73de2d19a7a4988009049e664e488e3b-4Spring is the season for cleansing and rejuvenation. All around us fresh green foliage and flowers create an aura of renewal. This dramatic change in our surroundings affects our bodies too. During winter we become slow and sluggish, and then spring ushers in a period of activity and renewal.

Just as we change our clothes for the new season, we should change our diets too. According to Zen macrobiotic philosophy and ancient scripts of ayurveda (the science of long life) established by Hindu sages, our diets should change with the seasons to stay in harmony with nature. During winter’s slumber it is advisable to eat substantial foods full of carbohydrates and fats to keep warm and meet our higher calorific needs, but the spring diet should be light, moist, and abundant with green and raw produce. Accordingly, a spring menu should have less dairy, fat, meat, and sweets, and should include more pungent and astringent foods that will stimulate our bodies to cleanse and rejuvenate.

Fasting is one way of cleansing your body, and spring is traditionally a good time for a fast. In some parts of India, the onset of spring season is celebrated with a religious fast. Some people fast by eating only fruit, others take only juices, and some only water! The type of fast you choose depends on your beliefs and your individual bodily needs and responses. However you do it, the goal of a spring fast is to gently rest your digestive system for a day or two to cleanse it. Perfect for the day before starting a fast, or the day after breaking your cleansing fast, salads are a good way to lighten the load on your body. They are quick to prepare, easy to digest, and full of vitamins, minerals, and fluids, which will cleanse, nourish, and hydrate your body.

Here are three spring salads.

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Baby Spinach Salad

(with shredded carrots and daikon)

In India, leafy greens are always served cooked to minimize water-based bacteria, so fresh green salads or raw vegetables are not common. Modern restaurants in big cities may serve salads, claiming that the ingredients have been washed with purified water, but I still advise those traveling to India from the United States to avoid eating raw fruits or vegetables unless they can be peeled. Baby spinach leaves, available in most groceries in the United States, are deep green, filled with chlorophyll, and rich in iron, vitamin A, C, K, and B vitamins. Served raw, they are as delicious as they are nutritious.

For salad:

4-5 cups well-rinsed and drained baby spinach, thick stems or twigs removed

½ cup shredded carrots (use the large holes of a cheese grater)

¼ cup shredded daikon (use the large holes of a cheese grater)

For dressing:

1 tablespoon olive or unflavored sesame oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon cumin powder

salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Spring rains can leave spinach leaves sandy, so after removing any thick stems be sure to rinse the leaves thoroughly. Dry the rinsed spinach with a salad spinner, and place in a salad bowl. Add the grated carrot and grated daikon. Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a glass jar. Toss the salad with the dressing just before serving, or allow diners to add their own dressing.

Makes six to eight servings.

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Dum Alu Raita

Raitas, or yogurt salads, usually made with raw and peeled vegetables or fruit, are the common “safe” salads in India. In Gujarat, raita most often contains rai(mustard seeds). In other parts of India, raitas may be flavored with cumin and not have mustard seeds at all. In this recipe, I have combined a Mughlai method that calls for cooking potatoes very slowly, with the Gujarati method of preparing raita. Dum alu, the potato portion of this recipe, can be made ahead of time, even the day before, and refrigerated. When you are ready, make the yogurt raita and mix in the prepared potatoes. Allow the mixture to marinate for at least an hour and then serve. This is a perfect side dish for a hot day or for a picnic basket.

73de2d19a7a4988009049e664e488e3b-2For dum alu:

20 very small (the size of a walnut or a lime) baby potatoes (yellow or red)

3 tablespoons peanut, canola, or olive oil

¼ cup finely chopped onion

1 jalapeño pepper, minced after removing veins and seeds (less for a milder dish)

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon salt

For raita:

2 cups plain yogurt

¼ cup water

½ teaspoon Indian mustard powder or 1 teaspoon good quality Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin powder

a few pinches of cayenne pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro for garnish

Wash and scrub the potatoes gently. Prick the surface of each potato in several places with the tines of a fork. Boil the potatoes in approximately 2 quarts of water for 15 minutes or until they are just tender when pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon, drain, and allow to cool.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onions and pepper for a few minutes. Add the cumin seeds and sauté for another minute. Add the potatoes, salt, and turmeric, and stir-fry gently. Cover the pan very tightly and prepare to cook the potatoes for 20 minutes over a low heat. You can seal the pan tightly with foil, or you can cover it with something flat, like a pie plate, and place a weight on top to ensure a snug seal. After the first 10 minutes uncover the pan to check that the potatoes are not sticking or burning. If they are too dry, add a tablespoon of water. After 10 more minutes of cooking they should be done. Turn off the heat and leave them covered for another 10 minutes. Then transfer them to a platter to cool.

While the potatoes are cooking, make a yogurt raita by combining all of the ingredients except for the cilantro. Place the potatoes in a bowl and pour the yogurt mixture over. Mix gently and allow to marinate for at least one hour. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Makes six to eight servings.

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Fruit Salad Boat

73de2d19a7a4988009049e664e488e3b-5Fresh fruit is especially good to include in your spring and summer menu, as it is easy to digest after a fast, and is great at any time to hydrate and cleanse the body. This mixed-fruit salad is versatile; it can be made with any variety of fruit that is in season. Served in a “fruit boat,” this salad looks pretty enough for a party or a picnic, but it can also be served in a regular bowl.

1 cantaloupe or galia melon

1 small or medium sized papaya, ripe but not mushy

1 large mango, ripe and somewhat soft to touch

1 or 2 bananas

a few strawberries, washed and cut into halves

juice of one orange, freshly squeezed

juice of ½ lemon or lime, freshly squeezed

Cut the melon in half lengthwise and discard the seeds. Scoop the melon out in chunks with a spoon and place in a bowl. Set the shells aside for use as serving boats. Cut the melon chunks into small pieces. Cut the papaya into four pieces lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Scoop the papaya pulp out with a spoon and add this to the melon pieces. Peel the mango and cut it into strips, discarding the pit. Cut the peeled strips into chunks and add these to the bowl of fruit. Peel and cut the bananas into small pieces and add these to the bowl too. Cut the strawberries and add to the salad. Mix the fruit well, sprinkling in the orange juice and lemon or limejuice as you toss it together, but do not let the mixture become too wet. Fill the shells or boats with the mixed fruit, saving the extra to refill the boats later. Chill until ready to serve.

Makes four to six servings.

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.

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