Lacto-Vegetarian Cooking Made Simple

If you're accustomed to cooking, it's easy to begin to enjoy Ayurvedic vegetarian meals. The techniques are quite similar. Just read the recipes and put your own stamp on them. If not, you also face the challenge of learning your way around the kitchen. But if you can boil water without burning it, you're likely to succeed!

Here are a few basic recipes from which you can build skills, confidence and good nutrition.

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Pasta

Whole wheat penne, red lentil sedanini pasta dish

Whole wheat penne, red lentil sedanini, pine nuts, cottage cheese and Persian cucumbers

This is my go-to recipe when I want a satifying meal in a hurry. It takes maybe 15 minutes to prepare.

Like the Kichari recipe below, it's just a concept open to infinite variation to suit your taste, the available ingredients, your Doshas, the season and the time of day. For example, it would be best to omit the cottage cheese for an evening meal when "curds", which are heavy and relatively hard to digest, are more likely to produce Ama instead of Ojas.

I've given my approach, which doesn't require measuring. If you've learned to cook like this, you already know how easy it is to modify the quantity according to your appetite and the number of mouths to feed. If not, give it a try and learn from your experience.

FYI - I prefer to use unsalted water for the pasta. Then I can use the water as needed to adjust the consistency of the sauce. I find that it's much better to over-cook the pasta than to under-cook it. Forget the al dente test. When it visibly swells up, it's done. You can keep it warm on low heat until your vegetables are ready.

Preparation

Penne pasta with okra and chard

With okra, chard, fennel, leek, coconut and pumpkin seeds

  • Boil sufficent water for:
    • 2 handfuls organic whole wheat penne
    • 1 handful red lentil lentil pasta (e.g. sedanini from Trader Joe's)
  • Heat some (maybe 1-2 Tbs.) olive oil, coconut oil or ghee with some chopped fresh ginger and a pinch of asafoetida in a small sauce pan until the ginger starts to sizzle and your can smell the oil
  • Turn down the heat and add fennel seed, ground coriander, black pepper and ground of fresh turmeric in that order
  • Stir in 1 small Persian cucumber thinly sliced along with some pink mineral salt and maybe a dash of cardamom and/or cinnamon
  • Stir periodically to prevent scorching and add water as desired
  • Add some flax seed and pine nuts as the cucumber softens
  • When the vegetables are sufficiently cooked, turn off the heat, add some lemon juice and stir in 1-2 Tbs. cottage cheese along with some chopped fresh cilantro or basil

Dr. Marc’s All-Organic Detoxifying Red Lentil Kichari

Split Yellow Mung Dal and White Basmati Rice Kichari

Classic Kichari: white basmati rice and split yellow mung dal

Ayurveda reminds us that nature rejuvenates in spring. It’s a great time for cleaning house and cleansing the body. Excessive cold, heavy, salty, sour and sweet foods may contribute to congestion, colds, allergies, lethargy and muscle aches, particularly at this time of year.

Support your body’s natural Sspring cleaning by taking your main meal at noon and by sipping hot water or herbal tea between meals. To help minimize your body’s burden of environmental toxins, buy organically grown food and don’t cook in plain aluminum pots. Note: to simplify, you can substitute 1-2 tsp. curry powder for the listed spices.

This delicious, easily prepared dish makes a satisfying, health-promoting light supper. The recipe can be readily varied with different grains, beans, greens and spices so as to be suitable for any taste, season or Prakriti. Make it less soupy and combine with other dishes for heartier lunch-time meal. Omit the grain and you'll have a simple dal soup.

If you live life on the go and struggle to find the time to cook, try doing this meal in a crock pot or electric pressure cooker (see Tips below). You might also want to test this Thermos Lunch Recipe from MAPI. My experience was that the electric pressure cooker produced more reliable results with the same or less effort.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, bulgur wheat, or white basmati rice
  • 2-3 leaves Swiss chard, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted clarified butter (ghee) or olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. brown mustard seed
  • Pinch asafoetida (hing)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seed
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. peeled & chopped fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cardamom
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt
  • 2 tsp. rinsed, chopped fresh cilantro

Step 1

Coconut Vegetable Curry and Rice Kichari

Brown rice and mung bean kichari, mixed vegetables in coconut milk, pumpkin seed and avocado garnish, apple chutney. This heavy version of Kichari is more suitable for balancing Vata and would be better eaten in Winter than Spring.

