Here I am at the garden in July, 2014. Notice the white blossoms on the vining lauki plant in the foreground. Lauki is sometimes called “white blossom squash.” Photo by Thomas Egenes

It’s been a bumper gardening year, with rains coming throughout June and July and the cucumber and zucchini and other squashes growing to Findhorn sizes. After last year, when torrential rains washed out our seeds and roly-poly’s (pill bugs) mowed down our zucchini seedlings overnight, we had to replant so many times that many gardeners in our campus community garden, which is all organic, gave up for the season.

So this is like winning a big prize. “Free food,” my husband chirps when I haul in bags overflowing with kale, chard, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli.

“I call it our loot,” says my friend Dianne happily. She and her husband Rod joined the garden this year, added heaps of soil to already fertile beds, planted a few seeds and seedlings, and it’s taken off big-time.

Dean Goodale, who established a one-acre greenhouse north of campus and now gardens on his own, tells me that the reason our tomato, zucchini and cucumber plants are Findhorn-size this year is because the abundant rains have kept us from having to use the tap water. He says he tested the soil of eight gardens in our area last year, and they all had a high sodium content, from the water treatment system here in Fairfield. The sodium especially affects the squashes, cucumbers and somewhat the tomatoes.

If anything, I and my gardening partner, Charlotte Judge, didn’t plant enough this year. We planned on planting an extra garden along the fence, but ran out of time.

Thinking it would be another year like last year, we skipped the zucchini and went straight to the bottle gourd, a long, thin, light-green vegetable that our Indian friends call Lauki squash. Lauki is a highly revered vegetable in Ayurveda, known to balance liver functioning and help with weight loss, urinary disorders, and even is said to prevent premature graying of hair.

Last summer's lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

Last summer’s lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

It’s commonly found in Indian vegetable curry dishes and also can be juiced. It has other names: opo squash, long white gourd, white pumpkin, Benares pumpkin, or dudhi in India, calabash in Asia, kakunsa or cucuzza in Italy, fuzzy squash in Canada, and slaouia in Morocco.

The best part is that it has slightly stinky leaves that fended off the sow bugs last year. In fact, it was our star performer, with the two plants vining around the edge of our garden producing at least 30 huge gourds as big as baseball bats, which, unlike zuchhini, tasted better as they grew bigger.

Our Indian friends, in fact, asked us not to pick them young and green but to wait until they were two feet long with seeds inside. We ate them, juiced them and still had plenty to give away to friends. Charlotte dubbed them the solution to world hunger.

But alas, this year, when everyone’s zucchini is three feet tall, our two lauki plants have yet to produce a single vegetable. We’ll see. Lauki grows slower and shines in the later part of summer, when zucchini falls prey to the dread root borer.

One thing I’ve found consistent—that every year is different. One year it was the bush beans that stunned us with their output, the next the beans barely blossomed and the chard was a star. This year the timely rains have created a bumper crop of cucumber, kale, tomatoes (and other people’s zuchini). Oh well.

Lauki also tastes great as an Italian vegetable, and can be substituted for zucchini in any dish. It melts in your mouth. Here’s how I prepare it when I’m planning an Italian meal:


Mint-Anise Lauki Squash, Italian Style


½ lauki gourd, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 T chopped fresh mint

2 T chopped fresh anise hyssop leaves

2 T butter or olive oil

Steam the lauki squash. Melt the butter or olive oil on low heat, add the herbs and lauki and toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.



Dilled Beans—a light cooling side dishEating local foods in season is all the buzz these days, the smart way to support the environment and the local economy. Yet according to ayurveda, the traditional health care system of ancient India, eating seasonal foods is also the best way to prevent disease.

Food is Medicine

As every Iowan knows, each season brings a dramatic change in temperature and humidity. In ayurveda there are only three seasons: the cold and dry fall/ winter (Vata season), the cool and wet spring (Kapha season), and the hot summer (Pitta season).

“As any particular season wears on, imbalances start building in your body, and if these imbalances are not addressed, they can get more rooted in the physiology and become a chronic condition,” says Dr. Sankari Wegman, an ayurvedic expert at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center, a world-class spa  in Maharishi Vedic City that serves organic, locally-grown vegetables, fruits and herbs from the city’s farm and greenhouses for its clients’s meals, and to the public for Sunday brunch.

