Tag Archives: Food

Euphoric Delights: Virtual hangout for foodie buddies

Cooking is a life skill. You have to do it whether you like it or not. But, if you are a member of the popular Facebook Group Euphoric Delights, you are probably clicking pictures of your freshly cooked meal to post it. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Even a regular Daal chawal has a place in here. Not only are you flooded with compliments and requests for recipes, but you begin to stir up new friendships. The warmth of a companionship across the glass screens of your computers /phones breezes into your life like the aroma of ghee when you prepare your favorite Indian dessert. It feels like these unknown faces suddenly have a place in your life.

This virtual group discusses everyday cooking, and becomes a wonderful resource to receive tips specially if you have moved out of your home country and are looking for how to make rotis on a glass top stove or how to ferment idli /dosa batter when you live in a place with freezing temperatures. You can also see the work of immensely talented home chefs who post pictures and recipes of beautifully decorated cakes, dishes for parties and a whole lot more.

Started in June 29, 2011 geared to attract those with a love to cook and love to eat, Euphoric Delights is now a virtual home away from home for members. Members not only share meal ideas and kitchen tips but also feel a sense of belonging.

To learn more about the evolution of this Facebook group, join me in conversation with Shalini Ramachandran, founder of Euphoric Delights.

Q) What inspired you to start Euphoric delights?

I am an unabashed foodie! I love to cook, and I love to eat. But you get bored with your own food very soon. The desire to connect over food, make new friends and mingle over food was the reason that prompted me to start the group.

Q) What’s been the best part of starting this group?

The best part has been connecting with people. Moreover, when I moved to the United States in the year 2001, Facebook was non-existent. It was not this easy to connect virtually. It was hard to make friends in a new country. Facebook opened this window for me and I welcomed it with open arms. Now the group has grown tremendously in size and my husband Mahesh Venugopala is also an admin as I need help managing it.

Q) Do you have formal culinary training?

No, I do not have any formal training. I have been trained by life. I am like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I would’ve never made it to culinary school.

Q) What are the challenges you have faced as the moderator/admin of this group?

This group is now huge, and it is an effort to maintain it. My husband is closely involved in monitoring the group and the content posted in it. However, there are many challenges that we face on a regular basis. The biggest challenge is that if a member’s post gets deleted, they take it personally. But I am a part of the power admin groups on Facebook where we discuss problems /glitches and work on solutions to deal with them. Another challenge relates to keeping the content of the group clean. For instance, I need to maintain resources that I can tap into and have volunteers who work in all earnest to regulate/block the members who post inappropriate /profane content.

Q) Tell us a little about ED Anonymous.

We have a special section in our group where abused women share their grievances. Sometimes it is just that they need someone to talk to. Sometimes their issues are serious. The identities of troubled women are kept anonymous and their posts are deleted soon to protect their identity. However, we do not offer any legal /medical advice. We only offer emotional support and reassurance.

Q) The engagement on your page has been excellent. What do you feel about it? Does it overwhelm you sometimes?

Absolutely! I had no idea that it would grow this big. But I believe that the engagement on the page is because the community wants it. People want to help each other out with cooking tips, easy methods of cooking a seemingly difficult recipe and so on. I owe the popularity of this group to the members, and the volunteers in the admin. team who are always working hard to keep this a clean, safe group.

Q) When you try a new recipe and it does not turn out well, what do you do?

Not every recipe is perfect. If a recipe fails, I will try something different next time.

Q) Do you plan to do something new/different in the group? For example, going live or asking the members to go live?

No, I am happy with the way things are going now. I am happy that I have been able to build a strong community through Facebook, a venture I started in order to connect with other foodies like me.

You do not necessarily have to be as talented as someone on the TV show –  to be a part of this group. Euphoric Delights is the perfect place to be if you are looking for a quick fix recipe, a question on how to organize your fridge, where to buy a specific Indian vegetable or just about anything else that concerns cooking good food. Even if you do not want to post anything, there is always something that you can learn by just being a part of it. So, if you use Facebook, take a peep into this group and you’ll always be surprised to see what’s cooking!

Euphoric delights

Surabhi Kaushik is an Indian writer, based in Charlotte North Carolina.
Her works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and parenting essays have been published in various websites such as yourstoryclub, halfbakedbeans, writer’scafe, perfection pending, herviewfromhome and India Currents. She is part of various writing groups and is closely associated with “Write Like You Mean It”, a writer’s group in Main library, Charlotte. She also leads a monthly Fiction Writing workshop and conducts writing workshops at various libraries across Charlotte, North Carolina. 





Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay [email protected]

Healthy Gluten-free Desserts: No Oxymoron (Peanut Butter Cookies & Brownies)

Healthy Gluten-free Desserts: No Oxymoron (Peanut Butter Cookies & Brownies)

Gluten free food is widely popular now, and curiosity about the right recipes are at an all-time high. Eliminating gluten from your diet does not mean that you have to forgo flavor. Most celebrities and health conscious adults have taken to a gluten-free diet, which can also pass off as a fine detox miracle.

Gluten is a protein found in common grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It is a gluey protein found primarily in bread, pastas, cereals, and desserts, and it is also a vital ingredient in most baked goods as it creates fluffy food and desserts, binding dough together giving a moist texture overall. Gluten-free foods have soared in popularity because food with gluten can lead to severe digestive issues and may lead to diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and intestinal cancers.

In step with this trend, we have expert chef Jia Singh giving us recipes for gluten-free desserts. Chef Jia Singh, who loves to dole out fun, sumptuous and interesting recipes for Food Cloud, says, “Growing up, I watched star chef Anthony Bourdain, read a lot of his cookbooks and learnt a lot about cooking. I realized I was intolerant to gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye, barley) and found that India didn’t have any gluten free dessert options. I am a conscious eater and workout bunny and realized that healthy desserts were an oxymoron in India. I decided to bake in India and that’s how Petite Sweet Eats was born. Petite Sweet eats is a healthy dessert initiative that makes gluten free, low glycemic index, low- carb treats accessible and affordable. Our most popular eats include sugar free and grain free peanut butter cookies and skinny cupcakes, and carrot walnut cake with philly cream cheese frosting (low carb, gluten free and sugar free).” Here are a few of Chef Jia Singh’s recipes.

