Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Spices and Herbs - Guest Blogger Jaya Ramamurthy!


I am super thrilled to feature Jaya Ramamurthy on Happily Edible After today, as my very first guest blogger! I met Jaya a couple of years ago through a mutual friend, who introduced her as a clinical specialist in Ayurveda and an amazing cook! 
I was drawn in by her warm personality and was intrigued to know more about her passion for Ayurveda, health, and it's relationship to food and cooking. Since then, Jaya has been a guest instructor several times at Whole Foods {Salud Cooking School} here in Alpharetta, Georgia. 
I've quickly discovered what a treasure she is, with a wonderful ability to teach others in a very easy and relaxed manner. And her food....the epitome of delicious and nourishing. I hope you enjoy meeting her and her delicious tips for using spices and herbs during these hot summer months.

Summer Spices and Herbs
by Jaya Ramamurthy

Sweaters out, T-shirts in…When summer comes, we swap out clothing, shoes, and even accessories.  Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom says that when seasons change, we must change our daily routines too, not just the way we dress; our everyday rhythms like sleep, food, work, and play must also be adjusted to changes in daylight, temperature, and humidity.

In my kitchen, for the summer, this means storing the heavier beans, grains, and warming spices for use in the fall and stocking the lighter lentils and cooling spices and herbs.  For instance, I will wait for fall temperatures before cooking kidney beans, brown rice, or black-eyed peas; and I will avoid using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, powdered ginger, cayenne, and too much garlic in the summer.  They are all heating and can aggravate the effects of the season making one hot under the collar literally and figuratively!

So what are my summertime favorites?

Fennel:  This spice belongs to the Celery family Apeacea, along with anise and star anise.  Contrary to popular opinion, it is not related to licorice even though the two have similar aromatic notes. This spice is a good digestive without adding heat in a season that is already hot.  It is easily available as seeds in Asian and Indian markets.  Fresh fennel bulbs are a seasonal staple at farmer’s markets and local groceries.  
 

How do I use it?
Fresh fennel is usually a creamy white bulb, with the green stems attached.  Trim off the tough end of the bulb and cut away the stems.  Save the stems for making soup stock, juicing, or adding to a smoothie.  Fennel seeds can be dry roasted and powdered in a coffee mill.  Store in an airtight jar. 
·      Slice the bulb thinly into salads for a delicious crunch.
·      Sauté the slices in olive oil with other aromatics like shallots and leeks before adding a seasonal vegetable like zucchini or squash for a delicious salad or side dish. 
·      For a versatile dressing:  whisk together some extra virgin olive oil, a generous pinch of powdered fennel seeds, lemon juice, crushed black pepper, sea salt, and some raw sweetener like coconut palm sugar; use over a salad of shaved fennel, seasonal strawberries, and baby arugula!

Cardamom:  This versatile spice shines in savory and sweet dishes! It is a balanced spice, without being too warming or cooling.  It works well with summer produce and beverages. Buy whole green cardamom pods instead of the hulled seeds or powder for the freshest aroma.  To crack the pods open, place the pods on a paper towel and run a rolling pin on them; the seeds are easily released with further rolling.  The seeds can be powdered fine with a mortar and pestle.  A trick is to add some sugar or salt to the seeds while powdering depending on the final dish. (I often cheat and powder the pods hull and all in a small coffee mill!)


How do I use it?
·      Steep a few pods or a pinch of cardamom powder in hot water along with a sprig of mint; cool the tea, filter off spices, add some lemon juice and a raw sweetener if desired for a refreshing beverage. 

·      Heat 1 cup of almond milk in a saucepan; add the crushed seeds from 4 pods of cardamom to this milk.  Also add 1 or two threads of saffron and sweeten with coconut palm sugar to taste, whisking everything together.   Filter off spices.  Drink warm or cold as a refreshing beverage.  This spiced milk is great over a bowl of oats or warmed up rice for a meal, that is also nourishing and seasonally appropriate.

·      Make a simple-syrup with ½ cup water and 1-cup coconut palm sugar heated till all the sugar is dissolved; add 12 partially crushed pods of cardamom and let the syrup boil to a slightly thick consistency.  Shut off heat and filter off when cool.  Use this syrup in your favorite summertime beverage or to dress berries or fresh fruit. 

Turmeric: This tuber, which belongs to same family as ginger and galangal, is a veritable pharmacy when it comes to its health benefits.  It is available fresh in many Asian and Indian markets in this season.  Of course, organic powdered turmeric is a must for any pantry.


