Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji

Vegetable Soups Revisited

AS PROMISED, here's a cooking class from the road in India. For me, being back in India is an instant case of "what is old is new again." Of course, I've met with the inevitable East-West culture shock, but it's one greatly tempered by the warm hospitality of many ISKCON devotees here.

In one month I've visited ISKCON centers in Bombay, and in Mangalore and Kollur in Karnataka state. I've also visited a new project in Karnataka nestled in a remote valley half-way up the majestic Kutachadri mountain. I've sampled outstanding temple prasadam from the hands of outstanding cooks and been inspired by all of them.

A Look at Three ISKCON Kitchens

In a gray marble kitchen Bombay ISKCON's staff of temple cooks prepares massive quantities of sumptuous dishes for the pleasure of the presiding Deities. The expert cooks employ every seasonal fruit and vegetable available, showcasing them in numerous regional cooking styles. The staff's rhythm and organization is a pleasure to see as they turn out more than a dozen dishes for each offering.

For three days Giriraja Swami's kind disciples Visakha Priya and Nama Cintamani kept a nonstop supply of maha-prasadam dishes for me to sample. Dining with temple president Rasaraja Dasa, I relished more wonderful Deity maha-prasadam, our enlivening conversation centering on Srila Prabhupada's qualities, standards, and instructions. Further still, the temple sweet shop and restaurant sent samples of their fare, all prepared by experienced brahmana cooks. This place is worth a visit for too many reasons to mention.

The newly acquired ISKCON Mangalore temple is a sprawling British-designed bungalow complex, with red tile roofs, wide verandas, and lovely gardens. Jahnavi Devi, who heads the kitchen, is known not only for her crisp dosha pancakes and feather-light iddli dumplings but also for her talents with homemade pickles and relishes. Twice a day she prepares tantalizing dishes for the pleasure of the Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva, Krsna's incarnation as half lion, half man.

Above I've featured one of Jahnavi's recipes for a delicate South Indian yogurt soup called karhi. I wrote down the recipe without specific measurements, so you can experiment by varying the amounts of the ingredients and noting the differences in texture and flavor.

ISKCON Kollur is situated in a mountain village on the banks of the idyllic Suvarnika River. A pump at the river's edge brings sweet river water to the temple compound and kitchen, perched on a cliff overlooking the river. The river water is purported to be infused with more than fifty Ayurvedic herbs and plants that flourish along its banks. Several devotees share cooking duties in the spartan kitchen. The fare is kept simple and nourishing. During my visit, Gita Devi made several varieties of outstanding kicchari (dal-and-rice stew).

Flavor-Rich Indian-Style Soups

In Western kitchens, homemade stock is the basis of outstanding soup. Cooks simmer finely chopped vegetables in water until the cooking has reduced it by at least half, intensifying the flavor of the ingredients and providing nutrition and goodness.

The Indian approach is somewhat different. Indian cooks make good soup in under thirty minutes without stock. They start by frying or roasting aromatics and spices on moderate heat to release the dormant flavors. Then they add vegetables, cook them briefly, and finally add the desired liquid, usually water. As the vegetables simmer to tenderness, the flavors mingle and intensify, creating delicious flavors. The flavors are as simple or complex as the choice of ingredients. A sprinkle of minced herbs or a drizzle of flavor-infused oil finishes off this type of one-pot soup.

Since I'm staying at a place with a kitchen (not always the case when you're traveling), I've enjoyed making several variations of one of my favorite soups. The soup uses a fine-grained Indian bottle gourd calledghiya or louki, the closest Western counterpart being baby pattypan squash. Remembering Srila Prabhupada's fondness for this dish, first I prepared his favorite variations and then came up with a few new ones in the process. The easiest one is offered above. The first day I offered it to Krsna as is, the next day with a cup of pan-fried panir cheese.

You don't need any special equipment to make these soups, no stock is necessary, and you can make many of them in under thirty minutes. If you are following this cooking series, thumb through the recipes in the VEGETABLE SOUP section of the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and try out at least three this month.

The dishes above are delicious for any occasion light, quick, and satisfying. No matter what your choice, simply cook with attention, devotion, and an attitude of pleasing the senses of the Lord. You're sure to get satisfying results right away.

Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine; The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post andVegetarian Times. Write to her in care of Back to Godhead.

Simple Bottle Gourd In Tomato Broth

(Serves 4-6)

1/16 teaspoon cayenne or paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste or 3 chopped tomatoes
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons ghee or cold-pressed corn oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pound peeled seedless bottle gourd or fine-grained summer squash
5-6 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Heat the ghee or oil in a soup pot over moderate heat. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and fry them until they darken a few shades. Stir in the tomato mixture and cook 4-5 minutes. Add the bottle gourd and cook another 5 minutes. Add water, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently cook until the squash is fork tender, 15-30 minutes, depending on the variety of squash. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the herbs, and offer to Krsna.

Jahnavi's Yogurt Soup

(Serves 4-6)

2 ½ tablespoons sifted chickpea flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
3 cups water
2 cups plain yogurt or buttermilk, whisked until smooth
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
½-1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 teaspoons ghee or a mixture of corn oil and unsalted butter
1 teaspoon mustard or cumin seeds
1-2 hot green chilies minced
fresh curry leaves, if available

Combine the chickpea flour, corn starch, and ¼ cup water in a large bowl and blend until smooth. Add the remaining water and the yogurt, turmeric, salt, and sugar whisk until blended. Place in a saucepan over moderate heat. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Heat the ghee or oil-butter mixture in a small pan. Add the spice seeds and chili, cover, and toast until they become aromatic and pop or change color. Add curry leaves if available; then pour the seasoning into the thin soup. Offer to Krsna. (To add variety to the flavor, put in a handful of mixed sprouts about 2 minutes before offering.)