Peanut Butter Cookies
(Grain free and gluten free)

grain-free peanut-butter cookies
Peanut butter cookies are one of the many treats that remain healthy and guilt-free.

½ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 yolk from a large egg
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp coconut flour
½ cup ground gluten free oats
6 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter (melt in a bowl before mixing)


• Preheat the oven to 180
• Grind peanuts in a processor until smooth. Add all the ingredients into the processor and pulse until smooth.
• Remove the dough from the processor and refrigerate to cool for a bit
• Remove from the fridge, roll into balls and bake for 20 minutes or until brown
• These cookies make for great mid meal snacks and are great with your daily cuppa of chai. Substitute the brown sugar for Splenda and you can enjoy this treat sans guilt.

Gluten-free Brownies

½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup coconut flour
4 eggs
½ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla essence
1∕3 cup coconut oil or butter


gluten-free brownies
Brownies remain delectable, even without gluten.

• Sift the coconut flour and cocoa powder until they are well blended
•  Preheat the oven to 180 c
•  In another bowl mix all the wet ingredients (eggs, honey, butter and vanilla).
•  Combine the dry and wet ingredients with a mixture until the batter is smooth and free from lumps.
• Line a baking pan with parchment and add the batter onto the pan
• Bake for about 30 minutes. Do a toothpick test
• Cool the brownies and enjoy. They can be had with homemade ice cream or with a handful of nuts and some fresh cream.

DIY Energy Balls

¾ cup pitted dates (120g)
½  tsp pure vanilla essence
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp shredded coconut (don’t use low-fat coconut flakes)
1∕3 to ½ cup peanuts (pulse through a processor)
4-5 tbsp unsalted, natural peanut butter

Mix all the ingredients, pulse through a processor. Shape into balls and put them in the fridge to shape up and chill. Pull them out right after a grueling workout. Enjoy!

Bon appétit!

Kavita Wadhwani has nine years of writing experience on subjects ranging from fashion, fitness, décor, to food and travelogues.

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

The first signs of spring are in full display. Never before have I been so welcoming of spring. This past winter was harsher than usual and experiencing it in our new home which is surrounded by trees only made it seem worse.  After an especially cold winter, I feel specially invigorated by the advent of spring! I enjoy the crispness in the air, the prospect of longer days and I look forward to seeing fresh vegetables in the farmer’s market. Nature always has its own way of quite literally springing tiny pleasant surprises urging us to take notice.

Our Sunday morning visits to the local farmer’s market have once again become a weekly ritual that I really look forward to. The soothing sight of fresh and vibrant produce complements the hustle and bustle and I feel tempted to buy everything that is arrayed in front of me!

When I head back home, I start thinking about how to prepare tasty, healthy foods that are easy to cook on a weekday. I try to experiment by completely reinventing the recipe or by making small changes like adding cumin seeds instead of mustard seeds.

Some vegetables have been used only in a particular way that I feel bored at the thought of having to make them using the same recipes. One such vegetable is the baby eggplant. I am sure there must be several ways of preparing them, but one dish that immediately comes to mind is Bharwa Baigan. (Stuffed eggplant)

Last Sunday when I picked up baby eggplant, I mentally swore that I would make something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Even though it is delicious, it is also quite tedious and time consuming to prepare. As I let my imagination play with these fresh baby eggplants, my aim was to come up with a recipe that was simple to cook and tasty. So here’s the recipe from my Sunday experiment with baby eggplant.

Achari Baigan
Yield: 3 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
Achari Baigan, Eggplant Dish
12 baby eggplants
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chili powder
3 tablespoons mustard oil
(You can use any oil for this)
Pinch asafetida powder (Hing)
1 medium onion sliced thin

Mix together:
2 medium tomatoes pureed
3 teaspoons sambhar powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp sugar to taste
2 tablespoons yogurt
½ tsp garam masala
Chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Make two perpendicular cuts in the form of a cross at the base of the eggplant. Sprinkle salt, turmeric powder and chili powder and massage the insides of the eggplants. Keep aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil into the pan and once it is heated, add in the marinated eggplants.
Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes till the eggplants are charred slightly on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it is heated, add in the asafetida and sliced onions.
4. Sauté till the onions soften and are pink in color (less than 1-2 mins). Now, mix in the dry masala with the tomato puree and add to the oil.
5. Add ½ cup of water and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes till oil floats on the top.
6. Then, add in the sautéed eggplant into the masala and continue to sauté till the eggplant is soft.
7. Now add in the yogurt, mix well and sprinkle in the garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

1. To reduce cooking time, add a little oil to the marinating eggplants and place in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. This softens the eggplants and reduces cooking time on the stove.
2. To make this dish look fancy, you can add a tempering of mustard seeds, asafetida and curry leaves at the end. It adds a touch of sophistication to the dish and yes, the extra love too.
3. I use mustard oil to make it typically achari (pickle-like); you can use any oil that you want.
Having experimented with eggplant, I was immensely satisfied with the results. It was all the more gratifying since I had finally chosen to do something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Serve it with plain rice and dal or some pulao. This is a must-make vegetarian dish for all who are eggplant lovers. Don’t be afraid to play around with the recipe and remember to always have fun experimenting!n
A science educator with an ardent love for experimentation in the kitchen, Jagruti writes about cooking in her blog The Turmeric Kitchen. To help popularize her otherwise not very well known East Indian heritage, she writes extensively about Odia food and about dishes that evoke nostalgia of her days growing up in Odisha.

chicory, stir fry, salad, potatoes

‘N Dive Into Chicory!

