On eating wholesome – sattvic diet (plus recipe)

If there is one thing that this Upside-Down-tragedy gave than took, it is my new found energy to peruse recipes I learned over the years and kick my hindside back to the stove. True, YouTube helped.  So did Jamie Oliver’s army of mignons that dominate search rankings for any food item you google. But it was also having spent so much time on the road when I surrendered control of what goes in my food to hotel cooks and airline catering and extended periods as an expat in cities where food supplies are outsourced to distant lands that always gave that nagging feeling I ought to care more for provenance of my food.  So when came quarantine, so many of my favorite restaurants boarded up and every online grocer started to compete with overnight delivery, it was finally time to start being more conscious of my food choices. Around the same time, I stumbled on something called ‘sattvic diet’.

I was introduced to sattvic diet while organising the launch of Woods At Sasan hotel brand – sustainability and wellness focused retreat built on 8-acre mango orchard adjacent to Gir Forest National Park, a wildlife sanctuary for Asiatic lions in western India.  I was looking for something to amplify the hotel’s unique wellness positioning when I came across an Auyrveda-based spa menu they trialed without real effort nor much success.  I found the underlying principles intriguing and wholly relevant to modern wellbeing thought so convinced the owner to rebuild the entire F&B concept and nutritional lifestyle program on it.

Sattvic diet is interpreted as eating simple, pure and wholesome food.

Sattvic food is the cooking regimen preferred in Ayurvedic lifestyle.   Ayurveda in sanscrit means ‘wisdom of life’ – meaning as simple as it is profound.  At the core of Ayurveda is the notion of attempting to achieving balance between body, mind and spirit which to me is simply about finding peace.  As a medical and energetic system – a means of remedying imbalances – there’s some prerequisite knowledge like dosha (body type) specific to you but I’ll leave it your voluntary pastime research rather than dwell on it here.   If you’ve spent time in Chinese-culture based cities you probably have been drilled in and perplexed by the yin and yang system in food (i.e. heaty and cooling). I interpret dosha something akin to that – a system of understanding of the world around us. Anyway, with all the modern knowledge we are acquiring about gut health specific to each individual and its importance, having better understanding of my unique dietary needs sounded like common sense that doesn’t need ideological or religious resolve so I was ready to dive in.

Talking about wellbeing, particularly when dwelling on alternative kind, can feel tedious, not so – and how profoundly easy – the sattvic diet. Sattvic diet is eating simple, pure and wholesome food. In today’s practice, this means consuming perfectly ripe, fresh, natural, not processed and easily digestible ingredients – kind of no brainer in promoting gut health. If you’d like a deeper understanding of Sattvic diet, this is the link to download the introductory material on nutritional and lifestyle program I developed for the hotel. We developed the whole program- from definition of Sattvic lifestyle principles to a new cuisine to multi-day, retreat program based on Sattvic principles.

What is it for food to be wholesome? Surely, it is equally about healthy food habits – how we eat, not just what we eat. Pondering on this has taught me to think about food in a way other than ‘what’s for dinner’. I try not to simplify food problems strictly through the lens of colonisation, globalisation and disenfranchisement but it seems to me food is the most foundational human right – I’d say you need food before liberty, equality and fraternity and it is only fair that we create a world that ensures everyone has access to nourishing food, that good food is universally affordable, that food is grown in a way that’s sustainable and protects the land, and that the industries that involve food provide well-paying jobs in food and farming.

Often our conversation of food is reduced to calories, a measure of heat. Underlying notion is that “a calorie is a calorie” – meaning all food is of essentially the same quality. That everything can be understood as the sum of its constituent parts. Nutritionally, this is a harmful, cynical and worse-than-idiotic argument because not all calories are created equal. How we chose to consume those calories is loaded with real world implications. There’s a lot broken in the food world and we can play a role by making smart food choices like looking for food that comes straight from sources that are known and having increased awareness in community involvement in ingredient sourcing and nutritional and cultural properties of food.

Nutritionally, this is a harmful, cynical and worse-than-idiotic argument because not all calories are created equal.

If eating better (or differently) is about cooking sustainably, another topic I have been thinking a lot about is cooking inexpensively. Cooking and eating well is really easy when you have an unlimited budget, but for almost all of us (I’m assuming), that’s not reality, especially right now. When I started these pages, I wanted to be more than just a witness to the world around me. Observations of the inspiring and the beautiful are fine but I also want to be helpful in ways I share useful and practical information. With that in mind, I’m really going out on a limb here and sharing a recipe on cooking inexpensively. Also, if you’re a proponent of cutting animal products out of your diets where you can, this recipe checks that box, too. Whether you’re vegetarian or not, this ultra-budget friendly recipe can easily find its way into your “yikes, I have nothing ready for dinner” rotation.

Lentil griddlecakes

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes 

Anything cooked with beans and legumes are delicious and wildly inexpensive. When people talk about fake-meat, I’m like… (I think their heart is in the right place, but) we really have good food that exists that comes from the earth and know how to grow like beans and grains which are the best source of proteins, all kinds of amino acids and fiber so we don’t need to invent things in a lab. And there’s so many different ways to cook them(!)

As is true for any bean dish, starting with dried beans that you cook yourself is more flavorful and cheaper, but canned are completely fine, and you can use any kind you like. And when I say beans, what I should really say is legumes which – are the most important source of protein in the world – together with beans and peas are a family. This happens to be an example with lentils. You roughly mash the lentils soaked and split overnight and make what basically amounts to a thick pancake batter that you can jazz-up in any number of ways (see the section at the very end). Cooked in a skillet (just like pancakes), the cakes get golden and crisp on the outside while staying slightly creamy in the middle. Easy, cheap, rustic and essentially good for you.

  • 2 cups of red split lentils, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 cup of coconut milk (or soy or almond, if you have none just whole milk)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) melted butter, olive oil, or good-quality vegetable oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • (Soy sauce and finely chopped scallions – for dipping sauce, in picture)
  • 1 cup equals approx. 250ml

1. Soak lentil overnight and split. I split the lentils myself to remove protective seed coat. This is fairly easily done by rubbing and washing whole lentils by hand in warm water. Seed coats will come off and float so you can discard water on top. Just repeat. As lentil soaks in water most will split by itself.

2. Using a blender, mash the lentils rough (do not purée). Use a fork to slowly stir in the coconut milk, egg, and melted butter. Stir until thoroughly combined. 

2. Add the flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper (less necessary if you’re using already-seasoned, canned kind). Stir with a fork just enough to incorporate the flour, adding more milk or reserved lentil water if necessary to achieve the consistency of thick pancake batter. 

3. Preheat the griddle. Working in batches, first brush with a little oil. Spoon on batter at a time to form 4 to 5 inch griddlecakes. Cook until bubbles form on top and the cakes firm a bit, then turn and cook the other side until golden. If you are adding extra jazz (see below), sprinkle them on top side when bottom is cooked and firm and flip it after the toppings stick to topside of batter. As they finish, transfer the griddlecakes to the prepared pan and keep warm in the oven while you finish the others. Always serve hot.  Store extras in freezer until you reheat on the griddle.

Additions for extra pizzaz

Stir and mix in these additions, individually or in combination to add taste and flavour. 2 tablespoons for hint of flavour or liberally for, well, a lot of taste. Sprinkle some paprika on topside to add a dash of color and taste.

  1. Minced scallions or leeks – typical of Korean mung bean pancakes made
  2. Minced mild fresh herbs like parsley, mint or cilantro plus piemento
  3. Minced potent fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme or tarragon
  4. Minced fresh ginger, garlic

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