Summer BBQ Without the Burn
Everyone Loves a Good Summer BBQ- Tips to Savor the Flavor and Skip the Burn
For many, few summer activities hold the charm and appeal of a classic summer BBQ. It’s a timeless tradition that invites everyone to take part. Stirring a sense of nostalgia, comfort and evokes a tangible essence of our shared ancestry as hunter/gatherers. As the grill hisses and sizzles, bathed in the warm hues of the setting sun, echoes of laughter and tales spun from old and new memories fill the air, punctuated by the calming symphony of summer insects and bird calls. The aroma of our favorite grilled delicacies permeates our surroundings, weaving a compelling and unforgettable bond between us, the bountiful land, the food that sustains us, and the elemental forces that season our lives.
But while we’re getting lost in the smoky allure of the grill, it’s all too easy to overlook the equilibrium our ancestors found through these age-old culinary practices. Today’s barbecuing ethos and appreciation of this primordial art form often diverge significantly from its roots. Coupled with the ever-shifting landscape of dietary trends, navigating our food choices can feel like an unpredictable rollercoaster ride. One day, we’re told a certain food is good, the next, it’s not. It can all seem a bit wild and overwhelming, like an endless loop of a pop-up food quiz with new tips and tricks at every turn.
Ayurveda offers us a unique perspective, and for many, a fresh lens to look at food through. It helps us understand not just the ‘what’ and ‘when’ of eating, but more importantly, the ‘why.’
We’ve already explored the 6 Tastes in Ayurveda, discovered the foods best for Summer and unlocked how to decipher and evaluate the evaluate the Qualities of foods themselves. Now, it’s time to crank up the heat and ask some big questions: How does grilling affect our food? Is the summer BBQ sizzle a friend or foe to our wellness, digestive health or overall balance? Where does meat fit into the dietary scheme? What is the stance of Ayurveda?
How to BBQ Your Best this Summer
The art of food preparation offers many therapeutic dimensions that are frequently overlooked in everyday meal preparation, yet they’re truly intriguing! The method employed to process food can dramatically transform its digestibility, shifting from easy-to-digest to challenging, or vice versa. This reflects the subtle and less subtle effect of different cooking processes. Diving deeper into the Five Element Theory of Ayurveda provides us a fascinating perspective. By keenly understanding how these elements impact our physiology, and the inherent characteristics of food in its natural state, we can skillfully influence these through various cooking techniques. This opens up an entirely new perspective on using food as medicine.
If disease is an imbalance in dosha (human elements) which can be increased or decreased then treatment is achieved in restoring balance to these elements. This equilibrium can be found through our food choices, incorporation of herbs and adapting lifestyle practices.
“Increase the elements which are insufficient,
decrease the elements which are excess
and maintain the elements which are balanced”
– Charak Samhita
Understanding Food as Medicine
Anything we eat is made of some variation of the Five Elements. This food, or object in Ayurveda is called dravya (object) which contains qualities in nature that can only be expressed if we experience it. Since we’re an Ayurvedic school, we love to sprinkle our articles with some good ol’ traditional knowledge. So, hang in there with me for a bit. The word dravya is actually derived from ‘dru-gatou’ which means “one which is meant for movement or attainment”. Pretty cool, right? But, what does it mean? Sanskrit scholars were masters of words and in the Charak Samhita it explains this as:
“Dravanti rogaha tat rogan naraha, swasthaya cha vindati I
Anna, aushadhatmakam tasmat dravyam abhidhiyare II “ CS
Application of dravya or an object in the form of food or herb
causes attainment of health in the human body.
Alright, let’s break this down. Each bite of food or pinch of herbs we consume carry a unique blend of the Five Elements, which then interact with our bodies in specific ways. The beauty of the Five Element theory in Ayurveda is that it helps us decode these elemental qualities, as well as understand our own internal balance. With the knowledge that ‘like increases like’, we can intentionally use certain foods or herbs to modify our body’s state and promote health. Phew! That’s a mouthful, but don’t sweat it. These concepts become second nature with a little repetition and interrogation. Now, with that brainy detour behind us, let’s get back to the fun stuff and talk about how to grill up an epic dinner!
What is the purpose of understanding the Dravya (object) and how does this relate to my summer BBQ?
If we view food as a form of medicine, with the ultimate aim to nourish and fortify our bodies, then the purpose of consuming food (or engaging with the ‘dravya’, the object) can be seen as twofold:
1. Promoting Health – Purposefully using food to achieve desired outcomes,
2. Elemental Balancing – Employing specific foods for targeted benefits.
The Charak Samhita suggests that every ‘dravya’ or object has its utility. So yes, even your sizzling summer BBQ could have therapeutic perks. Now that’s a thought worth chewing on!
“There is no object around us that can be used as non-drug, everything around us has application as medicine for human beings.”- Charak Samhita
By understanding Elemental theory and the functions of the elements in our bodies, we can effectively boost the qualities that support our wellbeing and diminish those that lead to imbalances.
The Earth Element infuses firmness, heaviness, strength, mass, and growth, exhibiting a downward movement. This element is found in sweet foods that contribute to our body’s bulk.