According to ayurveda, by the end of summer, your body becomes, well, hotter. It’s more susceptible to heat rash, skin breakouts, and fatigue. And because the mind, body and emotions are connected, the mounting heat can be expressed as irritability and anger. More serious health problems resulting from too much heat in the body include ulcers, eczema and heartburn.

The ayurvedic solution is simple: use your food as medicine.

“If during summer you eat foods that are the opposite of hot, such as cooling, light foods, you can reduce the heat in your body,” says Dr. Wegman. “You’ll feel cooler, and at the same time prevent serious health problems from developing.”

Six Tastes of Ayurvedic Cooking

Ayurvedic cooking is based on six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent.

  • Sweet: milk, butter, ghee (clarified butter), rice, wheat, and small amounts of raw sugar.
  • Sour: yogurt, lemon, aged cheeses and pickled foods using vinegar.
  • Salty: anything with salt.
  • Pungent: chilies, ginger, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, spicy foods
  • Bitter: leafy greens, basil, lettuce, nettle, bitter melon (available in Asian markets), Japanese eggplant, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, barley, jicama and aloe vera.
  • Astringent: lentils and other pulses, beans, tofu, quinoa, sprouts, apple, pear and pomegranate.

“In ayurvedic cooking, we include all six tastes in every meal,” says Dr. Wegman. “The problem with our modern diet is that it mostly contains only three tastes: sweet, salty and sour. Think of your average junk-food meal, and you’ll find those tastes in abundance. But because the body also craves bitter, astringent and pungent tastes, when you don’t get them in your diet, your health suffers.”

A Summer Palette of Tastes

While every ayurvedic meal includes the six tastes, the idea is to use them in different proportions depending on your individual body type and season.

In the hot summer season, for example, the ayurvedic cook includes more sweet, bitter and astringent tastes, as these are more cooling.

And just as important as the foods you include are the foods that you minimize during a particular season,” says Dr. Wegman. “In summer, you want to reduce heat by reducing the pungent, salty and sour tastes.”

Dr. Wegman also recommends seasoning your foods with mild spices and herbs during summer. “Many people find that their digestion is slower when the weather is hot, so it’s wise to eat lighter,” she says. “You can give your digestion a boost with cooling spices, such as cardamom, coriander, fennel, dill, turmeric, mint, basil, and cilantro.

Fortunately, the cooling ayurvedic foods—basil, cucumbers, summer squashes and broccoli—are the exact foods you’ll find in your own garden and farmer’s market during summer. So buy fresh, buy local, and buy what’s in season—and you’ve taken the first step to a healthy ayurvedic diet.

Ayurvedic Summer Foods Available Home-grown in Iowa:

  • Milk products: Organic milk, butter and ghee (clarified butter)
  • Fruits. Organic grapes, cherries, sweet berries, melons, plums.
  • Vegetables: Organic asparagus, cucumbers, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, fennel,  celery, okra, green beans and summer squashes like zucchini.
  • Herbs: Cilantro, mint, basil, dill.


Dilled Green Beans
(from The Raj Recipe Book, available at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center)

(serves 12–that’s kind of big, but I guess this is ideal for a summer party. I could cut it down if you need to)

  • 3 lbs. green beans
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 3 T ghee (clarified butter)
  • a pinch of aesofetida (hing) to taste
  • 1 T dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Bring water to boil and add beans. Cover and reduce heat. Cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Drain beans and plunge into cold water, strain again and set aside.

Heat ghee in a wok or frying pan, add aesofetida and cook 30 seconds. Add beans and stir occasionally until thoroughly heated. Add the dill, salt and pepper. Toss well and serve.

Fennel Soup with Watercress Purée
(from The Raj Recipe Book, available at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center)

Ingredients: (4-6 persons)

  • 1 Tbl. butter
  • 1 large leek, white part only, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large fennel bulbs, quartered and sliced
  • 2 Tbl. chopped fennel green
  • 1 medium-sized red potato, sliced or chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 6 1/2 cups cold water.

Fennel bulb served with leeks makes a sweet-tasting soup, while the watercress adds a lively flourish. Fennel is so flavorful that ther’s no need to make a stock. In fact, using water for the liquid allows the full taste of the vegetables to come forward completely unmasked.

Serve this soup with just a swirl of watercress purée or enrich with with a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter). A handful of little croutons, sauteed in butter, always adds a nice cruncy touch to puréed soups.

Wash and slice all the vegetables first. If the inner core of the fennel is tough and stringy, remove it with a paring knife, but usually even a well-developed core will be tender.