Rinse lentils & grains if desired (not necessary for bulgur wheat), add water and bring to a boil in a 2 quart stainless steel saucepan. When it foams, reduce heat and skim off the foam. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils soften and break up. Pay attention to stirring or adjusting the temperature toward the end of cooking to avoid scorching or boiling over. Optional – to promote regularity, stir in some whole or freshly ground flax seed last few minutes of cooking (You can re-purpose a rotary coffee mill for grinding). Adjust thickness as desired with boiling water.

Step 2

Method 1: Heat clarified butter (ghee) or healthy oil in a small cast iron frying pan with the mustard seeds and asafoetida. When mustard seed begin to pop, reduce heat and successively add seeds, ginger, ground spices (add turmeric last) and then add the Swiss chard, the salt and a small amount of water. Stir, cover and cook for a minute or two. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro, remove from heat, discard cloves and mix with the lentils and quinoa. Serve immediately. Instead of adding the ghee-spice mixture to the kichari, you can pour the soup into your frying pan if it is big enough.

Method 2: Cook the vegetable(s) in the soup, adding them according to the time needed to cook. Towards the end, stir in the salt, turn off heat, and add lemon juice and cilantro. Then temper with the hot ghee, asafoetida, and progressively added spices as described in Method 1. Using this method, remove the pan from the heat once the ghee is hot enough for the mustard seeds to pop.

Dill Rice Kichari

Brown rice-red lentil kichari, toasted hazelnut garnish, mixed vegetables in coconut milk

Variations

This basic recipe is open to a thousand variations.

Vary the Vegetables

Swiss chard, spinach or other greens should be finely chopped. Alternatively, they can be added to the pot instead of being cooked in the tempering ghee & spice mixture. There are plenty of other options for vegetables: Asparagus, green beans & okra are very nice this way, but need a longer cooking time.

Vary the Consistency

To make soup, reduce the grain by 50-75% or increase the water.

Red quinoa and vegetables

Wheat berry-French lentil kichari, cilantro-avocado-cashew garnish, acorn squash with zucchini and Swiss chard. To better balance Kapha, omit the nuts and avocado.

Vary the Grains

Other grains can be used according to the season, your constitution and your mood. Barley, millet, buckwheat, rye, amaranth and corn are especially good for balancing Kapha. White rice, barley, wheat, and oats are best for balancing Pitta.

Vary the Dals

Red lentils and mung beans are best for Vata types, but virtually any dried bean or lentil can be used to balance Pitta or Kapha. It’s good to soak the beans first for a few hours if possible. This is especially true for the larger types, which also benefit from pressure-cooking. For example, chick peas will pressure-cook in 20 minutes if pre-soaked, but can take up to 2.5 hours otherwise.

Omit the grains and you've made dal soup. Serve with grains cooked separately, or with chapatis or other unleavened flatbreads.

Vary the Spices

You can add toasted ground pumpkin, sesame or sunflower seeds, or even shredded coconut. Use amchur (unripe mango) powder or tamarind paste instead of lemon juice. Add finely chopped fresh dill, curry leaves, chilies or paprika, etc.

Tips on Cooking Grains and Legumes

It's important to cook lentils and beans until they are soft and mushy, unless you want to invite Vata-aggravation (aka intestinal gas). Many grains and legumes take any hour or more to cook in a saucepot on the stove. So do vegetables like artichoke. I've long been a fan of the pressure cooker for dealing with this issue. Most foods cook in about 1/4 of the time, not including the cool down period for the pressure to release. In building my Vāstu home, I made the decision to get an induction range (see: https://qatoqi.com/ayurveda/blog/vedic-architecture/vastu-home-mechanicals/. Instead of replacing my stovetop pressure cooker with an induction-ready model, I made the move to an electric model, the Instant Pot Duo mini based on my experience using Marlene's. It's more fool-proof than the stovetop alternative. I especially like that you can preset both the cooking time and a start delay. Moreover, it has a keep warm function so you have a lot of latitude in meal preparation. As a bonus, it also works great for making yogurt, porridge and rice.

When using the Instant Pot to make Kichari, cook the grain and legume together with any vegetables that can withstand the required pressure cooking time. Kale, chard, okra, carrots, sweet potato, hard squashes, etc. all do well even up to 15 minutes. Asparagus does fine up to 10 minutes. If you want to use a vegetable like zucchini which only takes a few minutes to cook in a sauté pan when sliced thin or diced, do it separately with the oil and spices that you will use to temper the Kichari (Method 1 above). That said, I've done zucchini cut in large chunks with a 4 minute pressure time. It still had shape, but was very soft. If you don't like the resulting texture then stick with Method 1.

