get that we are all connected, but something about cooking in this way really reinforces that connection for me. First sniff of cumin and I am immediately transported to a humble Indian village, where women squat around simple fires and cooking pots to cook for their loved ones. To me, there is a physicality to the grinding of spices, grating coconut, roasting of nuts, slicing & dicing vegetables, rubbing and marinating meats that completely absorbs me. I find that I am able to be very "present" throughout the process - this to me is really cooking from the heart. Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that even the simplest of food which is prepared with love, tastes of love.

I think our mothers and grandmothers understood this. We all know that no-one else's apple pie, for example, tastes quite like Mum's. Now, in reality, there is probably nothing particularly special about Mum's apple pie. But she makes that pie with love for her family and friends. I am convinced that on some level that is transmitted to us - it comes through in the taste, maybe we witness the way she chops the apples with a small smile on her face, or sings softly to herself as she prepares the pastry. And so, I believe, Mum's apple pie satisfies us on an emotional level in a way that no other apple pie can.

Today, however, most modern women are juggling careers as well as home lives, and simply don't have the time to spend several hours a day channeling the domestic goddess. I am no exception. Modern women often need to fall back on a bit of "convenience feeding" and, as a result, many children today are raised on a diet of pre-packaged microwave meals and take-outs. I actually have a theory that overeating in an effort to try and satisfy the emotional appetite has much to do with today's obesity problems - I don't think it is only about the high fat, sugar and sodium levels of many convenience foods.

It doesn't, however, have to be this way. With a well-stocked pantry, and a little bit of planning and forethought, great tasting food can come out of your own kitchen in a matter of minutes. Weekends are a great time to pre-prepare meals which can be frozen - soups, curries, and casseroles all freeze and reheat really well. A crockpot is also a really useful gadget to have in the kitchen - it takes barely moments to put a few ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, and come home to a hot and satisfying meal at the end of the day.

I teach yoga classes most evenings, not usually finishing work until 8pm. Because I also need to get up pretty early in the morning to teach classes again and do my own practice, I need to get to bed fairly early as well. That means that I need to be able to turn out a meal fairly quickly after my work day is over. So I have to be fairly well organised - I can often find time to do a little bit of preparation in between classes (maybe chop vegetables, or other ingredients, get any pans or utensils out that I plan to use, etc). A real key to this for me is keeping my pantry well stocked with things like tins of tomatoes, jars of artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes & olives (things that can be thrown together in a flash with a bit of pasta and a grating of parmesan). Tinned beans and chickpeas are also a great stand-by - generally I like to cook my own and keep a few bags of them in the freezer, but a tin on the pantry shelf is great for an emergency. And jars or sachets of various curry pastes are fantastic for a meal in minutes - yes, it is great to spend the time making your own, and that is certainly my ideal - but it is just not always realistic.

This recipe then, is one I make a lot - I can make this curry in the time it takes to cook the rice - that is less time than it would take to order and pick up a takeaway. I always have a sachet of this Nonya curry paste (amongst others) in the cupboard, as well as a can of coconut milk, and adding plenty of fresh vegetables I don't feel I am compromising anything in the way of flavour or nutritional value. Give it a bit more zing with some fresh chilli, lemon juice and herbs. Serve with some rice or roti on the side, and this really makes a great meal. I frequently make this just with pumpkin and chickpeas, but a quick look in the vege bin the other day revealed that I also had half a kumara (sweet potato), half a parsnip, and a few yams that needed to be used up, so in they went too. I have to admit I wasn't quite sure how well the parsnip would work in this, but it was actually great. Feel free to experiment with any combination of vegetables, and leave me a comment if you come up with some additions that work well for you.

Winter Vegetable Nonya Curry Recipe

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

Serves 3-4

400-500g chopped firm vegetables
(pumpkin, sweet potato, yams, parsnip)
1 red chilli
1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 sachet Asian Home Gourmet Nonya Curry paste
(refer Source Guide)

425ml can coconut cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
1 lime, grated zest & juice
bunch fresh coriander

Chop assortment of vegetables into bite size pieces, about 1.5-scm. Remove seeds and membrane from the chilli, and finely slice.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, stir curry paste into the heated oil, reduce heat to low-medium, and cook paste, stirring constantly for 1 minute.

Add chopped vegetables and sliced chilli to the pan, stir thoroughly until all vegetables are coated with the paste, and cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the can of coconut cream to the pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until vegetables are just tender - about 10 minutes.

Once vegetables are tender, add chickpeas to the pan and continue to cook just long enough to warm the chickpeas through.

Remove pan from the heat, add the spinach and stir until the spinach is just wilted. Stir in the grated zest and juice of the lime.

Serve immediately over steamed rice, and top with chopped fresh coriander.

Frozen Lemon Yoghurt

To finish? I happened to have some of this Frozen Lemon Yoghurt in the freezer that I made according to this recipe from David Lebovitz. This is gloriously tangy and refreshing, ridiculously easy to make, and was the perfect ending to a meal such as this.