ChicoryMy childhood is filled with memories of waking up to the strong aroma of filter coffee. My grandmother needed her cup of coffee to be just the way she liked it. Her day began with brewing a huge steel filter full of coffee and it ended with her ritual of washing that huge filter and adding a heap of the coffee powder ready for brewing the next morning. Her coffee beans were bought at specialty coffee retailers like Narasus Coffee, Kannan Jubilee Coffee, and Leo Coffee. I remember going to these coffee retailers with my mother and she would buy a blend of three-fourths of Pea berry, Robusta or Arabica beans with a quarter of chicory. The beans were always roasted to perfection.

I remember asking my mother, “What is chicory?” She told me that chicory was a root that was added to the expensive coffee powder for a slight bitter aftertaste, and it also helped extend the use of the coffee powder. Only a quarter of the chicory was added since too much would take away the real flavor of the coffee beans.  I still miss my grandmother’s chicory coffee and her morning coffee rituals.

Historical Origins
Chicory dates back to ancient Egypt. In 4000 BC, it was documented as a medicinal plant for the treatment of intestinal worms and as an aid to digestion. Later the Greeks and Romans used chicory as a liver tonic. It is said that the Roman poet Horace ate chicory as a part of his vegan diet. During the Middle Ages, medieval monks cultivated chicory and thus introduced it to Europe.

The Dutch were the first to use the roots as an enhancer for coffee. According to Peter Simmonds, a 19th century writer, coffee was introduced to France by M. Orban and M. Giraud. By the 1800s, France, Denmark and Germany were exporting more than 1 million pounds of chicory.

In the 19th century the French brought their chicory and coffee to Louisiana. During the Great Depression and the Second World War, coffee was expensive and in short supply. Chicory became a popular substitute drink. Sometime during the 1850’s New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee. During the Civil War when the ports were blocked and coffee shipments were halted, chicory found its place as a substitute. That’s how, even to this day, you can find a good cup of Chicory coffee at Café Du Monde in New Orleans as it has become a part of their cultural history.

My grandmother and I are indebted to a 17th century Sufi saint named Baba Budan for bringing coffee to South India. Legend has it that, Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen on his way back from his holy Hajj pilgrimage and planted it in Karnataka, South India. Later on, chicory was introduced by the British. Till the 1950s chicory was imported in India. Later, imported seeds from France were cultivated in the North West. Now India is the largest producer of premium grade chicory in the world.

Roots, Leaves and Flowers are Used in Chicory

1) Root chicory is roasted, ground and brewed as a substitute for coffee.

2) Leaf Chicory has two kinds—wild leaf used in many Turkish and Greek dishes and cultivated leaf chicory that is of three main kinds: Radicchio or red chicory, Belgian endive (pronounced as En-Deeve); we grow Californian endives too, and Sugarloaf chicory which looks like a hybrid of Napa cabbage  and romaine lettuce. Apart from these varieties, we also have salad greens such as escaroles, curly endive (pronounced as N-Dive) and frisee.

3) Chicory flowers are predominantly blue but sometimes are pink and white too. These flowers are used in tonics for the prevention of gallstones, sinus issues etc. These February flowers are known as a symbol of love, desire and inspiration.

Chicory the Champion of Health
We know that the Egyptians had planted chicory for its medicinal use. In India chicory roots are used in the treatment for jaundice and liver enlargement. The Native Cherokee and Iroquois tribes used chicory in treating sores, lesions and as a laxative. Chicory is well known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also used in the treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, acne, cellulite, constipation, diabetes, eczema, gallstones, gastritis, gout, hepatitis, jaundice, liver enlargement, rheumatism, and urinary ailments.

Chicory promotes a heart healthy diet as it contains inulin a carbohydrate fiber called fructan, that helps reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides and thereby reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. The inulin also helps in the prevention of diabetes and obesity in humans, by amanaging and aiding digestion and appetite regulation.  Chicory is a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamins. It also helps in absorbing calcium thereby aiding bone density and reducing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

Farm to Table
Here are some chicory dishes to warm your cold February days.

Roasted Radicchio Winter Salad
My friend Poornima makes the best Radicchio Summer Salad. I’ve adopted her recipe to make a warm winter salad. Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste. Roasting radicchio reduces the bitterness.

For Roasting
1 head Radicchio torn into large wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tablespoon dried herbs (thyme, parsley, basil)
Salt to taste

For the Salad
2 steamed beets cut into matchsticks
1 green apple cut into matchsticks
½ cup fresh corn
1 avocado cubed

½ teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic minced
½ jalapeno pepper minced
2 tablespoons of Muscat vinegar (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rub the radicchio wedges with olive oil, garlic, dried herbs and salt. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place inside for 12-15 minutes till it is charred. Remove, cut up into large pieces and place in a large bowl. Add rest of the salad ingredients—beets, apples, corn, avocados and mix gently. Drizzle the dressing and mix. Serve.

Variation: Roasted Radicchio Walnut Pizza. Place the roasted radicchio in a layer over pizza dough along with gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses and toasted walnuts. Cook the pizza in the oven.

Belgian Endive, Tomatoes and Mushroom Stir Fry
According to Chinese medicine, endives help preserve the Qi (energy) in the heart. They use it in many stir fry dishes.

2 bulbs of red and green endive halved and sliced crosswise.
1 tablespoon oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch fresh ginger minced
1 cup Shitake mushroom sliced
1 large vine ripe tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large pan and add the minced garlic and ginger. Then add the sliced endive, sliced shitake mushrooms and sauté in high heat for a few minutes. Now, add the tomatoes, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt and red pepper. Cook until the endives are wilted and mushroom slices are soft. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot as a side dish with rice.

