For a great many people, Calabasas, that dusty horse town north of Los Angeles and east of Malibu, was put on the map in the naughties by the Kardashian clan and certain sweatshirts from Yeezy Season 4. But for a far smaller number—an austere, elite few—Calabasas has for decades been known for the Ashram, the always-fully-booked hiking boot camp–cum–wellness retreat of the super-fit and (often) super-famous. For 44 years, this cult retreat has quietly marched a dozen or so guests a week through the Santa Monica Mountains while feeding them a stimulant-free vegetarian diet. There’s daily yoga and exercise and massage. It’s not a spa and it’s not fancy—a small ranch-style house with shared bathrooms, twin beds, little privacy, and a communal wardrobe of baggy red sweats. Rigorous and painful, abstemious and a little hippie-kooky, the Ashram is one of the more curious yet luxurious experiences to be had.
And it is also one of the most beloved, primarily because of the personality of its cofounder and owner, Catharina Hedberg, a fabulously intuitive, bronzed, and vigorous disciplinarian who is the Swedish mother one dreams of even if one has never dreamed of being Swedish. Now Hedberg has published a cookbook, The Ashram Cookbook: The Way We Eat (Assouline), with recipes from the center’s menus (and a few extras created by its favorite raw food guru, Suzie Spring Bohannon). “I wanted people to be able to have a little bit of the Ashram in their homes,” Hedberg explains. “It is about the energy of the Ashram—joy and laughter and lots of love. I want people to have fun with it.” The recipes are vegetarian (not vegan or raw, because both are, in her view, “too hard”), and they are not spartan or necessarily low in calories. Hedberg acknowledges that the Ashram diet is no longer as strict as it was in the 1970s. “In the beginning,” she says of the program, “it was all about how much weight one could lose. People weren’t very strong and we couldn’t work them that hard. The mind-set started changing, especially after 2001. People now say, I just want to feel good. I want to stop the clock. I just want to find balance. But everyone who comes is now is in much better shape, so we can work them harder. People who come now are so strong! It’s on a different level.” As is the nutritional cleverness behind the meal planning: One of Hedberg’s favorite dishes is a savory curried oatmeal, served with greens for breakfast. “It’s a crazy stretch of the envelope to put in front of the guests,” she says. But the dish appears on Thursday mornings, which is the day of the week’s longest hike (14 miles), for “a very even blood sugar–level experience.”
The book’s cover is padded, and the spine round and somewhat bulbous. As an object, it is pleasantly clutchable, somewhat like a pillow. “It’s soft; it’s warm; it’s caring,” says Hedberg of the cookbook. “It is what we represent after 44 years in business.”
Here are her three top suggestions for breakfast:
Curried Mountain Oats with Ginger Flax Dressing
2 ½ cups water
1 cup rolled oats
4 tsp. coconut oil
3 tsp. Bragg Liquid Aminos
1 tsp. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
2 pinches ground chipotle
2 pinches ground sweet paprika1 cup nut mylk
2 radishes, sliced
½ green apple, sliced
8-inch stalk celery, diced
½ cup Swiss chard, minced
2 T green onion, sliced
2 T flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 to 2 T Ginger Flax Dressing*, for serving
In a pot over medium heat, bring water to a boil. Add the oats, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is gone. Remove from heat.
To the oats, add the coconut oil, Bragg Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast, curry powder, sesame oil, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, chipotle powder, and paprika, and stir until well blended.
Using a 1/2-cup or 1-cup measure, depending on the number of servings, mold the spiced oats into rounded shapes and place in serving bowls.
Pour equal portions of the nut mylk into each bowl; scatter each serving with radishes, apple, celery, Swiss chard, green onion, parsley, and sesame seeds; and drizzle with Ginger Flax Dressing.
