The Foxley Docket recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Keith Squires, author of vegetarian cookbook, ‘Cooking with Love’, which serves not only as a vast collection of delicious vegetarian recipes, but also as a guide to a happier, healthier lifestyle, while embodying a spiritual journey into the world of Ayurveda and its teachings. Editorial Coordinator and vegetarian Daniel James Parry finds out more.
TFD: Where are you from?
KEITH SQUIRES: I was born in Aden but then grew up in the South East in Kent, Biggin Hill in Kent actually.
TFD: How old are you?
TFD: Where did your passion for cooking begin?
KS: It began when I was about 9 years old. I just got this idea to start making cakes and bread and all that sort of thing.
TFD: Where did that idea come from?
KS: I don’t know! The first colour cookery books were coming out, a bit like mine, but this was the first one. I think it was called the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook by Mary Berry, and it really inspired me to start making some of the recipes because I could see them and they were really colourful. Luckily, my mum encouraged me, so that went really well. I used to rush off and get the ingredients and cook all the cakes and bread. It was great fun watching the bread rise and the smells.
TFD: Absolutely. The smell of baked bread is delicious, it’s like the smell of freshly cut grass, it’s an underrated pleasure, isn’t it?
KS: It is, yeah! The whole thing of getting the ingredients, making it, getting your hands in the dough and also eating it. Then I’d take it to school and all my friends used to like eating it. The Headmaster – it was quite a small school – he got really into it so I became a favourite.
TFD: I was reading up on your back story – it’s quite interesting how you and all your friends had these competitions to see who could make the best breads and cakes?
KS: That’s right! It got very competitive in the end. It was great, and then I realised that the power of food brings people together, you make friends with important people like the Headmaster!
TFD: Do you think that’s why he allowed you to tell him that he shouldn’t smoke?
KS: I think that happened before that! That built on that, actually. I think because I was sincere in what I’d said to him…
TFD: Absolutely. You told him about your grandfather who’d died, didn’t you?
KS: Yeah. He’d just died a few months before, so it was really coming from that place – he couldn’t tell me off for saying something like that, I think he was quite touched really.
TFD: Like a sentimental shield, almost?
KS: Yes! It didn’t stop him smoking though, he still carried on. I think he liked the feeling that I was concerned about him.
TFD: It got you out of a scrape or two with bullies too, didn’t it? I understand you used to run to the shop and do orders for them too?
KS: That was a bit later when I was at scouts! I’m sure it’s a bit different these days, but then, you started at 11 and there were some 15 year old boys there – it wasn’t too bad but they liked to mess around a bit during the breaks. I used to take the orders, go up to the chip shop, buy chips, and that filled in all the breaks. All the big guys loved me after that, so if anybody ever picked on me, the biggest guy would say “Oi, leave him alone, he gets us really nice chips!”
It was just such a joy doing it – it wasn’t out of fear, it was out of kindness. It was such a great feeling, and that’s what I’ve experienced ever since when cooking at the Dru Yoga Centre. It’s actually a great joy to cook for people, but it’s great when they eat it. It’s such an interaction, and you get such a nice feeling from it and you get a lot of appreciation from it. It’s good to give back.
TFD: The main residential centre is in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales – what is it about the Snowdonia National Park? Why did you decide to set up there and what do you feel such an iconic location adds to your cooking and recipes?
KS: Some of the people who started it, they were students in Bangor and they just loved the location. I think when you first come there, because I grew up in the South East, I remember the first time driving up the A5 and getting into the Snowdonia area, the actual mountains, I didn’t realise there are places like that. It’s such an inspiring location. We started off the Dru Yoga there, and that’s the site where it all happens. I do all the cooking there and all the guests come for the yoga, but some of them just come for the food. I think it’s great to do some yoga in between. What is amazing and what’s quite incredible is that when people come, they have such an amazing experience because they’ve got nature which helps, it’s so inspiring and peaceful and they just want to go outside, and then they’ve got the yoga. The yoga people are really, really friendly, they’ve got fantastic food of course and by the end of the weekend, they’re absolutely glowing. They come in with all their normal stresses and strains and leave feeling enriched and nourished on all levels. The food is part of it, but it’s friendship as well, it’s how it’s cooked and how they eat it and it’s the yoga – it’s a perfect combination, really.
