Butternut Buckwheat Porridge from Living Ayurveda

About a year ago near the solstice, I wrote the words grounded/focused on a bookmark. The back was painted with a small cross-section of watercolor tulips from a local artist; her cast-offs she’d cut into cards for an intention setting gathering. Grounded and focused were my intentions for how I wanted to feel by the end of this year. Little did we know then what 2020 would entail, but what I did know was that I struggle with being mentally cluttered and scattered, sometimes switching topics mid-sentence in conversation, and often letting my thoughts and ideas run away from me and having nothing to show for it minutes (and sometimes hours) later. I also knew that the internal atmosphere of being grounded and focused wasn’t so much an end goal for months away, but a daily, and sometimes minute by minute practice.

It’s safe to say I have succeeded and failed in my intention, multiple times a day.

But I’ve also been able to add a lot of tools and practices for how to gain a less scattered mind and actions over the years. One of which is continually learning from Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is the indigenous health system of India, and arguably the oldest health system (or one of the oldest) in the world. While I didn’t learn Ayurveda outright in nutrition graduate school, mine was a program that married traditional systems of health with the latest nutritional and medical sciences, and thus incorporating components of Ayurveda in my nutrition classes and clinic was widely accepted – and especially in my herbal classes. In the meantime, as if I didn’t need to study more, I was studying it on the side and incorporating increasingly more aspects of Ayurveda in my own life, helping to get closer to healing many of my GI and autoimmune struggles.

The cluttered and scattered mind is a common feature of imbalanced vata in the body, and like many people in our modern lifestyles, I struggle with this imbalance, a lot. As well as many other high-vata tendencies. Vata is one of the three energies or forces which can be observed in all things, and which are ideally in balance. Pitta and Kapha are the other two energies. Eating foods that support high vata or perhaps foods that support one of the other two doshas that make up our body and mind, is a primary way we can return our ailments to balance, but it’s certainly not the only practice.

So many years ago that I don’t remember, but around the time I first learned of Ayurveda, I discovered Claire’s blog with simple delicious Ayurvedic recipes. Claire has recently released her gorgeous book, Living Ayurveda, which is full of the kind of guidance that helps us achieve a little more balance in our lives. It encourages us to make the connection between time of year and patterns that afflict us (but don’t have to), incorporating building and lightening ingredients in the right ratios in our meals, and recipes that can be adapted depending on the season and our individual doshas or imbalances. Likewise, there are yoga sequences for each season too.

Some of the recipes that I’ve already tried and truly will make again and again include:
Pumpkin Empanadas with Cashew Crema
Shakti Chai
Simple Stewed Apples
and this Butternut Buckwheat Porridge

So many more are on my list – actually all of them really:
Warm Cinnamon Date Shake
Creamy Miso Tahini Dal
Delicata, Wild Rice & Pomegranate Salad
Kitchari Burgers
Fall Harvest Muffins
and most definitely the Yogi Bowl, a variation on something I could eat daily.

Butternut Buckwheat Porridge from Living Ayurveda, serves 2-4
To be completely transparent in portion sizes, I make this recipe as a half batch for one meal. That is a perfect amount for me, as a very active person, to go several hours between breakfast and the midday meal with excellent energy and ‘fuel’. Claire’s suggestions include adding an extra spoonful of ghee for vata support on very dry and cold days, reducing the cinnamon slightly for high pitta (cinnamon in large amounts is quite heating so good for some with high vata and kapha, but less so for others), and taking out the oats and doubling the buckwheat for high kapha. For a completely vegan and/or dairy-free version, I suggest using untoasted sesame oil, especially for vata/kapha, or coconut oil instead.

3 cups water
1/2 cup (untoasted) buckwheat groats or short-grain brown rice
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp. ghee
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
milk of choice and maple syrup, for serving (optional)

  • In a medium pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil on high heat. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes, until butternut squash is tender and the grains are fully cooked. You might need to stir once or twice during that time. Toward the end, add a splash of water if needed.
  • If using a pressure cooker, reduce the water to 2 1/2 cups and follow instructions for pressure-cooking porridge. Once done, remove from heat and serve hot with a splash of milk of choice and a drizzle of maple syrup on top. I found the milk and syrup is a preference, and I enjoy this without either.

summer peach oatmeal

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At times over the years, I’ve considered making this a blog of oatmeal recipes. It’s pretty much my favorite food, I’ll eat it just about any time of day and it’s been my breakfast of choice for the strong majority of my life.

What I’ve added to the oats has definitely changed over the years however. From the brown sugar, milk, and stink bugs (aka raisins) of my youth, to the 10 carefully counted blueberries and half a banana of the days when I ate religiously too rigid during my eating disorder, to now when the toppings are varied and more numerous, oatmeal has been my tried and true.