All in all, this was a great meal in a hurry, with absolutely no guilt attached.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tapas - so much more than a Spanish bar snack

Students, particularly new ones, are often curious about the name of our yoga school - Yoga Tapas. For most people the term "tapas" immediately conjures up thoughts of small dishes of Spanish food, and they generally want to know what this has to do with yoga - "does it mean that you just do little bits of yoga?" I am often asked. The more hopeful ones, I imagine, are thinking that supper will be laid on after class! Big disappointment for them no doubt.

In yogic terms, however, tapas is something altogether different. The word comes from the Sanskrit root word "tap", meaning to heat, burn, purify. Whilst that may well imply "cooking something up", in case you are still think this has something to do with food, let's examine the concept in the context of our yoga practice and our daily lives.

A foundational text of yoga, considered by many to be of principal importance, is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There is some uncertainty as to exactly when these were written, but scholars generally attribute the time of composition to somewhere between 200BC and 500AD - certainly puts paid to the idea that yoga is a bit of a modern day "fad", doesn't it. The text prescribes adherance to an "eight limb path", in order to quiet the mind and thereby achieve true consciousness.

Most of us are already familiar with the third limb - that of asana, or the physical practice of various postures. Many of you will be less familiar with the first two limbs, however - the yama and niyama, which are the ethical principles and personal disciplines which a yoga practitioner endeavours to follow. There are five of each of these, with tapas being the third niyama. This is often translated as commitment, dedication, or discipline.

In Hinduism, figuratively speaking, the term denotes spiritual suffering or austerity. Practices of mortification of the flesh are also considered forms of tapas. Examples of such practices are found in many religions, and can range from simple abstention from excessive indulgences (food, sex, alcohol) to self-inflicted pain or physical harm (whipping, piercing, genital mutilation, beating, etc). To Hindus, spiritual enlightenment is considered the highest goal in life, and it is generally believed that one must go through many reincarnations to achieve this. Sadhus, however, believe they can "short-cut" the road to salvation by renouncing earthly pleasures, and burning off bad karma by putting their bodies through extreme physical hardship.

One such example is that of the Standing Baba or Khareshwari who have taken a vow to remain standing - some sources suggest for a period of 12 years, others suggest "forever". Whilst they may walk about, the vow of the Khareshwari prohibits them from sitting or lying down, not even for eating, sleeping or going to the toilet. They do, however, have a swing-like contraption which supports the torso during sleep, and which during the day enables them to rest the arms. A sling underneath the swing, enables the Standing Baba to rest one leg at a time.

Bajrang Das, a Standing Baba, who never sits down, day and night.
He sleeps standing too, hanging over his swing. A metal chastity belt covers his genitals.

In his book, Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts describes a visit to a hashish den operated by a group of Standing Baba. He gives a vivid account of the extraordinary pain and disfigurement that he witnessed, observing that for the first five to ten years of practising this austerity the Standing Babas endured huge, bloated legs, often severely ulcerated, before the legs eventually wither away to just bone in the ensuing years. He speaks of terrible pain experienced with every downward pressure of the feet, causing them to sway constantly from one foot to another. In conclusion he says: "The faces of the Babas were radiant with their excruciation. Sooner or later, in the torment of endlessly ascending pain, every man of them assumed a luminous transcendent beatitude. Light, made from the agony they suffered, streamed from their eyes, and I've never known a human source more brilliant than their tortured smiles."

So, the next time you think you're suffering after 30 seconds in a standing posture, spare a thought for these guys!

Most of us, however, are not living the life of an ascetic or intending the observance of painful austeries. For us, tapas refers to a "burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal ..." (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga). We can of course think of this in terms of practising with determination and focus, striving to burn up impurities in the body and to achieve perfection in this posture or that. However, if you begin to think of tapas as simply exercising the dedication and commitment to: get on the yoga mat every day, without expectation of any particular result; or to sit for meditation every day, even when you don't feel like it; or simply to exercise the love and patience to remind your child for the umpteenth time not to run through the house with muddy boots on. "If you think of tapas in this vein, it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana." (Judith Lasater, Yoga Journal)

In his book, Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates offers a refelection on tapas that really resonates with me. As I could not possibly paraphrase this any better, I quote: "The word that most of us use to describe this energy is 'dedication'. This is not the dedication of steely self-control, it's the dedication of the human heart that yearns for beauty. It is our own capacity for love that underlies our ability to practice with burning zeal, year after year. Again and again students say they come to yoga to work on their flexibility, or to tone their abs, buns, and thighs, but that something else has kept them coming back. Something else has blossomed in their hearts. Yoga opens the door to the life that we have yearned to live. It is this yearning, this gladness, that carries us back onto our mats day after day. Tapas is our opportunity to witness the power of love in our everyday lives. As you approach your next practice, note the force that brings you to the mat. See if you can discern, under the clamor of desire and aversion, the still, pure voice that yearns for beauty."