TFD: On that note, I’d really like to talk about Dru Yoga. Can you tell us a bit more about this? How did your own personal introduction to Ayurveda happen? What do the Ayurvedic Principles consist of, and what was it about the Ayurvedic way of life that appealed to you?
KS: I just got the idea that I wanted to go to Yoga class, and I happened to go to the one that was run by this team who were heading up the centre, and I just found it very – not just nice exercise, but as I slowed down and did the moves and relaxation, my mind just became very peaceful and calm, and then I felt happy. It’s an amazing feeling, we look for happiness everywhere, don’t we? We get it from money or from the things we want or from becoming successful, it’s ups and downs isn’t it? Sometimes you’re high, sometimes you’re low. We did this beautiful movement – Dru Yoga is a bit like Yoga Tai Chi if you like. We were doing that, and I just felt so at peace and so content in myself. It was an amazing feeling, I knew really that’s what I’m looking for in life. I want to do all the wonderful things like we’re doing, all our projects and everything, but to have that feeling as well. The dru yoga is like normal yoga, but it’s not just an exercise. We do an activation, then we do some yoga postures – they’re always one way and then the other so it’s very, very balancing. We’ve got different sequences, and we have the Dru Yoga sequences. They’re almost like Tai Chi movement using yoga, so it really calms you down and energises you and makes you feel peaceful in yourself. It’s hard to describe really, unless you experience it, but we can see the results, because when people come, they look very stressed with all sorts of things that might be worrying them, but by the time they leave on Sunday, they really are glowing, and I’d say that’s a combination of the yoga, the food and the nature and the people that are there.
TFD: What do the Ayurvedic principles consist of?
KS: Ayurveda is very connected with yoga, they’re really part of the same system. Ayurveda on one level, it’s a complete form of medicine – it includes everything – surgery, herbs, drugs, everything like you expect from a medical system. But it’s also something you can use in everyday life as well. The main thing is that it talks about people are different, so it doesn’t treat everyone as the same. One of the key things is it talks about constitution types, it recognises all the slightly different constitution types. So some people are a very fiery constitution type, that means they’re very dynamic, they like to get things done and they like to get things finished, they make really good managers or people who are doing some quite demanding jobs, and then you get people who are more of an air constitution, they’re more creative and artistic and have lots of ideas – they’re very good at doing things like media, artwork and music, that sort of thing. The third constitution is much more grounded, they’re very salt of the earth, doing things like farming and work with their hands, things like cooking, so that’s the three basic personalities and types. They’re the three Doshas – it’s a little bit more complicated than that, we’re a mixture of those three, so you’re not normally just one or the other. But from that, it gives you an idea of what sort of food would work for you, and what sort of yoga would work for you best. It gives you a good idea of what’s good for you.
TFD: How do you feel people can apply these doshas to their daily life, and of the three that you’ve just spoken about, which do you feel personally applies to you most?
KS: That’s a good question! Really it’s something that you can apply on a daily basis. In the morning, you might wake up and feel a bit heavy and what they call ‘kapha’, so then you need to do things to get you going, you might do a little bit of exercise or have some breakfast, maybe something not too heavy, and then by lunchtime you might be feeling fiery, more ‘pitta’, so you’re rushing around trying to get things finished off, and then you might need to do something like have a break or something to eat – anything to calm down that part of you. Then in the afternoon you might be feeling more ‘vata’, more spaced out, then you need to do something else that nourishes you as well, so it’s quite a dynamic thing, really. The main thing is that yoga balances the three constitution types, it’s actually designed to do that, you don’t really need to know how, it was just designed that way. It has forward and backward bends so they balance you, it has standing and sitting postures so they balance you – you’re doing something strenuous, but you also do something relaxing. The whole process is designed for people – you get people who come in and they might be too stressed or overweight, but by the end of it, everyone is feeling balanced in themselves.