Roasted Fennel, Endive Potato Gratin
Belgian endive is mostly used for appetizers. Each leaf serves as a holder for small salads. This hearty au gratin is an all-time favorite.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small fennel bulb sliced
1 red Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
1 green Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
8 red potatoes sliced into ½ rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (basil, parsley rosemary)
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a flat pan and add garlic. Now place the fennel and endive in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and then brown them. Remove and set aside. In the same pan add butter and garlic. Now add 1 ½ cup of milk and layer the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Remove from stove and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking pan with butter and layer the potatoes, roasted fennel and endive slices. Sprinkle half of the Gruyere cheese and Mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining milk mixture on top. Sprinkle the rest of the two cheeses at the top. Place it in the hot oven and cook until the top is bubbling golden brown and the potatoes are well cooked. Remove and serve.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area [email protected]

The Skinny on a Low Carb, High Fat Diet

There is an urban legend that the Indian diet is rich in fat. When you think of desi cuisine it brings up images of deep-fried pooris and sautéed vegetables floating in oil. It is further assumed that this fat-rich diet contributes to the high prevalence of heart disease among Indians. On the contrary, my own observation is that in most Indian-American households today only a small amount of vegetable oil, and almost no ghee, butter, or cream is consumed. Also, in my Ayurveda practice I usually evaluate people’s diets and find that most consume less than 30 grams of fat a day. Instead, rice, wheat, dals, breakfast cereals, low-fat milk and yogurt, fruits, potatoes, and other vegetables are listed most commonly in their food logs. The truth is this is a diet rich in carbohydrates, not fats.

This was not the case some 60 years ago. Until the 1950s ghee and freshly churned butter were the preferred fats in the Indian diet. People consumed whole milk. They were also more physically active.

Controversial Hypothesis

Then in 1953 an American scientist named Ancel Keys proposed a hypothesis that dietary fat and cholesterol were responsible for heart disease. Although Keys’s research methods were flawed, the theory caught the interest of some bureaucrats and politicians who advanced it to inform new dietary guidelines for Americans. Low fat became the mantra for a healthy diet, which spread worldwide and remains the conventional wisdom even today.

These dietary guidelines have led to several unfortunate consequences. Following the recommendations of their doctors, people switched from ghee to Dalda, and from butter to margarine, thus consuming trans fats which have since been studied and shown to be linked to heart disease. Many have cut down fat intake to a bare minimum, replacing it with more grains, fruits, and sugary snacks as their main sources of calories and energy. Processed foods laden with refined and enriched flours, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup, yet labeled “low fat” and “heart healthy” have gained favor. Meanwhile, we are witnessing a pandemic of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, dementia, and other chronic diseases.

According to ayurveda, while less fat is beneficial for some people of kapha constitution, or suffering from a kapha ailment, it is not recommended for all. Most people who restrict dietary fat increase their risk of imbalance of vata dosha leading to vata disorders like constipation, arthritis, and sensory and neurological dysfunction.

Snigdham ashniyat (eat unctuous food), recommends Charaka Samhita, an ancient text on Ayurveda. This advice is for healthy people to maintain their good health. The fat enhances the taste of the food and bolsters agni (the digestive fire). Thus, it speeds up digestion and helps with absorption of nutrients. It also aids the downward movement of vata (peristalsis), nourishes and strengthens the body, improves sensory function, and promotes clarity of skin complexion.

Choices of Healthy Fats

The fat most highly recommended in ayurveda is ghee, or clarified butter. It is a tonic for memory, intellect, and the eyes. Ghee has a high smoke point (500 degrees F) and so is especially suitable for tadka, or high temperature tempering of spices. You can also add organic butter, cream or whole milk to your diet. Healthy choices of oils include extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil. Among fruits avocadoes, coconuts, and olives are good sources of healthy oils. So are tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and brazil nuts. Cold water fish like salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be beneficial for heart health. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

How much fat can you include in your diet? Listen to your body and it will tell you. Too much dietary fat makes you feel heavy and nauseous. So, most people are unlikely to binge on fat. Even so, you may want to increase it by only one tablespoon (14 grams) at first in each of your main meals and see how you feel. At the same time, reduce your consumption of sugar (and other sweeteners, desserts, sodas, fruit juices) and starchy foods (rice, wheat, other grains, potatoes) by at least twice as much.

What to Expect

You will probably find that with more fat in your meals you feel satiated with smaller portions. Also, fats and oils keep you satiated for a longer time, and there is less craving for snacks between meals. You will also be training your body to burn fat for energy and not rely as much on glucose. If you had sugar cravings before, they will subside in a few weeks and you will experience an even supply of energy throughout the day.

Oil, being the best remedy for vata imbalance, will help to relieve symptoms of vata like body ache, joint pain, numbness, stiffness, and constipation.

If you simultaneously reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 100 grams a day, your blood sugars will probably decrease and become more stable. Triglycerides will also drop. You can also expect gradual and sustained weight loss. Contrary to popular belief, it is not dietary fat that makes you fat, it is excessive consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods.
Here are a couple of recipes for reducing carbohydrates and adding healthy oils to your diet.

Salad Dressing
The oil, herbs, and spices in a dressing not only add to the taste, they also help in easier digestion and more complete absorption of the phytonutrients in a green salad. Many commercial dressings contain vegetable oils processed with heat or chemicals. So it’s best to make small batches of dressing at home with the healthiest oils. Choose extra virgin, cold pressed, unrefined olive oil or macadamia nut oil.

12 tablespoons (3/4 cup):olive oil, extra virgin, cold pressed, unrefined
4 tablespoons (1/4  cup): juice of one lemon                    1 teaspoon: pepper, coarsely ground black ½ teaspoon : salt or Himalayan pink salt
Mix all the ingredients in a dressing mixer or a small glass bottle. Shake well before dispensing.

