How welcoming guests can be a pleasing meditation on Lord Krsna.
The apartment door opens and you first notice a small, slender, smiling young woman, swathed gracefully in a sari. You return her smile and glance past her to a clean, brightly lit ten-by-fifteen-foot room with a varnished parquet floor, white walls broken only by two pictures, a couch at the far end, and a bookshelf/altar on the left.
Invited in, you leave your shoes on a straw mat reserved for that purpose and seat yourself comfortably on the couch with your hostess. In a moment she is up and handing you a cup of herbal tea. In the time it takes you to have one sip, she returns from the kitchen with a dish of chidwa, a deep-fried snack of flat rice, spices, and nuts.
"My husband likes chidwa," she explains, "and since it keeps well, I make a large batch of it and always have it on hand for guests."
You relax and enjoy. The chidwa tastes good; the atmosphere is pleasant; your hostess is gracious.
Your hostess, Madhumati-devi dasi, is of Indian background, but she was born in Washington, D.C. She's spent only four of her twenty-six years in India. Her father, a diplomat for India, kept her, her twin brother, and her mother with him as his duties took him to Washington, D.C., for three years, Zambia for four years, Italy for four years, Libya for one year, India for four years, and Ireland for four years.
Beginning from her eleventh year when she was in Libya Madhumati helped her mother cook for the thirty or forty people her father hosted from the Indian embassy every month.
Recently, memories of those dinners came back strongly, for in February last year she and her husband, Sesa dasa, moved into an apartment (where you are now seated) and within a month began having evening get-togethers at their place.
Madhumati: "At first my husband wanted to invite all the devotees in the community. I said. There's no room for all of them.' He said, 'It's all right; we'll have them sit in rows and serve them all.' But I felt uncertain of my cooking, so he agreed to invite one couple over the first time. Two weeks later we had two couples over, a week later three couples, and so it went. Then just before Mathuresa and his family moved out of town, we had a going-away party with twenty-eight people over including ten children. Now, that was a big group for this apartment."
Madhumati begins thinking a week ahead about the menu for these gatherings, choosing complementary dishes the rice and soup, bread and vegetable, savory, sweet, and a special dish. She often changes the menu completely as the day approaches. "It's a kind of meditation on satisfying the devotees and Lord Krsna," she says. "My husband and I feel pleased after we've served the devotees; it's an intimate way to relate with them, and we all become closer through prasadam.
"I want my guests to feel happy and appreciate the Vedic culture we've imbibed. And I would like them to serve guests this way in their homes. It's satisfying for the hosts and the guests."
By now you've finished your chidwa and tea, and it's time to go, although you'd like to stay longer. Madhumati has to baby-sit for the devotee child next door, so reluctantly you cross the room to your shoes, thinking, "Yes, I would like to create this mood in my home and have happy gatherings like the ones I just heard about, but Madhumati must come to make it complete."
(Recipes from Madhumati-devi dasi.)
Preparation time: 1 ¼ hours
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ajwain
2 hot green chilies, seeded and minced
¾ cup raisins
1 ¼ cups flat rice
½ cup cashews
1 large baking potato, peeled, coarsely shredded, soaked ½ hour in cold water, drained, and patted dry
vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. In a small frying pan roast the fennel seeds over a medium flame until they turn a few shades darker. Remove from the flame and set aside.
2. In a small bowl combine the turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt. sugar, ajwain, and chilies and set aside.
3. Line two plates with several thicknesses of paper towel and keep them near the frying area.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or saucepan over a high flame. Drop in a handful of shredded potato, stirring occasionally until it is golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towels. Fry the remaining potato in the same way.
5. Reduce the flame to medium. Place a handful of flat rice in a metal strainer and lower it into the hot oil. Within a minute the frothing will settle. The flat rice is done when it is crisp but not brown. Remove the strainer and place the flat rice on the paper towels to drain. Fry the remaining flat rice in the same way.
6. Fry the cashews in the same manner as the flat rice, until they are golden brown. After all the ingredients have cooled to room temperature, mix them together in a mixing bowl. Add the fennel seeds, raisins, and spice mixture and mix well. Offer to Krsna and then store in an air-tight container.
Dosa Stuffed with Spiced Potatoes
Dal soaking time: 4-6 hours
Batter standing time: 20 hours
Preparation time for stuffing and cooking: 30 minutes
½ cup urad dal
1 ½ cups basmati rice
warm water as needed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon green chilies, seeded and minced;
2 medium-size boiling potatoes, boiled, peeled, and chopped
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon amchur
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
ghee for pan-frying
1. Sort through the dal beans (to remove stones) and wash in several changes of water. Cover with 4 cups of water. In a separate bowl, wash the rice with several changes of water, then cover with 4 cups of water. Allow both to soak for 4-6 hours.
2. Drain the dal and place ½ cup of dal in a blender. Blend, stopping now and then to add 1 tablespoon of water and to push down the beans toward the blade with a rubber spatula to help the grinding. Continue adding the dal and blending until light and frothy. Transfer the dal beans to a bowl and set aside. Drain the rice, put it into the blender, and blend for about 2 minutes. Stop now and then to push the rice down toward the blades. Blend until the rice is smoothly ground. Scrape the blended rice into the bowl with the dal and stir until well mixed. Cover with a plate and set aside in a warm place for 20 hours.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large frying pan over a medium flame. Add the black mustard seeds and chili and cover. After the mustard seeds finish popping, stir in the potatoes. Add the turmeric, amchur, and ground coriander. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, then stir in the lemon juice and fresh coriander and remove from the flame.
4. Preheat an iron skillet over a medium flame. Brush the skillet with ghee. Test the temperature of the skillet by sprinkling a few drops of water on it; if the drops sputter and vanish, it is ready.
5. Add the salt and warm water to the dal and rice mixture until it is the consistency of a light cake batter. With a ladle, place 1/3 cup of batter in the center of the pan. Using the bottom of the ladle, spread .the batter out evenly in an outward spiral motion to form a circle. Make the dosa as thin as possible. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ghee around the outer edges of the dosa and cook it for about 2 minutes until the bottom is golden red. Ease the dosa up with a spatula and flip it over. Cook for 1 minute and remove from the pan.
6. Place about 2 tablespoons of the spiced potatoes in the center of the dosa and roll the dosa as you would to make a jellyroll. Cook all the dosas in the same way and offer to Krsna hot.
Dal soaking time: 4-5 hours
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours
1 cup toovar dal
7 cups water
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons ghee
¾ teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons minced green chilies
¾ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4 tomatoes, washed, chopped, and blended until smooth
2 tablespoons sambhar masala
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and boiled until tender
¼ cup dried shredded coconut
3 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
1. Sort and wash the toovar dal. Place in a bowl, cover with 3 cups of water, and let soak 4-5 hours. Drain.
2. Combine the dal, water, turmeric, and butter in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over a high flame. Reduce the flame to medium-low and then cook until the dal is soft.
3. In a small frying pan heat the ghee over a medium flame. Stir in the black mustard seeds, green chilies, and fenugreek seeds and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and pop and the fenugreek seeds darken a few shades. Add the blended tomatoes, sambar masala, and salt and cook for 5 minutes over a medium flame. Add the green beans, coconut, and tamarind concentrate and cook for another 5 minutes. Then mix this with the dal and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Offer to Krsna.