TFD: You’re a passionate advocate of Anna Yoga too?
KS: Ana Yoga, that really goes into how the food is made as well. In nutrition, we just look at one thing – is that healthy or not? It’s a very Western way of thinking. So you might think broccoli is healthy, so “I’ll eat more broccoli, I’ll juice it, I’ll smoothie it” or you might think “quinoa is healthy”, but what anna yoga, and Ayurveda’s about, is how you put that food together so it’s really going to suit you. For example, raw broccoli isn’t so good for someone with a vatta constitution type. The Ayurveda would look at how food is prepared – it’s all about using the spices and cooking methods and the way you mix ingredients together so it’s very, very nourishing. So Ayurveda, if anything, is much more focused on the health of the digestive system, because they say, ‘you’re as healthy as your digestive system’, so you might think “I’ll make myself kale – that’s healthy. I’ll make a kale smoothie, add some almond milk, whizz it all up and drink a whole gallon of it”, but in Ayurveda, they’d say “well yeah it’s healthy on paper but what’s it doing to your digestive fire?”
The meals are designed to stimulate your digestion and absorption. It’s about the time you eat too, so Ayurveda would say you should eat a little bit in the morning because you’ve been sleeping, but midday is an important time to eat. An Ayurvedic doctor said to me, “I make my total living out of Westerners who skip lunch or rush down a sandwich while they’re driving or on the phone trying to make money, that totally imbalances them and that’s why they come to me!”
So that’s the Ayurvedic side of it, that’s the food itself. Then of course the anna yoga looks at how you eat it – what we’d probably call mindful eating. It’s just saying what our grandparents told us – don’t rush your food, sit down and eat it properly. The first thing is sit down and eat it properly, enjoy it and savour the taste, Ayurveda calls it ‘The Cooking of the Six Tastes.’ You actually taste the flavours, those flavours have an effect on your body. As you taste the sour taste, it’s affecting your liver. If you just rush it, you’re not savouring those tastes, they’re not having the same effect, and also of course it’s not being masticated properly. Then you don’t need too much, either. It’s not just healthy food, it’s looking at how we combine it, how much of it we eat, what time we eat it, how we eat it, and the real secret in Anna Yoga which people in the West may not realise at all is that it’s how you cook the food. That’s what Ayurveda and Anna Yoga say. If someone makes it and they’re in a rush or they’re angry, then that affects the quality of the food. That must be a stretch for some Western people to think, but when you think of your mother’s food, it always opens you up a little bit – it was always homemade, warm and enjoyable. So the anna yoga says that if the food is someone doesn’t want to cook, or someone is getting home and they don’t enjoy doing it, then the result, people aren’t going to enjoy it either and it won’t nourish them as much as someone who really enjoys cooking. If you go to a good chef, you could give everyone the same recipe, but a good chef will make that food into something special, and that’s because they have a lot of passion and enjoyment for cooking, and that’s what you’re experiencing really. So the anna yoga, it’s lots of little things put together that make a big difference, it’s not just one thing. I suppose us Westerners are always looking for one thing we can do that’s going to work, but in Ayurveda, it’s lots of little things together that can make a big difference to your health. A big part of Ayurveda is prevention – it’s not just about going to an Ayurvedic doctor when you’re sick and getting a herbal pill. What they’re saying is that if you put into place all these small things like sleeping at the right time, getting up at the right time, eat at the right time, go for a little walk, do a little yoga, it can make a big difference to your long term health and whether you get disease – that’s the thing really. It’s much easier to prevent, that’s the whole idea.
