THIRTY YEARS AGO India's classic sweets were unknown to most people in the world. Today, thanks to Srila Prabhupada, millions have sampled them at ISKCON centers, and thousands make them at home. Srila Prabhupada began introducing the West to Indian sweets in the fledgling months of his movement in New York and San Francisco, from August 1966 through May 1967. At this time Srila Prabhupada cooked for himself almost daily, frequently teaching new cooks as they came forward to learn.
Early ISKCON Sweets
During this period, aside from teaching the simple, soul-satisfying daily fare of rice, dal, capatis, and vegetables, Srila Prabhupada introduced especially for feast menus sweets, savories, pastries, and chutneys. Of six of those early sweets, four are quick and easy to make: Simply Wonderfuls (Khara Pera), Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chickpea-Flour Confections (Besan Laddu), Semolina Halva with Golden Raisins (Suji Halva), and Creamy Pineapple-and-Rice Jubilee. Two other dishes are khir (a creamy rice/milk pudding, called sweet rice), and gulabjamun (fried milk-fudge balls soaked in sugar syrup, called ISKCON bullets). Most novice cooks find little difficulty preparing the first four dishes, but khir is slightly more challenging to prepare well, and is certainly more time consuming, especially when made in quantity. Even proficient cooks findgulabjamun a trial to master.
Quick and Easy Sweets Defined
As a rule, classic milk-based Indian sweets are neither quick nor easy to make. They use one of two staple ingredients: unsweetened condensed-milk fudge, called khoa, or unripened fresh cheese, called chenna. In quantity, these staples take several hours to prepare.
Most early ISKCON kitchen crews were largely untrained and understaffed, and practical shortcuts seemed the order of the day.
Learning from Srila Prabhupada and from professionals in Indian sweet shops around the world, devotees found that many khoa-based sweets can be made not only with khoa but instead with a fudgelike replacement made quickly from ghee, powdered milk, and a little milk. Srila Prabhupada made Simply Wonderfuls and gulabjamuns that way, and devotees loved them. Using the replacement for khoa enabled cooks to make massive quantities of sweets quickly for distribution. Some ISKCON centers still make sweets this way, along with classic versions.
For those faithful readers following this cooking series, now is the time to delve into the introduction to the chapter on sweets in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. Before you cook through the recipes in the Quick and Easy Sweets section, carefully study the text and familiarize yourself with a few ingredients you'll use repeatedly in the next sixty-plus recipes in the section. Whenever possible, use organic ingredients.
Get milk from different sources in a perfect world, from protected cows and note the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized. Study the milk's color, taste, and aroma, and the feel of viscosity from the fat content. Make yogurt from different qualities of milk to learn the resulting tartness, body, and texture. Study the properties of as many varieties of granulated and liquid sweeteners as possible. Natural-food stores offer a good selection. Compare the flavor and sweetness of the different choices.
In general, white and light-hued sweeteners showcase sweetness with minimal flavor; darker sweeteners add flavor. If you want milk-based sweets to stay a light color, instead of refined cane sugar try using granulated fructose, pale-blond Florida Crystals, or demerara sugar ground in a blender at home.
Going through the book, prepare the ambrosial rice dish on page 658, a Srila Prabhupada Sunday Love Feast creation from his Willard Street apartment in San Francisco. Try it as is, or replace the pineapple with another seasonal fresh fruit, and the whipping cream with stirred yogurt. Change the ingredients in keeping with the season, but keep the dish creamy and pleasantly sweet.
Until next time, chant Hare Krsna and be happy.
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 BTG.
(Whisked Saffron Yogurt-Cheese with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans)
You can make this version of srikand without shopping at an Indian grocery store, and it goes well with everything from hot puris to fresh fruit.
2 (475 ml) cups yogurt cheese (strained and hung yogurt)
a pinch of saffron threads
½ (118 ml) cup sweetener, or as desired
¼ cup diced (67 ml) dried cranberries
3 tablespoons (44 ml) toasted chopped pecans
Place the yogurt cheese, saffron, sweetener, and dried cranberries in a bowl; whisk until creamy and light. Chill for at least two hours, garnish with nuts, and offer to Lord Krsna.