I haven’t eaten any animal protein (meaning: chicken, fish, pork, red meat, etc.) since I left Australia last Christmas to travel in Asia. I began my meat-free life in India at the Ayurvedic detox center, as animal products (except for milk) were not an option. The wellness retreat in Thailand where I stayed for yoga teacher training served only vegetarian meals. In the Himalayas in Nepal, we learned that no animal is allowed to be slaughtered in the Everest region (the Sherpas who live there are Buddhists) and therefore meat for the trekkers comes to the region either by plane or by road. It is then transported up the mountain to the teahouses on the back of a yak or Sherpa, in a straw basket “protected” from the sun and flies by a tarp over the top. After walking past a few of these yak trains or over-loaded Sherpas, my vegetarianism while trekking was confirmed. From there, we headed to Ubud (Bali) which is like a healthy hippie vegetarian heaven. There are at least a dozen restaurants right in the main part of town serving up incredible and unique plant-based cuisine so I thought choosing the meat option seemed like a waste. By the time I got back to the U.S. in April, I figured I would want to tuck right in to a nice piece of wild-caught Alaskan salmon or a beautiful organic and pasture-raised chicken breast, but I didn’t. There was nothing in my body or mind telling me I wanted meat again. I didn’t feel malnourished, weak, or tired; in fact, I felt light, energetic and wayyy less bloated! The latter being the most exciting for me as I have struggled with my digestion for quite some time. While I’m not saying my digestion is 100% healed with perfect elimination and zero bloating, I am confident that it is much better than it was six months ago. No longer eating animal products may be a large factor or a small factor in that equation, but one thing is for certain - you need a strong digestive fire to digest animal protein and, at the moment, mine is still a little flicker.
Now, with all this said, I am not interested in labelling myself as “a vegetarian” or more accurately “a vegan.” I find these kinds of labels, which have become so trendy in our culture, restrictive as well as controversial. If I go out to dinner and there is parmesan cheese on the asparagus or a soup broth made from chicken stock, am I going to refuse to eat it? Hell no! But if I was strictly “a vegan,” I guess I would have to. I’d like to avoid putting myself into a box and instead feel freedom to eat whatever my body tells me it wants/needs. At this moment in my life, that happens to be plants (meaning: grains, vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts, and seeds). Six months from now, that picture could look totally different. It’s a bit of an experiment and one that requires a lot of self-awareness and consistent checking in with how I’m feeling and how things are working. I’m actually really enjoying the challenge of cooking satisfying, balanced and delicious plant-based “vegan” meals for myself and my friends and family!
So, what am I eating?
The bulk of my meals are made up of grains and/or beans. I keep it interesting with a varying array of vegetables. Right now during spring, I am digging asparagus, peas, radishes, spinach, watercress, etc. I’ve maintained my coconut addiction and eat a fair amount of nuts and seeds but try not to go too crazy in this category as they are heavy to digest. I also have a bit of fruit here and there as a snack.
At the moment, my favorite whole meal, or an addition to a meal, has to be mung beans. This is because they are delicious…but also because they remind me of India, which is where they originated and where I ate them almost every day for the month I was there! We called them “green gram.” Ayurveda uses mung beans for culinary and medicinal purposes such as dispelling heat and detoxifying the body. They are very easy to digest and serve to absorb toxic residue from the intestinal walls. They also low in fat and high in protein and fiber. Pretty good, ey?
Mung beans are available from health food shops, Indian grocers and sometimes supermarkets. Try to get organic if you can and buy in bulk to reduce cost. They come in the whole green variety, split green or split yellow. The whole green is most nutritious.
I usually make a big batch at the start of the week and I have them as breakfast or with lunch. They last well in the fridge and are quick and easy to reheat, as long as you add a little water to prevent burning the pan.
This recipe is not exact as I got it from the chef at the Ayurveda centre who spoke minimal English and never used measuring utensils.
Ayurvedic Green Gram plus Garnishing
- 1 cup mung beans
- 2 cups water
- turmeric powder
- rock salt
- coconut oil or ghee
- fresh or dried curry leaves (can omit if too hard to find)
- cumin seeds
- fresh grated ginger
- pinch of hing/asafoetida (can omit if too hard to find)
- mustard seeds
- chopped tomatoes
- shredded coconut
- black pepper
- fresh cilantro leaves
What to do:
Wash the mung beans thoroughly. Soak them in water for at least three hours then rinse. Add mung beans to water in a pot, plus a hearty pinch of turmeric, and bring to a boil with a lid. Lower the heat to medium-low and let cook for 30-40 minutes or until the beans are very soft. Add salt when beans are almost finished cooking. The beans are done when they are soft on the inside while the skin of the bean is still intact.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, fry spices and tomatoes in the oil until the tomatoes are well cooked.
Add cooked mung beans to the pan with the garnishings and stir. Add shredded coconut. Mix all together and add more salt if needed, pepper and fresh cilantro leaves. Et voila!
I know mung beans aren't the most glamorous thing in the world, but they can be a great dish to have in your back pocket for those weeks when you don't have much time to cook or feel you need an intestinal sweep! If you don't have all the garnishing ingredients on hand, you can make the dish plain by adding turmeric and cumin powder with the salt towards the end of cooking and then just sprinkle in some shredded coconut and throw in a handful of fresh cilantro. I do this a lot if I am in a rush. It's still delicious and oh-so healthy!
Hope you enjoy.
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