Almond-Chickpea Roti

If roti or some kind of flat bread is your comfort food, try various kinds of flour and you may find a mix that satisfies your taste buds without elevating your blood sugar too much. Chickpea flour has only half the carbohydrates as wheat, and more dietary fiber and protein. Almond meal and coconut flour are very low in carbohydrates, but by themselves they don’t bind well and are difficult to roll into flat bread. My mother tried various mixes and came up with this delicious recipe that is gluten-free, low in carbs, and has a substantial amount of protein.

almond meal: ¼ cup
chickpea flour (besan): ¼ cup
Himalayan pink salt: ¼ teaspoon
water: as needed to knead the dough

Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add water in small amounts to knead into dough of medium to stiff consistency. Roll into thick flat breads. Roast on a tava or cast iron griddle. Makes 2 small rotis.

The ideas and opinions expressed here are for educational purpose only. They are not intended to replace the advice of a physician or medical practitioner. Before beginning any diet program including any recommendations discussed here, it is recommended that you seek your physician’s advice.

Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S., is a graduate of Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar, and practices ayurveda in San Jose, Calif. www.classical-ayurveda.com.

Coconut and Mangrove Dreams

I am standing on a stunning cliff-top, situated between two deserted strips of honey colored beaches, looking across a jade colored infinity pool fringed by palm trees. Away from the bustle of Kovalam, near Trivandrum, Kerala is Niraamaya Surya Samudra (part of Relais and Chateaux) where the property is studded with typical teak wood Kerala houses called tharavadu with wooden pillars, terracotta roofs and tiled floors built by local craftsmen from recycled wood, garnered from hundred year old Kerala homes.

I love the fact that greenery pervades even the bath areas. A gargantuan banyan tree that spreads its tentacles all over the open bath area and watches over a room.

It’s a celebration of architecture and the culture of Kerala with multiple elements woven into the landscape—gleaming urulis (circular bell metal vessel) filled with bright red flowers, kalvilakkus (stone lamps), yaalis (part lion, part elephant, part horse sculptures), rotund stone Ganeshas resting beneath the abounding coconut trees guarding their territory in proprietary fashion, brilliant Kerala murals with their natural dyes in orange and ochre livening up walls, heavy wooden doors carved with intricate details, large plantation chairs to watch the sea and small hanging bells outside each room.

I am near the the breathtaking coastal village of Pulinkudi, about 10 km from Trivandrum, where Klaus Schleusener, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, transformed a barren hill into his winter home. Today his original house called the “Octagon House” still lives on in the property.

Klaus built the Octagonal House where he spent his winters and eventually, since his friends loved to come and stay with him, he bought some more land and reassembled old Kerala homes. “He transformed the life of the local village where you could not even get five eggs from one shop” says Renjith, the operations manager of the resort. The omnipresent motif of Niraamaya Surya Samudra is of course the sea. At night you hear the waves pounding the rocks as you drift off to sleep, and in the morning you wake up to yoga on the pavilion overlooking the beach and “pre-dawn tea on the beach” with the waves lapping at your toes.

The cotages have idyllic positions set in lush foliage and with magnificent sea views. The best part of the resort is the spa with its own herb garden which provides ingredients for the treatments. I have a simple Abhayanga snanam (bath) with earthy smelling herbs and oils.


A Kathakali performer in full costume and extravagant makeup
A Kathakali performer in full costume and extravagant makeup

Therapists gently wash my feet before I am lying supine on a wooden table placed in a bamboo curtained therapy room. After being kneaded by expert hands, I feel like I am almost levitating. Come nightfall we sit on tables at the Essence restaurant and watch a Kathakali performance.

Originating in northern Kerala this combines mime, classical music, and intricate eye movements. The make-up with vibrant colours applied to the characters is part of its charm.

Traditionally a vibrant green face means good, white indicates super-human and crimson red signifies the demonic!

We take a backwater cruise through mangroves to Poovar estuary where the river Neyyar has breached the sand banks and reached the ocean. It’s a sight I cannot easily forget. The ferocity of the waves, the balance of nature that ensures that the backwaters don’t flood the homes on it and the golden sand banks with tender coconut sellers and brightly dressed locals.

Canoeing through the mangroves is a slice of local life: some young men boisterously washing an elephant named Mahadevan Kutty; a pistachio green mosque; women bathing on the banks and the prolific bird life—a snake bird which has us searching for a decapitated head of a snake in the waters, a sea eagle gliding and soaring and cormorants diving to get their fresh meal. I leave the resort the next day, with a heavy heart and a heavier hamper of fresh organic beetroot pickle and pineapple jam, promising myself a return journey here.

Fort Kochi in the evening dusk on the coast of Kerala
Fort Kochi in the evening dusk on the coast of Kerala

From the beaches we make the long road journey to Kochi and stay in the historic Fort Kochi which is intricately connected to the city’s importance down the ages as a trading post for spices. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the British settled here in the past attracted by its lucrative spice trade.

Our home away from home is the Malabar House a boutique hotel—a labor of love by German designer and hotelier Joerg Drechsel and his pretty Basque wife Txuku. The property has a history that can be traced back to the 1700s.

I walk into an airy reception with a huge red sphere suspended from the ceiling and eye catching art on the walls with a carved wooden horse and a café courtyard with a frangipani tree. My room has a teak four poster bed, an electric red wall with a painting and delightful cotton cushions.

I squeeze myself into a local auto for a quick conducted tour of the grid of streets, where every door, window and brick offers a lesson in multi layered history. From the early eighteenth-century Dutch Cemetery, an old Jewish House converted into a hotel, Princess Street dotted with old fashioned villas converted to boutique hotels and guesthouses, the ochre St Francis church (where Vasco Da Gama, who died in 1524, was buried before his mortal remains were returned to Portugal 14 years later) and the large Parade Ground dotted with boys playing a boisterous game of cricket under the massive umbrellas of giant rain trees.

