Thanksgiving is almost here along with the memories, the family, the friends, the food.

And then there’s the anxiety of preparation and the heavy, bloated aftermath, that sometimes continues into the rest of the week as you savor the leftovers and the freedom of not having to cook for a few days.

Is it possible to enjoy the day, the feelings of gratitude, the love, the abundance without these side effects?  The answer is yes! With a little planning you can create a Thanksgiving (or other holiday) feast that everyone enjoys following Ayurvedic principles.

Calm and Balanced

The essence of Ayurveda is balance—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. If any of these are off, it’s hard to enjoy your day.

Prepare in advance by noticing what it’s like when you feel really good. Then pay attention to how you feel when you contemplate the big day and all you have to do to get prepared.

Are you flustered? Anxious? Is your blood pressure rising? Do you have hives or other skin eruptions? Is your gut upset? Here are some ways to keep calm as the day approaches.

Practice meditation or calming practices like alternate nostril breathing or SKY breath meditation. It’s easy to decide you don’t have time, but it’s when you are under stress that you need these practices the most.

Use some of the many free or inexpensive apps designed to keep you organized. There are timer apps to help you keep track of what needs to go in or come out of the oven and when, apps like Out of Milk to assist with managing multiple shopping lists, and recipe apps such as Oh She Glows, a thoughtful collection of plant-based options.

If you are serving turkey, there are apps to help you decide how much to buy or how long to cook it, and educate you on the many ways to fix it to keep everyone happy with the results. It is super important to cook your meat with plenty of herbs and spices to aid digestion. Especially turmeric.

There are even a handful of Ayurveda apps such as Dosha Diet that can help with food planning from an Ayurvedic perspective.

You may not normally link Ayurveda—which is 5,000+ years old—and technology. But if it helps keep you calm and in the moment it is definitely in sync with Ayurveda. Look in your app store for what is available for you.

Doshas and Tastes

Food choices impact balance. We all have different constitutions—doshas—which can shift in and out of balance by the season and even by the day.  So how do you plan a holiday dinner that is balancing for everyone?

Ayurveda teaches that food can be categorized into six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent (drying) and pungent (spicy). Each of the three doshas can be balanced by three of the tastes and aggravated by the other three.  For vata, balance requires tastes that are sweet, sour and salty, Pitta, sweet, bitter and astringent and kapha bitter, astringent and pungent.

While all of that may seem complicated at first, you can simplify your planning by including a few  of each of the six tastes in your menu.

Most traditional Thanksgiving dinners are loaded with sweet, sour and salty tastes, which tend to be heavy. It’s no wonder we feel weighed down afterwards and swear we won’t eat again for at least a week.

Sweet, sour and salty are great for the vatas at the table (although even for them too much is unbalancing), not so good for kaphas for whom all three tastes are aggravating.  Sweet tastes pacify Pitta, but they will be aggravated by sour and salty.

Bottom line, when planning your menu, balance sweet, sour, and salty by including foods that have bitter, astringent, and pungent qualities.

Meat, bread, rice, sugar, vegetables like sweet potatoes and pumpkin, almonds, milk, and eggs are considered sweet. Sour tastes that make your mouth pucker and your saliva flow include lemons and limes, cheese, vinegar, pickles, sour cream, and yogurt. Salty foods include seaweed, soy sauce, or miso. While these aren’t typically part of Thanksgiving menus, many of us make generous use of the salt shaker, especially when we sit down to a big dinner.

Spicy foods like chilis, cayenne peppers, garlic, and onion are pungent. Bitter foods are leafy greens (like kale or collards), coffee, black or green tea, and dark chocolate. Astringent (drying) foods include broccoli and cauliflower, dried beans, apples, pears, and cranberries.

When you include all six tastes in your menu, not only will you keep everyone happy and balanced, but they will also get a full range of nutrients as well.

Another thing to keep in mind when planning your meal is the best time to eat. Your digestive fire is strongest between 11:00 am–2:00 pm, which makes these the best hours in which to enjoy a big holiday feast.

