Health and economic advantages are only secondary considerations for devotees of Lord Krsna.
One Sunday afternoon last fall I was speaking with Sharon, a guest visiting our Hare Krsna center for the first time. The topic turned to vegetarianism. Ruefully, Sharon confessed she had always wanted to become a vegetarian. But how? It seemed impossible. Some sort of meat product tainted. most of the foods in the supermarkets and restaurants. The thought of cooking for herself was bewildering. "I don't even like salads," she sighed. "And I get tired of peanut butter and jelly. So what else is there to eat?"
What else? I was momentarily struck silent, as visions of freshly puffedpuris, elegant sabjis, flaking samosas, and steaming hot rice dishes raced through my mind. There was so much else. It was simply our misfortune as born-and-bred Americans that we had no knowledge of the science of Vedic cooking, where varieties of grains, vegetables, and milk products are wonderfully combined in numberless ways to satisfy the appetite.
Yes, at first I was speechless, but I could also sympathize. I could remember my own tentative attempts at vegetarianism, before I moved into a Hare Krsna temple. I would push my empty cart up and down the aisles of the grocery store, searching for something suitable for human consumption. Reluctantly I would drag myself over to the produce section and dubiously eye the strange forms of vegetables: the mysterious eggplants, the thick-skinned pumpkins, the ears of corn tightly wrapped in husks that concealed the familiar kernels. I was even uncertain of how to cut into these vegetables, what to speak of preparing a meal with them. The few brave attempts I did make were so troublesome, and the results so bland, that I soon fell into living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and leftovers from my visits to the Hare Krsna center.
There are many reasons for becoming attracted to vegetarianism, and you will find great diversity among those who consider themselves vegetarian. Some vegetarians merely abstain from red meat while continuing to eat chicken and fish. Others avoid all meats, but eat eggs. Still others abstain from all animal products, including milk.
These diets may be inspired by moralistic concerns, or they might be based on health considerations. Whatever the reason, today's vegetarian, at least in America, is in a minority. At a typical restaurant, for example, the vegetarian finds fruits and vegetables restricted to side dishes and garnishes. Despite medical and moral evidence to the contrary, Americans seem convinced that a meal is incomplete without meat. Fortunately we are now witnessing a growing awareness of the ills of meat-eating and a resultant increase in vegetarianism.
Devotees of Lord Krsna are a special kind of vegetarian. While we are certainly quick to point out the health and economic advantages of our vegetarian diet, such concerns are, frankly, secondary. We eat the way we do because this diet is recommended by the Supreme Lord Himself.
The Vedic tradition of cooking is not simply another style of food preparation and seasoning, such as Mexican or Italian; it is the cuisine Lord Krsna personally enjoyed when He appeared on this planet some five thousand years ago. The pages of Vaisnava scriptures contain descriptions of Lord Krsna relishing the vegetarian dishes lovingly prepared by His devotees: sweets made from milk and sugar, opulent vegetables cooked in clarified butter, yogurt combined with fresh fruit and rice, and much more. Krsna is the engineer of the entire universe; He can easily arrange a diet that is simultaneously tasty, nutritionally balanced, and free from karma.
These Vedic dishes reach their perfection when they are cooked by devotees for the Lord's pleasure and offered to Him with selfless love. Then the devotee can savor both the delicious results of the cooking and the transcendental pleasure of devotional service. Although eating is in many respects only a minor aspect of our lives, it can become a sacred meditation.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, "Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform do that as an offering to Me" (Bg. 9.27). The offering may be simple a leaf, a flower, some fruit, or water-but it must be done with love and devotion. Then Lord Krsna will accept it. The ingredients are vegetarian, but the essence the love and devotion makes Krsna's devotees unique vegetarians.
My new friend, Sharon, and I shared the experience of a superb vegetarian feast that Sunday. The dishes had all been prepared by the devotees and offered to our beautiful Deities. As Sharon marveled over the richness and variety of the dishes, I reflected on how perfectly uncomplicated the process of eating can be. There's no need for mass slaughter of innocent animals or for expensively processed food or for frustrated vegetarians starving themselves in the midst of plenty. Learning to prepare satisfying vegetarian meals is not difficult, as this month's simple recipes will attest. After some practice the basic ingredients become familiar friends, even to those of us raised on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Simple Glazed Carrots
Preparation time: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon fresh green chilies, minced
½ teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons honey or sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric powder 1 pound carrots
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper or powdered chili
2 tablespoons fresh parsley or coriander leaves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Wash and scrape the carrots and cut them diagonally into slices 1/8-inch thick.
2. Heat the ghee in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan over a medium-high flame until a drop of water flicked in sputters instantly. Stir in the minced green chilies, ginger root, and cumin seeds, and fry until light brown. Then add the honey or sugar and fry until the cumin seeds are deep brown. Drop in the turmeric powder, and immediately pour in the sliced carrots. Stir well. Now fry the carrots for 3 to 4 minutes, pour in the water, cover tightly, reduce the flame to low, and gently boil for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are nearly cooked.
3. Remove the lid, add the salt and black pepper or chili powder, and cook until the liquid is almost entirely cooked off and the carrots are tender. Stir in the fresh parsley or coriander leaves and lemon juice. Offer to Krsna.
