For a favourite winter meal, Cynthia Copple tosses cooked dark greens with golden roasted pumpkin and drizzles it all with a slightly tangy dressing. As much as Copple, a California-based Ayurvedic consultant, loves vegetables and salad, when the weather turns cold, she opts for cooked vegetables.
“After 26 years of working with clients, I’ve found that eating raw foods can increase the tendency toward getting colds and having congestion. Warm cooked food in the winter makes you feel warm and nurtured,” Copple says.
When the weather turns cold, you may find yourself less interested in raw, light salads, and craving something warm and hearty instead. That’s good intuition on your part, says Devendra Triguna, president of the All India Ayurvedic Congress, an organisation based in Delhi and made up of 40,000 Ayurvedic practitioners, because eating raw produce in the cooler months can strain your digestive system. Those who practise Ayurveda, the traditional holistic medicine of India, believe that raw fruits and vegetables cause your agni (digestive fire) to work harder as it breaks down food so that your body can assimilate the nutrients.
“Uncooked vegetables deplete the metabolic fire in each cell and especially in the digestive system,” Triguna says. “They produce heaviness in the stomach. Unable to process these cold foods completely, the agni is forced to leave behind ama, a toxic residue that wreaks havoc in the form of gas, bloating and stomach-ache.”
By breaking down rough, fibrous vegies with a little roasting, steaming or sautéing, I give my agni (digestive fire) a head start.
I learned this the hard way, munching for years on big leafy salads during the winter and later feeling uneasy and bloated. It wasn’t until I learned more about Ayurveda and agni that I began to see the pattern in my body and learned to enjoy cooked salads during the cold season. becoming something of a connoisseur of salads that include a diversity of cooked vegetables and grains.
“Our stomach is not made for raw things,” says Triguna. “In cold weather, everything should be eaten in the cooked form.” It’s a simple enough idea: by breaking down rough, fibrous vegies with a little roasting, steaming or sautéing, I give my agni a head start so it can digest everything more easily and completely. A robust agni means a happy tummy and a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
Build a Better Bowl
Salads have long been a darling among nutritionists and health nuts alike, who find them a good way to get the recommended seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables. I generally make composed salads with separately prepared ingredients bound together by a delicious dressing. Some favourites include cooked carrots and sweet potato tossed with lemon juice and olive oil and arranged over warm brown rice that wilts the bed of greens underneath; or a roasted beetroot salad whose soothing yoghurt-based dressing turns pink from the beetroot juice.
Copple and Triguna suggest skipping the raw lettuce and roasting, sautéing, wilting, baking, steaming or blanching the components of your salad. Think sautéed red cabbage with toasted hazelnuts in a ginger-yoghurt dressing. If you’re concerned that cooked vegies have fewer nutrients than fresh ones, take note: in a study published last year in the Journal of Food Science, researchers showed that some vegetables, including carrots and green beans, actually have higher levels of antioxidants after they’ve been cooked.
Like Copple, I’m partial to the flavourful dark, leafy greens that prosper in cold weather. Rich in vitamins, greens like silverbeet, chard and mustard are too fibrous and bitter to be eaten raw, so I begin by sautéing or steaming them until they wilt and turn bright emerald. Soft and fragrant, the greens make a beautiful bed for many winter salads.
Researchers showed that some vegetables, including carrots and green beans, actually have higher levels of antioxidants after they’ve been cooked.
I like to stir-fry spinach, top it with roasted squash and carrots (or white beans and roasted tomatoes), and give it a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil to finish it off.
Of course, there are endless possibilities for combining ingredients, but I generally build my salads with only two or three vegetables so that my digestive system isn’t overwhelmed. However, if I’m feeling hungry and my agni is healthy and strong, I’ll add cooked grains or legumes like millet, chickpeas or lentils to steamed winter greens.
For me, no salad is complete without a little crunch, so I often add toasted nuts. Copple sometimes tops her cooked greens with a handful of lightly toasted sesame seeds. Packed with protein, fibre, healthy fats minerals and vitamins, nuts and seeds in general will insulate your nerves and organs in cold weather, thanks to their healthy fats, according to Copple.
One of my favourite salads is made of beetroots sautéed in ghee, tender green beans, steamed cracked wheat and a few toasted almonds, spooned over warm greens and dressed with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. While Ayurvedic practitioners like Triguna would suggest that all parts of a salad this time of year be cooked for optimal digestion, I also like to toss hot satéed carrots with raw tender greens like rocket, letting the greens wilt but still preserving most of their nutrients and texture.
Finally, what makes a salad a salad is a flavourful dressing that coats the components and brings them together. Most use oil as a base, the simplest of all dressings being olive oil mixed with fresh lemon juice. Adding a little bit of fat, like olive oil, to a salad can help the body absorb cancer-fighting nutrients such as lycopene and alpha- and beta-carotene. Copple recommends olive oil mixed with liquid aminos (an all-purpose seasoning available in health-food stores) as an alternative to vinegar. “Vinegar is a fermented food that aggravates stomach acidity,” she says, so you might want to avoid it in your dressing. For example, try a creamy yoghurt-based dressing, flavoured with citrus, herbs or spices.
Often I will simply trickle hot oil over rocket and roasted vegetables. If I’m feeling creative, I’ll dress my salad with a fresh chutney, or mix up a sesame-ginger dressing. Compose your cooked salads with the rapture of an artist loading fresh paint onto her palette, and you’ll be rewarded with a melding of the hot and tepid, tender and crunchy, sweet and salty—an explosion of flavours and textures in each bite.
Shubhra Krishan is the author of Essential Ayurveda. She lives in New Delhi, India.
Quinoa & Sweet Potato Salad
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 sweet potato, cut into 2cm cubes
1 cup cooked quinoa
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1 bunch braised kale or other greens
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C.
2. Whisk together lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic cumin and turmeric and set aside.
3. Toss remaining olive oil with sweet potato. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender.
4. Combine sweet potato with quinoa and slivered almonds and dressing.
5. To serve, arrange equal portions of greens on 4 plates. Top with sweet potato mixture.
Spinach & Pumpkin Salad
5 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
750g butternut pumpkin, cut into half moons or 2cm-cubes
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 cups spinach leaves
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C.
2. Combine garlic with 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss with pumpkin in baking dish. Cook until tender, approx. 30 – 40 minutes.
3. Mix lemon juice with remaining olive oil and toss with spinach. Top spinach with pumpkin and sprinkle with almonds.
Recipes by Julie Hughes