I am at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California this week learning how to meditate, do yoga, and, as part of our week-long program, take massages every day. I’m doing this for research (“research,“ my husband Carl echoes, eyes rolling) to see if the Chopra Center brand of wellness program might be a fit for our lodges. We offer massage and yoga at the lodges and up until now it’s been a little whimsical in style, depending on the staff we hire.
Deepak Chopra, an Indian-born physician, has become a heavyweight superstar on the subject of Aryuvedic practice and New Age health and wellness. Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old practice of mind and body medicine that incorporates yoga, massage, food, and other lifestyle practices. I am perhaps here for “Ayurveda-light” — how I might offer cool massages to our guests after they have spent a day hiking in the Alaska Range.
I’m taking a program entitled Perfect Health, which is also called Panchakarma in Aryuvedic terms. We start our day at 6:45 with yoga and meditation, take some classes, have some massage, eat Indian food like lentils and rice, and take herbal supplements with strange names that aid in our week-long purification. I’m in a group of twelve students, people from all over the world including several Canadians, one young man from Singapore, and two women from Australia.
A premise of the program is that all of us have doshas: defined body types. There are three main doshas and the central concept of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory that health exists when there is a balance between these. The three types of doshas are called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If you want to find out what your dosha is, you can go here and take a small quiz. So, much is done culinary-wise in relation to what type of dosha you might have – what foods you should eat, even what spices you might use on particular foods, to enhance the balance of your dosha.
I am a Pitta (that’s my dosha and that’s how I might describe myself to someone I meet this week). But, I have a Vata imbalance. I know, it’s confusing for me, too. In general, it means I should eat comforting foods — phew, I lucked out there.
I asked Chef Greg Frey Jr., chef de cuisine at the La Costa Resort (where the Chopra Center is located) to teach me a comforting fall Vata-balanced recipe. He grabbed a red kuri squash from the counter and showed me how he makes squash gnocchi.
Red kuri squash is interesting. It is a thick-skinned Japanese winter squash that has a deep orange flesh that doesn’t fade in cooking. It’s also not quite as stringy as, say, butternut squash. It is not as pumpkin pie-tasting either. It makes a beautiful soup and, in our case, beautiful gnocchi. It has a rich, deep flavor that is characterized as nutty, as in hazelnuts.
Chef Greg first roasted the squash. He cut it in half, removed the seeds, salted and peppered the halves, and placed them cut-side down so they retained moisture and didn’t dry out. Then, he pushed the squash through a piece of 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch screen. The meat fell through the holes of the screen and the skin was left to discard. Pretty slick.
Next, Greg took the squash and mixed it with an egg yolk, a little bit of oil, salt and pepper and some herbs. He stirred the mixture together and then added in about two handfuls of flour to the squash.
Greg used a small pastry scraper, a hand-held piece of plastic used to cut through dough, to blend in the flour with the squash. He did this to keep the squash meat light and airy.
Greg let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. The dough is so soft he showed me how he can sink his finger into it. While resting, Greg brought some salted water to boil on a stove nearby. He cut off a piece of dough and rolled it and slightly stretched it in plenty of flour. Then, he cut the roll into small pieces. Greg rolled each small piece of dough up and down a small wooden gnocchi board. These little wooden grooved boards create ridges in the dough to help trap and hold sauce. A gnocchi board only costs a few dollars.
Greg dropped a handful of gnocchi into a pot of simmering water lined with a strainer. When the gnocchi surfaced, he dropped them into a small saucepan lined with olive oil. Greg sautéed the gnocchi for several minutes until each was crispy and brown on the outer edge.
To serve his red kuri squash gnocchi, Greg made a sauce from parsnips: simply slice peeled parsnips and cook them in vegetable stock and a small amount of cream. Puree the mixture and the sauce is done. A smear of sauce down onto the plate, a few pieces of prosciutto, a few shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a sprinkling of herbs finished my dosha-approved dish.
- 1 medium red kuri squash (any other winter squash can be used)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs, your choice (we used flat-leaf parsley)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (possibly more for the dough and for rolling)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Salt and pepper the squash halves and place face-side down on a baking sheet. (I usually line the baking sheet with parchment paper or an oven-safe, nonstick mat so the squash doesn’t stick to the baking sheet). Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the squash is cooked thoroughly. Remove from the oven and cool first.
- Remove the meat from the squash, either through a mesh screen as shown or by hand, placing it into a large bowl. Add in two tablespoons of the olive oil, the egg yolk, herbs and a little more salt and pepper. Add in the flour and use a pastry scraper or knife to “cut” the flour into the squash meat so the squash remains as light and fluffy as possible. You should form soft dough, and this part is a little subjective — you might need more flour depending on how much liquid was in the squash or you might need less. Form dough that holds together but is soft enough to stick your finger into without being coated in squash meat when you pull it out.
- Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, in a medium pot, bring about two quarts of salted water to a boil on the stove. Place a strainer that can fit inside the pot into the water. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Cut a piece of dough off from the resting ball and roll it with your hands into a cylinder in plenty of flour. The dough will be quite soft so you need to be gentle. Cut the dough into half-inch pieces. Using a gnocchi board, gently roll each piece of dough up and down the board. (If you don’t have a gnocchi board, try using the back of a fork).
- Drop some of the gnocchi into the simmering water. The dough will rise to the top of the water in a few minutes. Place one tablespoon of olive oil into a small saucepan over medium heat. Use the strainer to lift the gnocchi out, shake gently to remove extra water, and slide the gnocchi into the saucepan. Cook until the surfaces of the gnocchi are crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the gnocchi from heat.