The Life of Spice!
by Kiki Athanas
March 05, 2017
How in-tune are you with the food that ends up on your plate?
Do you really know or understand the story of how it got there?
How about the spices and herbs that flavour your chosen meal? Are you aware of the history, importance, and nutritional benefits that each holds?
While we may feel 'connected' to the world around us thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, many of us are often just as 'disconnected' from what we actually fuel our body's with - food! In Ayurveda, food is highly regarded as it's the main ingredient that nourishes our body's tissues. We require health for quality of life, we require quality of life so that we can enjoy each and every moment - that is what life is all about!
For me, and I'll assume for many others, eating plays a HUGE role in this enjoyment of life. I like to think that I make wise and kind choices when it comes to what I choose to eat - for myself and the world around us, but I also acknowledge that I have a lot to learn.
Enter The Life of Spice! Pop Up Dinner - a 6-course culinary journey through the diverse life of spices from around the world.
Recognizing that the food choices we make on a daily basis not only impact our health but also the health of the planet, Holistic Nutritionists Taylor and Heather teamed up with two of Toronto's loveliest food sustainability experts to discuss how spices are grown, sourced and used in cuisines all around the world.
Heather and Taylor are holistic nutritionists, mindful chefs, plant lovers, crystal worshipers and all over silly women. They have picked up a few skills throughout their time on this lovely planet and want to share them with you! They love hosting a variety of workshops including: cooking classes, whole food nutrition, fermentation basics, kombucha brewing, mindful practices and so much more. They look forward to sharing and learning with you!
I had the pleasure of joining the lovely Taylor and Heather as they put on this fabulous evening, and want to share some of the inspiring take-aways with you here.
The evening started off with a grounding meditation led by Kat, founder of Lady Gaia, who knows a thing or two about incorporating mindfulness into how we grow and eat our food - I should mention that she will be sharing it all in her upcoming 2017 Embodied Connections program. This transformative program offers an opportunity to experience yourself in relationship to community, the soil, the plants, the birds, the insects, the elements, the mycelium and receive the teachings that the natural world has to offer. Full immersion in the program provides an understanding of the process of growing organic food, a connection to the Earth and its inherent gifts and will surely deepen your sense of the interrelationship between Nature, Self and your body. I've already signed up for the full immersion myself!
Back to the dinner - next, Taylor went around with the Koshi chimes and treated us all to the deep, beautiful, musical therapy experience that these heavenly chimes have to offer for the mind, body, soul. You have not felt vibrations as powerful and magical as this until you experience the Koshi chimes, trust me on that.
If that wasn't enough, Kat offered us all some grounding Tulsi tincture. Often referred to as Holy Basil, this sacred species is known as an elixir of life, queen of herbs, and mother nature of medicine. Heather also adds that it's bitter qualities serve as a perfect thing to have right before a meal, as it helps to activate our digestion and get all of the necessary juices flowing for optimal absorption and excretion of food.
And with that, we are ready to begin...
FIRST COURSE: Roasted Squash Curry Soup w/ Cinnamon Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Two kinds to note here: Cassia and Ceylon. Cassia mainly comes from Indonesia, and the remaining 10-20% comes from China, Vietnam and Burma. Ceylon - often called "true" cinnamon, comes from India, and is sweeter and actually is gentler on the liver - especially if you're eating it daily and in larger quantities. I myself make the conscious (& more expensive) opt for this Organic Ceylon cinnamon, as I enjoy the taste a lot more, and appreciate that it has more nutritional benefits.
As for sustainability, cinnamon checks all the boxes! Cinnamon forests grow naturally, without the aid of agrochemicals, and are intercropped with other trees. Furthermore, the grasses of cinnamon grows back rapidly after it's been cut.
Fun fact: Studies have shown that Cinnamon can have a beneficial effect on cognitive function. It was shown that people who used Cinnamon prior to test situations performed better than the control group. They also appeared to process new information better.
SECOND COURSE: Cumin Flatbread with cashew cheese, frise and slow roasted lemon tomatoes
Black Cumin (Black-Caraway)
Cumin is actually derived from a flowering plant, and the spice itself comes from seeds inside the fruit. Native to south and southwest Asia and the Middle East, it is another sustainable spice for it can grow in a biodiverse area, and reproduces easily with many seeds. It's also good for planting crops as it works to repel other pests.