TFD: In your personal opinion, how do you feel this enhances the whole dining culture and process?
KS: It just gives you awareness. Ayurveda isn’t about strict rules, that’s another thing as well, it doesn’t say to be too strict, like when you eat something and you feel really guilty or you think ‘I can’t eat it’ or you see a bit of bread and butter and think ‘that’s poison’ – it’s really talking about, make 80% of your food really healthy. It gives you an idea of, nowadays we can eat any time of the day, in the middle of the night if you want to – it used to be regulated, people ate at certain times, and really Ayurveda is saying that too – it’s saying lunch is important because that’s when your digestion is at its strongest. Little things like that, and then having a little bit of knowledge of what sort of foods work for you – does spicy food work for me? Does salad work for me? Does juicing work for me? Am I better off with stews? That sort of thing, so you get an idea of what type of food works for you. But what you do find is when people do yoga regularly, they start getting more sense of what sort of food is good for them. In Ayurveda, they say ‘like attracts like and balances opposite‘, so what that means is if you’re stressed, you tend to do things that make you more stressed. If you’re rushing around and you’ve got a lot of pitta and you’re trying to get things done, the most likely things you’re going to go for is some coffee, or you might go for a sweet treat or something that’s quick to eat or something very spicy – it’s just going to make you more like that. But when you do yoga and you practice it regularly, it calms you down and then you start discriminating more. Then at lunchtime, you start to think that you’re not going to eat fast food or a liquid lunch, you’re going to have something a bit more nourishing. What we find is when people do yoga, they start finding the Ayurvedic lifestyle without actually realising it! It does help to have the bit of Ayurvedic knowledge as well, so it covers a lot of things. It’s really a lifestyle, not something that takes you away from what you’re doing. You can carry on with whatever your job is or whatever your family is, it’s things you can fit around that.
TFD: I’d like to go into your travel background – you spent time in India, and here you were introduced to Jalaram Bapa, the Feeding Saint. He’s a philanthropist, he fed the poor and the sick with produce from his father’s food. In what ways do you try to channel Jalaram’s teachings and way of life in your approach to cooking and the Ayurvedic principles?
KS: Anyone who’s Gujerati would have heard of him. The thing we can take from that that would translate into the modern day would be generosity. That’s what he was really known for – he set up a centre where the food was free, so people could come if they were hungry and they could get food there, or even if they were rich, they could get food there, it wouldn’t matter – anyone could come. But whenever he gave the food, it was always with a lot of generosity, it’s an example of that, the power of that, so food is a good way to show that generosity and share it. It was also done with a lot of love as well. In Ayurveda, they don’t actually call it love, they call it ‘prema’ – that means the nice feeling you add to it, like a personal contribution, it adds something special to the meal, I can’t describe it in a scientific or western way – it’s just like when you’re at home and your grandma or your mother or your father made you your favourite meal, it’s something very nurturing, there’s something very special about it. It comes back to the sentimental connection present in food, the connection between the person who’s making it and the person who’s eating it. That’s what the anna yoga is about – being aware of that connection. When I cook at the centre, I try and put my best feelings into it – it may sound funny, but that’s what anna yoga is about. That’s what Jalaram did, he did it in a big way because thousands of people came every day so he became very well known. They came to his place, they ate the food and then they felt different, so that was the experience they all had.
TFD: When you’re hosting your classes and workshops and things, do you feel that you’re channelling Jalaram’s teachings and his sense of generosity and sense of prema?
