Photos by Leigh Beisch

Flavors and combinations drawn from Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system, add a soothing element to each dish.

Every culture has special traditions for celebrating holidays and festivals, with food, family, and goodwill as common themes. In Hindu nations, Pancha Ganapati—which coincides with Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa—celebrates peace and harmony with its own tastes and rituals. A five-day event, Pancha Ganapati honors Ganesh, the elephant-headed, large-bellied, jovial figure enshrined all over India. One of the most beloved characters in Hindu culture, he is renowned for his love of food, dance, and the arts. On each of the five days of Pancha Ganapati, followers reflect upon one aspect of the harmony intrinsic in Ganesh’s character.

Because peace begins at home, the first day begins with the immediate family. In the morning the family sits together to make amends for pain and injuries inflicted in the past year, with forgiveness offered to one and all. Family members speak of each other’s good qualities, and the ritual ends by resolving to remember the futility of trying to change one another and the practicality of changing oneself as a silent example.

Each of the following days carries an intentional focus for creating peace. On day two, celebrants extend love by greeting neighbors and phoning far-flung relatives or friends. Day three widens the circle by showing appreciation for community members, such as teachers, business associates, and delivery people. On the fourth day, the nation is remembered as part of a greater family of cultures, and the desire for overall respect and dignity is affirmed. Relatives and friends gather on the fifth day to celebrate the arts. Amid singing, dancing, and artistic expression, people pledge to create harmony throughout the world, in part by visualizing the most elusive gift of all: peace on Earth.

Finally, to affirm life (and the jolly Ganesh’s elephantine love of food), it’s time to feast. Flavors and combinations drawn from Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system, add a soothing element to each dish. Delight in these colorful, sumptuous dishes this holiday season, beginning and ending the meal with music, dance, laughter, and love.

Champignon Florentine (Portobello Mushrooms with Spinach-Cheese Filling)
Serves 6 / Florentine is very much like the Indian dish Saag Panir—creamy spinach with chunks of farm-style cheese that’s a staple at holiday festivals. Nondairy folks can substitute soy milk and soy cheese. If necessary, you can substitute 2 cups chopped cooked spinach for the fresh spinach leaves. Using Ayurvedic principles, I add a pinch of gently fragrant coriander to make the Mornay sauce soothing.

6-12 portobello mushrooms, depending on size (1 or 2 per person)
2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
1 pound (about 8 cups) raw spinach
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyère, Swiss, or cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce (such as Tabasco), or a pinch of cayenne pepper
Toasted pine nuts, for garnish

Mornay Sauce
2-1/2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1-1/2 cups steaming hot low-fat milk
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste

What is ghee?
A staple in Indian cooking, ghee is highly clarified butter. Look for bottled ghee in the butter section of natural foods stores. To make your own, melt unsalted butter in a saucepan until milk solids separate and sink. Simmer until all moisture evaporates and milk solids begin to brown, emitting a nutty fragrance. Discard solids. Store remaining golden liquid (ghee) at room temperature or refrigerate, tightly covered.

—F.S.

1. Remove mushroom stems and gills; discard. Wipe mushroom caps with a damp cloth to clean. In a large skillet, sauté mushrooms in 2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee until barely tender and juicy. (You don’t need to cook all the way through because they will also be baked.) Transfer to a lightly oiled 10x13-inch baking dish or sheet.

2. For the Mornay sauce, melt butter or ghee in a saucepan. Add flour and stir to make a thick paste. Rapidly whisk in steaming milk. Heat until thickened, whisking briskly and constantly to prevent lumps. Gently whisk in grated cheese and seasonings. Cover and keep warm.

3. Wash spinach and remove tough stems. Transfer to a large saucepan; cover and steam in the water that clings to the leaves until just wilted, about 5 minutes. Place wilted spinach in a colander and spray with cold water. Squeeze out excess moisture and chop. Stir chopped spinach, grated cheeses, black pepper, and hot sauce or cayenne into hot Mornay sauce.

4. Fill each mushroom with a generous spoonful of spinach-cheese mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 15–20 minutes or until filling is bubbling and lightly browned. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (one 3-ounce mushroom):
Calories: 174 calories
% fat calories: 64
Fat: 23g
Saturated Fat: 12g
Cholesterol: 58mg
Protein: 18g
Carbohydrate: 11g
Fiber: 4g
Sodium: 236mg

Fresh Herb and Baby Greens Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette
Serves 8 / Offering green salad with a holiday meal evokes life’s freshness and vitality. Aside from sparking the palate, the ginger, coriander, and cumin in the zippy dressing promote good digestion.

1 head butter lettuce or other tender, flavorful lettuce
1 generous handful mixed baby greens
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup grated raw beets

Tangy Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons natural stone-ground mustard
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil

1. To make vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients except oil in a small bowl until well-combined. Slowly whisk in oil, beating constantly to emulsify. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Combine lettuce, greens, and fresh herbs in a large bowl and toss gently. Divide among serving plates and top with grated carrot and beets. Drizzle with dressing. (If using a salad bowl, add grated carrots and beets before tossing with dressing.)

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 2 teaspoons dressing):
Calories: 74 calories
% fat calories: 69
Fat: 6g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 5g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 12mg

Artichokes with Savory Sauce
Serves 6 / The warming and flavorful red sauce combines the sweetness of carrots and beets with fresh garden herbs. Enjoy it atop artichokes or as a substitute for tomato sauce in Italian recipes. Artichokes may be prepared several hours or even a day ahead; refrigerate and reheat in a 350° oven prior to serving (place in a shallow glass baking dish with a cup of water and cover with foil; heat for 15 minutes).

