Divya Alter is everyone’s go-to girl for ayurvedic cooking and living.
Alter is lending a hand in easily incorporated ayurvedic recipes by bringing health and taste to the forefront.
Let’s take it back to 1990 Plovdiv, Bulgaria, when the communist regime broke. Divya Alter was 18 years old and had just found her way into an underground yoga ashram. “They served this incredible vegetarian food inspired by Indian flavors and the spices and everything, and I was blown away. And I’m like, ‘Yoga and vegetarian—this is what I’m looking for,’” she says. This moment sparked Alter’s passion for cooking, which followed her into her next chapter of life living in India. It was there that she learned about ayurveda and ayurvedic cooking. “Every time I would get sick, [I would go to] the local ayurvedic doctor,” she explains. “The doctor wouldn’t just give me the herbs. He would say, ‘Well, here’s the list of foods you have to avoid because you cannot digest them. They are good foods in general, but they are not the right foods for you now. Here’s the list of foods that you should focus on to heal faster.’”
Thus, introducing the idea of food as medicine. Today, Alter has carved out a space in society as the go-to guru for approachable ayurvedic cooking methods so others can experience the same transformational and mindful effects of the diet and lifestyle. Not only has she published the cookbook What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen, but she also runs New York City restaurant Divya’s Kitchen. Reaching an even larger audience, she’s also started to produce online master class-style cooking classes that debut this year. “Ayurvedic cooking is nothing mystical,” Alter concludes. “The goal of ayurvedic cooking is just to align your body and mind with the cycles of nature.”
“Just stop for a moment. Pause and see: Where am I at right now? How am I feeling? Am I tired? Do I feel cold or hot? Do I feel high-strung or do I feel really heavy and sluggish? So just connecting with how you feel will help you connect with your needs.”
“Even if you don’t know anything about ayurveda, we do this even unconsciously with the weather. It’s cold outside, we put on warm clothes. We feel dehydrated, we drink water—but you can take this further with food. So if you feel very heated, like really hot, don’t eat fiery foods. Don’t eat foods that are hot and spicy because they will only increase your heat.”
Start Cooking Seasonally
“You go to the farmers market and see what’s in season. That’s one piece of it for sure. Seasonal also means the qualities of the season. So in the cold season, we need warm foods, moist foods, heavier foods, warming spices like ginger and cinnamon, for example. In the warm season, we tend to dehydrate, so we need those sweet, juicy fruits that are all in season; we need lighter foods.”
(page 77, What to Eat for How You Feel, Rizzoli, 2017) Prep: 5 minutes; Cook: 15 minutes
This fresh salad features kidney-cleansing ingredients.
The sunchoke, also known as Jerusalem artichoke, has an astringent-sweet taste with a delicate, almost artichoke-like flavor, which I find very pleasant and refreshing. Although you can eat sunchokes raw, I highly recommend lightly cooking them to reduce their exuberant airy qualities. Peeling these tubers is preferred, but more time-consuming (and patience-testing); scrub them well with a vegetable brush when you’re cooking them in a hurry.
• 2 cups scrubbed and chopped (1 ½-inch pieces) sunchokes (about 12 ounces)
• 1 bunch asparagus, fibrous stalk ends trimmed and spears cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
• 1 tsp. black sesame oil or olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
• 1 Tbsp. ginger juice (see note)
• 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or
¼ tsp. dried thyme
• ½ tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. finely minced fresh
• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
FOR AIRY DIGESTION
Increase the oil to 1 Tbsp. and omit the nutmeg; substitute parsnips for the sunchokes.
FOR FIERY DIGESTION
Omit the ginger juice and increase the oil to 1 Tbsp.
1. Steam the sunchokes in a steamer basket set over a pan of simmering water for about 10 minutes, until they are crisp-tender; remove from the steamer to a serving dish and set aside. Steam the asparagus for about 5 minutes, until tender, and plunge it in cold water to refresh it; drain well. Add to the dish with the sunchokes.
2. Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, pour over the vegetables, and let them marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
NOTE: To make ginger juice: Grate a 2-inch piece of ginger and squeeze the juice from it in your hand.
THE HEALING BENEFITS OF SUNCHOKES
Unlike most root vegetables, sunchokes do not have starchy carbohydrates.
• Good source of inulin (a natural fructose that is medicinal for diabetics)
• Nourish the lungs
• Support the liver
• Treat constipation
• Good source of iron, potassium and phosphorus
Keep an eye out for Divya Alter’s new cookbook, Joy of Balance: An Ayurvedic Guide to Cooking with Healing Ingredients, set to debut this fall.
Photography by: From top: Photo courtesy of Divya’s; photo by William and Susan Brinson