Ayurvedic Food for Thought and Body

Dec/01/2021 / by SWETA VIKRAM
Red Pumpkin Dal/Soup: Red Pumpkin Dal, which can also be had as a soup. Photo courtesy: Sweta Vikram
Red Pumpkin Dal/Soup: Red Pumpkin Dal, which can also be had as a soup. Photo courtesy: Sweta Vikram

Let’s be honest; when you think of Thanksgiving, what’s the image that your mind conjures up? Family. Friends. Large table. Loads of laughter. Anxiety around certain people. That one drunk cousin/uncle/familiar face. The perfectionist who creates an intense atmosphere. Family recipes. Scrabble. Booze flowing. Spiced wine on the stove top? Fall air. Moments of gratitude. Turkey? Loads of stuffing and sides? Pumpkin Pie and football? All of the above?

The pandemic taught us many lessons — that is, if you navigated these past 16-18 months with awareness and mindfulness. One of them was that relationships are everything, so surround yourself with people who add meaning to your life. It’s not about the number but quality of your tribe. The second lesson: Our wellness is at the center of everything. I don’t mean just your physical wellness; you can’t overlook the power of mental and emotional well-being daily, especially during the holidays.

Some people don’t have a community. Some people are surrounded by noise yet feel lonely on the inside. There are people with food and broken hearts. There are people with money but no health. There are those on food stamps. There are families who have lost loved ones. There are groups who will be finally spending Thanksgiving together after two years. Say gratitude if you have a roof over your head and a few loved ones to share a meal with this Thanksgiving.

There is a reason I want to share this recipe (a massively adapted version from Kate O’Donnell’s “The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook”). It is because it is delicious, healthy, includes all six Ayurvedic tastes, suits all budgets, uses traditional holiday ingredients, can cater to one person or a big group, works for the desi palate, and follows Ayurvedic principles of cooking. Also, this is a great dish for the vata season (autumn, where the air is cold, dry, and mobile), when there is a lightness around us.

What is Ayurvedic cooking?

The first big question to ask: Is the food digestible? For the grandma to the 4-year-old at the Thanksgiving table, will the dish nourish them? What also lends Ayurvedic cooking its unique identity aside from the food combination, good use of local and seasonal ingredients, and mostly plant-based ingredients, are the six tastes. In Ayurvedic cooking, a balanced dish combines elements of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Ayurveda teaches that food is very important not just for nourishing the body but also the mind and conscience. Spices and herbs have powerful healing properties that can be combined in different ways to balance doshas in tune with the seasons. Ayurveda also honors the “cooling” and “heating” energetics of food. Cayenne pepper is “heating” while cow’s milk is “cooling.”

Red Pumpkin Dal/Soup


  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and soaked for 3 hours
  • 1 tsp each of coriander powder + cumin powder
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp ginger root grated
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tsp jaggery (Or maple syrup)
  • 1 small kabocha squash
  • Coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut
  • Few sprigs of curry leaves

Fresh cilantro leaves per your taste for garnishing


  1. Heat a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, add coconut oil and let it heat up.
  2. Add asafetida, cumin seeds, and mustard seeds, and sauté until the mixture sizzles.
  3. Add the chopped garlic and sauté it, too, until it is pinkish-light brown.
  4. Add the red lentils without the water and the turmeric. Sauté that, too, for a few minutes.
  5. Follow that up with peeled and chopped Kabocha squash, cumin and coriander powder, grated ginger root, also sautéing for a few minutes.
  6. Add water, coconut milk, salt, and jaggery. I set my instant Pot to five minutes on the high pressure setting.
  7. Right before serving, add the chopped cilantro, shredded coconut, lime juice, and ghee.

This dish honors the six tastes. The virya for this dish is largely cooling. The garlic, hing, and garlic bring in the heating factor. The red lentils are slightly heating to digest, and the cooling kabocha squash gives the dal “weight/meat.” It can feel grounding for the vata season. The sweet qualities of coconut milk balance out the astringency in the red lentil as well as the squash.

Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.” ~ Hippocrates

If you want to learn more about Ayurvedic cooking, contact Sweta Vikram at


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