Slovak Masala Story
Michaela Samant, author of the book 'The Taste of Masala', shared the secrets of her Indian Masala Story with us. We asked her, what was her the most sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent experience in India and how to convert the kitchen into the ayurvedic pharmacy!
WARNING: After reading the interview you get the craving to travel to India!
MICHAELA SAMANT (1979)
"I was born in Slovakia as Michaela, but I today I am called Sumukhi. How did I get this name, which in hindi mean 'bright-faced'? In 2002 I listened to my heart and followed the man with whom I could share same world view to India. He became my best friend, husband and father of my beautiful daughters Saloni and Sanabhi.
My husband Sunil, was born in the picturesque village Parule, located on the western coast of India. The Konkan coast, as local call it, nestling amidst rolling hills and lined by serene coconut palms groves, smells of spices and each plant, vegetable and fruit, which you can find there, offer culinary adventure. I was exploring it together with my husband, who introduced me spices, ingredients with different taste, smell and colors, and different cooking techniques, which I haven't seen and experienced in Slovakia. Our home and kitchen became multicultural especially after his family moved to cosmopolitan Mumbai and we have started to visit them regularly.
India became my second home. My husband Sunil works as prawns farming consultant and because of his job, we have moved to south Indian state Andhra Prahesh. And me? You would probably call me a 'housewife' but modern Indian women as me call themseves 'homemaker':)
Michaela, what brought you to India?
I did not plan it. I did not hear any special spiritual calling and I did not know anything about India. The only reason why I came to India was love. I met my husband online on chat, when I was practising my English. But 'the language of our souls' did not need dictionary. After few months he asked me to marry him and I moved to India. It was 14 years ago.
It is story written by life itself. Ayurveda is the science of life. What does Ayurveda mean for you?
To be honest, I do not consciously implement ayurvedic principles in my family life. We are cooking mostly vegetarian dishes, because we are living in very hot and humid tropical area and it is much easier to digest these kind of food. But we are not pure vegetarians. We are eating meat at least once a month. I do not use any special cooking techniques only those, which you can find in any authentic traditional cook book and I was taught by my husband's sisters and mother. This method is also known as 'Tadka' - tempering of spices is a traditional method to extract the full flavor from spices. Essentially this method is when whole or ground spices are heated in hot oil and then added to a dish. The hot oil or ghee makes the spices more fragrant and flavorsome and brings the essence of the spices to the fore and maintains this essence when it is added to a dish. Not only does tempering add flavor but it also unlocks the nutritional benefits of the spices. I think, the same principles are applied for ayurvedic diet.
There is a saying that Ayurveda tastes like happiness. According to Dr. George Eassey, in Sanskrit, this philosophy is expressed in word 'vishadam', which means sadness but also toxin or poison. Sadness is poison for our body. If we are under pressure for a long time, it influences our stomach and digestion. Bad digestion is the cause of all diseases. That is why happiness, inner balance and love are influenced not only by the heart, but also by the stomach. So what is the real taste of your masala?
My masala tastes good when I am happy:) I believe, that food prepared in good mood and with love, tastes so good because of positive vibes and feelings, which were added in the process of preparation.
The universal energy of life – prana, can be experienced everywhere in touch with nature and its elements, we absorb it from air and also from food we consume. Ayurveda explores this energy in all its colors, aromas and tastes. The belief is that incorporating all six tastes in your meals and adjusting the amounts to your personal constitution will help you maintain balanced nutrition and good health, and feel satisfied overall. In India what was the most … experience for you?
The spiciest experience – traffic, I was not able to cross the street
The sourest experience – prejudices of some people
The most pungent experience – poverty and helplessness
The bitterest experience – hours spent in government offices
The saltiest experience – tears, when I missed my home and family
The sweetest experience – birth of our children.
There is also another saying that food stimulate your mind and your mind stimulate your life. Do you have any favorite dish in your family, which 'heals the body, the mind and the soul'?
We do not have only one favorite dish. We are the family, but every member of the family is personality with their own taste. Kids like chicken soup, my husband biryani and I am happy eating ordinary dhal.
Ayurveda consider kitchen to be also pharmacy. Is your kitchen also pharmacy?
If you have spices in your house, then you have a pharmacy! Curcuma, ajwain, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger, all of them are medicines. For example, if you have flu or problems with digestion, a ginger extract can offer relieve immediately. It will work even better if you mix it with curcuma and coconut oil.
Some old tricks I learnt from my Indian mother in law – the best remedy to relieve coughing is hot roasted ajwain wrapped in cotton, which is placed on chest (or on the pillow in the bed) and inhaled. Also extract from coriander seeds, cumin and fennel can help to decrease body temperature. The clove is the best for toothache, the cinnamon extract helps to prevent skin problems, cardamom helps to digest – there are many "Indian grandma's tip".
What would you like to add to "Indian cultural melting pot" from Slovakia? What do you think about fusion of Slovak and Indian cuisine?
Traditional Slovak cuisine is very basic, it reflects harsh environment of our country. We love it because food is connected with our perception of home, but I would spice up it and encourage Slovak ladies to experiment more in the kitchen with new ingredients and new techniques. In Slovakia, we usually add spices at the end of cooking process, but 'Tadka' method (tempering of spices) adds flavor and also unlocks the nutritional benefits of the food.
Inspirations HOW TO CONVERT YOUR KITCHEN INTO THE PHARMACY we are offering in cooperation with Michaela Samant and Ayurveda doctor Dr.Venugopal in section AYURVEDA DIET & FOOD
Recipes from India (in Slovak language) - AKO CHUTÍ MASALA
TEXT: Michaela Samant & Zuzana Zwiebel
PHOTO: Michaela Samant Archive