Follow your meal with a long walk to help speed digestion.

Menu Ideas

When planning an Ayurveda inspired holiday meal, your first question may be what about meat?  Is it permitted? Isn’t Ayurveda synonymous with being vegetarian?

Like any food, meat is considered a positive in Ayurveda if it helps you achieve balance.  Many sources suggest vatas in particular may need meat occasionally to help ground them, but too much may tax their digestion. As we said earlier, be sure to season your meat with plenty of herbs and spices to aid digestion.

In general, vegetables are considered superior because they are easier to digest and promote calmness and clear headedness, while meat can leave you feeling dull and heavy.

Turkey’s taste is sweet, but its heaviness makes digestion challenging. Pittas, with their strong digestion, tolerate it best, while vatas and kaphas would benefit from eating smaller portions.

Here are some ideas for a menu that includes all six tastes, including a vegan entrée that will hold its own alone or alongside a turkey.

MENU

Pumpkin Soup with a Touch of Pesto
Stuffed Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Acorn Squash
Fermented Cranberry Relish
Mashed Potatoes with Green Onions
Brussels Sprouts with Pickled Red Onions
No-Bake Apple Pecan Pie

RECIPE: PUMPKIN SOUP WITH A TOUCH OF PESTO

This starter course made from sweet pumpkin has a pesto garnish that adds touches of pungent and bitter tastes.

Soup Ingredients
1/2 pumpkin
Small piece ginger
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 C almond milk
Salt/pepper

Pesto Ingredients
Handful fresh basil
1/2 C pine nuts
Small garlic (optional)
1/2 C olive oil
Salt

Directions

  1. Cook peeled and chopped pumpkin with salt and ginger in a small amount of water until soft.
  2. Blend with an immersion blender or Vitamix. Add almond milk and black pepper.
  3. Mix together pesto ingredients in the blender;  pour over the pumpkin soup.

Enjoy with micro greens.

RECIPE: STUFFED ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

This delicious vegan recipe for stuffed butternut squash will be a hit (or two). Made with sage and thyme, the roasted butternut squash will fill your kitchen with fragrances that bring back memories of childhood Thanksgivings. Assemble squash as much as three days ahead of time and warm prior to serving.

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ C wild rice
2 C vegetable broth
½ C white basmati rice
½ C chopped walnuts
½ C dried cranberries
1 t chopped fresh sage
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp dried thyme

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise; scoop out and discard seeds. Place both halves on a baking tray, cut side up. Brush cut surfaces with olive oil and bake for 60 to 75 minutes until squash is cooked and fork tender. (Do not overcook as squash will bake more when assembled and heated after it is stuffed.)
  3. While squash is baking, prepare the stuffing.  Heat olive oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté carrots, celery, onion, and garlic until soft and they begin to brown.
  4. Add wild rice and vegetable broth to the pan and stir, then cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the basmati rice, cover, and continue to cook another 8–10 minutes until rice fully absorbs the broth.
  6. Add walnuts, dried cranberries, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper and chopped squash flesh. Stir well.
  7. Remove squash from oven and allow to cool. Then scoop out flesh in the center of both squash halves, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Chop up scooped out squash flesh and set aside.
  8. To stuff the squash, firmly pack both halves until heaping full. Then, flip one half squash on top of the other. Tie with kitchen string to hold it together and bake. (Alternatively, prepare in advance; cover and store in refrigerator up to three days before baking.)
  9. To bake, lightly brush top with olive oil. Bake for 20–35 minutes, until hot all the way through. Sprinkle with cracked pepper, and chopped sage. Transfer to a platter using a wide spatula.

RECIPE: ROASTED ACORN SQUASH

This roasted acorn squash recipe with a delicious combination of bitter, sweet and sour tastes makes for a flavorful, balancing side dish.

