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Mariko Amekodommo in her kitchen
Mariko Amekodommo in her kitchen

Going beyond khichri in Ayurvedic cooking—this celebrity chef tells you how

Mariko Amekodommo shares secrets from her kitchen while admitting that she’s got some flak for mixing Ayurveda and alcohol

‘Mariko Amekodommo’ is not her real name. Of Italian and French descent, the American citizen, now living in Mumbai with her Indian partner, officially changed her name to ‘Mariko Amekodommo’ as a homage to her grandfather. He, while serving as a soldier in Japan during World War II, had fallen in love with Japanese language and culture and used to call her his ‘ame kodomo’, which roughly translates to ‘sweet child’; her given name, Marie, lent itself to 'Mariko' quite fluidly.

From starting a Los Angeles-based catering and culinary events company offering gourmet vegan and gluten-free recipes to celebrities and red carpet events, she became a TV host with her own shows like Culinary Adventures with Mariko and Inside Mariko’s Hollywood Kitchen, also hosting food shows for celebrity gossip website Perez Hilton. Then, a few years ago, she saw the food potential of South East Asia and moved to Vietnam, covering local cooking techniques and customs for her show. That’s where she met her partner, who runs his own travel company, at a travel conference and moved to Mumbai to be with him. “I moved to Mumbai exactly two years ago today," she says excitedly over a video call last week.

Her tryst with clean cooking started with finding vegan options for herself in Mumbai. “People say Indian food is vegan-friendly and it is but I found that a lot of vegetarian dishes also use ghee and butter. I found myself becoming a more watchful vegan here. Also I got tired of eating khichri," says Amekodommo. Looking for restaurants that offered global cuisines, especially south Asian ones, she didn’t find too many options, and started cooking with the aim of making authentic global food using local ingredients that would also be vegan and healthy.

“My fiance’s mother was staying with us and she’s quite traditional in her food tastes and doesn’t like to experiment. I offered to make Thai and Mexican food for her but she’d say they ‘taste different’. That’s when I started working with her in the kitchen and showing her that many of the ingredients these cuisines use are also used in Indian cooking and have, in fact, been adopted from India," she says. Soon, she was conducting cooking classes -- “mainly because the first year we were travelling a lot and would come back with bags full of ingredients" -- and pop-ups at Mumbai restaurants and private members’ clubs like Soho House, Mumbai, along with brand promotions and tie-ups with brands like Blue Tokai coffee and Urban Platter.

She was also interesting in learning more about Ayurveda, and enrolled for a course at Prana Healthcare Academy in Mumbai. Her interest in food naturally led to her using the basic concepts of Ayurveda to cook dishes from different cuisines “and not just khichri". Using Ayurvedic principles to make food basically involves understanding the three “doshas" or humours/energies in the human body—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—and which one dominates in an individual body, and then eating according to a plan that balances out your dominant dosha.

Ayurvedic cooking is catching up in the West; New York-based chef Divya Alter, co-founder of Bhagavat Life, an Ayurvedic culinary school, runs Divya’s Kitchen, an Ayurvedic restaurant in Manhattan, while Nanditha Ram runs Manna, an organic Indian restaurant that incorporates Ayurvedic principles, in New Zealand. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, financial journalist Reenita Malhotra Hora doubles up as an expert in Ayurvedic cooking, with a bestselling book The Ayurvedic Diet under her belt.

Experimenting with clean cooking, Amekodommo discovered that it is possible to maintain a global palate while staying within the principles of Ayurveda. “So a lot of us have been snacking during the pandemic, and eating too much salt, which not only creates bloating but also increases anxiety. The way to counter it, according to Ayurveda, is to eat bitters. Now my way of thinking is you don’t have to eat bitter gourd if you don’t like it, you can have some really dark organic chocolate. If you can get the same effect from chocolate as from bitter gourd, what’s not to like?" she asks.

During the covid-19 lockdown and after, she started hosting cooking classes and workshops online, using Ayurvedic principles to teach recipes that draw inspiration from the flavours of Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Every class begins with her asking the attendees to take the quiz to understand their body type. “By understanding your dosha, you’ll be able to pick ingredients specifically to optimize your body. Personally, my body is ‘Pitta’, which means fire, so I choose foods that help put that fire out. We also share a personalized shopping list for the events, so you can select the correct ingredients based on your dosha—we also give substitutes for your body type," says Amekodommo.

Some of her experiments are certainly controversial. Her workshops include recipes for “Ayurvedic cocktails", for instance, even though in Ayurveda, alcohol is considered a toxin and people on an Ayurvedic diet are supposed to strictly abstain from drinking. Amekodommo laughs. “Yes I got a lot of hate from the Ayurveda community. But I’m just helping people incorporate Ayurveda into their existing lifestyles. Unless you check into a retreat, are you telling me you’re not going to have a drink once in a while?"

Amekodommo shared two Ayurvedic recipes with Lounge:

Vietnamese Bahn Xeo (crispy crepe)

"This was one of my favorite street foods while living in Vietnam. Living in India, I haven’t had proper Vietnamese food unless I’ve cooked it myself," says the chef. "I started thinking about the crispy crepe filled with vegetables, began researching recipes, and voila! I had everything on hand to make it within minutes."

Bahn Xeo
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Bahn Xeo

Ingredients and process

Take equal parts rice flour and coconut milk (I used 250g each) and a few pinches of turmeric.

Let it sit for 30 minutes. You want it watery, so if it thickens up, add a splash more water

Oil a non-stick pan (I used a dosa tava) with coconut oil, and spread a thin layer of the batter.

Add your fillings like mung sprouts, sliced mushrooms, shredded carrots and coriander. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the filling is soft and the crepe is crispy

When you are ready to serve, wrap a piece of the filled crepe in a lettuce leaf with a few sprigs of fresh mint. Dip in the chili sauce and enjoy! For my chili sauce I used 2 tablespoons maple syrup, the juice of 2 limes and a few pinches of red chili flakes.

Ayurvedic Lentil Crackers

Lentil crackers
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Lentil crackers

Ingredients and process:

1 cup moong dal

4 tablespoons olive oil or ghee

Spices of choice

Soak the moong dal overnight and drain

Add all ingredients to mixer and blend until a smooth paste

Spread on parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 120C / 250F for 35-40 minutes. Break when cool

Perfect for all doshas!

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