Spice of life

Ayurveda is a form of holistic medicine that originated in India. And beginning Oct. 6, Tacoma cooking instructor Subrina Kavitha Wight will teach a six-part course at Bates Technical College on how to use Ayurvedic principles to make healthy Indian food.

“It comes from really ancient practices in India,” Wight said of Ayurvedic tradition. “They basically have cures for everything. They consider diet to be very, very important.”

She said she learned Ayurvedic principles growing up in Singapore and described one of the tradition’s core beliefs, that the body is composed of three elements, called “doshas,” that need to be kept in harmony for maximum vitality.

The doshas are vata, pitta and kapha, which Wight said roughly translate to air, heat and water.

“This is like our body constitution,” Kavitha said. “Each one of us has all three and sometimes one is dominant in us. That affects our energy levels. All these three different doshas, you’re meant to consume spices that would balance them out.”

But she also warned, “All the things I’m mentioning cannot cure. It’s more for maintaining than for curing, for prevention.”

In that context, we asked Wight to share a few tips on using spices to make nourishing Indian curries.


“Fenugreek is really bitter. It helps with diabetes because too much sweetness in the body means you have to use flavors that will counter sweetness.

“So fenugreek is certainly one of them. Ginger is the other one.

A lot of people do not like (to see) ginger in their curry. So what do you do? How do you blend it in? You grind it. What does it help with? Congestion, mild fever, common cold, too much acidity in your body.

“It can even help with ulcers, and that’s why we also have something known as masala tea. In masala tea we actually add ginger. And usually masala tea is consumed after a meal so that it settles your stomach.”


The other thing that would help to settle one’s stomach is cumin. Now cumin is a really, really good spice to help with things like bronchitis. If you have problems with digestion, cumin is one good way to help. You can let it sit in hot water, boil it, let it sit a while and drink it.

“You can make a soup out of cumin, and we usually call this dish rasam. It’s a mixture of cumin with garlic and tomatoes. And the way you actually use your garlic is you take off the skin and you pound the garlic and mix it with cumin. Chop the tomatoes and crush it all together.”


“If your body is cold all the time that means that you have too much vata in your body – too much air, that’s causing that imbalance. How would you counter that? You would use warming spices, such as cinnamon and clove.

“Cardamom and cinnamon would help with warming your body, even ginger. But clove is a really, really warming spice.”


“Cardamom helps with digestion and really helps with metabolism. Cardamom is another … spice that you can use to sweeten. My rice pudding is based on pure sweetness from dates, and then I use cardamom – absolutely zero sugar.”


“Bursitis is a kind of arthritis. That would mean that the area of injury is inflamed. How would we counter that? We would use turmeric. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory spice, so you would add that in your cooking to counter that illness or injury, and it would make a difference.”


“Whenever you go to an Indian restaurant, one of the main curries they will usually have on the buffet table is some form of lentil curry. And that is because it is known to balance out all your doshas.

“In a lentil curry you would have spices like fennel, fenugreek, coriander. Cardamom you can add, but I usually don’t, and pepper. Pepper gives you a bit of that spicy flavor. These are meant to balance all of your doshas. Plus lentil itself – the mung beans – are meant to be very cooling. Mix all these, and you cook it into one curry, and that is meant to be really balancing for one’s system.”

Ernest A. Jasmin: 253-274-7389


What: The Art of Indian Cooking class

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 6 through Oct. 29

Where: Bates Technical College’s downtown campus, 1101 S. Yakima Ave., Room M201A, Tacoma

Cost: $150 for six classes

Information: 253-680-7300, Ext. 7029 Spinach Parupu

Serves four

1 cup moong dhal/split pea soaked in water for 2 hours (can be replaced with any type of lentils depending on preference)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup chopped onion

2-3 green chilis, sliced (or more to taste)

2 cups chopped spinach

2 medium russet potatoes, diced

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1-2 teaspoons red chili powder (optional) or cayenne pepper

1-2 teaspoons turmeric

2-3 teaspoons ground coriander

1-2 tablespoons ground fennel

Salt to taste

In a pot over medium fire, add moong dhal, add 21/2 cups of water, garlic, onion, green chilis and oil. Cover with lid just halfway and allow to cook for approximately 20 minutes.

When mixture comes to a slow boil, add potatoes, turmeric, fennel, pepper, chili powder or cayenne pepper, coriander and let it cook for another 20-25 minutes.

Use a fork to see if potatoes are cooked, then add carrots and cook for 10 minutes

Add spinach and let cook over low fire for 10 minutes.

Serve over a plate of plain, white basmati rice or rice of your choice with any type of pickle, such as mango, lime, etc.

This meal is high in protein and calcium.

Source: Subrina Kavitha Wight