Plum Chutney
(from The Raj Recipe Book, available at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center)

The following recipe is good for pacifying Pitta dosha and makes 1 1/2 cups.

  • 1 1/2 c. red or purple plums
  • 1/2 Tbl. peeled, fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. each cloves, mace, cinnamon, coriander and turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. grape juice
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • grated peel of one orange

Dry roast the ginger root, spices and fennel seeds. Add plums, salt, juice, sugar and grated orange peel.

Raise the heat slightly, and stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook the chutney about 1/2 hour.

In ayurveda there are only three seasons: the cold and dry fall/ winter (Vata season), the cool and wet spring (Kapha season), and summer (Pitta season), which can be scorching hot.

For more information on ayurvedic cooking, visit or

(I originally wrote this article for Radish Magazine, July 2008. Reprinted with permission.)

lower cholesterol with ayurveda

photo by Linda Egenes


Are you one of 98.6 million Americans today who has elevated total blood cholesterol levels? If high cholesterol is left unchecked, you may be at risk for heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

Right, you may think. I’ve heard all this before—I should eat less fat. Yet according to Vaidya Manohar, a Maharishi AyurVeda health expert, a certain amount of fat is important for keeping the brain and body functioning properly. “Balancing cholesterol may be more a matter of eating the right kinds of fats in the right amounts for your body type,” he says.

Here are five ways to lower cholesterol with Ayurveda.

1. Reduce toxins by eating foods that lower cholesterol. The liver not only produces cholesterol, it’s also part of the digestive system. It’s the place where toxins are screened before they enter the bloodstream. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, its functioning can become impaired and toxins can enter the body.

When toxins mix with the fat tissue, it changes the quality of cholesterol. This mixing of toxins with fat tissue is the main cause of high cholesterol. There are two kinds of toxins: environmental and digestive. To avoid environmental toxins, drink pure water, avoid air pollution, and avoid exposure to harmful chemicals. Eat organic vegetables, as these are grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus protect the body from toxic overload.

The other kind of toxin is called ama, and is caused by weak or incomplete digestion. To strengthen your digestion, eat fresh whole foods and cooked foods and avoid leftover, processed, canned, or frozen foods. The way you eat also affects digestion—eat your main meal at noon, when digestion is at its peak. Eat lighter at breakfast and dinner. And try eating your meals at the same time every day—your digestion will thrive on a regular routine.

2. Avoid bad fats like the plague. Certain fats are impossible to digest and cause ama. Take the modern invention of trans fats (also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils). These have been formed by adding hydrogen to liquid fats to make them more solid, adding to shelf life and taste. Used in fast foods and most processed foods, they are blamed for rising cholesterol levels. Another kind of bad fat, saturated fats—found in butter, hard cheeses, coconut and palm oils, red meat, and chicken skin—should also be avoided. Difficult to digest, they cause imbalances in cholesterol production.

3. Eat good fats. The best good fats for nourishing the brain and body alike are olive oil and ghee. Ghee (clarified butter, made from simmering butter for an hour and separating out the milk solids) is by far the ayurvedic favorite, because it is medhya, or brain-enhancing, while also being more easy to digest. Ghee provides essential fatty acids, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It’s also practical—it can be heated at high temperatures without destroying its nutritional qualities. This makes it a good choice for baking and sautéing foods.

Olive oil is the other good fat recommended. It’s a mono-unsaturated fat that lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. But it’s important to choose cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, which means that the oil is pressed from the olives without heat or unnatural processing. This ancient method of processing doesn’t destroy the nutritional quality of the oil. It’s also important not to heat olive oil at high temperatures for cooking. If you need to heat the oil at higher temperatures, it’s better to use ghee.

4. Eat for your body type. How much fat you need depends on your body type and health needs. For people with high cholesterol, it’s usually recommended to follow a Kapha-pacifying diet and daily routine. This means avoiding sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Stay away from heavy, fried, or fatty foods, and eat very small amounts of good fats. Eat more pungent, bitter and astringent foods, such as spiced, freshly cooked green vegetables, to tone the digestion and stoke the digestive fire.

Cholesterol Lowering Spice Mixture

3 parts ground turmeric 6 parts ground cumin 6 parts ground coriander 6 parts ground fennel 2 parts ground fenugreek 1 part dried powdered ginger 1 part ground black pepper

Combine and store in a sealed container. When preparing your meal, sauté a teaspoon of spices in a small amount of a   ghee or olive oil. Combine with vegetables or grains to give them a satisfying flavor and to enhance digestion.