A historic part of Mattancherry
A historic part of Mattancherry

Just over a mile away is Mattancherry, the Jewish quarter, where I get lost in antique warehouses lining Jew Street piled with carved wooden doors, window frames and furniture gleaned from old Kerala homes and the Pardesi Synagogue with its Cantonese hand-painted tiles and its ornate Belgian chandeliers. We end up at the water’s edge where we find the iconic Chinese nets that look like giant spiders, erected in teak wood and bamboo poles with a network of pulleys, silhouetted against the setting sun making for a brilliant photo-op.

Come nightfall, Malabar House entraps you in its romantic ambience with musicians strumming sitars, a sparkling pool, fairy lights strung around trees and a traditional pole framed dais.


The exterior of Aspinwall facing the Kerala coastline
The exterior of Aspinwall facing the Kerala coastline

We spend a morning at the Kochi Biennale which has brought streams of visiors to Kochi.

Historic sites like the sleepy Cochin Club, the sea facing historic Aspinwall House with several warehouses, David Hall—a Dutch House from the 17th century, and Pepper House have become temporary spaces for experimentation—a space for artists to do something not bound by commerce with its mix of film, installation, sculpture, painting, performance art and new media.

Of course any Kerala sojourn revolves around water, and it’s to the backwaters that we head last. This is a tight network of bottle green lagoons, estuaries and deltas of forty four rivers and canals where sky and water segue seamlessly in a silvery haze. Water and greenery are motifs of this part of the state.

Our last sojourn is at the boutique property Purity, on Lake Vembanad which used to be an Italian guest house and Joerge has converted it into a vibrant turquoise and pink haven of rooms with leather puppets sandwiched behind sheets of glass lit up, modular blocks of furniture designed by him, larger-than-life bathrooms and antiques dotted around the hotel ranging from a palanquin to a statue of the super-god Hanuman. With its stained-glass windows and airy verandas decorated with contemporary art, this is a visual feast. We take a canoe ride across Lake Vembanad  with water hyacinths, as houseboats called ketuvallams drift by.

We watch these micro-economies where kids play in the water and farmers herd ducklings to feed in paddy fields and strong men row small boats weighed down with cargo or dive for mussels.

In the evening we dine on the waterfront with candlelit tables, and ruminate over the trip through the beaches, backwaters and history of this state. Time seems to slow down and then remain still. A pace of life lined with lassitude that stays stored in your memory chip for years to come.

Kalpana Sunder is a travel writer and blogger based in Chennai, India who blogs at http://kalpanasunder.com/blog

Best Foods For Building Lean Muscle

If lean muscles could be built from beer and chips then everyone could be looking huge with well-defined muscles. Unfortunately this is not the case. It takes a lot of exercises and healthy eating habits to develop lean muscles. But wait; did you know that there are certain foods that can help you to build lean muscles faster? These foods have particular properties, which increase the rate at which your muscles burn fat to look more defined. Below are my recommendations for best foods for building lean muscle:

While fish has gained a lot of glory as one of the best sources of white meat, salmon takes the lead when it comes to the types of food, which are responsible for building lean muscles fast. Salmon contains a unique blend of the right proteins, B vitamins and other essential nutrients such as magnesium, which is crucial to the repair and formation of new muscles. Besides, scientific evidence has pointed out that salmon boosts mood, which goes a long way in preventing unhealthy eating habits and therefore contributes directly to lean muscle development.

Eggs have always been identified as the best source of proteins, and indeed their ability to boost the development of lean muscles extend beyond the protein value. Eggs are highly functional due to the yolk, which contains sufficient amounts of cholesterol. If you are troubled that the amount of cholesterol could hike from excessive consumption of eggs, it is time you knew that the type of cholesterol obtained from eggs has been shown to lower the amount of bad cholesterol which is mostly associated with cardiovascular infections. Eggs therefore boast of the highest biological value, a measure that depicts how well they support your body’s protein need.

Almonds carry a substantive amount of Vitamin E, in a form that is best absorbed by the human body. Vitamin E is required in the body especially after exercising because it is a potent antioxidant, which prevents free-radical damage that could prevent effective muscle development after workouts. The moment such kind of destruction is prevented; lean muscle development will be accelerated.

Leafy greens
Leafy greens have gone beyond the boundaries of keeping your skin glowing to facilitate the development of lean muscles at a faster rate. They contain a lot of iron, whose function is to speed up the circulation of oxygen during workouts. Similarly, leafy greens contain enough proteins to help build lean muscles further. Some of the greens that have a higher amount of proteins are spinach and kales, and should therefore be consumed in large amounts.

When it comes to fruits, apples play a crucial role towards the development of lean muscles. These fruits are packed with specific polyphenols, which prevent muscle fatigue while increasing muscle strength at the same time. Apples should therefore be used as pre-workout carb sources because they allow you to train harder and over an extended period of time.

These are some of the most unique grains that you will find in the local store. If you consume half a cup of rolled oats for instance, you will get 5 grams of proteins and a number of vitamins which boost metabolism and promote muscle growth. If you observe most bodybuilders, you will find out that they consume oats at the start of their day because it is the kind of diet that that keeps one satisfied for long besides preventing the accumulation of abdominal weight.

Peanuts are mostly consumed for their protein content, forgetting that they contain a host of other nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and plenty of iron. In a single serving of roasted peanuts, you get 12 grams of proteins and all the aforementioned nutrients. Besides roasted peanuts, peanut butter is a good alternative, but one has to be careful not to choose the sweetened varieties.

Beef from grass-fed animals
Beef contains zinc, iron, B vitamins, cholesterol and proteins. These are some of the best components for anyone who wishes to develop lean muscles, but they should be obtained grass-fed animals. Compared to conventionally raised animals, grass-fed cattle contain a higher level of conjugated linoleic acid, which helps the body in shedding fat in order to develop lean muscles.

In summary, there is a wide variety of natural foods which have particular properties vital to the development of lean muscles. However, it is also essential to note that food alone cannot help one to develop lean muscles. As such, one should consume such healthy and balanced diets besides regular exercising before the results start to appear.