KS: Yeah, we try to! We’re very down to earth – I think what we’re offering is lots of little things. We teach people some simple yoga that they can do in their everyday life, so it might be a little bit of what we call ‘pranayama’, which is breath work – that’s something very practical. Breathing is a very big part of it, we try to keep everything very down to earth, very practical really, so people can do it without doing a major lifestyle change. We show them some simple movement techniques that you can do in five minutes, like what’s known as The Breath of Arjuna, where you stretch up, breathe in, and exhale as your hands come down. it’s very, very calming too as you feel your feet on the earth, it’s very centering. We also do some breathing techniques like alternate nostril breath, and that’s the fastest way to calm you down. So we show you that, then we show you some simple food that you can make very easily at home that’s simple to make but very healthy and vegetarian-based. People don’t have to be vegetarian, my experience is that that’s quite a big jump for a lot of people, who may just say “I don’t want to do it” and that’s it. We prefer a gradual transition, so we’d say maybe have one meal a week that’s vegetarian, or make vegetarian the main part of the meal and have some meat on the side, so we try to slowly encourage people in the direction of eating more of a plant-based diet, which is much healthier for them and a lot better for the environment as well.
TFD: Are you a vegetarian yourself?
I am! All the food at the centre is vegetarian, so when you get there, it’s like a haven – you forget totally, so when people get there, they’re a bit worried, they say “oh my gosh, it’s all vegetarian!”, but the food is so nice and there’s so much of it, and the different sorts of things. There’s cakes and everything you could want, then people just forget, and ask how we make this and that, that’s why we made the book, really. We wanted to write it down for everyone, with a bit of flavour behind the philosophy of it, so that’s the main things we try to do in our workshops. We teach them about Ayurveda so they can understand themselves a bit and understand other people too. People with a pitta imbalance can become impatient, and maybe even a little bit angry, so if you see this in yourself and in other people, then you know they’re imbalanced, as opposed to “I’ve done something wrong” or “they don’t like me” or you feel the need to defend yourself, then you know they need to calm down a little bit or do some breathing. They don’t normally like that suggestion, mind… There’s a lot to it, really!
When we do meditational yoga, sometimes we do something called meta yoga, which is known as the friendship yoga, and the first thing always, is to love yourself. Whatever’s happened to you, whatever has brought you here, it’s brought you to this point in your life, which is great really, so you’ve just got to love yourself. Then in a very natural way, try and send the love and appreciate the people around you. After you practice a bit, you start sending that friendship to the people who maybe you don’t like that much, or who have done something that maybe wasn’t very nice to you, and that creates a sense of forgiveness. We try to keep it very much grounded and practical for people, and for them to not have to take on any too far out concepts as much as possible, and just experience it really. Yoga is always great the first time you experience it.
TFD: Was your choice to become a vegetarian spiritual or an ethical/moral decision?
KS: For me, this was back in the late 1970s, and then, not many people were vegetarian and it wasn’t something normal you could just do. One of my friends was a vegetarian at that time, and I was eating a chicken leg, and they just remarked “you know what that is, don’t you? It’s the leg of an animal”, and I looked at it, and something in me just changed. It’s something I’d been thinking about as a child – a lot of children have that issue, don’t they? They love animals and then they get to realise that meat is an animal, and then eventually you can segregate your mind, so you think “these animals are cuddly are nice and we cuddle them, and these animals we eat”, but I never felt fully comfortable with that sort of thing. To be honest, when I stopped eating meat, I felt much more integrated as a person, from my own experience. I’m very careful not to judge anyone, I don’t go into that – if people want to eat meat, that’s completely fine.
TFD: In your cooking, how important is British produce in your recipes, and where are these ingredients sourced from?
KS: Ayurveda comes from India, but really, what they say is eat local and seasonal food, what nature is providing at any one time of year, that’s what’s best for you. So you might not think it, but something like Scotch Broth is Ayurvedic, it has lots of the winter vegetables in, it has barley in and all that sort of thing, so as far as possible. We do cook Indian food as well, because the spices are quite good Ayurvedically, and it’s a great form of Asian cooking because Asian people would be more vegetarian – it’s a great form of vegetarian cooking. We use a lot of local ingredients – we’ve got our greengrocer here, he has local farmers growing produce, we use an abundance – 50% of our food is locally sourced vegetables, and then cheeses of course, we have all the local Welsh cheeses, which are amazing as well.
