In Gujarat, India, where I spent my childhood in a small village we mostly ate foods that were grown in that season. Mangoes were available in infinite variety, but only in the summer. Okras are found in monsoon from September through November. So when I came to the U.S., I was bewildered to find every type of produce sold year around. I later learned that just a generation ago, even in this country, people ate locally grown seasonal food and that only after the development of processing, preserving and long distance transporting did consumers grow used to getting most fresh foods whenever they wanted. I am also learning that this convenience has a high price of possible health risks as scientists are discovering the harms of preservatives in food.
I work at a health food store that sells mostly organic foods available in rhythm with the season. I often encounter a disappointed customer who cannot find a particular fresh produce needed in a recipe. When I inform him that this vegetable is out of season they exclaim in disbelief. They are not used to the inconvenience.
Traditional health practitioners have promoted locally grown and seasonal foods. Two such doctrines are Zen macrobiotics and Ayurveda. The Zen macrobiotic philosophy developed by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago teaches us that nature tries to balance the two opposite forces, yin and yang, for a possible universal harmony. A diet, which predominantly contains seasonal fresh food, helps to complement the dominating forces of that time of year. Therefore, hearty roots such as yams are recommended in a winter menu whereas leafy greens and juicy fruits are considered better suited for the body for spring and summer.
Ayurveda, established in ancient India, also recognizes seasonality in diet. Ayurveda advises people to follow a seasonal diet to keep their doshas (seasonally venerable tendencies such as allergies) in control. Both Zen macrobiotic and Ayurvedic practitioners give personal diet regiments to their clients for their individual needs. However in general, both regimens recommend sweet, starchy food with hearty menu in the winter while a fresh vegetable centered menu flavored with pungent and astringent flavors in the spring and summer. Both doctrines advise periodic fasting for cleansing especially during the spring which a passage to the main season–summer.
Ancient medical doctrines mentioned by Greek philosophers also understood the virtues of seasonality of food in human health. Many of our ancestors from different civilizations celebrated the new season by offering freshly grown food to their deities. They knew certain food grew in that season for a purpose, as if to function as food medicine. Yet in modern times we forget the importance of seasonal eating. For the sake of convenience, we have forgotten seasonal rhythms. However, it is very easy to find plenty of locally grown seasonal food. Check out your local farmers markets. Let’s “Think Globally and Eat Seasonally” for our health.
Here is a hearty recipe with fresh produce that is easy to find in spring and early summer.
Masoor Beans with spring Greens and Green Garlic
This recipe is a real treat to prepare when green garlic is in season during the spring. Green garlic is more flavorful and rich, yet less hot than the mature bulb. If it were not available, a combination of green onion and regular garlic would be a good substitute.
The prepared dish is not like a soupy daal, although the main ingredient is masoor daal (red lentils). Instead, it will be a solid attractive yellow mound, with a nice leafy border. It is suitable to serve hot right after it is done, and versatile in texture to take it for a potluck dinner to be served after reheating or at room temperature. The red lentil and leafy green are cooked separately and then assembled decoratively as described below.
1 cup masoor daal (red lentils)
3-3½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons corn or peanut or canola oil
4 to 6 stalks of green garlic, finely chopped after discarding the last inch of green portion
1 green hot chili such as Anaheim or Jalapeno, minced after removing seeds and core
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
Salt and cayenne to taste
1 bunch spinach; rinsed and chopped after removing thick stems (about 3 to 4 cups)
1 bunch watercress or Arugala or Methi (fenugreek) leaves; rinsed and chopped after removing thick stems (about 2 cups)
1 to 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Juice of ½ lime or lemon
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder or to taste
First rinse the lentils thoroughly to remove dust and drain. Boil water with salt and add the lentils and a teaspoon of oil. Simmer lentils over a low, medium heat for about 20 to 30 minutes till the lentils are very soft.
When the water begins to absorb, stir the lentils frequently while mashing them. After they solidify, remove from heat.
Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and add the chopped green garlic and the chopped chili. Sauté for a few minutes and add the lentils. Add the turmeric and stir fry the mixture till well blended and then add the lemon or lime-juice. Taste to correct seasoning, adding salt and cayenne pepper if needed. Set lentils aside.
To fry the greens, heat the oil in a wok or pan and add cumin seeds. When the seeds brown, add the leafy greens. Sauté the mixture for a few minutes, just enough to wilt.
Add the salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Transfer the greens on to a platter making a round circle—like a wreath. Mound the lentils in the center and spread them out—showing the border of greens. This platter is now ready to be served with rice, or heated chapattis, or tortillas or pita bread.
@Copyright Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, 200l
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff is the author of a vegetarian cookbook,
Flavors of India,which is now in its sixth printing.