Puja Mukherjee is a certified Fitness Trainer, who woke up one morning to drop everything in the pursuit of her passion for fitness. She says the best part about her job is to liberate her clients from their preconceived notions about fitness and see them be dazzled. Follow her at www.getmeanmuscle.com


Destination Bali

Bali is a very devout, sacred Hindu island—a shining green emerald etched into the equatorial heart of the primeval, volcanic Indonesian archipelago. Bali continues to maintain its ancient cultural links to India—it is an adamant and joyous outpost of Hindu reverence and religion. A ring of high, coastal perimeter temples guards their sacred, secret island both from invaders—and from the omnipresent forces of lurking, local black magic practitioners. The Balinese are secure under this divine benediction: everything that they do is done under the protection of the gods. The Balinese will never give up their deities, sacred religious foods, village priests, cycle of offerings, village ceremonies, temple anniversaries, and extravagant, traffic-stopping processions.

Local Balinese women in brightly colored, pink and yellow lace kebayas and silken sarongs parade through the narrow village streets in breathtaking, traffic-stopping, single ceremonial file. They balance heavy, six-foot-high, layered-fruit offering towers (banten tegeh) on their heads while enroute to visit another village temple.  I took a one-day class at Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum on how to construct the offering tower (the trick is in a hidden, vertical interior stand and sharp bamboo sticks to affix the fruit in even rows!)

There are elaborately carved, strategically placed paras stone temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Vishnu in every single village on the island—long referred to as “the island of ten thousand temples.” The Balinese will invite you to come to their homes to share their ceremonies, home art galleries, village cooking, and weddings. Royal cremation ceremonies showcase Bali’s devotion to the Hindu divinities.  Everything else stops—time itself ceases and freezes solid—whenever a massive, elaborate cremation ceremony must be staged to honor (and consecrate to the flames) a king or member of the royal palace of Ubud. Indian tourists to Bali will be warmly welcomed, and you will find much that is familiar in shared roots and religion—but with a delicious Balinese cultural twist!

Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate
Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate

“Spiritual growth and health tourism” options are abundant in the rice-field-ringed, traditional village heart of Bali. Ubud is the cultural capital and sacred healing center of Bali, blessed with an abundance of yoga studios, spas, herbal healing sanctuaries, beauty and massage treatments,  traditional healers, local village balian, jamu sellers, beauty regimens, natural beauty products, Balinese dance performances, health meditation teachers, and holistic intuitive healers.

Shadow Puppet Performance
Ubud is the perfect setting to see a wayang kulit shadow puppet performance—a spiritualized art form which still holds tremendous power in Bali and Java. The highly trained dalang (puppet master) assumes formidable supernatural powers (he is almost in trance) during the entire wayang performance. Sequestered behind an oil lamp-lit screen, he re-enacts ancient familiar scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana legends (spliced with contemporary, often comical, Balinese social and political commentary).  He uses and manipulates his own large, ornate, powerful collection of carefully crafted and blessed, magically charged puppet characters. Behind the glow of the ancient oil lamp, he is an otherworldly spiritual force to be reckoned with—and treated with great care and deference. The wayang kulit can typically go on for hours on special ritual occasions.  Young Balinese couples will still hire a wayang group to stage a performance at their home wedding ceremony to entertain the guests.

Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show
Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show

Balinese Wayang Kulit shadow plays take place in conjunction with temple celebrations or other religious gatherings. The first time that I saw the wayang was in Ubud in the 1990s—I was captivated and entranced by both the ink-black, night-time, rubble-strewn performance space and the sacred ritual subtext of the experience.  The purpose of the wayang is to bless the occasion by inviting ancestral spirits to visit the location.  Bountiful offerings are presented before, during, and after the performance, which may last from three to four hours. Balinese wayang is not an all night performance as it is in Java. Plays usually begin sometime between nine and eleven o’clock. The Balinese dalang takes on the role of priest, performing acts of offering and cleansing. Mantras are recited before and after the performance. A primary purpose of the shadow play is for the dalang to make holy water—to be used for prayer and to bless the area and the participants. Holy water is prepared by adding flowers to water from a high stream, and reciting mantras with incense and sprinklings of rice (abundant offerings are also presented).

Natural Spas
Luscious-smelling, organic spa products manufacturers are clustered in the environs of Ubud—offering their own brand of authentic, village boreh scrubs.  These poultices originated in the golden age of Balinese rice cultivation. Tending the bright green, terraced rice field rings, the farmers were constantly exposed to the raw elements. They labored under the heat of the sun—standing fast against tropical gusts—while mired knee-deep in damp earth, irrigated, mirror-like flooded paddy fields, and pools of water. This gave rise to assorted muscular aches and pains. The cure was a restorative boreh powder—a combination of medicinal roots, spices, and bark crushed into a healing pack. Bali’s ancient, indigenous boreh—a healing and warming paste used for sickness—warms the body, enhances blood circulation, relieves aching joints and sore muscles, and enhances skin elasticity.  The fresh herbal aromatics also relieve headaches, colds, flu, and runny noses.  It is commonly applied to the forehead and temples, shoulders, back, foot, knee, and legs. Following a harsh day hoeing in the fields, the boreh provides welcome warmth to cold rural legs and feet. After the farmer washes up, eats dinner, and gets ready for bed, the pack will be applied and left in place throughout the night (especially during the cooler rainy season). It will be rinsed off in the morning. This warming sequence is also applied in modern, “traditional spa treatments,” with boreh described as a body warmer, beauty scrub/body scrub, healing paste and exfoliant all at the same time—both remedial and cosmetic.