The Water Element introduces unction, exhilaration, moistening, binding, oozing and is cool. It’s present in foods such as ghee, dairy, aloe vera, and other fluids.
The Fire Element ignites burning, digestion, heating and lightening. It enhances our complexion and is associated with hot and sharp sensations. This element can be found in spicy, fried, or charred foods. As well as anything that increases heat or induces burning sensations in the body.
The Air Element causes non-sliminess, lightness, malaise, roughness and movement. It is found in food items that are light, drying, and stimulating.
The Ether Element imparts softness, porosity and lightness. It is typically found in bitter greens and easy to digest foods.
Understanding and remembering these concepts is crucial. While certain foods may naturally contain more of the Earth element (heavier) or the Air element (lighter), the way we cook these foods can significantly modify these elemental properties.
So what about my Summer BBQ?
When we grill food, we’re primarily using the fire and air elements, wouldn’t you agree? And what is the result? Our food becomes hotter, drier, and lighter, with its water content significantly reduced. The charred flavor of the food is also a testament to the increased fire element. So, when you’re grilling heavier foods like meat, the BBQ process can actually intensify their dryness and stimulating qualities. While this can be fine every now and then, it’s typically not the best idea during the hot summer months when the blazing sun is already putting a strain on our bodies. So, let’s explore how you CAN engage in outdoor cooking in a healthy way.
We love cooking over an open fire too! The trick to savoring a summer grill in a nourishing way is to focus on foods that come with a natural wrap or skin. Think breadfruit, plantains, or even salmon and other fish (just remember to remove the skin post-grilling to steer clear of the char). We’re also big fans of grilling items wrapped or housed in something else—like a clay pot, banana leaf, or even parchment paper (as long as you keep it off the direct flame). These techniques help infuse your food with that smoky grill flavor without excessively stoking the fire element via charring. An added bonus of this ‘enclosed’ cooking method over the fire is that it effectively steams the food, retaining more of its water content, which helps prevent your body from drying out too much. A win-win!
What does Ayurveda Say About Meat?
To the surprise of many, Ayurveda doesn’t exclusively endorse a vegetarian diet.
It’s crucial to distinguish between Yogic philosophy and Ayurvedic medicinal practices. While some Ayurvedic practitioners indeed follow vegetarian or even vegan diets, the traditional Ayurvedic texts and scholars strongly advocate for the inclusion of high-quality, full-fat dairy in various forms. They also appreciate the unique influences of different types of animal milk.
In the same vein, these texts provide guidance on how to incorporate meat into our diet in a healthy manner. This is particularly useful for rejuvenation therapy and promoting robust tissue health, specifically our fat and muscle tissues. These tissues, when nourished correctly, have a direct impact on our nervous and reproductive systems. But remember, the use of meat should always be considered in the context of our digestive status, the current season, general health, and individual constitution.
Meats originating from arid lands, like goat, are generally thought to have a drying effect on the body. When you add the element of grilling—which involves fire and air—this drying quality could be amplified. Typically, meat is recommended to be prepared as a stew or turned into a nourishing bone broth, with or without the meat itself, for its therapeutic benefits.
What if you want to cook meat in a more common way, like grilling a steak or chicken?
For optimal health, it’s generally best to avoid charring any food or meat on the grill. Especially if there’s no skin to be charred. That said, you can still get creative with wrapping, steaming, or stewing meat to capture those delicious grill flavors.
Key factors to keep in mind include the strength of your digestion and how much you’re drying the meat out. You can counterbalance this by using chutneys (Mint Chutney or Tomato Chutney are some personal favorites) that can lend flavor and moisture. Incorporating digestive spices into your grilling routine, either as a marinade, a flavoring agent, or a post-cooking sauce, can also be a game changer. Feel free to experiment and discover what resonates best with your taste buds and your body’s needs.
Here’s what Maha Vidya is Grilling this Season!
Any reason or season gets us stoked to cook outside! We’re constantly gravitating towards the time-honored fire pit. Be it during our camp life in Maine or amidst the sweltering heat in Puerto Rico. Our all-time favorites include a hearty lentil stew cooked in a pot over the open fire. Charred Breadfruit dressed with Coconut & Tarragon, and our exotic Lemongrass Banana Leaf Rice (stay tuned for the recipe). For dessert, we never miss out on the irresistible Banana S’mores.
Our Mint Chutney is a fantastic companion to most grilled foods, offering a vibrant taste, oils and digestive support that we always pack with us for camping trips. Give our favorite recipes a whirl, and let us know what you think! Savor the season, and as always, stay healthy, friends!
Consider Reviewing the Healthy Eating Guidelines this Summer BBQ Season
Although Summer BBQs are undeniably delicious, it’s crucial to remember that our eating habits greatly impact our overall health and well-being. To further support or refine your healthy lifestyle, we invite you to watch our comprehensive guide on general healthy eating habits. This insightful video provides valuable tips, expert advice, and practical strategies to help you make informed decisions surrounding what, how, and why you eat certain foods. Watch the video, download the FREE Healthy Eating Guidelines Worksheet, and let us know what you think!