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The Yam Soup That Keeps a Fashion Designer Energised

By Kari Molvar

Norma Kamali in her apartment in New York’s West Village.
 
Paul Quitoriano
Norma Kamali in her apartment in New York’s West Village.

“Lemon and ginger will take you where you want to go,” says the New York-based designer, author and wellness entrepreneur Norma Kamali, referring to the simple tonic — made by steeping sliced lemon and ginger in hot water — that she drinks at the start and end of each day. “It’s de-bloating, cleanses the system and reduces acidity,” she says, “and it just makes me feel good.” Growing up in Manhattan in the 1950s, Kamali was raised with a holistic approach to health and well-being. Her Lebanese mother would often prepare fresh juices — made from carrots, celery and spinach — for the family and do stretches and callisthenics in the living room of their apartment on East 78th Street. Kamali channelled her own interest in the body into fashion design. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1963 and, five years later, launched her eponymous fashion label, whose innovative, modern takes on sportswear — striking slim-cut swimsuits, billowy silk dresses with parachute-like drawstrings, sleeping-bag-style puffer coats — have had a lasting influence on the way we dress.

Staying fit and healthy is “the ultimate key to beauty,” says Kamali, 74, who in 2001 opened a forward-thinking wellness cafe within her West 56th Street boutique (it has since closed, but Kamali plans to bring it back next year). The space sold everything from kale chips to organic facial scrubs to her own brand of olive oil, which she recommends for its array of fatty acids and antioxidants and its skin moisturising capabilities. Kamali also fits in some form of exercise every day — usually the barre workout Physique 57, yoga or gyrokinesis, a body-alignment method involving fluid, elongating movements — and she is similarly committed to alternative approaches to healing, including acupuncture facials (she co-wrote a book, “Facing East,” with her acupuncturist, Dr. Jingduan Yang, in 2016), light-box therapy and Thai massages.

Paul QuitorianoAfter an overnight fast, Kamali starts her day with a yam soup, fortified with oat milk and topped with blueberries and walnuts. On the side, she drinks a cleansing lemon-ginger water.
After an overnight fast, Kamali starts her day with a yam soup, fortified with oat milk and topped with blueberries and walnuts. On the side, she drinks a cleansing lemon-ginger water.

Cleanses, too, have been part of the designer’s self-care routine since the 1970s, but nowadays she’s more into intermittent fasting, a method that involves alternating periods of eating with fasting to stimulate the body’s ability to burn fat and increase energy levels. There are various approaches, but Kamali prefers eating for eight hours and fasting for 16 each day, a regimen that she maintains year-round. “You’re more thoughtful about what you eat,” she says of the practice. “You plan better, and you set up your fridge and pantry for that.”

The first meal Kamali has after fasting is often a fibre-rich, digestion-stimulating yam soup made with fortifying oat milk, which she says is both satisfying and delicious. She likes to garnish it with blueberries (“they’re great for brain health”) and crumbled walnuts (for protein, and alpha-linolenic acid to “improve heart health”), and accompany it with her lemon-ginger tonic. If she doesn’t finish the entire batch, she puts the purée in small glass cups and layers it with extra blueberries and walnuts to make a puddinglike snack for later in the day — or she will freeze the purée to create a refreshing yam ice cream. “Everything I do with food is super simple,” Kamali says. “I like to take all these healthy foods and think of fun things to do with them, so it’s medicine for my body. But I also work, I have a lot to do!”

When she isn’t designing her fashion line, Kamali has been focused on NormaLife, the wellness line she launched last June. So far, she has released a four-piece collection of beauty products called SkinLine, which includes a soap-free charcoal cleanser and a cocoa-seed-butter skin-tone enhancer, and she next plans to unveil a calming fragrance made with eucalyptus and patchouli. She also recently launched a podcast series, “NormaLife!,” in which she interviews experts in health and wellness, among other fields. “Having a healthy body is very important for women’s self-esteem,” Kamali says. “How we feel about our bodies impacts how we present ourselves — and the power we have.” Here, she shares the recipes that keep her balanced and energised.

Paul Quitoriano“I like to take all these healthy foods and think of fun things to do with them,” says Kamali. “It’s medicine for my body.”
“I like to take all these healthy foods and think of fun things to do with them,” says Kamali. “It’s medicine for my body.”

Serves eight

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon

  • 1 knob of fresh ginger

1. Wash the ginger and chop it into ¼-inch slices (“I don’t have the patience to scrape the skin off, so I just leave it on,” says Kamali).

2. Boil 8 cups of water in a kettle, remove from heat and add the ginger slices to the kettle.

3. Cut the lemon into thin slices and add to the kettle.

4. Let the mixture steep for a few minutes, until the ginger becomes soft (“I poke the slices with a fork to open them up and release the flavor,” says Kamali).

5. Serve the drink warm or store in a container and cool in the fridge.

Serves one

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-size yam

  • 6 ounces of gluten-free oat milk (add slightly more for a thinner soup, or less for a denser pudding or ice cream, advises Kamali)

  • Nutmeg or cinnamon to taste

  • ¼ cup blueberries

  • 1 tablespoon crushed walnuts

1. Heat yam in the microwave for 12 minutes or until soft.

2. Let cool for a few minutes, then scoop out the yam flesh and put in the blender along with the oat milk and purée until smooth.

3. Transfer mixture to a small pot, stir in cinnamon or nutmeg and heat on low heat until warm.

4. Pour the soup into a bowl and garnish with blueberries and walnuts.