Divya Alter noticed there weren’t many places to sit down and enjoy a meal based on Ayurvedic principles in New York City. Enter Divya’s Kitchen.
Her new vegetarian restaurant, opening Wednesday in the East Village at 25 First Ave., is located in the same building as Alter’s Ayurvedic culinary school, Bhagavat Life, which she runs with her husband.
The menu items have been pulled from those classes, 100 of which will be published in April 2017 in Alter’s cookbook, “What to Eat for How You Feel.”
Divya’s Kitchen is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, with dishes that range from Italian to Indian to Mediterranean to Asian (breakfast and lunch are slated to follow in a few months). The connecting thread are items that taste good, and are good for you, Alter said.
“I care about people, I care about their health,” Alter said. “It’s not just a meal you enjoy. You feel good afterwards.”
What does it mean to be an Ayurvedic restaurant? The chef walked us through the core aspects of the menu.
Eating by season
“We follow the basic principles of seasons — harvest seasons, not calendar seasons,” Alter said. That means changing the menu three times a year — spring, summer and winter — as opposed to four. “Just how we change our clothes with the season, we need to change our diet.”
In the summer, that means foods that are cooling, and in the winter, foods that are warming, the latter of which tend to have more fat and protein.
“If you just eat salads [in the winter] you will feel like a leaf floating in the air,” Alter said. “Warm foods are usually more grounding.”
The initial menu features root vegetables such as radish, sweet potato and celery root. Alter also uses warming spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cloves and cardamom. Cooling spices include coriander and fennel.
An Ayurvedic meal features six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. “If you have all in a meal it’s balance,” Alter said.
The chef uses a variety of spices and seasonings to balance it all out.
“I really care about people’s digestion,” said Alter, who had a digestive disorder while at a yoga ashram in India that was cured when she followed an Ayruvedic diet. “It’s not just about elimination but about how you feel after you eat and are absorbing the nutrients.”
The menu features ingredients that support digestion, such as kale, taro root, organic dairy, einkorn wheat and house-made teas and ginger limeades. That also means no soy, nightshades or alcohol, though when the restaurant expands to a breakfast menu, it will offer coffee.
Alter doesn’t have very spicy meals, since those are very stimulating. Instead, the menu is designed to calm the body down.
“You will feel satisfied and nourished, but it will also help calm you down so when you go home you can fall asleep easily,” she said.
There are also several calming teas on the menu.
No artificial ingredients
Divya’s Kitchen mills its own flours (including a gluten-free version) and makes its own spice blends, almond milk and ghee — a clarified butter. There are no refined salts or oils — instead, it uses soma salt and coconut, olive and sesame oils. And there are no added sugars.
“Almost everything is organic,” Alter said, who plans to have a small market in the restaurant to sell its ghee and spice blends, as well as the soma salt.