Feed Your Soul
In a pretty spa town on the banks of Germany’s Moselle River, Chef Eckhard Fischer has taken Ayurvedic cuisine to a stunning new level.
There’s no one arguing about the health benefits of an Ayurvedic diet, with its focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and natural ingredients. At the Parkschlösschen Ayurvedic retreat in Bad Wildstein, Germany, Chef Eckhard Fischer is teaching guests through his delicious, creative menus that a healthy diet has nothing to do with deprivation—and everything to do with flavor, satisfaction, and joy.
Chef Fischer is also an Ayurvedic therapist, and began his cooking career preparing meals in India for the physicians who were training him. Years spent traveling around the world provided additional experience in seasonings, cooking methods, cultural specialties, and working with a wide variety of ingredients. He joined the staff at the Parkschlösschen in 1993, and has since created The Art of Ayurvedic Cooking: The Parkschlösschen Cuisine with Eckhard Fischer, a signature cookbook based on his gourmet vegetarian Ayurvedic dishes.
A few months ago, I visited the Parkschlösschen to participate in a detox program. After breakfasting on warm muesli with cooked apples and plums, freshly squeezed juice, a berry tisane, and crusty bread with forest honey, I sat down with Chef Fischer to talk about his food philosophy and the new cookbook—a project he admits was a bit of a challenge, given that he never cooks from recipes.
“I cook from feeling, from my heart,” he told me, “which is a little bit the way we should eat. It’s necessary to learn to listen to our bodies. The ancient Vedic scripts teach us that nutrition should bring happiness, and that what we eat should be compatible with our individual dosha, or constitution.”
Chef Fischer and his kitchen staff work closely with the team of doctors at the Parkschlösschen to ensure that guests receive the highest quality fare, while supporting each individual’s health program. Upon arrival, guests undergo an extensive and comprehensive health assessment with a staff physician, who determines the person’s individual dosha, and prescribes a series of therapies and massages that will help restore their mind and body to a place of balance. Depending on whether they are assessed as a Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, they also receive direction as to the diet and nutritional choices that will be the most beneficial for their overall health and well being.
The delicious and delightfully presented food is designed around the core principals of Ayurvedic medicine. This includes the concepts that appetite should direct individual nutrition and food choices, that nutrition should be guided by the rhythms of both the day and the season, and that one should fully address as many senses as possible at each meal. That means that along with taste, it’s important to feed the other senses with texture, wonderful aromas, and colorful, beautiful presentation.
Dinners, Chef Fischer explained, typically begin with a dessert—usually the hardest part of a meal to digest—and lead up to a light main course. Breakfasts are light, and usually built around a warm, grain cereal. Lunch is the largest meal of the day, and should be followed by a calm, contemplative time, or a soothing walk. In general, meals should always be eaten while sitting, in a quiet place, without distraction. Instead of eating until you feel full, stop when you’ve eaten to about ¾ of your capacity, and allow 3 to 6 hours between meals so that your body can properly digest what you’ve consumed. Ayurveda also suggests avoiding too many raw foods (except for organic, seasonally ripe fruits), and that very cold beverages be passed over in favor of room temperature or warm drinks.
“Everything we use is pure,” said Chef Fischer. “We make every effort to use organic, seasonal ingredients, but that can be challenging at a five-star resort. Guests have expectations, such as strawberries at Christmas, that have to be accounted for. Also, with a wide variety of guests, there are other things to take into consideration, such as food allergies, which must be worked around. And, while we use fresh herbs in the kitchen when possible, it’s sometimes necessary to use dried herbs.”
Ayurvedic cooking workshops with the kitchen team are offered on a regular basis. Along with recipes, the cookbook offers an extensive glossary of Ayurvedic terms, a questionnaire to help readers determine their own individual dosha, and suggestions that help customize each recipe so that it is appropriate for multiple doshas.
Following are two of Chef Fischer’s recipes from The Art of Ayurvedic Cooking: The Parkschlösschen Cuisine with Eckhard Fischer, appropriate for dinner or as part of a larger midday meal.
Recipes reprinted from The Art of Ayurvedic Cooking: The Parkschlösschen Cuisine with Eckhard Fischer, by permission of the Parkschlösschen Bad Wildstein.
GLAZED BLACK FIGS ON PINEAPPLE
INGREDIENTS½ fresh pineapple 7 oz. pineapple juice 1 pinch of saffron powder 3 tbs. raw cane sugar
1 star anise 1 vanilla pod, slit open ¼ cinnamon stick 6 firm, ripe black figs
2 tbs. water Juice of 1 lime 1 small piece of fresh ginger, grated 1 tbs. aged, sweet, red balsamic vinegar
INSTRUCTIONS1. Peel the pineapple. Using an electric slicing machine or a sharp knife, cut the pineapple into thin slices, and place in a bowl.
2. In a saucepan, bring the pineapple juice to a boil with the saffron and 1 tablespoon of sugar, the star anise, the opened vanilla pod, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat slightly.
3. Pour the hot liquid over the pineapple slices.
4. Quarter the figs. In a frying pan, bring 2 tablespoons of water to a boil together with the lime juice, ginger, vinegar and the rest of the sugar. Reduce the heat.
5. Add figs to this mixture and stir. Let the figs stand in the marinade to cool.
6. To serve, remove pineapple slices from the liquid, and drain them on paper towels. Arrange the pineapple on a plate, placing the figs on top.
BLACK RADISH & RED RADISH SALAD WITH KING OYSTER MUSHROOMS
Serves 2 to 4
INGREDIENTS1 tsp. olive oil 1 tbs. sunflower seeds ¼ tsp. aniseed 1 tsp. brown mustard seed 2 tbs. Soyanaise or other soy mayonnaise Juice of 1 lemon 1 tsp. untreated natural rock salt, ground 2 tsp. raw cane sugar 1 bunch of red radishes 1 small black radish 4–6 king oyster mushrooms 1 small shallot 5 tbs. butter ½ tsp. black pepper, ground
1 tsp. dry Riesling white wine (optional) 2 tsp. soy sauce 1 small bunch of garden cress
INSTRUCTIONS1. Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add sunflower seeds, aniseed, and mustard seeds. Cook gently until lightly browned.
2. Mix the Soyanaise with lemon juice. Add to seed mixture in saucepan; add salt and sugar.
3. Wash the red radishes, and cut them into fine slices. Peel the black radish, cut it into fine slices, and then cut the slices into fine strips. Mix with the salad dressing.
4. Cut the mushrooms lengthwise into fine slices, and finely dice the shallot.
5. In a large frying pan, brown the mushrooms, a few at a time. For each round, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the frying pan, brown the mushrooms for 2 minutes on each side, and sprinkle them with a little pepper. Remove all of the mushrooms from the frying pan when browned.
6. Add the shallots to the frying pan, brown them slightly. Return the mushrooms to the pan, deglaze with Riesling white wine and soy sauce, and continue cooking until the liquid has been reduced.
7. To serve, arrange the mushrooms in a fan-shaped pattern on a plate. Make little islands of salad, and garnish with the garden cress.