by Talya Lutzker
To cook, or not to cook, that is the question in Ayurveda. And the answer depends on whom you ask. Some say yes (always), some say no (never!), and some – like Goldilocks – say you have to find what is just right (for YOU).
The Ayurvedic community as a whole tends to focus on cooked foods because cooked foods are warm, wet and already broken down, pre-digested if you will, and therefore easier on the gut and easier on the body. This is especially true if you tend to run cold or dry, or if you have a chronically compromised digestive system. Cooked foods connect us to heat since it takes fire to break down food. This represents the energy of pitta. Cooked food also connects us to earth and water, the energy of kapha, which is all about lending moisture, unctuousness, and density to the body. This is important if you’re looking to eat foods that keep your body in balance.
For example, if you are someone who already runs on a lot of heat and earthiness (an earth-mama-fire-cracker type, for example), then a whole lot of cooked food isn’t what you need. It would make you hotter, denser, and more damp. You could probably eat an abundance of raw, light, cool foods and feel pretty great. But that super-thin fairy-nymph-type friend of yours? She’s got a whole lot of vata going on (the dosha associated with air and ether) and raw food’s super-light nature, when eaten in excess, will be too much for her body.
Raw foods are rich in oxygenating prana, or life force energy. Raw foods are amazing for detoxification, cleansing, and uplifting the body. While this is a truly wonderful thing, and I recommend that all my clients get at least some raw food in their diet on a regular basis, raw foods tend to be cold and dry and harder to digest than cooked foods. In other words, raw foods tend to increase the vata dosha, something a predominantly vata person doesn’t want. Vata needs what the fire-earth-mama-type already has—warmth, juiciness, and grounding. The warmer you are internally, the more easily you’ll be able to break down raw foods and garner their readily available amounts of big nutrition.
Similarly, if you live in a climate where the weather is especially warm and wet (think Hawaii or Louisiana), you may have an easier time digesting raw food because the climate itself lends digestive support to the body. Something I love to teach (and practice) is tempering the cold/dry energy of raw food with spices and fresh herbs like ginger, garlic, basil, cinnamon, and cardamom.
The right amount of raw food vs. cooked food really is a personal thing, and something you dance with seasonally, sometimes daily. If you live in a cold climate and tend to run cold yourself, you need cooked food regularly—food that helps you cultivate warmth from the inside out. On the flip side, if you run so warm that you sweat through the night and feel like your day is one long hot flash, you’re body needs to be cooled and soothed by a fair amount of raw food on a daily basis.
Personally, I run cold and can’t tolerate much raw food unless the weather outside is 85 degrees or hotter—like today! On days like this, I’m the first one to juice my veggies and mack on fresh fruit at the farmers' market. But if it’s colder than that, I’m all about warm soup and a small salad. Catch my drift?
It’s partly about how you’re built (which nature has already decided) and a little about where you live. But no matter what, it’s fun being able to throw Ayurvedic principles of balancing vata, pitta, and kapha at raw food preparation so that it’s most suited to you personally. Same thing with balancing cooked food with the vitality of raw living foods. You just have to make it work for you based on how you run and what you need. When it comes to raw food vs. cooked food, most of us can trust our instincts and go for that which intuitively feels like it will be the most nourishing.
Since we are fast approaching the hottest time of year, here are a couple of my favorite raw food recipes, Ayurvedic style.
Tom Yum Soup
V=PK-(balances vata, decreases pitta and kapha)
Serves 4 to 6
2 fresh young coconuts, juice and meat
1 stalk lemongrass, pounded, then cut into 3 to 4 large pieces
About 20 fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
1 small jalapeno or thai green chili (optional, omit for pitta)
1/2 teaspoon Celtic Sea Salt (use 1/8 teaspoon for kapha)
1 tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos or tamari
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime
6 basil leaves for garnish
Place the coconut juice and coconut meat in a food processor or high-speed blender. Pound the lemongrass stalk lengthwise with the blunt end of your knife handle, then but it into 3 or 4 large pieces and set aside.
Prepare the remaining ingredients. Remove 2 or 3 of the thickest pieces of lemongrass from the coconut juice. Add the remaining ingredients. Puree until everything is incorporated into a smooth and even consistency. Serve and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
VP-K+ (decreases vata and pitta, increases kapha)
1 organic, ripe banana, peeled and broken into pieces
1/2 organic, ripe avocado
2 Medjool dates, pitted
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root (omit or cut in half for Pitta)
Dash of cinnamon
1 tablespoon purified water
1 heaping tablespoon vanilla or chocolate flavored, plant-based protein powder
Combine everything together in a high-powered blender or food processor for about 30 seconds. YUM!
Talya Lutzker is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, nutritionist, chef, and yoga teacher, and the founder of Talya’s Kitchen. Her latest cookbook is The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. Learn more at TalyasKitchen.com.