Prabhupada's Kitchen Demeanor Kacauris and Samosas
ANY DEVOTEE who has worked in a bustling kitchen for a temple or restaurant knows how turbulent the atmosphere can be. Work hours often exceed stamina levels, and the heat of the stoves can make passions flare. Home kitchens, though often considered the heart of the home, are often no less turbulent. To walk into a kitchen and find a sense of peace or calm is rare. But that is the quality Srila Prabhupada brought into every kitchen I saw him enter.
Peace in the Kitchen
My first chance to be with Prabhupada in the kitchen came during the fall of 1966. I was his only assistant while he prepared the first wedding feast in ISKCON. While Prabhupada single-handedly made a lavish eighteen-course feast in his narrow galley kitchen, just outside it I was given the solitary and stationary task of shaping aloo kacauris deep-fried potato-stuffed flaky pastries. As I watched him for more than six hours, I noted his organization and impeccable cleanliness. His flow of activity was efficient and graceful, and save for his instructions to me, his attention was focused solely on his work. He performed a number of tasks by hand, without the help, or hindrance, of many tools or gadgets. He measured each spice in his left palm. He hand-kneaded dough, hand-whisked legume bada batter, and hand-brayed fresh panir cheese all with lightning speed. Despite his doing many things at once, the mood purling from his kitchen was one of peace and calm. Even as a newcomer I somehow sensed he was both cooking and meditating, and later I understood that he was fully absorbed in this art solely for the pleasure of his spiritual master and the Lord. Off and on for the next ten years, until my last kitchen exchange with him in Vrndavana in the fall of 1976, he taught me many things, revealing layer upon layer of his peaceful kitchen composure.
Perhaps simply hearing of Prabhupada's mood in the kitchen might inspire you to elevate the mood of your own kitchen. The open secret to a peaceful atmosphere in the kitchen is pure consciousness of the Lord, or Krsna consciousness. Your level of attachment and appreciation for Krsna consciousness will affect the atmosphere of your kitchen.
Here are some practical things you can do to improve your kitchen:
• Take stock of cleanliness and organization, and improve standards.
• As far as possible, move other people and their activities to the periphery of your work area.
• Try to work in silence or with some transcendental sound playing in the background.
• Focus on what you are doing. That will help you become more expert, so you'll be able to do more things at once and make better use of your time.
Very soon you and those around you will benefit from your endeavors, because cooking in a pleasing, Krsna conscious atmosphere will improve the quality of your offering to the Lord.
Kacauris and Samosas
The stuffed pastries known as kacauris and samosas are relished as temple prasadam or made at home and eaten round the clock. In different regions of India they are differently named, depending on the shape, the stuffing, the seasonings, and the local method of pastry-making. The frying medium also changes from kitchen to kitchen, some kitchens classically using ghee and others different types of oil.
Kacauris are flaky round pastries, from ¼ to ½ inch thick, filled with spicy pastes of mashed peas, potatoes, root vegetables, dried fruits, or ground dals. Samosas are triangular, half-moon, or log-shaped pastries, amply stuffed with fillings such as coarsely mashed potatoes, cauliflower, or mixed vegetables. I have also stuffed them with corn and peppers, cheese and spinach, and numerous other succulent vegetable blends.
From childhood Srila Prabhupada loved kacauris. One of his affectionate childhood names in Calcutta was Kacauri Mukhi ("Kacauri Face"), and he was known to collect as many kacauris as he could hold in his small hands. He also kept as many as he could in his multi-pocketed vest to distribute to his young friends. In his youth he learned to cook kacauris by watching his mother and his maternal aunt (who was famous in the family for her wonderful savories and pastries fried in mustard oil). He also watched professional pastry chefs.
If you are following this cooking class, carefully read the section entitled Deep-Fried Savory Stuffed Pastries in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.
There are different ways to make pastry doughs, stuff them, and cook the pastries. When you've mastered any one of these ways, kacauris can be a culinary tour de force. But kacauris are the most difficult of all pastries to master. So for cooking students they're often culinary Waterloos. To fry a pastry for over fifteen minutes without making it a soggy oil-soaked disc is a challenge. You have to do each part of the process well to get outstanding results.
The textbook instructions should carry you through to good results. All you need to add are practice and determination.
When you feel you have clearly grasped what is to be done, make some fresh ghee and prepare at least two kinds of both kacauris and samosas. Newcomers might want to try the baked samosa recipe on page 21 and move on to deep-fried pastries on the next try.
The baked samosa is not a classic samosa, but it disappears from serving trays every bit as fast as the originals. And baked samosas don't require a wok of fresh ghee. The pastry dough is easy to make and handle and bakes up mouthwateringly flaky and delicious. I have added both lemon zest (the outer oily portion of the lemon skin) and pure lemon oil to make a crust with a hint of lemon flavor. You may leave them out if you prefer a plain, buttery-flavored crust. Or to flavor plain dough you may add any of the following: ½ tablespoon of minced, seeded jalapeno chili, or 3 tablespoons of minced cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, or oil-cured olives. They are all delicious. For added flavor, serve samosas with a thinnish Tamarind Chutney from the class textbook.
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 care ofBTG.
Baked Potato Samosa
In Lemon-Zested Pastry
(makes 24 samosas)
1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
½ tablespoovn grated lemon zest
a few drops of lemon oil (opt.)
6 ounces cold cream cheese, cubed
2 teaspoons cold-pressed peanut oil
½ tablespoon ajwain or cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon curry powder
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 ½ cups coarsely mashed potatoes
3 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
freshly ground pepper
For the pastry:
Combine all the pastry ingredients in a food-processor bowl and process until the dough forms a ball (usually less than a minute). Form the dough into 2 smooth patties, wrap them separately in plastic film, and refrigerate. (The dough can be made 1 or 2 days ahead of use.)
For the stuffing:
Warm the oil in a skillet over moderate heat. Drop in the ajwain or cumin seeds and the red pepper flakes and fry them until they darken a few shades. Add the curry powder, sugar, and lemon juice, cook about 10 seconds, and add the potatoes and peanuts. Mash the potatoes to blend in the seasonings. Fry them for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cilantro, season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Divide the potatoes into 24 even-sized portions. Press the portions into logs about 2 inches long.
To shape the samosas:
On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion of pastry into an oblong roughly 10 ´ 13 inches. Trim to 9 ½ ´ 12 ½ inches. Brush off the excess flour and cut 3 times crosswise and 4 times lengthwise to yield twelve 3-inch squares.
To make each pastry:
Brush the edges of a pastry square with water. Place a portion of potatoes along one edge and roll up into a log shape. Press each seam firmly to seal. Place the log, seam side down, on non-stick baking trays. Repeat the process to shape the remaining 23 pieces.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake the samosas until crisp, lightly browned, and slightly puffed (about 25 minutes). Offer to Krsna warm or at room temperature. (Samosas freeze well, unbaked or partially baked, ready to finish cooking when needed.)
Centennial Reflection Moment
There are innumerable ways for each of us to relish remembering Srila Prabhupada this year. Whether you do it on your own, in small groups, or in big gatherings, hear, chant, remember, glorify, and worship Prabhupada's words, pastimes, and instructions. Some fortunate souls can instantly recall exact words spoken by Srila Prabhupada, some can recall verbatim something they have read or been told about him, while others can learn of him through films, photos, or videos. No matter what your ability or situation, take advantage of this auspicious year to intensify your awareness of Srila Prabhupada. That will benefit us all immeasurably.