KOSA uses family recipes in its kitchen to present food as medicine

Some people call KOSA’s signature khichdi dish “a warm hug in a bowl.” I can’t think of any better way to describe comfort food.
four little bowls on a tray
Courtesy of KOSA
KOSA creates beverages and dishes based on ayurvedic principles, such as (pictured from top then clockwise) sai bhaji, South Indian rasam, ashwagandha golden milk and masala chai.

Some people call KOSA’s signature khichdi dish “a warm hug in a bowl.” I can’t think of any better way to describe comfort food.

In nature, comfort means love and security. Our brains produce oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” which can create a powerful relationship in childhood with those who feed us. For many, comfort foods are associated with sugary or processed things. Whether created in a lab or at home, these foods don’t usually keep us satisfied in the long term.

As first-generation Indian immigrants, my parents brought me to this country when I was a toddler. They adopted facets of American culture while maintaining a connection to our roots. This meant my mother cooked everything from spicy curries to lasagna. But even with lasagna, she couldn’t help but add cumin and coriander to spice up a canned sauce.

In early adulthood I immersed myself in a fast-paced career that often involved eating without care for my body. As I evolved and followed my passion through many career changes, I was drawn toward my own self-care and found myself back in Madison to create KOSA.

KOSA is a spa grounded in principles of the 5,000-year-old science of life, ayurveda, which renowned ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad refers to as “the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature.” He says it is “an ancient natural wisdom of health and healing.” In a nutshell, ayurveda stabilizes our health when lifestyles or seasons take us out of balance.

Modern science has proven what was long documented in ancient ayurvedic science. This includes the inextricable relationship between the brain and gut, and the delicate balance of our microbiome. As a result, ayurvedic practice uses food as medicine.

For example, we are now in the pitta (fire/water) season of summer. It is characterized by hot, oily and sharp qualities, which can result in inflammation, skin conditions, heartburn, ulcers and a “hot temper.” Our recipes include cooling and soothing elements such as fennel, coconut, cilantro, lime and pungent greens, which calm the senses and aid digestion, prevent inflammation and keep our emotions in healthy balance.

With my family recipes, my mother’s culinary education and the training of our ayurvedic counselor and chef, Tanya Anderson, KOSA’s kitchen has become our apothecary.

On any given day, the spa smells of not only seasonal aromatherapy and oils, but also the tantalizing spices from our kitchen. When Tanya cooks sambhar — a sour and spicy lentil and vegetable stew served over lemon rice with ghee — it reminds me of my paternal grandfather’s house in Chennai. In the summer, the cool herbs of dill, fenugreek and sorrel found in our sai bhaji, a stew of greens and lentils originating from the Sindhi diaspora, remind me of the comforting smells of my maternal grandmother’s house in Mumbai.

That “warm hug in a bowl,” khichdi, is a blend of rice, lentils, ghee, specific healing spices and seasonal vegetables slow-cooked together. It is an ayurvedic comfort food that nourishes the body and calms the digestive system. My mom fed it to me when I was an infant, and I’ve done the same for my babies.
Ayurvedic practice goes even deeper than ingredients. Ultimately, it is energy and intention that create the true medicine. We carefully choose ethically and sustainably grown ingredients. We practice mindfulness when preparing food and connect with our hearts to infuse everything we do with love.

With this intention, food not only provides good feelings temporarily, it can also have a profound effect on the health of the body and mind so we can feel better, clearer, lighter and more connected with all things. This is the way true comfort food is created.

Shilpa Sankaran is the founder of KOSA, which opened in Garver Feed Mill in 2019. It is the first ayurvedic spa in Madison. In addition to spa services, KOSA offers comfort food meals at the spa and through takeout and meal kits.