How do I use it?  
·      The powdered spice can be added to any savory dish; just add into warm oil along with other dry spices and seasonings before adding wet ingredients.
·      Fresh tubers can be scraped with the edge of a spoon to get the peel off, sliced thin and pickled with lemon juice and salt.  This relish can be used much like sushi ginger, to add crunch and flavor to a bite!  It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.  
·      Peeled root can also be used to make a tea – steep hot water with mint sprigs and turmeric root! Allow tea to cool and serve with a dash of lemon juice and sweetener if desired.

Mint:  There are between 25 and 30 varieties of mint.  This herb is prized in the summer for its cooling and cleansing action.  It can be used fresh or stored longer dried.  While mint can be strong and overpowering in a dish, a sprig added to water or to a dressing complements the season’s produce.



How do I use it?
·      Fresh Mint chutney: Wash and trim the leaves discarding tough stems.  To a blender, add 1 cup packed mint leaves, juice of 2 lemons, sea salt, 1-2 green chilies, and some raw sweetener to taste.  To add some substance to this chutney, add half a peeled and diced sweet onion like Vidalia.  Blend with enough water to make a pesto like consistency.  Store in a clean glass jar in the fridge for up to a week. 
·      This mint pesto can be used a garnish, or added to a summertime sauté; it can also be used to dress up a caprese salad with a twist; it adds zing to a weekend sandwich with some farmer’s market sourdough bread, fresh tomatoes and hummus!

Cilantro: The vibrant green leaves and stems of this powerhouse herb are astringent, somewhat bitter and very cooling.  This herb is indispensible in the summer, adding cool citrus notes to food and acting as a fragrant garnish.

How do I use it?
·      Wash and trim the stems, snipping off only the tough root ends.  Use instead of mint in the chutney recipe above; alternately, use in combination with mint in the same recipe.
·      Homemade salsa: Add fine-diced fresh tomatoes, fine-diced sweet onion, lemon juice, sea salt, and some raw sweetener to a bowl; add some jarred tomato puree if desired for a more chunky consistency. Add a generous amount of cilantro chopped fine and mix to combine salsa well.

Basil: Nothing says summer like a just-picked bunch of basil! This herb is revered across cultures for its many medicinal properties.  It is a staple of every summer garden and lends a lovely unmistakable aroma to summertime foods.  Like any fresh herb, it is best added to foods at the end of the cooking process or even as a generous garnish.

How do I use it? 
·      A basil tea with cardamom simple syrup, on the rocks!
·      A favorite way to use up summer’s basil bounty is to make pesto: trim and wash the leaves and tender stems; blend with a generous amount of olive oil, some lemon juice, sea salt, and a handful of raw walnuts to make a dairy-free pesto.  This keeps in the fridge for several days and is very versatile.
·      My favorite way to use this pesto? Blend smooth a ripe cantaloupe (minus the rind and seeds), ½ cup of lemon juice, and cold water as needed; season with some sea salt and crushed black pepper; adjust seasonings.  Serve this gazpacho cold, with the basil pesto drizzled on! 
 

About Jaya Ramamurthy:

Jaya’s Ayurvedic roots began during her Indian childhood, growing up in her mother and grandmother’s kitchens. Food was cooked with attention to the season and state of wellness of the family as a whole. Over the counter medications were unheard of; food and herbs from the garden did the task of restoring wellness whether it be a case of the common cold or a bout of the ‘tropics’. For more serious ailments, food and Ayurvedic daily self-care became an integral part of the healing process along with western medicine. It was a daily practice of the audacious idea that Food is Medicine and Medicine is Food.
This background was further enriched by Jaya’s own motherhood and the task of raising healthy kids in a foreign country without the wisdom of the village, so to speak. So inevitably, there followed a quest to understand the deep connection between food and health, as Jaya explored the Western models of diet and nutrition at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. This journey led her back to her roots with a deep understanding of the value of a traditional lifestyle science that is Ayurveda.
She started formal study at the California College of Ayurveda, the only state accredited Ayurvedic institution in the USA. She completed her course of study in 2009, and is a state-certified Clinical Ayurveda Specialist, with over 1000 hours of Ayurvedic training.
Jaya is in private practice today, offering her knowledge of Ayurveda to her clients and deriving much joy in sharing her passion for an Ayurvedic lifestyle with all who are interested.

Visit Jaya's  Website and follow her on Facebook

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