Makes about 1 cup
6 T flaxseed oil
5 T lemon juice
2 T tamari
2 T finely grated fresh ginger
1 T Bragg Liquid Aminos
1 ½ T coconut nectar
2 tsp. hot sesame oil
1 tsp. ume plum vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a glass jar, seal, and shake to mix. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
1 T olive oil
½ cup sweet onion, diced
½ cup fennel, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 roma tomatoes, diced
2 T red bell pepper, minced
¼ tsp. smoked ground paprika
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. smoked sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 dashes ground clove
2 whole large pasture-raised eggs
1 to 2 T Macadamia Ricotta*
1 T fennel fronds, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a small skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add onion, fennel, and garlic, and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, paprika, cumin, sea salt and smoked sea salt, black pepper, and cloves. Add the sautéed veggies and mix until well combined.
Divide the contents of the mixing bowl into two 5-inch-diameter ramekins. Gently crack an egg onto each portion and top with crumbled Macadamia Ricotta.
Transfer the ramekins to the oven and bake for 23 minutes, or until the egg whites are fully cooked but the yolks are still runny. Remove from oven and serve garnished with chopped fennel fronds.
Makes 1½ cups
1 cup raw macadamia nuts, soaked 8 hours, drained, and rinsed
¼ cup raw pine nuts, soaked 8 hours, drained, and rinsed
9 raw Brazil nuts, soaked 8 hours, drained, and rinsed
¼ cup raw cashews, soaked 8 hours, drained, and rinsed
1 T unpasteurized white miso water, as needed
6 T sprouted walnut mylk or water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 T nutritional yeast
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
½ tsp. Bragg Liquid Aminos
½ tsp. salt
In a high-power blender, combine all nuts, miso, and enough water to cover by 1 inch, and blend into a fine meal, but not a cream.
Transfer mixture to a 1-quart jar with a lid and cover it with a screen lid or some cheesecloth. Set the jar in a warm place (e.g., the top of your refrigerator) and let it ferment for 8 to 12 hours, until the pulp has separated from the fluid and little bubbles have formed. Technically, it can go longer—up to 24 hours—but this will produce a stronger-smelling nut pulp. (If the nut pulp has fermented long enough and you don’t have time to squeeze it, you can seal the lid and refrigerate it for up to a day, to slow the fermentation process.)
Strain the mixture, 1 cup at a time, through a nut mylk bag, squeezing out and discarding the liquid. If the nut pulp smells strong, you can rinse it inside the bag with more fresh water and squeeze out the moisture.
Transfer the dry, crumbly bits to a food processor. Add the sprouted walnut mylk or water, lemon juice, yeast, onion flakes, Bragg Liquid Aminos, and salt, and pulse for several minutes until it takes on a smooth, ricotta-like consistency.
Use immediately or transfer to a glass jar with a tight seal and store in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Coconut Chia Smoothie Bowl
¼ cup chia seeds
1 ⅓ cups nut mylk
3 pinches ground vanilla beans
4 oz. frozen young coconut meat
1 small handful spinach or Swiss chard
Juice of 1 lime
1 to 2 tsp. raw honey
3 drops tangerine oil
1 kiwi, peeled and sliced
½ cup fresh pineapple, chopped
2 to 3 T coconut, shredded
2 T chopped raw pecans
2 T cacao nibs
1 T raw almonds, sliced
1 tsp. bee pollen
1 tsp. orange zest
In a glass jar with a tight seal, combine the chia seeds, 1 cup of nut mylk, and 1 pinch of ground vanilla beans. Stir, seal, and shake well to mix. Refrigerate overnight for optimal results.
In a powerful blender, combine the coconut meat, spinach, lime juice, honey, vanilla, essential oil, and the remaining ⅓ cup nut mylk. Using the blender’s tamping tool to push the ingredients into the blades, blend the mixture until thick and creamy.
To serve, pour the nut mylk–soaked chia seeds into one or two bowls, and pour contents of the blender off to one side of the bowl(s). Decorate the bowl with the kiwi, pineapple, shredded coconut, pecans, cacao nibs, almonds, bee pollen, and orange zest.