TFD: Are the vegetables dotted in and around North Wales?
KS: Yeah, we’ve got a grower in North Wales, he’s contracted from the local farmers to grow vegetables for him, so as much as possible, he brings them. He’s got leeks, cabbages, that sort of thing, but the shortfall is then he has to get from the vegetable market. That comes from Liverpool market, so that’s grown around the Liverpool area with all that sort of produce. Some things that we need to have to share with everyone are imported, so lemons, oranges, sweet potatoes, which are an absolute gift if you’re a vegetarian – butternut squash, you can’t go wrong. A lot of it comes from around Liverpool/Lancashire growers, I suppose it’d be. We see a lot of Lancashire on sacks of potatoes and things like that. So yeah, local is best. That’s the Ayurvedic principle – it isn’t about eating all imported Indian food, it’s saying that whatever’s growing in your local environment, nature is giving you the right things for that time of year.
TFD: What health benefits do you feel are offered by a vegetarian diet?
KS: Basically, all health benefits. In the Ayurvedic lifestyle, your body works very hard to stay balanced and healthy, and our job is really to assist that process. The idea of disease in Ayurveda is that it’s a bit like a pan of milk boiling over – we’ve all had the experience where you put the milk to boil and nothing happens for ages, and then suddenly it boils over, there’s a huge mess. Our health is a little bit like that – for ages, we can do all sorts of things and food is part of it, so we can eat junk food, we can eat lots of meat, we can get stressed, we can drink too much alcohol and not sleep enough and get angry, and our body is quite good for another 20/30 years, but what’s happening is all that agitation is the heat under the saucepan, and after a while, it all boils over and that’s the disease. It seems to come suddenly, but it’s not really coming suddenly at all though, it’s been building up over time. So the whole idea of Ayurveda is you eat very simple, very rustic food, so say something like, you could look at Mediterranean diet. The people there have lots of vegetables and might have had some of their country cooking, or peasant cooking – the people who didn’t have much money. They might’ve eaten meat but maybe as a luxury. They’d have lots of beany dishes, maybe some stews and olives and salad – it’s that simple, what they call in Italy ‘poor cooking’ – Povera cottura. People didn’t have a lot of money, so they’d eat lots of simple, vegetable foods which came from the local environment. It’s the same here, like I mentioned Scotch broth, that’s a good example in Winter – the foods that are growing are the heavy vegetables – swedes and carrots and potatoes, and barley is a winter crop. You can make some lentils or something like that, then boil it all up and make a wonderful stew out of it. It’s very nourishing, winter food and it really nourishes you, so that’s the idea really. If you do start getting a particular illness, you can use diet and lifestyle and particular herbs in a more specific way to deal with that.
TFD: What are some of your vegetarian ‘go-to’ dishes, and what are some of your favourite vegetarian dishes?
KS: I just like really simple foods, like a wonderful soup. You can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes and butternut squash; they may not be totally local, but they’re great, and all your winter vegetables as well, so just make a wonderful soup out of them. You start it off with a bit of butter, add some stock, so vegetarian cooking stock is really important because it maintains the flavour of the vegetables – too much water dilutes it. A good stock powder, or make your own stock, and then I just puree all that, and I love that! I just love those simple dishes – there’s a wonderful Ayurvedic dish, as I said, I mentioned Scotch broth, I just love that because I love the barley, I love the lentils, I love all the vegetables. Another one is Kitchari, which is an Indian dish, it comes from Ayurveda, and that’s when you cook the lentils and rice together. What they say is, as you cook it together, it makes it even more digestible than when it’s cooked separately. You also add some delicious spices and that is a really good breakfast food, you can have it at lunchtime too with some vegetables, and that lentils and rice cooked together is called Kitchari. It’s very nourishing, very easy to digest.
TFD: I’d like to talk about some of your media appearances. You’ve made television appearances as far afield as Greece and India; how do you feel you’ve become enriched as a person and as a chef from these journeys?
