Interview with Divya Alter
By Divya Alter
April 25, 2017
- What’s the food philosophy behind Divya’s Kitchen and your new cookbook?
Food can heal. It can help us keep our bodies in good health so that we focus on the things we are meant to do in this life. At Divya’s Kitchen we serve delicious food that our body and mind say YES to . Our food philosophy is deeply rooted in the authentic tradition of Shaka Vansiya (SV) Ayurveda that meets us where we are today. In my cookbook, I explain how to select the seasonal foods that are suitable for your digestion and lifestyle and how to combine them into delicious meals. Eating fresh, invigorating foods gradually restores our body’s innate intelligence to heal itself.
- How did you get into Ayurvedic cooking?
I was already a trained cook when my health began to decline with an autoimmune disease. In my search for solutions for a problem modern medicine could not cure, I met my SV Ayurveda teacher, Vaidya RK Mishra. He was not only a master doctor, but also an expert cook and taught a lot about the healing powers of food. I studied with him for years. I was so impressed by how the SV Ayurvedic diet and treatment worked for me (now my autoimmune disorder is completely gone!) that my husband and I decided to dedicate our careers SV Ayurveda culinary education and food service, to make the wonderful benefits of Ayurvedic food more accessible.
- How practical is it for folks to adopt an Ayurvedic lifestyle?
Adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle is very individual and different for everyone, but everyone can start with simple small steps. See what is practical for you right now! Cleaning your tongue morning and evening after you brush your teeth could be a good start—this will remove toxic residue, freshen your breath, and sharpen your taste buds. Another simple step is to always eat seated—if you have the habit of eating while standing (or walking), sitting down would be an easy healthy change that will also improve your digestion. I would say, if you are thinking to add Ayurveda to your lifestyle, start with the simple things that will build the foundation for bigger changes when you’re ready for them.
- If you could make over the way most people eat, what would you change?
This is a difficult question, as the way we eat is rooted deeply in our economic and social structure. But let me dream on: I would change the structure of our society to transform uncontrolled consumerism into conscious economics; convert from cruel to compassionate, from toxic to environmentally clean. I would encourage economic structure that supports people growing their own food as much as possible—this will increase our appreciation of our food and earth. I would make fresh, organic, wholesome foods be standard (and cheapest!) ingredients in our diet; I would also gradually eliminate all processed and artificial foods. I would revert back to the ages-long tradition of families cooking at home and eating together. I would include food, nutrition, and cooking education in all school curriculums.
- What is the biggest misconception people have about Ayurvedic cooking?
I think there are misconceptions about everything, including Ayurveda and diet! A common misconception is that Ayurvedic diet is all Indian food. It really does not have to be. Ayurveda is a universal science that originated before India existed and can be applied and practiced everywhere on the planet. For example, an Italian who is not familiar with or used to Indian ingredients and flavors, can still prepare satisfying and healthy Ayurvedic meals with Italian flavors. With my cookbook and restaurant, I like to show how to “ayurvedize” dishes from different cuisines.
Another misconception is that Ayurveda is all about the doshas and we should only eat according to our “dosha.” This is not completely true. While considering our mind-body type, we also have to factor in our current imbalances, the strength of our digestion, our age, the season, and how stressed we are. For example, if I am of Vata-Pitta (airy-fiery) constitution, but I currently have a Kapha imbalance of feeling congested and sluggish, I have to follow more of a Kapha balancing diet to get better.
I’ve also seen many Ayurvedic recipes that include rather inflammatory and clogging ingredients, such as soy, nightshades, onions and garlic, mushrooms. Eating such foods regularly may lead to more imbalance than balance. If you’re looking for the most medicinal food combinations in a delicious meal, SV Ayurveda recommends to avoid these ingredients in daily cooking.
- What is your favorite recipe in this book for this season, or the one you find yourself cooking most often?
The one recipe that I inevitably cook almost every morning is the Cooked Apple Pre-Breakfast—this is the simplest and fastest recipe in my book that Vaidya Mishra recommended for most people to eat every day, first thing in the morning. It does not require any culinary experience and it is a good recipe for beginners to build their confidence in the kitchen.
These days I also like to make the Asparagus and Sunchoke Salad and the Asparagus and Daikon Radish Soup—they support our detox cycle in spring.
At Divya’s Kitchen we serve several seasonal recipes from my book: Sprouted Mung Salad, Crispy Puffed Rice, Irresistible Buckwheat Cake, Ginger Mint Limeade and more.
Divya Alter is a certified nutritional consultant and educator in the Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda tradition. She is the cofounder of Bhagavat Life, the only Ayurvedic culinary school in New York. She and her husband launched North America’s first Ayurvedic chef certification program and Divya’s Kitchen, an authentic Ayurvedic restaurant in Manhattan. Divya’s new cookbook, What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen, was published by Rizzoli in April, 2017.