Ingredients

1 acorn squash
1 T maple syrup
1 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1 t Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 C feta cheese, for garnish
1/3 C walnuts, for garnish
Basil leaves,  for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Dry roast the walnuts in a cast iron pan on low heat till light brown. Cool and set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl use a fork to blend the maple syrup, lemon juice, and olive oil.
  4. Wash the acorn squash well, cut off the ends and scoop out the inner seeds and strings. Cut (with skin) into one inch thick slices and place in a single layer onto a baking pan.
  5. Add the blended ingredients from the bowl.
    Season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence spice and mix well to coat both sides of the squash.
  6. Bake in preheated until golden brown on one side; about 25 minutes. Flip them over and roast until the other side is caramelized and golden brown; about 15 minutes.
  7. Garnish with feta cheese, walnuts, and chopped fresh basil.

Fermented cranberry relish is easy to make. A Google search yields multiple variations on this simple no cook recipe that will add zingy flavor, probiotics and the astringent taste of cranberries to lighten up your holiday meal.

Potatoes are astringent and may cause gas.  Mashing them with almond milk, ghee, salt and black pepper will help make them more digestible. For extra flavor add a little chopped green onion. Serve with more ghee or gravy made from turkey drippings.

RECIPE: ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PICKED RED ONIONS

Your favorite kale or collard greens recipe would be a tasty, bitter addition to your dinner. Alternatively, try these roasted Brussels sprouts. 

Ingredients

1/4 C sugar
1⁄2 C white vinegar
1 C thinly sliced red onion
4 C halved Brussels sprouts
3 T olive oil, divided
1⁄2 t salt
1⁄2 t ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix sugar and vinegar until dissolved. Add onions, cover and let stand for 45 minutes or overnight. Drain.
  3. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add Brussels sprouts and cook until bright green and just tender (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat, drain, dunk in a bowl of ice water and pat dry.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large oven-safe pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Remove and set aside.
  5. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to pan and sauté Brussels sprouts until edges turn brown.
    Transfer pan to oven and roast Brussels sprouts 8–10 minutes or until caramelized.
  6. Stir in onions, salt, and black pepper.

RECIPE: NO-BAKE APPLE-PECAN PIE

Would it be Thanksgiving without a pie?  This no-bake apple pecan pie adds astringent taste to your menu, along with sour, sweet and pungent.  To include more bitter taste, serve dark hot chocolate, coffee, or tea along with it.

No-Bake Pie Crust Ingredients
2 C pecans
10 pitted Medjool dates
1 T coconut oil
pinch of salt
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

 

 

Pie Filling
6 apples, sliced or chopped
6 pitted medjool dates
1 lemon, juiced
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
1/4 C chia seeds
2 T almond butter (optional)
1 T honey (optional)
dash of cardamom (optional)

Directions

  1. For the crust, roast the pecans and set them aside. 
  2. Use a blender to macerate the dates. Slowly add the coconut oil and spices and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add the pecans and lightly pulse the mixture three times, enough to break up the pecans and mix well with the dates but not enough to turn the mixture into a butter.
  4. Press crust mix into a pie pan. Find a plate that can completely cover the pie pan and place it over the crust, with the plate facing upwards so it presses into the crust. If time is of the essence, put the covered crust into the freezer for an hour. Otherwise, refrigerate to properly set before adding the filling.
  5. To make the filling, start by blending the dates on high speed until well mashed.
  6. Then, juice your lemon into the dates, setting aside one tablespoon to sprinkle over the finished pie. Blend the lemon juice, spices and optional almond butter and honey.
  7. Add apples to the mixture, blending until it starts to look like a very thick applesauce.
  8. Add the chia seeds and pulse a few times until thoroughly blended.
  9. Pour into the pie crust, and spread evenly. Sprinkle with reserved lemon juice. Cover well and allow to set in the refrigerator for at least four hours.

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Relax and enjoy!

Between your calm centeredness, your well-balanced menu, and your helpful apps, you and your guests will be able to relax and enjoy a fun day as you express gratitude for the abundance all around you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrate Everyday!

Connect with nature and your kitchen as you learn to create nourishing and delicious meals in our Ayurvedic Culinary Retreat with master Chef Nalina Mehta.
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