KS: The first one I did was, I worked at a place called Ryton Organic Gardens, it’s an organic gardening place down near Coventry, they had a café there so we used to get all the organic food from the ground. The lady who was running it, she was on the local BBC and she invited me to come in and do a cookery demo on the radio. So I got the idea that as it’s on radio, we wouldn’t need to actually cook anything, I’d just make the right noises, I took a few things to chop – it all worked alright! The presenter had to buy into it a little bit because we were supposed to be making this quiche. I had an egg, so I cracked an egg. I’d say “now I’m just rolling out the pastry”, so it was all a bit pretend, then I’d say “I’m just putting some herbs in” and then I’d ‘put it in the oven’. We waited for a while then ended up tasting it saying how delicious it was – so that was quite a lot of fun. After that, they said I had to do it properly, which was harder actually. I think the main thing about media is, in some ways, the media is used to damage people, but on the other hand, it’s a great way to get this really important message out. We’re really passionate about what we’re doing, so it’s great to let a wider audience know about the benefit of Ayurveda, the benefit of yoga, simple things they can just incorporate into their everyday life, being more vegetarian. It’s such a great, positive message that we’d like to share.
TFD: When you were in Greece and India and places like that, did you come across any new recipes or approaches to food you hadn’t encountered before? Maybe some of the locals might have introduced you to things you hadn’t tasted before?
KS: Yeah, definitely. Wherever you go, you get that, especially in some of these Mediterranean countries. I just went to Malta, we took a group out there and we’re doing yoga out there, we’re teaching them about Ayurveda, but then I looked at the local Maltese food. You always get the sort of food that they have in for the tourists, they’ll have grilled meat or it’ll be fried, a lot of English breakfast for British people and all that, but then when you get out and get the real Maltese recipes, they have something called Widow’s Stew. It’s called this because it was traditionally made by a widow, maybe somebody who didn’t have much money, and it’s a very simple stew made from the vegetables that they would have – any old vegetables can go in it. Then they’d have the broad beans, because they have broad beans there. They’d make this stew, and with that, they’d have the cheese that came from Gozo – sheep’s cheese, and it was totally raw. It’s really simple food, and you find that in Greece as well. You’ve got this very simple cooking, like if you stay in the tourist resort, it’s all the tourist food, but once you go in the hills and meet the farmers, they’re quite old, 80 or 90, and still working away. They eat this very simple, rustic food, like a nice chunk of bread and some olive oil that they’ve pressed from their olives, and a nice soup that they’ve made from vegetables. It’s just simple food, but actually that simple rustic food, what they call frugal food, is very healthy. The Ancient Romans knew that, the Ancient Greeks knew that, Ayurveda knows that. It’s simple but hearty, you live a long time and you don’t get so many illnesses and actually, the people are happier. They don’t have the high blood sugar and everything like that. In India, every area has its own cuisine, and it’s the home of vegetarian cooking if you like, because people there, they weren’t vegetarian for economic reasons. There’s a whole concept of what’s called Ahimsa – it means non harming, it’s very much a core of their Hindu philosophy. So that’s why they’re vegetarian, actually. It’s quite normal to be vegetarian over there, they might have a non-vegetarian option but that’s about it. Every region has its own cuisine, in South India you’ve got the Dosa, which is this pancake made from fermented Urad beans and rice, and it’s fermented. The fermentation makes it more digestible like a good cheese or a good yoghurt or something like that. They make this pancake out of it, and then they fill it with spicy potato, then there’s a spicy sauce and coconut chutney. Any region or village you go to, they have their own local dish. But the main thing is that when you go to someone’s house in India, they’re very generous and look after you. The food is always made with love as well, and that makes the difference.
TFD: How do audiences across the world react to your cooking?