3 fresh whole artichokes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups water or low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine

Savory Sauce
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
2 cups peeled and diced carrots (about 3 large carrots)
1/2 small onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup cooked, diced beet (fresh or canned)
1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of black pepper

Peaceful place
Learn and practice harmony and the principles of Ayurvedic health at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat in Colorado, cofounded by writer Faith Stone, or enjoy the retreat’s recipes in Yoga Kitchen by Faith Stone and Rachael Guidry (Book Publishing, 2004). For more information, see www. shoshoni.org; 303.642.0116.

1. Trim artichokes, removing stalks and tough outer leaves; level bottoms. Cut 1/4 inch off tops. Using kitchen scissors, snip off sharp tips of remaining leaves. Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and garlic; heat to medium. Place artichokes in a single layer in the pot, hearts down, and brown the bottoms.

2. Add water or broth and wine to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until leaves pull away easily and are tender to eat.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Melt ghee or butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add carrots, onion, and garlic. Cover and sauté until tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add broth or water, beet, liquid aminos or soy sauce, yogurt, oregano, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Purée until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. (Sauce may be made ahead and refrigerated; reheat before serving.)

4. Carefully drain artichokes. Using a sharp knife, slit artichoke bottoms in half crosswise. (Do not try to slice through the leaves.) Gently pull each artichoke in half. Using a spoon, scoop out the fuzzy thistle just above each artichoke heart and discard.

5. Fill each artichoke half with 2 tablespoons warm sauce. Serve additional sauce on the side.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/2 artichoke with 2 tablespoons sauce):
Calories: 69 calories
% fat calories: 35
Fat: 3g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 1mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 10g
Fiber: 5g
Sodium: 152mg

Cranberry-Squash Pie
Serves 8–10 / Following Ayurvedic principles, this pie promotes peacefulness because it doesn’t contain caffeine (found in chocolate) or strong spices. Tart cranberries add color, zip, and vitamin C. Use your favorite piecrust recipe, or look for premade piecrusts in the frozen foods section of natural grocery stores. To save time, you can also use frozen, thawed squash.

1 9-inch piecrust
2 cups cooked and mashed butternut or acorn squash
3 eggs
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup sucanat or granulated fructose
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped, or 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Topping
1/2 cup pure fruit strawberry jam
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 teaspoon honey or fructose, or to taste
Low-fat whipped cream or crème fraîche, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie dish; flute edges and prick sides and bottom with a fork. Bake, unfilled, for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool.

2. Combine squash, eggs, orange juice, sour cream, sucanat or fructose, and salt in a large mixing bowl; blend until smooth. Stir in chopped cranberries. Pour into cooled piecrust and bake for 75–80 minutes or until set. Cool.

3. For topping, melt strawberry jam in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and cook until barely tender and just beginning to burst, about 5 minutes. Adjust sweetness with honey or fructose. Cool completely. Spread over cooled pie. Garnish with low-fat whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 286 calories
% fat calories: 33
Fat: 11g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 82mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 43g
Fiber: 3g
Sodium: 242mg

Sattvic Khichari
Serves 8 / Khichari is a stew typically made of mung beans and rice, and sattwa is the balancing quality of a food that promotes meditation and a tranquil mind. Khichari is a delicious and easy meal anytime, but it’s especially good as a “day after” meal when your body might need a rest from too much of a good thing. You’ll find mung dal—dried, hulled, and split mung beans—in Indian groceries and many natural foods stores.

1/2 cup uncooked white or brown basmati rice
1/4 cup mung dal
1 tablespoon ghee
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1 small carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 cup)
Pinch of saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Rinse rice and dal in a fine-meshed strainer and set aside. Heat ghee in a medium-large saucepan. Add cumin seeds and toast for 1 minute, taking care not to burn. Add rice, dal, and vegetable broth or water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until dal is tender, about 45 minutes.

2. Stir in carrot, zucchini, saffron, and coriander. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Season with salt to taste. Stir in cilantro (or serve it on the side). Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 104 calories
% fat calories: 18
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 4mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 18g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 310mg

Festival Rice
Serves 8–10 / Myriad flavors and textures enliven this sumptuous holiday rice. In Ayurvedic cooking, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves soothe tension and promote good health. Remove whole spices before serving.

1-1/2 cups uncooked white basmati rice
1 tablespoon ghee or canola oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 cups water
1/4 cup black raisins
6 whole cloves
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas, thawed

1. Rinse and drain rice. Heat ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add fennel seeds and toast until lightly browned. Add rice, water, raisins, whole cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, toast almonds and coconut in a dry skillet until golden brown.

3. When rice is fully cooked, fluff with a fork. Gently stir in almonds, coconut, grated carrots, and peas. (The hot rice cooks the carrots and peas while preserving maximum nutrition.) Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 218 calories
% fat calories: 25
Fat: 6g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 4mg
Protein: 4g
Carbohydrate: 37g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 155mg

Maple-Roasted Parsnips
Serves 8 / Parsnips have a light, sweet flavor and crunchy texture that add interest and variety to any menu. This dish is a healthy alternative to traditional candied yams.

2 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3 tablespoons melted ghee or canola oil, divided
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Ground cinnamon, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Toss parsnips, 2 tablespoons melted ghee or oil, maple syrup, and salt in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Bake uncovered for 30–40 minutes or until parsnips are tender.

2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon ghee or oil in a skillet. Add onion and sauté on low until very soft, about 15 minutes. Remove parsnips from oven; top with onions and sprinkle with parsley, pepper, and cinnamon, to taste.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 145 calories
% fat calories: 31
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 12mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 25g
Fiber: 5g
Sodium: 79mg