5. Take herbal supplements. Specific formulas used to lower cholesterol naturally help improve bile production, strengthen liver function, improve fat metabolism, and flush cholesterol from the elimination system, thus helping produce lower cholesterol levels and preventing disease.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2009. Reprinted with permission.)

How to Beat Fatigue
May 5, 2014


IMG_0020 Are you feeling mentally frazzled, emotionally stressed out, or just plain pooped? If so, you have company. Researchers report that the majority of adult Americans today suffer from stress and tiredness.

A stress-driven body and mind is the major cause of fatigue, and unfortunately, for many people this is a normal state of living in today’s hectic world. Most people have lost touch with the normal experience of “calm energy,” which is a state of low tension and high energy that allows for optimism, confidence, and the stamina necessary to enjoy success, love and happiness.

Happily, Maharishi Ayurveda is well-equipped to restore balance and combat the underlying causes of the general, stress-related tiredness that many Americans suffer from today. Here’s how to beat fatigue the natural way, with diet, exercise and herbal supplements.

Causes of Fatigue

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, fatigue is caused by overuse, misuse or no use of the mind, emotions or body. For instance, your job may be easy for you, but if you have to put in a lot of overtime, that can result in fatigue.

Misuse is doing something that is against your nature. If you are an honest person, and you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to lie or cheat, that misuse of your mental faculties could cause you to feel fatigued.

An example of physical misuse is knowing that a physical task is beyond your capability, but doing it anyway. Or perhaps your heart is very tender, and you are surrounded by people who are habitually angry—an example of emotional misuse.

Even lack of use can cause fatigue. “Use it or lose it” applies not only to the body, but to the brain and emotions as well.

The first step in correcting fatigue is to determine the cause. You can ask yourself if your fatigue is caused by physical, mental or emotional factors. And is it caused by overuse, misuse or lack of use?

Once you know which behavior is causing the fatigue, one should try to modify or stop the behavior. Become familiar with your stress-point and your own level of comfort. The solution to the problem of fatigue is found in one sentence: proper use of the mind, body and emotions.

Three Kinds of Fatigue

There is a relationship between the three doshas(mind-body operating principles) and the three main types of fatigue. Mental fatigue is associated with an imbalance in Vata dosha, emotional fatigue is caused by an imbalance in Pitta dosha, and physical fatigue is caused by an imbalance in Kapha dosha.

Ama, or impurities caused by undigested food, is a major cause of all three types of fatigue. To avoid all types of fatigue, avoid leftovers, fast foods, foods grown with chemical fertilizers or sprayed with pesticides, or packaged, canned, frozen or processed foods. And practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to gain deep rest, release mental and physical stress, and bring all three mind-body types into balance. TM is a holistic way to rejuvenate, re-energize and re-enliven your inner  intelligence, as shown by over 350 peer-reviewed research studies that report improved sleep, more energy, clearer thinking, less doctor visits, reduced blood pressure, enhanced well-being and improved mental health among people who practice the TM technique twice daily.

To burn away ama, boil two quarts of water and steep with the following herbs:

  • 3 leaves of holy basil
  • 3 leaves of mint
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1 piece of clove
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander

Drink it throughout the day. Depending on your mind-body type and imbalances, you may be more susceptible to certain types of fatigue.

How to fight fatigue

For Mental Fatigue:

For Emotional Fatigue:


For Physical Fatigue:

By consulting a physician trained in Maharishi Ayurveda, you can learn specific recommendations for restoring your natural energy levels based on your body type and imbalances.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], August 14,2012. Reprinted with permission.)


IMG_0108Americans spend millions every year on expensive power bars and shakes to power up sagging energy levels or to replenish themselves after a workout.

If you’re spending your money on power bars, you might want to consider a different approach. Power foods are not a modern invention—Ayurveda has long recognized certain foods as natural but serious energy-boosters. The list includes fresh organic fruits, vegetables, spices, and whole grains. These foods are rich in chetna, a Sanskrit word for the healing and nurturing intelligence of nature. They are foods so lively with nature’s intelligence and purity that fatigue-causing toxins are less likely to accumulate in your body when they’re eaten.

