Now that summer’s here – well in the Northern hemisphere at least – with a chance of warmer weather, you’ll want to plan some delicious menus for those balmy evenings. Keeping cool can be a challenge especially if you’re not used to heat so it’s a good idea to turn to the ancient Indian Ayurveda tradition with its five thousand- year-old philosophy for some help. Known as the pitta, or fire season, the summer heats in India can be quite gruelling which has lead to a great understanding of the spices and herbs that will reduce the discomfort that the season brings. It pays to eat less than you normally would, cut your heaty, heavy carbs, and drink plenty of water. Although it may be tempting to chill it, room temperature is better and will cool you down more efficiently.
First off is, of course, curry and the hotter the better. It sounds paradoxical but the spicier it is the more you’ll sweat which has the effect of cooling the body as the perspiration evaporates. Chill your wrists with an ice cube to add to the affect. Cardamom, turmeric, and cumin are all excellent ingredients for your curry but you can use all of them separately as well. Cardamom is a good digestion aid and makes a great addition to a summer morning tea and is also delicious when added to smoothies, granola, or yogurt. Turmeric, with its cooling bitter flavour is a wonder spice that reduces inflammation and cleans the blood as well as keeping you cool. And you can use both cumin seeds and ground cumin as a coolant and a remedy for gas and bloating. As well as using in curry just add a pinch to vegetable recipes and soups.
If you have space to grow a few herbs in pots, now’s the time to sow them. It’s great to have fresh mint on hand as you can use in summer drinks or as a garnish for spicy dishes. It is packed with cooling menthol, which opens up and activates your skin’s network of pores. So it’s great if you feel hot after eating. Dill is another cooling herb, great with salmon, or indeed any fish, and also a delicious partner to grilled or baked vegetables. Cilantro makes a fresh tangy garnish and a wonderful de-toxifer for the body. The seeds of the cilantro plant, coriander, are considered a cooling spice and can be used to flavour meat and vegetables. Coriander may also help ease digestion and stabilise blood sugar. And finally, don’t forget the fennel. Fennel seeds are chewed across India for their cooling properties and also because they stimulate intestinal juices making it easier to digest food and freshen the breath.
When you’re next in Penang, make sure you visit the Tropical Spice Garden and see many of the spices growing and learn about their history. You can buy high quality spices in the shop and learn how to make spicy, yet cooling, food in the Cooking School as well.