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The holiday table, surrounded by friends and family, is a home chef’s moment to shine. And with a properly balanced menu, inspired by Ayurveda’s healing principles, you can truly satisfy everyone in every sense. As Erin Casperson, coordinator of Ayurvedic studies at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, explains, chilly, windy winter weather has a drying effect on skin, digestion, and sinuses. Ayurvedic cooking counters that by emphasizing warm, hydrating broths and rich sauces. So yes, that means your holiday meal can be a little indulgent. And, if it’s well balanced with spices (which support digestion), a full range of flavors, and nutrient-rich seasonal produce, it will be just what the Ayurvedic doctor ordered.
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“In the West, we are acculturated to do one thing: eat a low-fat diet. But that’s not healthy in the winter,” says Tom Yarema, MD, director of the Center for Wellness & Integrative Medicine in Santa Cruz, California, and author of the Ayurvedic cookbook Eat, Taste, Heal. “Instead, you want to eat more foods that are unctuous—warm and juicy, with a little more oil than you might eat in other seasons.” Eating this way, he explains, will help keep your mucous membranes moist and less susceptible to cold season.
What you eat should also always be guided by an understanding of your own predominant dosha, or natural energy type, Dr. Yarema explains. The doshas influence our bodies and personalities. Vata, the dosha that dominates in late fall and early winter, is cool, dry, and irregular (think of creative, scattered types), and it’s balanced by pungent spices, healthy fats, and cooked grains. Pitta, on full display in summer, is hot and fiery (driven type-As). Pittas need to cool down—so less chili or other hot spices, and more bitter-and sweet-flavored foods like whole grains and root veggies. Kapha, which governs later winter and early spring, is earthy, cold, and moist (think earth-mother types). Kaphas need spices, too—and astringent tastes (lots of greens), but minimal oil. (If you don’t know your dosha, take our quiz.)
No matter your dosha, the holiday meal offered on the pages that follow, created by Kripalu’s executive chef, Jeremy Rock Smith, will support it. The meal is designed to be balancing for all the doshas because it includes the six tastes recognized in Ayurveda—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent—all of which are required to make a meal truly satisfying and nourishing. The dishes also align with another Ayurvedic principle: the idea that nature provides us with what we need when we need it, so eating locally and seasonally will keep you healthy all year. (This menu is local to Kripalu, so swap in similar local produce where you can.)
But, the most important ingredient in a feast? Pleasure. “I can add this spice or that ingredient because it’s good for you, but if you don’t enjoy the taste, it’s not Ayurvedic,” says Rock Smith. “This meal is balanced, and it’s designed to lead to physical and emotional enjoyment.”
The 6 Ayurvedic Flavors + Their Emotions
Ayurveda teaches that we need to eat a balance of six basic flavors to be well-nourished and emotionally contented, explains Ayurvedic expert Niika Quistgard.
“Each taste is associated with a particular emotion, and when you have them all in balance, you feed not only your physical but your emotional self, too,” she says. So when you’re planning a meal for a group, keep all the following flavors present, and you may discover your guests’ moods interplay for an interesting and memorable dinner party.
- Astringency can lead to a bracing feeling
- Bitterness can bring an inward- looking, reflective mood
- Pungency might make you feel “fired up”
- Saltiness can result in a feeling of zest for life
- Sourness leads to a sharpened mind and increased desire
- Sweetness may give feelings of love and well-being
Cook These Ayurvedic Recipes This Holiday Season
- Warm Kale, Apple & Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Turmeric Vinaigrette
- Gingery Pumpkin Bisque with Maple Syrup
- Spicy Hot Chai
- Whipped Potatoes
- Seared Tofu Cutlets or Chicken Breasts Over Wild Mushrooms, with Creamy Sage & Green-Peppercorn Sauce
- Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pickled Red Onions
Hillari Dowdle is a writer and editor living in Knoxville, Tennessee.