Simple Potato-and-Green-Pea Stew
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
This is a popular gravylike pea-and-potato combination. For a thicker, drier gravy, reduce the water to 1 cup.
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh green chilies, minced fine
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ tablespoon peeled fresh ginger root, minced fine
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 medium-size firm ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
½ tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon garam masala
1¼ pounds medium-size boiling potatoes
2 cups green peas
3 tablespoons minced fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced fine
1½ to 2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups hot water
1 teaspoon lemon juice or
¼ teaspoon mango powder
1. Peel the potatoes and dice into 3/4-inch chunks.
2. Heat the ghee in a 4-quart saucepan over a medium-high flame until a haze forms over the surface. Drop in the chilies, ginger, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds, and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and pop.
3. Stir in the tomatoes, coriander powder, turmeric, garam masald, and potatoes, and stir-fry for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is slightly dry.
4. Pour in the green peas, salt, hot water, and half the fresh herbs, and bring to a full boil. Reduce the flame to low, cover, and gently boil until the potatoes are tender but not mushy and broken down. Before offering to Krsna, stir in the remaining minced herbs and lemon juice or mango powder.
Deep-Fried Whole Chick-pea Chips
(Masala-, Kabli Chana
Soaking and drying time: 30 hours
Preparation time: 30 minutes
2 cups whole chick-peas
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons fine popcorn salt or equivalent of fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon powdered chili
¼ teaspoon chat masala
2½ to 3 cups ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying.
1. Sort through the dry chick-peas and remove any foreign matter or broken peas. Place them in a 1 ½-quart bowl full of cool water, add the soda, and stir until it dissolves. Loosely cover with a cloth and allow the peas to soak in a cool place for 12 hours.
2. Drain and rinse the chick-peas. Fill the bowl half full with clean water, and soak the chick-peas for another 12 hours. Slip off the loose skins by gently rubbing the chick-peas between your palms.
3. Drain the chick-peas in a colander for 10 minutes. Lay them out on a cookie sheet, and tap each chick-pea with a small stone pestle or wooden mallet to flatten it into a roundish disc. Allow the chick-peas to dry for 2 or 3 hours in a warm, sunny window or porch. Turn each chip over and dry an additional 3 hours.
4. In a suitable deep-frying vessel, heat the ghee or oil over a medium-high flame to about 350T. Sprinkle in a handful of the chips. Initially they will sink to the bottom of the pan, but they will rise to the surface within a few minutes. Allow the peas to blister slightly, become crispy, and brown to a soft color. Remove with a frying spoon and transfer to absorbent paper to drain. Fry the remaining batches of chick-pea chips in the same manner.
5. Sprinkle with the salt and powdered spices while still warm. Toss well. Offer to Krsna.
Deep-Fried or Roasted Wafers
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Although technically not a "bread," these thin wafers are shaped like flat-breads and are often served at the conclusion of a Vedic meal.
Round, thin wafers from three to eight inches in diameter, they are prepared from ground dal doughs, either plain or spiced, and laid out in the hot sun to dry until brittle. You may purchase these wafers ready-made at any IndoAsian grocer. Store them in a well-sealed container, and they will last for months. When you need some, simply deep-fry or roast them.
To deep-fry Paparas:
Heat 2 to 3 cups of ghee or vegetable oil over a medium flame in a large frying vessel with at least 3-inch-high walls. When the temperature reaches 360°F, slip in a wafer. It will immediately swell and expand to nearly twice its original size. Fry on each side for a few seconds until crisp and pale gold. Remove, drain, and offer to Krsna piping hot.
To dry-roast Paparas:
Glowing coal embers are the most effective heat source for dry-roastingpaparas. However, if a gas or electric stove is most practical, simply rest a drypapara on a cake rack about 1 1/2 inches above the heat source. As each area of the papara expands and toasts, rotate the rack so an untoasted area is above the heat. Cook each side until it's fully expanded and toasted and has small charred flecks. The papara will become brittle. Offer to Krsna hot.
Creamy Rice-Flour Custard
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8 to 10
This milk pudding selection is similar to the custards of the West. But it requires less milk, takes less time to prepare, and yields surprisingly dainty results.
1/3 cups fresh milk
1/3 cup rice flour, ground fine
1/3 to ½ cup sugar or equivalent natural sweetener
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg powder
¼ cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons slivered pistachio nuts
5 or 6 drops kewra or ruh essence
1. Combine the rice flour with 1 cup of the cold milk, and mix well until creamy and completely free of any lumps.
2. Pour the remaining milk into a medium size saucepan and, while stirring constantly, bring to a full boil over a high flame.
3. Reduce the flame to medium. Slowly pour the rice-milk mixture into the gently boiling milk and, stirring constantly, cook for approximately 8 to. 12 minutes. (The stirring must be constant and rhythmic to prevent lumps from forming and to keep the mixture smooth.)
4. Add the sweetener and powdered spices and continue gently boiling and stirring for about ten minutes, or until the pudding has a creamy consistency.
5. Remove from the flame and cool for ten minutes. Stir, add half the nuts and, if desired, the essences. Pour into 8 or 10 small bowls and chill. Garnish each portion with a sprinkle of the remaining nuts just before offering to Krsna.