The Secret Power of Ancient Grains

Athletes have long relied on the carbohydrates and proteins in grains for long-term endurance and energy. Yet not all carbohydrates are created alike. A croissant, for instance, is high in fat and low in nutrition. The most nutritious carbohydrates are whole organic grains, which have been found to support healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels and promote a healthy immune response.

Maharishi Ayurveda considers organic rye, quinoa, amaranth and millet the most nutritious, because they are especially high in protein and minerals. They are also high in fiber, and because of that have a detoxifying value. These are the same auspicious grains that are described in the ancient Ayurvedic texts.

One-half cup of amaranth (measured dry), for instance, contains 14 grams of protein, 8 mg of iron, and also magnesium and zinc. The same amount of quinoa contains 13 grams of protein, 9 mg of iron and 3 mg of zinc. Rye is also high in protein, with one-half cup yielding 15 grams of protein and 4 mg of zinc. Millet is a good source of B vitamins. As mentioned earlier, all of them also contain carbohydrates that fuel your body for activity.

All of these grains contain copper, which is an essential trace mineral that improves energy and immunity, and their zinc content also boosts ojas, the finest product of digestion that creates lightness, inner energy, immunity and bliss.

How to Cook Power Grains

To prepare quinoa, rye, amaranth or millet, place two cups of water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add a teaspoon of organic ghee and one cup of the grain. Boil for ten minutes andthen lower to a simmer. The grain-to-water ratio is two cups of water to one cup of grain. Cook until the grain is tender (usually 20-30 minutes is enough).

High-Energy Fruits and Vegetables

Other high-energy foods include fresh organic vegetables, which should constitute forty percent of the meal. Green, leafy vegetables are especially high in minerals and fiber, so they should be eaten often.

Fruits are another great source of instant energy. You can start the day with a stewed apple, and if you feel hungry in between meals, try snacking on a ripe juicy pear. If you are feeling heavy and bloated after lunch, eat a fresh papaya as they contain enzymes that aid digestion. If you have strong digestion and more Pitta in your constitution, mangoes are a rich ojas-producing food. Half a mango contains 2 mg of beta-carotene and is a rich source of Vitamin C.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, grapes (or their dried counterpart, raisins) are among the best of fruits because they enhance sattva (purity), pacify the mind and heart, and increase the coordination between them. They are also a rich source of iron and Vitamin B6, and provide magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium. Raisins aid digestion and elimination when they are soaked in water overnight. One handful per person is a good amount. Nature’s massive source of Vitamin C and rejuvenation is Organic Premium Amla Berry. Every athlete should consider taking this incredible Ayurvedic herb. It contains five of the six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. The only taste missing is salty. These five tastes give it a holistic, balancing effect on the doshas. Very few fruits have this quality. Amalaki is also a great Rasayana, revered in the Ayurvedic tradition. Rasayanas are the cream of Ayurvedic herbal substances, and have remarkable longevity-enhancing and rejuvenative qualities. Rasayanas also create ojas—the master biochemical of beauty, immunity and connectivity—in the body.

Date-Milk Energy Shake

A Date-Milk Energy Shake is a nourishing way to end the day, because it promotes sleep and calms both Pitta and Vata sleep imbalances.
4-5 whole dates (Medjool dates are ideal. If you use large Medjool dates, one or two is more than enough.)

1 cup whole organic milk (unhomogenized if possible)
1 pinch cinnamon powder

Soak the dates for several hours. Boil the milk until it creates a foam. Turn off the heat and cool until the temperature is comfortable for drinking. Combine the milk with the other ingredients and blend until the dates are ground up. Drink it warm in winter and at room temperature in summer.

Foods that Drain Your Energy

Just as there are foods to boost energy, other foods drain it. Any fast foods as well as canned, frozen, packaged, leftover, or old foods—or foods laced with preservatives, chemicals, and additives—are difficult to digest and contain little nutritional content.

If you do eat some of these foods, and you feel heavy after eating, drink half a glass of water with 1/4 of a fresh lime squeezed into it. Or eat a tablet of Herbal Di-Gest to aid digestion. If you feel occasional indigestion or heartburn, try Aci-Balance, as it works quite quickly.

But if you’re feeling dull, sluggish, and drained of energy every day, it could mean that your diet contains too many energy-draining foods, which have clogged your microcirculatory channels with toxins, called ama in Ayurveda. This is an opportunity to upgrade your diet to include delicious foods that create more ojas and energy.

