By Natsuko Tamaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe spice rack in your kitchen might also double as a medicine cabinet. In Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine, spices are used to deal with a variety of ailments.
Machiko Ikezono runs Shakti, an Ayurvedic treatment salon in Fukuoka. Inside, various spices such as ginger powder, black pepper and turmeric were on a table.
Ginger not only warms the body, but also helps increase the appetite and improve digestion. Ikezono, 64, says she puts ginger powder in hot water and drinks it, and that she eats sliced raw ginger seasoned with lemon juice and rock salt. Black pepper, common in everyday cooking, improves digestion and reduces flatulence. Turmeric, also called ukon in Japanese, boosts detoxification and is good for anemia.
“In India, wisdom about how to protect mental and physical health by using spices is handed down. At home, a mother uses different spices according to the physical conditions of family members,” Ikezono said.
Ikezono visited India in her 40s because she was interested in Indian cosmetics made from plants. This led her to study Ayurveda. She opened her salon, where she holds cooking classes and lectures about spices, in 1997.
Cumin, which is used in curry, improves digestion and helps ease diarrhea, nausea and abdominal distention. You can infuse cumin in hot water and drink it, or add the spice to stir-fried vegetables and other dishes. You can also cook rice with cumin. I thought that it would have a strong flavor, but it has an unexpectedly mild aroma and taste.
Amalaki, also known as Indian gooseberry, has a sour aroma and is rich in vitamins and nutrients. Hing, a member of the carrot family also known as asafetida, is good for easing constipation and reducing flatulence.
“However, having too many spices isn’t good. It’s important to know your own constitution and keep yourself mentally and physically balanced.”
Ayurvedic thought divides people into three groups depending on their constitution and behavioral tendencies — air (vata), fire (pitta) and water (kapha). Those who are familiar with Ayurveda decide what spices to use depending on their tendencies and physical conditions, according to Ikezono.
“Using spices in cooking helps reduce the amount of salt required,” Ikezono said. “I suggest using spices to stay young and healthy.”
Simple recipes to add more spice to your daily diet
Ikezono shared recipes using spices.
1. Spring vegetable soup
Ingredients (Serves 4):
A bunch or less of watercress / ⅛cabbage / a small amount of tomatoes / a knob of ginger / a piece of kelp / 200 milliliters water / 200 milliliters soy milk / moderate amount of butter / salt (rock salt recommended) / spices of your choice (black pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric, amalaki, hing and other spices)
1. Cut up vegetables, ginger and kelp, and place them in a pot with the water. Heat the pot over medium heat. When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Cool the mixture, then add soy milk and mix it in a blender.
3. Return the mixture to the pot and season with butter, salt and spices. (You can use spinach or shungiku chrysanthemum leaves instead of watercress)
Ghee is an oil prepared by simmering salt-free butter. In Ayurveda, it is used when stir-frying spices and other ingredients. Ghee is said to be good for health, and is available online and at other places.
2. Cumin rice
Put ghee or melted butter in a pan and stir-fry a moderate amount of cumin seeds until they become aromatic. Place rice in a rice cooker, add the seeds and cook the rice.
3. Cinnamon banana
Put melted butter in a pan and stir-fry a banana. Sprinkle cinnamon powder over it. This recipe can also be used for apples.
4. Cumin tea
Put cumin seeds in a pan and heat until they become slightly brown and aromatic. Put them in cold or hot water, and simmer for five to 10 minutes. Pour the infusion through a tea strainer.
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