ISKCON DEVOTEES are now well into the year-long celebration of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial. Seeds planted months, even years, ago are now coming into full bloom in the form of group achievements, large festivals and conferences, and programs for distributing large numbers of Srila Prabhupada's books. For a cook, everyday activity can be tendered as a humble offering to glorify Prabhupada. The result of a cook's service is krsna-prasadam, and by eating and distributing it our lives will gradually become more and more spiritualized.
In many lectures, conversations, and morning walks, Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of prasadam distribution, but more important, he lived his instructions. For example, he kept a jar of prasadam under his desk, and everyone who came to visit him left with a taste of prasadam, often received from Prabhupada's own hand. Prabhupada requested temple managers to ensure that guests received more than mere tastes of krsna-prasadam, but rather full plates. He showed us how the loving exchange of offering and taking prasadam purifies the heart and senses and pleases even those who witness the exchange.
As I mentioned in the last column, in this Centennial year, along with the ongoing cooking-class topics we will focus on items related to cooking that Srila Prabhupada stressed. This month: cleanliness.
Lord Krsna explains in the Gita that saucam, or cleanliness, is an aspect of knowledge. In a thirteenth-chapter purport, Srila Prabhupada explains, "Cleanliness is essential for making advancement in spiritual life. There are two kinds of cleanliness: external and internal. External cleanliness means taking a bath, but for internal cleanliness, one has to think of Krsna always and chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This process cleans the accumulated dust of past karma from the mind."
In India temple cooks are almost exclusively members of the brahmana caste. ISKCON cooks and helpers may or may not be initiated brahmanas, but in any case they are expected to follow brahminical standards of cleanliness. Brahmanas generally bathe three times a day. They wash their mouth, gums, and teeth not only upon rising but any time after eating. In fact, they wash their hands, mouth, and feet even after drinking or just nibbling.
Cooks must wear clean clothes whenever they enter the kitchen, and they avoid wearing in the kitchen the same clothes they sleep in, even if the clothes are clean. Temple cooks never taste food while cooking, even to adjust seasonings. Cooks who follow these standards are considered suci, or "clean."
A temple kitchen should be kept as spotlessly clean as the Deity room. In India the kitchen is designed for cleanliness. Cleaners give mud stoves a new wash of mud after each use and wash the entire kitchen with water at least twice a day, or after every meal is cooked.
If there is one aspect of cleanliness in the kitchen that Srila Prabhupada stressed more than any other, it is spotlessly clean cookware. Prabhupada's test for kitchen cleanliness was the bottom of pots. He recalled how his mother would check the bottom of every utensil for spots. Prabhupada trained his cooks to clean his three-tiered brass cooker until the sides and bottom shone like gold. After cooking on an open fire, I used ashes and earth for the task, with excellent results. Sometimes Prabhupada condemned the pots in temple kitchens, saying that a Vaisnava cook should not even touch a pot with black spots on the bottom.
So now lets take a reality check. Right now, are you sure there are no black spots on the bottom of your cookware? It doesn't matter whether you are a temple cook, a restaurant chef, a traveling mendicant, or a household cook if you're unsure, you're on shaky ground. You should know that there are none zilch no black spots on the bottom of your pots, because that is the standard Prabhupada gave us.
Above I quoted from a Bhagavad-gita purport where Srila Prabhupada writes that the process for cleansing the mind, heart, and senses is chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Chanting is so simple, but the benefits are so sublime. The best way to understand the benefits is to chant and hear. Devotees often play tapes of chanting when they cook, because the maha-mantra purifies the atmosphere of the kitchen. I have seen the maha-mantra work magic for years.
Spiritual cooking can be as powerful as prayer or meditation, a complete absorption on the transcendental platform. And hearing transcendental sound can enhance the process.
While cooking, devotees also often listen to tapes of classes on Krsna consciousness, because the sound of glorification of the Lord is as purifying as the Lord's holy name. In 1968 in Montreal, a new disciple was speaking before Prabhupada during the celebration of Prabhupada's appearance day. The devotee said that he would feel his life perfect if every day for the rest of his life he could simply roll capatis and listen to tapes of Prabhupada's lectures. The disciple's words brought tears to Prabhupada's eyes. "Yes," Prabhupada said. "Thank you for thinking like that."
Now into the Light Meals and Savories chapter of the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.
Served as a delicious side dish or the center of a light meal, golden-brown koftas are often relished with "oohs" and "aahs." Cooks in different regions of India make and shape koftas differently. Cooks in the North most often make them by deep-frying a ball of shredded radishes, cauliflower, and potato or panir cheese, loosely bound with chickpea flour. Cooks in the West and East might shape koftas into sauteed savory cakes, like potato pancakes. And cooks in the South might make koftas with a mixture of vegetables or ground dals, fried into feather-light savory doughnuts.
For your cooking-class homework make at least three kinds of koftas from the class textbook-plus the two recipes above.
To further embellish your koftas, you might consider a number of chutneys or sauces. Sweet-tart Green-Apple Chutney goes well with Zucchini Kofta; Hot Green-Chili Sauce would be perfect with Chickpea Kofta; and Sour Cream Parsley Sauce would go well with almost any kind of kofta.
For a simple entree, serve the Potato Kofta Cakes and Tomato Cream with basmati rice and a saute of seasonal vegetables.
One's mind becomes clean by honoring prasadam prepared in a neat and clean kitchen and offered to Krsna with devotion. One day in Vrndavana, while I was pouring Srila Prabhupada a glass of water from a clay jug, he said that his disciples must learn to act in a brahminical way, carefully cultivating clean habits. If the disciple fails to do things properly, he said, it is not the disciple but the spiritual master who is criticized. He asked us to act in such a way as to bring him credit, not dishonor. In this Centennial year, let us all, old devotees and new, offer Prabhupada the honor and credit he deserves by living his teachings and sharing them with others.
Until next time, have fun exploring koftas.
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 and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in careo/BTG
Potato kofta cakes
These koftas are pan-fried into crispy cakes made with spiced potatoes, almonds, and bell peppers, bound together with a little chickpea flour.
2 pounds red potatoes, medium shredded
1 ½ cups chickpea flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
½ cup chopped almonds
1 cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup chopped cilantro ghee or peanut oil for frying
Place the shredded potatoes in a colander and rinse well; set aside to drain. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss to mix.
Place the potatoes between kitchen towels, press out any excess water, and add the potatoes to the other dry ingredients. Using your hands, mix until the mixture begins to stick together. Scoop out '/2-cup portions of packed kofta mixture, press it between your hands to make 12 flattened balls, and set them aside on trays.
Heat ¼-inch of ghee or oil in two large nonstick skillets until hot but not smoking; then reduce the heat to medium high. Moisten your palms and flatten each ball slightly to make a patty; then carefully slip it into the oil. Fry 3 or 4 koftas in each pan, without crowding, until richly browned, 3 or 4 minutes per side, turning once.
Offer the koftas to Krsna at once or transfer them to baking trays and keep them warm in a 250° oven for up to 2 hours. Serve 2 to 3 koftas per plate, with spoonfuls of warm Tomato Cream.
(Makes about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon ghee or virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup water
1 ½ cups yogurt or sour cream salt to taste
Heat most of the ghee or oil in a saucepan, add the mustard seeds, and when they begin to change color add the asafetida. When the mustard seeds pop, stir in the tomato paste. Fry for a minute or so, add the water, whisk to blend, and bring to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and gently whisk in the yogurt or sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Offer to Krsna. Before use, gently rewarm, but do not boil.