Beware of the Hard Water Effect on Cooking Time

Hard water is common throughout most of America, but was never central to my experience until moving to North Carolina into a home with well-water. Hard water means there are are lot of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. It takes more soap to get suds in hard water, which is why some elect to get water softeners. The downside of using a water softener it that it basically exchanges sodium for calcium, so you get "salty" water. This means additional treatment may be needed for healthful drinking water. On the other hand, hard water is good for cardiovascular health and may have a great taste. Even so, it may affect cooking of some foods, especially legumes. I have very hard water (14 gpg). I've found that it takes almost double the time to cook whole mung beans in my Instant Pot (15 minutes vs. 8 minutes) compared to soft water.

Kichari in pot ready for tempering

Kichari in pot ready for tempering

Zucchini cooked in ghee and spices

Zucchini cooked in ghee and spices

Tempered Kichari ready to serve

Tempered Kichari ready to serve with or without Chapati

Chapati (aka Roti)

The chapati is a simple, quick, wholesome unleavened bread that can also be made in many variations. Traditionally, fine stone-ground whole Durum wheat flour (chakki atta) is used. Organic whole wheat atta is readily available from several Indian grocery stores in the Triangle. It gives excellent results. If you don't have a source in your area, substitute either Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour, whole wheat bread flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or a mixture. I especially like the delicate, almost flaky consistency that pastry flour produces when making parathas (multi-layer bread cooked in ghee or on a dry griddle).

Chakki atta flour absorbs more liquid than western stone-ground whole wheat flour, so you will need to adjust when switching. It is best to start with a wet dough and add flour when kneading to get to the desired consistency. It is difficult to add water to dough that is too dry.

Ingredients (for 3 large chapatis)

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Salt (optional)
  • Oil (olive, coconut, ghee etc.)
  • About 1/4 cup water. A bit less for whole wheat bread or pastry flour.
Chapati

Directions

  • Rub the salt and oil into the flour.
  • Stir in the water with your fingers and form a ball of dough.
  • Kneed on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
  • Let the dough rest about 5 minutes.
  • Divide into 3 or 4 pieces and roll into balls.
  • Roll out each ball into a thin disk, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  • Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan until bubbles start to form, then flip over to cook the other side for a bit less time.
  • Flip back over and press down a bit with a spatula and if all goes well the chapati should puff up at least partially.
  • Transfer to a plate and cover with a cloth to keep warm while you cook the others.
  • If desired, oil the surface of each chapati and fold in half.

If dough is too dry or too thick, if you over-cook either side, or if the griddle is not hot enough, the chapatis will not puff well, but they will still taste good. Hot enough means that bubbles form within 10-20 seconds and that the second side begins to brown in about 10 seconds. You may have to lower the heat as the cooking progresses. When properly cooked, there will be browned spots on both sides.

For variety, try adding fenugreek leaves (methi), ajwain, kalonji, or anise seeds (ground or whole) to the dough

Paratha

Parathas are made from a a slightly drier chapati dough that has been folded into layers with a dusting of oil and flour in between, with or without spices or other fillings. They are then rolled out and cooked on an oiled griddle. There are several methods of folding. See Vidhu Mittal's Pure and Simple: Handmade Vegetarian Indian Cuisine for some great recipes, further instructions, and mouth-watering photos.

Six-Taste Apple Chutney

This chutney includes all six tastes and would help to balance your lunch. Vary the choices and quantity of spices according to your taste. You can substitute Vata, Pitta or Kapha Churna (spice mixtures from MAPI) for the listed spices.

Ingredients (4-6 servings)

  • 1 tsp. ghee
  • Chopped fresh ginger
  • Pinch asafoetida (hing)
  • 2-4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed or powder
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seed
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cardamom
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 Granny Smith apple cored and chopped
  • 1-2 Tbs. walnut pieces
  • 2-3 Tbs. raisins
  • Ground black pepper
  • Rock salt
  • 1 Tbs. whole cane sugar
  • 1 Tbs. water

Directions

  • Warm the ghee and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • When the ginger starts to sizzle, turn the heat down and add the ingredients in order.
  • Stir to coat the apples.
  • Cover and cook for 45-60 minutes on the lowest heat.
  • Stir in juice of 1/4 lemon or 1/4 tsp. amchur powder.
  • When cool, transfer unused portion to a clean glass jar and refrigerate. Keeps 5-7 days.