Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji


Dry-Textured vegetable dishes are among the most favored dishes in Indian homes, yet you'll sample few of them in Indian restaurants. Because they take slightly longer to cook than their deep-fried counterparts, chefs prefer the ease of French fries* over pan fries. But any health-conscious cook will find exploring Indian-style pan-fried vegetables well worth the effort. They are certainly more healthful than their fat-laden deep-fried relatives.

* British readers: That's American for "chips."

I was first introduced to dry-textured vegetable dishes more than twenty-six years ago, in Srila Prabhupada's cooking classes held in his San Francisco apartment. He taught us two of his favorite dishes: cumin-scented hash browns and chili-laced diced green beans. Over the years, I've come up with many variations of these dishes, rarely making them the same way twice. I encourage you to experiment with the recipes offered below and come up with your own favorite variations. For a light meal, feature a generous portion of dry-textured vegetables and accompany it with dal or flame-toasted capatis and a seasonal salad.


Aside from high-quality fresh produce, the most important element for outstanding dry-textured vegetable dishes is the right cookware. In India the most commonly used pan is a heavy bowl-shaped iron vessel called a karai (similar to a heavy Oriental wok). Alternatively, a good saute pan or skillet will yield excellent results, provided it's heavy-bottomed. No matter what your choice, remember that for evenly cooked vegetables, heavy-gauge thick-bottomed pans are best.

Since writing Lord Krishna's Cuisine, I've cut back on the amount of fat I use in cooking. If you want to prepare vegetables with little or almost no fat content, I highly recommend nonstick cookware.

Recently, the Farberware company sent me a sample of their new Millennium cookware, and I've tested quite a few recipes with it. The outside is heavy-gauge professional-grade 18/10 stainless steel. The inside is a new nonstick surface called Excaliber Never-Stick, which has a twenty-year warranty. To my knowledge, no other nonstick surface on the market today has a longer warranty. The surface is guaranteed never to peel, blister, or wear off, even if you use metal utensils. The pans are well-balanced and have tight-fitting lids and stay-cool handles. They have superior heat distribution and are oven-safe to 425 degrees.

General Information

Students following this cooking series should read through the recipes in the section of Lord Krishna's Cuisine called "Dry-Textured Vegetables." You'll quickly notice that many of the dishes are prepared using one of the three methods mentioned in my July/August column. You'll also notice that most dishes call for raw vegetables cut small perhaps a ¼-inch julienne, ¼-inch to 1/3-inch dice, or thin slice. If a recipe calls for precooked vegetables, you can cut them almost any size.

Root vegetables and vegetables with a low water content will do well with moisture added from water, tomato concasse, vegetable steaming liquid, homemade vegetable stock, or sliced oven-roasted tomatoes. Under most circumstances, moisture-rich, "watery" vegetables such as greens, eggplant, bell peppers, patty pan squash, and yellow and green zucchini cook well in their own juices.

Awareness in the Kitchen

You probably lead a busy life, with more things to do than time to do them. Avoiding occasional bouts of "automatic pilot" is difficult, especially when leisure time is a luxury more than the norm and you're on the tenth page of your "To Do" list.

But a primary goal in devotional cooking is to meditate on the task at hand. That requires focusing on one activity at a time, even while your mind jumps rapidly from one activity to another. The more you practice, the more skill you acquire. In time, the art of focusing your attention will manifest in a satisfying creative process.

Underneath it all, Vaisnava cooks add an awareness of the Lord. If you add this to your cooking, you'll get tremendous benefits:

You'll really enjoy what you're doing.

You'll notice an improved quality in your cooking.

You'll notice that less food will satisfy you more.

You'll increase your desire for self-realization.

Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning books Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.

Prabhupada-Style Hash Browns

(Serves 4)

For variations to this dish, try another group of potato dishes Srila Prabhupada favored: potatoes and greens. When the potatoes are nearly cooked, add a few handfuls of chiffonade-cut kale, spinach, collards, or Swiss chard. Cook briefly until the greens wilt and intensify in color. Alternatively, add a handful of chopped fresh fenugreek leaves.

1-3 teaspoons ghee or cold-pressed corn oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
a pinch of crushed red chilies
4 large (1 ½-pound) baking potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons water or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Combine the cumin seeds and the ghee or oil in a large nonstick skillet. Place the skillet on medium-high heat and cook the seeds until they darken a few shades. Add the chilies, potatoes, and turmeric. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the liquid, cover, reduce the heat slightly, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft and browned, about 15 minutes. Offer to Lord Krsna with homemade ketchup, tomato chutney, or barbecue sauce.

Chili-Laced Green Beans

(Serves 4)

Green beans, snow peas, sugar snaps, yellow wax beans, and the very thin French haricot verts (green haricots) all work well in this dish. Simply vary the cooking times as needed. For a more substantial dish, add one cup of cooked and drained chickpeas or other cooked whole legume.

1-3 teaspoons ghee or cold-pressed corn oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 pound beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch lengths
¼ cup vegetable stock
½ cup tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and freshly ground pepper

Warm the ghee or oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover, and fry until the seeds pop. Add the next four ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat slightly, and cook until the beans are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove lid and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Season with salt and pepper. Offer to Krsna warm or at room temperature, with or without the added legumes.