Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
One thing I truly love about fall is that it represents dusk, the Western direction, or, the time of day just beyond sunset, when light is neither bright nor dark. It’s a time for reflecting on what has passed before and drawing on wells of gratitude, or grief, depending on what is true for you in the moment. This reflection is taken and we turn in shortly after, looking forward to a warm hearth and food to ground us in our emotional and personal spiritual discovery.
What Ayurveda says about fall is that it’s a great time of year to cleanse. Especially in that crucial changing of the seasons from summer to fall, a cleanse at this time of year can prepare the body’s immune system for a smooth ride through cold, damp winter months. The person who takes time to slow down and notice the changing leaves will be the one who also slows down enough to taste each bite of their food and really enjoy the wondrous flavors that are at most of our fingertips. (Because, in case you didn’t know, cleansing can actually be a delicious experience. Cleansing without deprivation is possible!). Since taste stimulates digestion, the whole alimentary canal benefits from this slowing down and there’s no better time to change your pace than in fall. (If you want a structured fall cleansing program, try YJ’s 7-Day Detox, an Ayurvedic program designed for autumn!)
Fall is the one and only vata season of the year. Meaning, vata rules autumn with it’s cold, dry winds, and a sudden lightness in the air. Vata’s qualities are fast, cold, light, dry, rough, thin, brittle and subtle. If you’re waking up with cracking joints (and that hasn’t happened for awhile), that’s an example of vata rearing its head within you to say, “Hydrate me. Lubricate my joints. Stop eating raw summer foods and feed me warm, oily, unctuous foods that will warm me from the inside out and help me feel grounded.” If you’re experiencing constipation, dry itchy skin, brittle hair and nails or bouts of uncharacteristic anxiety, the same rules apply. I’ve said before that Ayurveda smiles upon cooked foods because they are warm, wet and easier for the body to digest than most raw foods. But this is doubly true in fall when vata’s winds are high and affecting even the most fiery (pitta) and earthy (kapha) among us.
There are some basic fall practices that will bring you great pleasure because they involve such a delicious spectrum of foods. Think of this as Ayurvedic gastronomy: the art or science of good eating. But these practices also lend us the greatest amounts of balance, energy, and focus. Most of us are happier when we feel strong and clear, as opposed to spacey, indecisive, forgetful, and worrisome. So listen well and listen hard – this is going to be good.
Aim to have all six tastes present at each meal (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent) – especially if your core constitution/elemental predominance is NOT vata (air and ether) – but focus most heavily on sweet, sour and salty foods. This means to focus on foods that are naturally in season at this time of year! Don’t you love how nature provides for us so perfectly?
Sweet fall foods include pumpkin, squashes, root vegetables, whole grains (quinoa and amaranth are the most warming), pears, persimmons, apples, whole milk dairy and fresh dates or figs. Cook your squashes and your roots.
Salty fall foods are most important for the person who deals with a dry/cold vata imbalance. Water follows salt so salt in this context is meant to hydrate – specifically good salt: Celtic sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Fleur de sel, etc. Salts that are not bleached or processed but are whole – and balanced by minerals that naturally occur alongside sodium in the earth. Salt is particularly warm and unctuous (lubricating) when taken in moderate amounts.
Sour fall foods include lemons, whole milk yogurt, apple cider vinegar, ume plum vinegar and naturally fermented foods like raw sauerkraut. Truly ‘tis the time of year to jar up that fall harvest (make that last trip to the farmer’s market before it closes for the season!) and use sour foods medicinally at most meals.
In the fall, I like to start the morning with a cup of hot water and lemon. Lemons are heating and highly enzymatic, which makes them a little sharp, very digestive, somewhat laxative and a great tool for stimulating digestive fire and encouraging regularity – a real “woot woot!” for vatas. Lemons tend to have a detoxifying effect on the body.
Perhaps even more crucial than lemons alone for fall health is to feed your digestive fire (agni) regularly with plenty of digestive enzymes – here’s where spices come in – and plenty of probiotic, good bacteria-rich foods. Examples include raw sauerkraut, beet kvaas (a surprisingly delicious fermented beet juice that strengthens blood, detoxifies, liver and alkalizes the blood), and coconut kefir (just fermented coconut juice–almost nothing is easier).
Keeping our internal fire alive not only stimulates full and regular elimination, it also wards off depression, colds, and flu. Fall is, after all, lung and large intestine time. These sister organs work together and in harmony with each other. So the more you can remember to breathe, chew your food completely, and slow down enough to give thanks, the better you’ll feel.
Crispy Mustard Veggies
Preparation time: 1 hour
Yield: Serves 4
1 fennel root bulb, thinly sliced into rounds
2 medium sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/4” rounds
1 small parsnip, sliced into 1/4” rounds
1 medium leek, cut lengthwise then sliced into 1-inch half moons
4 fresh garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs stone ground mustard
4 Tbs melted ghee or coconut oil
2 cups multigrain cereal flakes, crushed into “breadcrumbs”
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash and cut the fennel root, sweet potato, parsnip and leek. In a medium bowl, mix together the mustard, garlic and melted ghee. Grind the cereal until it’s pretty fine, something like breadcrumbs. In a separate medium mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the cereal, salt and spices.
Toss the veggies in the mustard mixture and stir so that each piece is coated with the sauce. Pour it all into the cereal mixture and stir again so that the vegetables are breaded. Lay the veggies in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake until the vegetables are golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Nourishing Fall Pesto Chutney
V-P+, slightly K=
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Yield: About 32 ounces
2 bunches fresh basil leaves
1 cup chopped fresh watercress or bok choy
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1/2 cup raw cashews or brazil nuts
1/4 cup coconut butter
1/2 cup raw tahini
2 Tbs chia seed
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (omit for pitta)
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (omit for pitta)
1 teaspoon celery seed or fennel seed
Chop the basil leaves, watercress and ginger root and set aside.
Place the cashews, coconut butter, raw tahini, chia seed, lime and 1/2 cup of the olive oil into a food processor or Vitamix. Process for 5 to 10 seconds, then add half of the fresh basil, watercress, and ginger root. Blend for 20 seconds. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, the remaining fresh herbs, salt, nutmeg, black pepper, asafoetida and celery seed. Blend again for 2 full minutes. If your pesto is really thick, add another 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the consistency is smooth and creamy.
This pesto freezes well and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Note: Young coconut juice can be used in place of some or all of the olive oil to add a different element of hydrating nutrition. For Pitta, replace black pepper and asafoetida with an equal amount of cooling spices like dill, mint or ground coriander. Asafoetida is a salty, pungent spice most readily found in Indian markets, although some health food stores carry it as well.
Basic Beet Kvass
Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 2 days fermentation time
Yield: 2 quarts
3 to 5 small to medium raw beets (yields about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup whey (from yogurt, kefir, or raw milk – you can also find dairy-free kefir starters online – your kvaas may take longer to ferment)
Peel and chop the beets, and put into a 2-quart glass container. Peeling them is crucial. Add the whey, salt, and water. Stir well and cover completely. Keep at room temperature for at least two days, longer if you live in a particularly cold climate. The taste and texture of your beet kvaas will be on the sour side and perhaps slightly carbonated when done. S tore in the refrigerator.
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.