Adding Ayurvedic spices to your food is an easy way to increase the value of chetna, or nature’s intelligence. Try sautéing cumin, coriander, fennel, and turmeric in ghee, then combine with sautéed or steamed vegetables or cooked grains. Or add spices to your drinking water to boost your energy. The important thing is to eat foods every day that boost your energy, rather than relying on artificial boosters when you feel your energy sag. Try Organic Churnas specifically formulated to pacify Vata, Pitta or Kapha doshas.

Your body is a magnificent expression of engineering and has the potential to generate all the energy you want. Toxins are a big impediment in this regard. That’s because circulation goesbeyond veins and arteries to minute channels that supply nutrients and energy for all the billions of cells in your body. When these channels are clogged with digestive impurities, then fatigue can set in.Top of FormBottom of Form Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus)is a revered traditional Ayurvedic digestion-toning formula usually taken daily before bed. Organic Digest Tone balances the digestive fire, called agni in Sanskrit. Agni represents the transformative intelligence of digestion. It is a process of great importance in the Ayurvedic health model because it is linked to immunity, beauty, energy and detoxification. Balanced digestion reduces ama, or toxins, increases ojas, the finest byproduct of digestion and aids your ability to assimilate nutrients from any other supplement or food. Fatigue Free is another product that helps you recover your energy. It is a combination of Ayurvedic herbs and minerals that help move ama out, reestablish the flow of energy and quickly support the building of new cells.

Cumin-Mineral Water

Prepare this Cumin-Mineral Water drink at home to promote your energy and digestive power.
1 quart water
1/4 tsp. whole cumin
1/3 tsp. whole fennel
2 pinches of licorice
1 tablet Calcium Support 

Boil the water first. Place it in a thermos and add the spices. Sip the water throughout the day to promote digestion and support your energy. If you are a Pitta constitutional type, you may want to let the water cool to room temperature before drinking.


(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], October 18,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 


Deborah MadisonFor more than 30 years Deborah Madison has championed home-cooking that is colorful, healthy and gourmet-good. Madison, who has won the James Beard award, the Julia Child award and other awards for her cookbooks, traveled to Fairfield in May to speak at the annual EcoFair at Maharishi University of Management. It turns out that Madison has roots in Iowa—her father was born in Burlington, and she visits here yearly as a board member of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah. Her book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets was newly released in paperback in May. Here she talks to Radish readers about the book, farmers’ markets, and local foods. 

Why is buying local so important?

Deborah Madison: It’s important for a lot of reasons. Right now we’re seeing the costs of transporting food in our pocket books. But more importantly, the experience of going to a farmers’ market to buy local food is more satisfying and connecting. You see your friends, you see the people who live in your community, you see the people who grow your food, who might also be your friends.  It’s an experience of connectedness, which I think that Americans in particular are lacking.  The experience of walking down the aisle of a big supermarket with a cart is one of the saddest chores that we do, whereas going to the farmers’ market is a pleasure.

And the other reasons?

Deborah Madison: Another reason is the quality of food is so much better.  When you taste broccoli that’s fresh and picked the day before and it’s in season, it’s nothing like we get in the store. It’s sweet, it’s delicious. You’re gaining more flavor and with more flavor you’re getting more nutrition.  And for foods that need to be picked closer to their ripeness to really taste good, like figs, apricots and tomatoes—that can happen at a farmers’ market but it can’t happen in a supermarket where shipping is involved. It’s just better food, it tastes so alive.

Finally, it’s important to buy local because it’s a way of keeping money in your community, which is especially important in the rural agricultural sectors. It’s a more healthy situation for us to pay our neighbors for services instead of always seeing our money go far away to some big corporation down the road.

What were your favorite Midwestern farmers’ markets you visited while you were researching Local Flavors?

Deborah Madison:   I actually have three that I love, each very different from each other.  One was St. Paul’s, which is crowded, vibrant and bursting with an interesting combination of modern farmers and traditional Midwestern growers. I also enjoyed the Madison, Wisconsin, market, where a local chef and I started at 6:00 a.m., which helped avoid the crowds.  I loved the feeling of the market, which is situated around the perimeter of the State Capitol, with lawns and trees. The quality of the food at both markets was amazing.

The third market,  in Decorah, Iowa, is the opposite of the other two. It’s tiny but I always find many interesting things to take home, foods that we don’t have in New Mexico, whether it’s ground cherries or jams made with local fruits. It’s friendly and relaxed, with interesting people. I remember a man who had ground his own corn and it was absolutely delicious to cook with, it had so much flavor and vibrancy.

