Vegging Out at Nimai’s Bliss Kitchen, Newburgh

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If you think vegetarian cuisine is nothing but salads you haven’t stopped by Nimai’s Bliss Kitchen. Located in Newburgh, on 94 South Robinson Avenue, the two room restaurant features an Ayurvedic menu made up of vegetarian and vegan fare. Along with a lunch buffet and Thali specials, diners can choose from an array of entrees, pizzas, wraps, soups, and fresh juices. Founded by Manish, Mehul, and Ashik Raval, doctors of pediatrics and internal medicine, the restaurant opened last year and provides a healthier option to those willing to venture from the land of meat and potatoes.

On the day of our visit we come to find the buffet open and the entire Raval family enjoying lunch together. They do this every day. Hari, the manager, is kind enough to offer us a meal. Once a business student, he now studies nutrition, spending his free time whipping up potential new additions to Nimai’s menu. He makes for us what he’s thinking of calling the Chaat Dosa, a take on the fermented Indian staple.

We don’t want him to feel obligated to feed us but we must admit, we are hungry, especially after watching him pour the lentils and brown rice batter onto the griddle to make a thin crispy crepe. Instead of potatoes he fills it with cauliflower, unripened green papaya, peppers, sev noodles, bits of crushed samosa, and a tamarind sauce.

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The creation is a beast but we eat every last bite, overcome by the combination of savory and sweet flavors that explode with  just the right amount of heat. It’s incredible. “You have to put this on the menu,” we say.

Hari takes us to the back dining room where we are soon joined by Ashik, his father. Together they create a picture of the inception of Nimai’s and the future they are trying to build for it.

The data is out. Colon cancer or heart disease won’t happen or rarely will happen when you’re not ingesting animal fat and animal protein

“At our home or business meetings we’d bring our food,” Ashik says of how the idea for the restaurant began. “Everyone enjoyed it but didn’t have the access.”

But it was more than that. As a doctor, he was afforded the opportunity to discuss at length the connection between health and food with his patients. “The data is out,” he says. “Colon cancer or heart disease won’t happen or rarely will happen when you’re not ingesting animal fat and animal protein.” If you would like to read the studies about the link between meat consumption and disease, please visit here, here, and here.

While Ashik found that most of his patients were aware of the benefit of a plant based lifestyle few were clear on  how to adopt it without disrupting their lives. By 2008, determined to share the medicinal powers of food, he and his family decided that there needed to be a “practical alternative” for those who were not only looking to experiment with a new way of eating but whose health may depend on it. The goal was to offer nourishing and balanced meals that were not only affordable but promoted healing in the body while satisfying taste. “Nobody takes medicine with happiness,” Ashik points out. “But people want to eat every day.”

The food offered at Nimai’s Bliss Kitchen is based on Ayurveda philosophy. “Ayu means life in Sanskrit and Veda means scripture,” explains Hari. “Basically it’s a scripture dedicated to health and well-being in ancient India.”
According to Ayurveda, people have three doshas or faults in the body known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata refers to the nervous system, Pitta the digestive and Kapha, fluids. It is believed that when illness arises it is because of one of these three elements. “It’s a very complex and ancient literature,” Hari says. “But there are principles that people can benefit from.”

At Nimai’s Bliss kitchen these principles translate into some sumptuous and creative fare, like their Undhiyoo, a vegetable dish made of seasonal vegetables and cooked in a clay pot or their Kofta Poodla, a chickpea crepe filled with cabbage and carrot dumplings, grilled zucchini, peppers, a special sauce and a sprinkle of smoked Gouda, served with Indian Cole Slaw. The restaurant also offers catering.

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To further educate the public on these principles, as well as to support mindful cooking at home the restaurant offers Ayurvedic cooking classes on Tuesday and Friday evenings.  For $15 dollars students are able to learn fundamentals of Ayurveda, create and eat a meal, as well as sample the buffet.

There’s no lack of variation when it comes to vegetarian

For some, offering a restaurant without an ounce of beef or chicken (not even fish) would be business suicide but the Raval family has stuck to their guns about keeping it a meat free zone. “Most of our [medical] problems are because of our diet,” Ashik says on why they won’t stray from their Ayurvedic menu. And it’s working thus far. Customers, both vegetarian and carnivore, have been coming through the doors, some eager to have a place that caters to their diet and others out of curiosity.“There’s no lack of variation when it comes to vegetarian,” Hari says. The restaurant sources food locally, building its menu based around the season. Most of their dairy  comes from Gita Nagari Organic Farm, which has a non-slaughter dairy herd that is allowed to live and produce milk naturally. In place of white sugar Nimai’s uses jaggery, an unrefined sugar that comes from date palms or sugar cane. They avoid cooking with garlic and onions which can overpower dishes and senses. There’s a minimum of frying, most dishes being baked or steamed. They utilize flours like chickpea and lentil, both gluten-free. “It’s a home-style,” Hari says, elaborating on their recipes. “These are the dishes we sort of grew up with. Ninety percent of the stuff we make here has a family recipe attached to it.”

Feeding the public is not the Raval family’s only ambition. Along with the weekly cooking classes, Nimai’s Bliss Kitchen has also founded The Healthy Hudson Valley Initiative, a group where health minded people can meet and create wellness focused missions like the Bliss Gardens Project that helps families create vegetable gardens. They will also be bringing the Celebration of Colors on June 20th, in partnership with Newburgh Illuminated, an all-day event with food, kirtan music, and yoga instructors of varying disciplines and levels.

Although running a restaurant along with a medical practice is not the easiest of things, the Raval family continues to push through, finding personal triumph with each customer they turn on to the new way of eating. “That gives us our joy,” says Ashik. “That gives us our drive.”

To learn more about classes and upcoming events visit Nimai’s Bliss Kitchen at www.blisskitchen.catering

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