A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath
A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath

A healing boreh product is usually composed of fresh coconut oil, flowers, aromatic roots, cardamom, cinnamon, wild ginger, galangal, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and rice powder. All ingredients are milled into powders and blended with warm water for immediate use. The archetypal bark and cloves blend has a pleasant odor (brown rice acts as a glutinous viscous base). The paste is applied to areas of ailment and then left to dry. In the villages, you can see the typically rugged Balinese elders with patches of dried boreh on their temples, arms, and legs. Different ailments may call for alternate or additional ingredients such as sandalwood, mesui, and sitok (other indigenous tree barks), coriander, bengle (a type of plant widely used in local and Chinese medicine), and an extensive list of herbs. Older Balinese (even with a mild cold) will send a child to purchase a list of herbs and spices from a small, traditional warung stall across the village road, or simply gather some home-grown roots and leaves from their back yard gardens and fields.

A relaxing, rejuvenating day spa indulgence is another integral element in Ubud’s arsenal of healing, happiness, and wellness choices. I recommend the Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses in Ubud for the ultimate in luxurious, body-pampering bliss. It lives up to its beautiful name—a place for magical caretaking, delicious scents, and the ultimate in body and soul rejuvenation. Most spa products in Bali are natural and contain local Balinese herbs, plants, flowers, and spices grown in Ubud’s equatorial, tropical highland Garden of Eden. The native plants used in the Tamarind Spa all grow in rich, local volcanic soil. The village of Ubud (obad means “medicine” in Balinese) is the source of many of the Tamarind Spa’s superior concoctions—a naturally fertile area lush with emerald green leaves, roots, barks, and herbs.

In Bali, spiritual income is as important as physical income: the use of raw, organic spa ingredients benefits the local farmers. Honeycomb may come from area bee keepers, and seaweed is brought over from Bali’s pristine sister island, Nusa Lembongan. The high quality of the fragrant ingredients enhances the Spa’s body and bath treatments, scrubs, facials, massages, and exfoliants. You will stare—with love and longing, and anticipation—at your beautiful, fragrant bar of soap sitting on the treatment room ledge. It awaits your every pleasure. This is the type of soap that you bond with—that you build an intimate relationship with—an indulgent delight! You may find yourself lingering in the gorgeous hot shower in a fragrant haze. Your skin feels soft, silky, smooth, and relaxed—like everyone and everything else in Bali.

A private and serene area of a Balinese spa
A private and serene area of a Balinese spa

For the ultimate Balinese spa experience, you must take the famous, flower-filled, mandi lulur bathtub extravaganza—which originated in the sumptuous royal palaces of Java to preserve the beauty of the pampered royal princesses. You will luxuriate for an hour in a warm, gleaming tub filled with fresh flower petals, red hibiscus blossoms, and vivid marigold flowers and sip hot ginger tea from small, elegant, celadon-green stoneware cups. It does not get any better than this.

The nearby Tjampuhan Hotel and Spa on Jalan Raya Tjampuhan (near the old Dutch suspension bridge) is another well-established, wellness destination in Ubud. It offers a unique Romanesque grotto setting decorated with traditional Balinese carvings and stonework set into the river valley. Hot and cold whirlpool baths compete with multi-level, gladiator-like natural, tree ringed pools: I lingered here all afternoon in amazed bliss. The cliffside day massage beds are unique in the world: clients can relax “en plain air,” accompanied by the relaxing sounds and sights of the rushing river below. I had hours of fun watching a beautiful, brightly colored, yellow and brown striped snail slowly crawl up the rocky wall of my open-air massage space.

Yoga and Healing
If you want to recover, grow, and find inner peace, you must come to Ubud. Ubud’s organic/healing sensibilities run deep: some of the finest and most creative yoga studios in the world make their home in the sanctuary of this bustling, rice-field bracketed Balinese village. Linda Madani’s Intuitive Flow yoga studio is perched high above the stone stairs leading up to the bucolic, beautiful local village of Penestenan. A Canadian expat, Linda, has done advanced spiritual training with a member of Ubud’s royal family, Cokorda Rai, in ancient Balinese yoga and healing techniques. Her gorgeous, Intuitive Flow yoga space has a wrap-around view of the lush countryside below: classes with Linda are a life-changing, life-enhancing, “spiritual yoga” odyssey.

Bali has a worldwide reputation as a monastic refuge of restorative healing, renewal, and health. The massive Bali Spirit Yoga Barn studio on Jalan Hanoman in Ubud is relaxing, friendly, comfortable, earthy and unpretentious. Here, you can nourish your body, mind and soul. The Yoga Barn has five yoga studios with wooden walls and floors, blessed by a myriad of carved Ganesha statues. The multi-level Yoga Barn is nestled in an oasis amidst lush rice paddies, an organic farm, and a jungle ravine: it is a Balinese architectural miracle of local green grasses, lotus ponds and bamboo.

A center of spirituality, the Yoga Barn offers delicious organic vegetarian food, a yoga clothing boutique, and a full roster of mind and body-opening yoga classes, retreats, yoga festivals, and yoga teacher training courses. The instructors are international “yoga teachers in extended residence” in magical Ubud (from the United States, Australia, and beyond). It is a very liberating experience to enjoy your yoga practice in this special, supportive, transformational environment: “If you hug Ubud, it will hug you back!” I bought a special seven-day pass to the Yoga Barn, and was in residence there from morning until night for one of the best weeks of my life!

I finally learned the meaning of the all too common “monkey mind” expression: like an overactive macaque, our unquiet, unsettled thoughts are always jumping from tree to tree!  Nor will I ever forget Bodi Whittaker’s “bliss ball” teachings—straight from Byron Bay, Australia. Hold your palms body-width apart, facing each other in front of you.  Imagine that there is a large round bliss ball between them.  You can feel the very palpable, joyous positive energy running between your hands. Use it as an open-ended source of happiness, peace, and enlightenment. It works!

Vivienne Kruger, Ph.D. is the author of Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali, 2014.  Vivienne Kruger launched her own tour company and is leading fabulous, fully guided two-week tour groups to Bali.  Please visit www.balinesefoodculturaltourstobali.blogspot.com for complete information and booking.