KS: If I go somewhere like, I got invited to Greece to do a series of workshops on how restaurants and hotels could be vegetarian, I really try to look up what they’re already doing, what’s their local traditional cuisine and how do we build on that and use their recipes? I’d always do that, and then maybe if I go to India, they already know that, they’re all vegetarian there, but maybe they’d be interested in some different Western type recipes so then I’d introduce stir fry or a nice vegetable sauce with some nice broccoli or something like that. Generally, I try and work on what they’re already doing. If I’m working with an individual and they want to eat more vegetarian food, then I look up what they’re already eating and how we can make that more vegetarian.
TFD: What are your thoughts on the Quorn culture? As someone passionate about Ayurveda, where do you stand on that?
KS: I think it’s great to a certain extent – it can be a good half way house. I think people like a treat as well – I notice that when I’m in a café or something and people get this big breakfast, they’re so happy! It’s such a treat. Ayurveda would say not to be too strict, I’m like that myself – I just think “I really fancy a big veggie breakfast!”. I sit there hoping people don’t come in who know me, because I’d be sat there with my hash browns and quorn sausage etc. I think it’s brilliant as a transition, and I think it’s great to ween everyone off, and then if we’re varying that with the really natural type food as well. Generally in Ayurveda, they prefer the simple, rustic cooking. But it takes a little while to get used to that, so it’s a good start, and a very tasty one too. We’re so lucky in that vegetarians have so much choice, then you have all the vegetables from all over the world, then you can have the local things too, and all the superfoods too. There’s so much choice! Quorn is a very good starting place, and it’s where everyone starts. You don’t have to miss out on any of your favourite things. We all need that – you can’t be too strict about your diet, that’s a mistake so many people make. They get too strict and think “I’m going to give up wheat”, and unless you have an allergy or something, and then it becomes more and more, eating less things and get very uptight about it. I think now and then, you have to have a good blowout and really enjoy yourself.
TFD: To summarise, taking everything we’ve spoken about into account, the title of your book is ‘Cooking with Love’. How would you sum up cooking with love?
KS: There’s a number of things that we’re trying to get across, but I think the main thing is just healthy eating, loving yourself. It’s all about love, loving yourself by eating healthily, then we’ve introduced a whole lifestyle of Ayurveda where you can incorporate yoga and meditation and knowing yourself a bit better. There’s all sorts of information out there about ‘what is healthy?’, and it can get very confusing. They can contradictory – Ayurveda tends to say “if you’re this sort of person, then this sort of food is going to suit you. If you’re experiencing this health problem, then this food” and tries to put it in a structure without being too rigid. So there’s that and then basically we look at all the different ingredients you want to use, we try to make it entertaining – there are stories so it’s an enjoyable read, then we introduce the whole idea of anna yoga, how you eat, really enjoying your food, and being really grateful that this wonderful meal has made its way to you. Then of course, cooking with love is what it says on the cover – it is a book you can judge by its cover, it says ‘cook with love’ as well, and that’s something I’ve experienced as I’ve cooked for all these people over the years. If I do it with love, then the result is always a lot better.
TFD: What’s for the future of Keith Squires and Cooking with Love?
KS: We’re just carrying on what we’re doing and what we’re passionate about – the workshops, letting people know about our book, but it’s also being printed in Australia. We’ve been invited out and we’ll have a whole team out there, so we’ll be going out there later in the year. We live in a wonderful place, but there, it’s beautiful. You go to one place and meet so many people, so we’re really looking forward to that. We’re going to India too, hoping to generate a bit of interest there, really. But I suppose that’s a bit like taking coles to Newcastle, taking Ayurveda to India, but I think they like to see someone enthusiastic about it from a different culture, really appreciating what they value in their lives. We’ve got lots we’re up to!
We’re really passionate about adding these ideas to people’s lives – we can really help them feel better in themselves, and feel healthier and happier!
For more information on Keith Squires, Cooking with Love, and the Ayurvedic way of life, visit https://keithonfood.com/
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