It's incredibly healthy, as it has been proven to reduce inflammation, as well as helping to reduce instances of asthma and cancer.
THIRD COURSE: Zataar roasted cauliflower, parsley, pine nuts with tahini drizzle
Zataar: A spice blend: dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt, but recipes do change.
→Black Salt (‘Kala Namak’ in Urdu/Hindi)
Literally "black salt" is a type of rock salt, a salty and pungent-smelling seasoning used in South Asia. It is also known as "Himalayan black salt", and it is found mostly in the Himalayas of Pakistan. It's composed largely of sodium chloride and the "pungent" smell is mainly due to its sulfur content.
Black salt is referred to as a cooling spice in Ayurvedic medicine and is used as a digestive aid, as it can help to relieve intestinal gas and heartburn.
Traditionally, the salt was created from its raw natural forms into commercially sold kala namak through a process that transforms some of its naturally occurring properties. This includes firing the raw salts in a furnace for 24 hours while sealed in a ceramic jar with charcoal and a few other ingredients. Once the salt cools, it is stored and often aged before it is sold. While kala namak is still prepared in this manner in northern India, it is now common to manufacture it synthetically.
FOURTH COURSE: Roasted radicchio and fennel with celeriac puree, sumac pickled radishes, juniper infused carrots and grapefruit hot sauce
Sumac Native to southern Europe. Sumac grows underground through Rhizomes, with the fruit appearing in later summer and fall. The spice itself harvested (generally by hand) from the berries of the plant. Sumac is very high in vitamin C, and has microbial properties - so much so that it is a great way to wish your fruits and veggies! Just mix sumac extract with water and soak your produce in this formula to clean away the grit and grime in a safe and natural way. Sumac has even been found to combat Salmonella bacteria, so it's a powerful anti-microbial spice indeed! Fun fact: Also works great as a Sumac Lemonade.
FIFTH CORSE: Cardamon panna cotta with rose and pistachio
The Queen of Spices
Indigenous to the evergreen forests of Western Ghats in South India, although it has its most productive growing cycle in Guatemala.
Most cardamom in India is cultivated on private property, or in government leased areas (again, to private farmers). Traditionally, small plots of land are cleared during February and March, freeing up the soil so that the cardamom plants can spring up soon after. The plants bear for three or four years, and historically the life of each plantation was about eight or nine years.
Similar to ginger, Cardamom can be used in much the same way to treat digestive disturbances such as nausea, acidity, bloating, gas, heartburn, loss of appetite, and constipation.
Fun fact: Cardamom is the third most expensive spice by weight (after saffron and vanilla); 80% of total consumption occurs in the Middle East.
SIXTH COURSE: Turmeric Ginger tea with Baharat shortbread cookies
Native to southern Asia; plants are gathered annually for what's called their "rhizomes", which take 8-10 months to mature. Note that the leaves and stems of turmeric are also edible, but most people harvest it only for the roots. Unlike many herbs which can be harvested throughout the growing season, turmeric root is best if harvested all at once when mature.
Turmeric has now become a "trendy" spice in the Western world thanks to its beneficial nutritional properties, as it is a natural anti-inflammatory and is able to increase the antioxidant capacity of the body.
Needless to say, each and every dish was bursting with flavour, spice, and was clearly made with the greatest intentions and a whole lot of love by our inspiring hosts!
If you're in the Toronto area and have even the slightest interest in the wonderful world of wellness, food & nutrition, and DIY projects - check out these FAB ladies and get connected. Offering an epic experience along with the education on all those airy-fairy "alternative" practices (that our weird hippie friend on Instagram posts about); Taylor and Heather are sharing their wisdom in a real, honest, and grounded way. These fine ladies are a wealth of knowledge - they may just change your perspective, and even how you live your life (not even being dramatic here folks...this is LIFE-CHANGING stuff they're opening our eyes to).
I know I speak for all attendees when I say THANK YOU, and that we're all very much looking forward to the next event!