Some parts of North India mark the beginning of spring with a week-long fast. Some people fast with fruits alone, others take just clear liquids, and some only water! The type of fast one selects depends on family practice and religious rituals. For example, in my family boys were encouraged to do a half fast or “ak tana” on Saturdays to honor Hanuman, the monkey god.
Here are three recipes for a simple, quick-to-make, and easy-to-digest meal that is perfect for the day before starting, or the day after completing your cleansing fast.
STIR-FRIED LEAFY GREENS
Young leafy greens are abundant in spring. They are potent food medicine for hydrating and nourishing the body.
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch green (Swiss) chard
1 bunch watercress or mustard greens
1-2 tablespoons safflower or olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
juice of one lemon or lime, freshly squeezed
salt and black pepper or cayenne to taste
Cut off the thick stems of the greens and discard. Rinse the leaves well and drain completely. Chop the leaves using a wide-blade knife (or use a food processor, but do not puree). Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over a moderate flame. Sauté the garlic for two minutes. Add the cumin seeds and fry them for a minute. Add the greens and stir-fry for only a few minutes, just enough to wilt. Turn off the heat. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper or cayenne. Serve with rice or bread.
BASMATI RICE WITH QUINOA
A marriage of two great grains
Many people look for wheatless recipes in spring, perhaps because their gluten intolerance has been aggravated during winter. At a health food store you will find many grains to replace wheat, or simply to add to your grain repertoire. In addition to white and brown rice of many varieties, look for buckwheat, oats, barley, millet, kamut, amaranth, and quinoa.
Rice is a wonderful grain. It is easy to digest by babies and the aged alike. Rice is alkaline in nature and very soothing to the digestive tract. Basmati rice has a unique nutty texture and fragrant aroma that has been attributed to the special soil in which it is grown. Delicate white basmati rice cooks in just 10 minutes.
Quinoa is a nutritious grain, high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and full of other nutrients. It was cultivated by the ancient Incas. Quinoa has now been rediscovered and can be found in health food stores. It also cooks in only 10 minutes. I make a marriage of these two grains by cooking them together. The stickiness of rice and nuttiness of quinoa complement each other perfectly, and they are both very easy to digest.
2 cups water
½ cup white basmati rice
½ cup quinoa
1 teaspoon oil (optional)
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
Boil the water in a saucepan that has a close-fitting lid. Rinse the rice and quinoa thoroughly and drain. Add them to the boiling water with the optional oil and salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a low, medium flame. Cook the grains covered for eight minutes. Uncover and check to see that they are almost cooked. Close the lid and turn off the heat. In five minutes the steam in the pot will finish cooking the grains completely. Serve with vegetables or soup.
Chutneys are similar to Western condiments such as mustard, catsup, or relish; they are used for enhancing the flavor of a meal. They are served in very small quantities, a teaspoon or a tablespoon per person. No Indian meal is complete without a chutney.
Conserved chutneys are more complex to make. They are known as pickles in India, and are made seasonally from items abundant during that time, and preserved with lots of spices for future use. Fresh chutneys are made from fruits, nuts, or leaves, and fresh herbs and spices. With the advent of food processors and refrigeration fresh chutneys can now be made in large batches that will last for a few weeks. This spring chutney can be made with a combination of other dried fruits.
½ cup dried papaya spears, cut into small pieces
½ cup pitted prunes, cut into small pieces
1 cup warm water
½ cup dried apricots, cut into small chunks
½ cup raisins
2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger
juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon salt
½-1 teaspoon cayenne
Place the papaya and prune pieces in one cup of warm water. Let them soak for 15 minutes. Then combine all ingredients in the jar of a blender or food processor. Blend to a fine puree, adding a bit of water if needed. Transfer into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. Serve this chutney in small quantities, a couple of teaspoons per person.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine lives in San Francisco where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health food store. Her daughter Serena Sacharoff is an illustrator and art student.