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The Yoga of Food and Drink

The Yoga of Food and Drink

For me, a passion for yoga is about more than hitting the mat: it spills over into other areas of life – such as what we eat and drink. The knock-on effects of last night’s large glass of red wine, for instance, might show up tangibly in extra wobbliness during a balancing posture. On the other hand, you might become aware that a raw-food salad you ate for lunch has left you feeling clear-headed and zingy, seemingly able to hold a tricky posture more easily….

What frequently happens, I’ve observed, is that people start to recognise what food their body actually needs, and when they need it, seeking out more nutritious meals rather than grabbing food on the run or existing on ready-meals. Essentially, you develop an intuitive sense of what is right for your body.

The one universal rule that relates to yoga, meanwhile, seems to be not to eat before your practice. (Some would advise not eating the night before, if you’ve scheduled an early class – but I for one would find myself collapsing in Downward Dog if I went without food for that long, see pitta observation above). Most people find it’s best not to eat for at least three hours or so beforehand, to allow for digestion. But this month, I thought I’d share some of my favourite ‘yogic food’ recipes: nurturing, sustaining – just like yoga itself – which are taken from my book, Yoga for Life. (You can find it on VH here…)

Kerala vegetable stew

Kerala is the home of many Ayurvedic yoga retreats, and this is s typical sustaining, lightly-spiced Keralan curry which you could basically live on. So I suggest scaling up the recipe to make generous quantities that you can freeze or keep in the fridge for future meals, liberating yourself from time at the stove. (Which you can spend on the mat, instead, if you choose.)

  • 2 large cups of chopped vegetables (carrots, any kind of green beans, potatoes, courgettes, marrows, onions, peas – just not strongly-coloured veg, such as beets, which will taint the colour of the dish)
  • 2 cups of coconut milk
  • 2 cups of vegetable stock (home-made, or Marigold bouillon)
  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil or sunflower oil
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • A few peppercorns
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves, slightly crushed
  • 1 large piece of ginger (the size of couple of fingers) cut into thin strips or small chunks
  • A teaspoon of lemon juice

Parboil the vegetables and hang onto the stock. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. To release their flavour, add all the spices (including the bay leaves) and stir-fry for a minute or two. Then add the ginger and continue frying for a few more minutes. Add the vegetables and sauté for two to three minutes. Add the vegetable stock, coconut milk and lemon juice and cook on a high flame for 10 minutes; then lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are done. Serve with rice or Indian breads (chapatis, naan etc.)

Spiced baked apples

Refined sugars can put your blood sugar levels on something of a rollercoaster, so dates and sultanas add sweetness to these apples, while the spices are almost aromatherapeutically comforting.

  • 4 large cooking apples (these hold their shape and texture better than eating apples)
  • 6 pitted dates
  • Half a cup of sultanas/raisins, soaked in water to plump them up
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • A shaving or pinch of nutmeg

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and core the apples, leaving a centimetre or so at the bottom of the apple that you haven’t scraped out, to contain the fruit filling.

Chop the dates and combine with the soaked fruits, mixing in the spices.

Stuff the filling into the apples and place them in a baking dish filled with ¼ inch of hot water.

Bake until the apple’s tender, which generally takes 40 to 60 minutes; the apples can be served hot or cold. If you like something creamy with your fruit, try a scoop of unsweetened Greek yoghurt or soya yoghurt.

A superbly sustaining soup…

Not so much a soup, more a meal in a bowl. Barley’s a favourite ingredient in Eastern Europe, less popular elsewhere, but is a fantastically nourishing, grain, found easily in natural food stores.

  • ¾ cup medium pearl barley
  • 10 cups vegetable stock (see vegetable stock recipe, or use Marigold bouillon)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onion or shallots
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 cup mushrooms (any type of fresh mushroom is fine, or soak dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms and measure when they’re plumped up), finely sliced
  • ½ cup celery or fennel, chopped
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional: ½ cup dry sherry

To garnish: ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the barley (it’s best to do this with any grain) and place it in a saucepan with three cups of the stock. If you’re using home-made stock, add a pinch of salt; if you’re using bouillon it may be salty enough already. Bring up to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pan. The liquid should be absorbed within an hour (check occasionally so the pan doesn’t boil dry). Remove from the heat and use a fork to fluff up the grain.

While the grain’s cooking, in a large saucepan heat the olive oil (over a medium heat), then add the onions/shallots, carrots, mushrooms and celery or fennel. (NB I have a love/hate relationship with both celery and fennel, and sometimes they just don’t appeal; the soup’s just fine if you leave them out.) Stir the vegetables constantly for a few minutes until they have softened. Then add the rest of the stock, the salt and pepper (taste at this point to adjust), and bring to a boil. Once the soup’s reached boiling point, cover, turn down the heat and simmer for around half an hour.

Then add the cooked barley. If you want a richer flavour, add the sherry, which is a nice flourish, rounding out the flavours; simmer for a few more minutes so the alcohol disappears. Taste again, adjust any seasonings and then throw on the parsley, to prettify.

Like many soups, tastes even better next day (and the day after…)

Chai oatmeal

Chai and yoga go together. It’s an Indian thing. I was inspired to combine chai with porridge by a recipe in Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café (Mollie is the renowned author of Moosewood Cookbook, one of the all-time natural food bibles), adding Ayurvedic spices to hearty breakfast grains. This is basically it, but you can also play around with the spices and add dried fruits – sultanas, raisins – or tinker with the spice levels. It’s amazing on a winter’s morning after an early yoga practice.

  • 1½ cups milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • A drop or two of vanilla extract (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons runny honey
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons oat bran (optional)

Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the spices and the salt, and whisk with a fork to blend them into the milk. Place the pan on a medium heat.

Just before the milk comes to a boil, lower the heat and let the milk simmer for about five minutes. Stir in the vanilla and the honey, and whisk again until the honey’s dissolved.

Sprinkle in the oats and the oat bran, and stir once or twice. Cover the pan and leave it over a really low heat for around eight minutes, being sure to stir occasionally to prevent it sticking.

Serve hot. Mollie suggests adding a topping of chopped pistachio nuts (yum), but toasted almonds are also utterly delicious.