How Ayurveda Inspired a Wellness Chef (Plus, Her Nurturing Take on Traditional Chai)

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The daughter of two Western medicine professionals, Alia Dalal wasn't exposed to Ayurveda growing up. But this changed on her first trip to India. While in Kerala, Dalal sought the help of an Ayurvedic doctor for her allergies. She was "blown away" by the time he spent with her, the breadth of questions he asked about her life, and the natural herbs he prescribed. "It was so different than every prior experience I'd had seeing a medical professional," she says.

This encounter sparked Dalal's interest in Ayurvedic practices and food as medicine. She went on to professionally train in nutrition-focused cooking at the Natural Gourmet of Institute of Health and Culinary Arts and eventually returned to India to study Ayurvedic cooking at Ananda in the Himalayas. Today Dalal works as a health and wellness chef in Chicago, preparing vibrant, fresh foods for her clients. A self-described "good food seeker," Dalal loves to educate and empower people about ingredients. She's a guest host of the cooking show Chicago's Best and creator of Nightcap, an original live series in which she interviews people from Chicago's culinary world.

Learning about Ayurveda has guided Dalal to take a holistic approach in her work. It's encouraged her to consider "the whole person and the whole environment, from how food is grown to a person's emotional state to help them make a plan for a happier and healthier self." You can see that in her recipes. They're delicious. They also seem to be the answer to exactly what you need.

Like this Chai. A blend of warming Ayurvedic spices like cardamom and clove, Dalal says it helps to warm and nurture during the cold and dry Vata season. She created it as an answer to traditional masala tea, which, although delicious, she now finds to be too strong, sweet, and inflammatory for daily consumption. Dalal's recipe calls for herbal Rooibos "for a more gentle take on the cozy classic."

It also calls for a moment of reflection. "Making and drinking tea requires you to slow down," Dalal says. "The Ayurvedic approach of balancing doshas also requires you to pause and analyze how you feel—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and what you might need, which is really the most important first step of self-care."

Alia Dalal's Ayurvedic Chai 

Photo courtesy of Alia Dalal.
Photos courtesy of Alia Dalal. 

"This tea is intended for fall and early winter—Vata season—so it's perfect as is for Vata types," says Dalal. "If using non-dairy milk, try blending in a little coconut oil to add fat and make the tea cozy and grounding. Kaphas should use less/no sweetener and can add extra ginger and a pinch of turmeric for pungency and bitterness.  Pittas can go easy on the warming spices but can enjoy this on a cold winter day."

For the full recipe, and to learn more about Dalal's work, visit here.

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