 

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For many years the one ‘error’ I made in my morning bowl was that I was afraid of adding any healthy fats to it. I notice this with others too. Either seasonal fruits or berries or dried fruit are a popular topping but the thing about eating nutrient rich foods like fresh berries or anti-oxidant filled fruits (and vegetables), is that without a carrier fat in the meal they’re eaten with, those fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can’t actually be absorbed. We need healthy fats to make them effective. After years of being afraid of fat, I’m now a big fan of eating it in moderate amounts since fats are important for both cellular and hormonal health. Fats surround all cells and organelles in what is called the phospholipid bilayer and they are essential for proper cellular development, as well as carrying messages throughout the body in the hormones.

It’s important for us to eat a variety of fat types from foods rich in saturated fat to the unsaturated mono and polyunsaturated omega 6 and 3 fatty acids. Our modern diets tend to be less diverse and mainly have an abundance of saturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. The omega 6 fats are found in soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and most nuts. In whole food form, they are incredibly healthy and essential, but need to be balanced with omega-3 fats such as freshly ground flax, chia, walnuts and wild caught cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, anchovies, cod, and sardines. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s should be under 5:1 to be considered anti-inflammatory and for most individuals, this ratio is at least 20:1 or more.  For anyone with health concerns that are inflammation-related such as any of the common ‘lifestyle diseases’ like diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, autoimmune conditions, arthritis of any type, and/or you are an otherwise healthy athlete looking to improve recovery between workouts, consuming those delicious nutrient-filled fruits and vegetables along with a healthy fat source and eating an optimal balance of omega 3s and 6s can be incredibly helpful. (My personal example is as an athlete trying to improve recovery and with an underlying chronic autoimmune/arthritic-like condition.)

One other thing to note is that all fat digestion first takes place in the mouth from chewing and saliva beginning to break down food–so chewing is important–and intestinal digestion requires bile salts and pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that specifically helps to break down and absorb fat molecules. If you find you don’t digest fats well, consider sending me a note. There are lots of natural ways to assist the digestive process!

 

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Now for my favorite oatmeal bowl lately. It’s got a super-seasonal local peach chopped and added in the last few minutes to old-fashioned oats, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon or so of tahini, and a good tablespoon of ground flax seed. In the summer, I tend to always add a sprinkle of fennel seeds, which also support digestion, and then top it all off with a bit of cinnamon.

 

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Creamy Summer Peach Oatmeal, makes 1 large or 2 small bowls

1 1/2 cups water
1/2-3/4 cups old-fashioned oats, gf certified as necessary
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 large peach, chopped
1 tsp. tahini
1 Tbs. ground flax
cinnamon, to sprinkle

  • Bring the water to a boil, add the oats, and turn down to medium-low. Cook until nearly all the water is absorbed and then stir in the remaining ingredients except the cinnamon. Cook until it is creamy and all the water is absorbed.
  • Turn out into a bowl and then top with cinnamon.

Golden Spice, Pear + Tahini Oatmeal

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I read a research paper over the holidays about the healing and health cycles, and their metabolic stages in chronic disease conditions. It was incredibly heavy on the biochemistry, asking me to focus and dig back into my memory bank to follow along, as if the authors were on their own language planet that most of us can’t understand (they are) and that they were trying to prove something with their language use (also likely). But at other times, the message was incredibly clear: Sleep is medicine. Exercise is medicine. A varied, seasonally-appropriate diet sourced largely from the local ecosystem, and lots of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts, which are rich in compounds that produce a long-term increase in antioxidant activity, are medicine (1).

In the end, the article gave me lots to think about in terms of future breakthroughs in healing chronic health conditions, but it also reminded me that sometimes the simplest measures work the best. Like adequate rest and restorative sleep, movement that’s enjoyable, and comforting food that’s also nutritious and seasonal.

This recipe is my answer to that. It’s the morning meal I’ve been enjoying often the last few weeks. Creamy, slightly sweet, with a little spice. I make my own golden spice blend, based off of Sara Britton’s, but it seems that a good pumpkin or apple pie blend with turmeric will also do the trick.

 

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Golden Spice, Pear + Tahini Oatmeal, serves 1 or 2
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/8 tsp. golden spice blend, below
1 large pear, chopped
1/2-1 Tbs. tahini
1/8 tsp. sea salt

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Then turn down, add the oats and spices, as well as the chopped pear. Cook until creamy and nearly done, about 5 minutes.
  • Then stir in the tahini and salt.
  • Dish into one or two bowls and add sweetener of choice, if needed. This will largely depend on personal preference and the ripeness of the pear.

 

Golden Spice Blend
For this, you’ll need a spice or coffee grinder or starting with a complete list of ground spices. To make a big batch measure parts using either weight in grams or in teaspoons.
10 parts turmeric
4 parts ginger
2 parts cinnamon
1 part black pepper
1 part cardamom
1 part cloves
1 part nutmeg
1 part star anise
1 part coriander seeds

  • First add the spices that are whole (such as coriander seeds or star anise) to a spice grinder. Blend until as fine as they will get.
  • Then mix all remaining spices together. Store in a glass jar in your spice cupboard and add frequently to anything that could normally use cinnamon. :)

 

References:
1) Naviaus, R.K. (2018). Metabolic features and regulation of the healing cycle–A new model for chronic disease pathogenesis and treatment.