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In the cycle of seasons, spring marks the time of creation. The earth is reborn with new energy after the dormant winter season. Like autumn, spring is marked by an equinox. In March, the earth starts tilting toward the sun; days are filled with warmth and vigor. All around us, fresh green foliage and flowers create an aura of renewal. With its budding energy, spring calls for all manner of rejuvenation and purification.

The dramatic changes of the season affect our bodies, too. During winter, our physical processes slow down in a kind of hibernation. In spring, we shed off this sluggishness and prepare for active regeneration.

According to ancient macrobiotic philosophies of the Zen masters and Ayurvedic doctrines taught by the sages of India, we should change our diets to keep our bodies in harmony with the seasons. Nature provides the ingredients for this synchronization by producing foods in spring that support these changes.

Many health practitioners advocate the use of seasonal foods to alleviate seasonal health problems such as spring allergies.

In the cold of the winter, our bodies need a diet with ample amounts of protein and fat to keep warm. In contrast, spring diets should be light and bright, abundant with leafy spring greens. Spring meals should contain fewer acid-producing foods such as dairy, meat, processed grains, nuts, and sweets. Instead, more alkaline foods such as berries and salad greens are recommended, along with more pungent and astringent flavors to stimulate the body to cleanse itself.

Spring menus should incorporate many raw or lightly cooked vegetables, sprouts, fruit and fruit juices, and grains with less gluten, such as millet and quinoa. All kinds of raw foods are advisable during spring due to their strong enzymatic properties. However, instead of following complicated raw recipes, more benefit will come from a simple salad-centered menu for spring.

Our bodies hold more water in spring, so we may be prone to produce more mucus. Bitter greens such as dandelion greens, watercress, and fenugreek leaves help break down the mucus and help the liver with its cleansing. During winter, we may have accumulated toxins along with the excess fat. Now is the time for getting rid of these elements. Greens such as cilantro, parsley, and celery are also diuretic; these foods help the body to excrete toxins along with excess water.

Fasting is one way of cleansing our body, and spring is considered to be a good time for fasting in many Asian cultures and in the Native American tradition. Some people fast by eating only fruit, others take only juice, and some only water. The type of fast you choose depends on your beliefs and bodily needs. Consult a professional or a good book on fasting before beginning a fast, and keep the menu light and moist for a few days before and after fasting.

Rice and Quinoa Pilaf with Green Beans and Carrots

Note: Quinoa can be purchased at your local health food store (like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods).

2 tablespoons (or a bit more) canola, safflower, or olive oil
6 or 8 green onions (scallions) chopped finely
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper or 1 jalapeno pepper minced after removing seeds and veins
1 cup green beans, rinsed, trimmed, and cut into pieces
1 cup carrots, rinsed and cut into sugar cube-size small pieces
2 cups boiling water with teaspoon salt
3 whole cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon broken into small bits
3 whole cloves
2/3 cup white basmati rice, rinsed and thoroughly drained
1/3 cup quinoa or millet, rinsed and thoroughly drained
Juice of fresh lemon or lime and fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

If you cannot find quinoa in your area, substitute millet in this recipe.

Basmati rice and quinoa cook quickly and perfectly with the small pieces of beans and carrots. Prepare the vegetables as described. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and stir-fry the scallions and peppers for five minutes. Add the green beans and carrots and sauté for about three minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pot, transfer them to a bowl, and set them aside.

In another saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Turn the heat down, and keep it simmering while preparing for the next step.

In the same oily pot used for the vegetables, stir-fry the rice and quinoa for five minutes over low heat, adding just a little oil to moisten them. Add the spices and vegetables and continue to stir-fry for two more minutes. Pour in the simmering salted water and stir to mix. Raise the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover, and check the grains to see if they’re done by pressing one or two between your fingers. Cover the pot again, remove it from the heat, and keep covered for five minutes. Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and garnish with cilantro before serving.

Three Greens Salad

Here is a leafy green salad with a dressing that contains alkaline and mucous-reducing ingredients.
4 cups baby spinach
2 cups watercress, baby arugula, or chopped mustard greens (stems and twigs removed)
1/2 cup chopped parsley (twigs removed)
1/2 cup alfalfa or sunflower sprouts
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup diced radishes (red, purple, or white)

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime
1 tablespoon flax oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, and basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse all the greens and dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner. Place them in a salad bowl. Add the carrots and radishes. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well. Mix in the desired amount of dressing right before serving the salad.

Raw Napa Cabbage and Chiogga Beet Slaw with Cashew Chutney Dressing

Raw or uncooked food (also known as Live Cuisine) is a new trend in health food. Many raw food advocates believe that it is a cure-all diet because the vital enzymes and probiotics which occur naturally in plants are not destroyed by the high temperature of cooking. These enzymes and probiotics are important to initiate and sustain digestion as well as the metabolic reactions that create energy and support cell growth and renewal in the body.

Although, there are merits to this theory, a strict raw food diet is not for everyone. People in certain age groups, especially young children and the elderly, often have trouble digesting raw food. Also, when traveling to countries where water-borne bacteria may be present in the food chain, eating raw food or any food that has not been cooked completely may cause illness. Thankfully, this is unusual in the United States, and spring is the best time to include the benefits of raw fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Here is a colorful recipe containing a variety of uncooked foods. Napa cabbage is easier to digest and moister than green or red cabbage, raw chiogga beets are sweeter than the familiar red ones, and the moist cucumbers go well with the other crispy vegetables. Just wait until you taste this dressing made without oil or cheese.

4 cups napa cabbage
2 cup grated chiogga beets
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

Cashew Chutney Dressing:
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, twigs removed
2 tablespoons raw tahini (or sesame seeds)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped ginger
2 fresh jalapeno or other hot chilies, seeds and veins removed
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt

Using a sharp knife, chop the cabbage into very thin strips. (Do not use a food processor for this step). Place the cabbage in a large bowl. Grate the chiogga beets and the carrots using the big holes of a cheese grater. Add the carrots and cucumbers to the bowl. Mix all of the vegetable thoroughly.

To make the chutney dressing: place all of the dressing ingredients in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree them thoroughly, adding more water to make a thick dressing. Transfer the dressing to a covered jar and refrigerate. You will only use a small amount in this recipe.

To serve, transfer a few tablespoons of this dressing to a small bowl. Mix in a few teaspoons of water to thin the dressing to a consistency appropriate for pouring. Drizzle it onto the vegetables. Do not use too much dressing so the vegetables stay crisp.

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. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student. Visit Shanta’s Vegetarian Ethnic Kitchen