On the day I met chef and Ayurvedic practitioner Talya Lutzker at Bookshop Santa Cruz, every cell in my body was crying out for salvation. I hadn’t been eating right, at all, and my body felt shriveled and tired.
Too busy to plan ahead, I’d been embarking on caffeine-fueled days, punctuated by a meal or two of whatever happened to be close and edible at the time of imminent breakdown. A breakfast sandwich at 3pm, a couple greasy (yet heavenly) samosas scarfed on the go, a carelessly prepared batch of Mac ‘n’ Cheese eaten standing up in the kitchen while talking on the phone. Somewhere along the way I had joined the masses of people needing to “get back on track,” nutritionally speaking.
With a fresh-from-yoga-class glow, Lutzker entered, clutching her recently published cookbook, The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen: Finding Harmony Through Food —182 pages of creative, lovingly prepared dishes made from a vast amalgam of the healthiest ingredients on earth.
Carnivores and partisans of Western medicine, don’t let the words Ayurvedic or vegan deter you; while the book is a fascinating map of eating according to the traditional Indian science of Ayurveda, it doubles as an invaluable tool for expanding the diet for vibrance and health.
In Ayurveda, every human being is a unique composition of three vital bio-energies called doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The cookbook includes a chart to help you discern your dominant dosha, as well as a key above each recipe explaining how it balances, pacifies and decreases each dosha.
“Doshas are forces of nature that easily go out of balance. Doshas are always being affected by the environment and by what we’re doing and what we’re eating and what we’re thinking. They’re constantly in motion,” says Lutzker, who recommends seeing a certified Ayurvedic practitioner to ensure an accurate dosha reading.
Enticing and wholesome-sounding recipes like “Rejuvenation Stew,” “Favorite Coconut Kefir Breakfast,” “Cashew-Cheddar Cheese” and “Chai-Chocolate Mousse” call out from the cookbook’s pages, which spans everything from Drinks, Teas, and Tonics, to Salad Dressings and Condiments, Main Dishes and Desserts.
The recipes are a collection from Lutzker’s Ayurvedic catering company, Talya’s Kitchen, and it’s among the first vegan Ayurvedic cookbooks to hit the shelves.
“Typically, the Ayurvedic diet is very heavily dairy-based, with lots of ghee and yogurt,” says Lutzker. “But many people have allergies to dairy.”
Allergies are one non-political reason to dabble in veganism. Another, Lutzker says, is that diets too high in meat, dairy and gluten lead to inflammation, which most holistic nutrition systems agree is the leading cause of long-term illnesses, from arthritis to indigestion to cancer.
Lutzker leads 7-day food-based cleansing programs, personalized for each person’s needs, to combat inflammation.
“It gives the body a break, and people almost always feel better. If they don’t, it’s usually a sign of a deeper health problem,” she says.
The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen is also unique in that it’s sprinkled with superfoods, like chia seeds, blue-green aglae and spirulina, which she says are very effective in healing specific organs or tissues, and often deliver a complete protein.
Yellow mung beans, cumin seeds and coconut oil now grace my shopping list, and I can already smell the Kitchari simmering in my apartment this weekend, a go-to stew valued for detoxifying and delivering vital nourishment to all three doshas.
Talya Lutzker will be signing her cookbook at Staff of Life on Dec. 4, from 6–7pm and at the Capitola Book Cafe on Jan. 31 at 7:30pm. To read more about her cooking classes, cleansing programs, and yoga and massage services, visit Talyaskitchen.com.