What were the most unusual locally grown fruits and vegetables that you came across in your travels across the country?

Deborah  Madison: In the St. Paul market I must have taken 150 pictures of amazing eggplants in purple or gold or with green stripes, even bright orange ones, grown by Hmong  farmers. And there was the most amazing tropical smell—it stopped me in my tracks. It turned out to be a fragrant melon called passport.

How far should we be taking the local foods movement? We can’t grow oranges in Iowa, for instance.

Deborah Madison: It’s a challenging question to think about. It’s useful to think about what should be bought locally: your lettuce should be local, for instance, as wherever you are it can be grown nearby. When it’s something that can be grown where we live, I see no excuse for getting it from California. If you can get wonderful apples in Iowa, then you don’t have to buy apples from Washington and New York State.

What can Iowans do to support the local foods movement?

Deborah Madison:  Iowans can support the local foods movement by buying foods that they know are local. There are active Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout Iowa.  Certainly if you have a farmers’ market you can support local growers there. Sometimes your local co-op will feature local food. And you can always ask for local food. We have to be active consumers. We have to buy it, speak up and ask for it.

Crostini with Roasted Eggplant and Pine Nut Puree

makes 1 cup puree

If you have a chance, make this puree using the pale green or white eggplants or the violet Rosa Bianca—all of which are delicate and sweet. You can make it all in a large mortar or a food processor.

  • 1 pound eggplant or a little more
  • olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • seas salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped opal basil, plus basil leaves for garnish
  • 12 slices toasted baguette or crackers


Preheat the broiler. Peel the eggplant and slice it into rounds about ½ inch thick. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with oil, set on a sheet pan, and broil about 6 inches from the heat until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side. When done, stack the eggplant slices so that they’ll steam and finish cooking. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over low heat until golden. (If using walnuts, toast them in the 350º oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until fragrant.)

Pound the garlic and pine nuts with ½ teaspoon salt until smooth. Coarsely chop the eggplant, then work it into a somewhat rough puree with the pestle or in a food processor. Add a little lemon juice ot sharpen the flavors, taste for salt, season with pepper, and stir in the herbs. Spread the puree on the toasted bread or crackers, garnish with a basil leaf, and pass around as an appetizer.


Redbor Kale with Red Beans, Cilantro, and Feta Cheese

Serves 4

A limited cupboard can sometimes prove an asset. I had dark red kidney beans from a California market, feta cheese, cilantro, and what seemed like an armload of Redbor kale. They worked well together, much to my surprise. In truth, any variety of kale is fine here, and so is chard and other greens, such as collards.

  • 1 ½ cups dried kidney beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon thyme leaves
  • sea salt
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 large bunch kale (see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled


Drain the beans, cover them with plenty of cold water, and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that rises to the surface, then add the herbs, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and all but ½ cup of the onion. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Slice the kale leaves from their stems with a knife. Chop coarsely into 1- or 2-inch pieces and rinse well. Bring a few quarts water to a boil; add salt and the kale. Simmer until tender 5 to 7 minutes, then pour into a colander to drain.

Heat the oil in a wide skillet. Add the remaining ½ cup onion and ½ cup of the cilantro. Cook over medium heat until the onion has softened, about 10 minutes, then add the kale and the beans with enough of the cooking liquid so that there’s plenty of sauce. Simmer together for at least 10 minutes, then serve garnished with crumbled feta cheese and the remaining cilantro.


Tomato Juice Sipped Through a Lovage Straw

Imagine having your own fresh tomato juice. Strained but not cooked, the juice has a consistency far lighter than what comes out of a can. It’s especially fine if you can sip it through the hollow stem of lovage, yet another good reason for having a lovage plant in the garden.

  • 1 pound ripe, juicy tomatoes, any color, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup ice
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 2 lovage stalks, fennel stalks, or lemon basil sprigs for garnish

Puree the tomatoes and ice in a blender, then pour through a strainer. Add a pinch of salt, some pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Let stand for a few minutes for the air bubbles to dissipate, then pour 2 glasses and serve with the lovage straws or her sprigs.

Linda Egenes is a freelance writer who enjoys her local farmers’ market in Fairfield, Iowa.

All recipes are from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Broadway Books

(I originally wrote this article for Radish Magazine, August 2008. Reprinted with permission.)