Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji

DOES POTATO-CAULIFLOWER Janaki, Eggplant-Coconut Murari, Spinach Karunamayi, Potato Salad Mukunda, or Brussels Sprouts Annapurna ring a bell with you? If so, you're either a veteran of the Hare Krsna movement from 1967 or well versed in its early history. These are names coined by disciples of Srila Prabhupada for vegetable dishes he made in his San Francisco kitchen.

No aspect of devotional cooking has been more satisfying for me than working with vegetables, not only because of the increasing number of organic vegetables sold commercially, but because seedsmen offer home gardeners hundreds more unique seeds for cultivation. Cooks worldwide know the rewards of planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, and finally offering vegetables in the temple.

And surprise you don't need a garden plot to grow veggies. I've cultivated them in containers on patios, rooftops, balconies, and front walkways. To get an idea of the seed varieties available in America, leaf through Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalog (203-482-3638). You'll find fourteen types of beans, seven beets, nine corns, sixteen lettuces, scores of herbs, and so on. Check with local nurseries for similar seeds or for plants.

Srila Prabhupada's Early Lessons

In my first unpublished cookbook, a calligraphed manuscript compiled some twenty-six years ago, the vegetable introduction reads: "To best satisfy Lord Krsna, learn perfection in every step of cooking. To avoid overcooking vegetables, regulate the heat source and adjust cooking times with refined senses." While these terse statements are incomplete, they do offer novice cooks a few insights into devotional vegetable cookery. What's needed is expertise, judgment, and an awareness of Lord Krsna's presence.

The 1967 San Francisco temple housed a near balance of men and women, many eager to learn cooking from Srila Prabhupada. Our first apprentice task was cutting vegetables. Learning how to cut vegetables into uniform sizes and shapes is an art. You learn how to mince, dice, cube, chiffonade, julienne, roll-cut, finely chop, coarsely chop, thinly slice, trim in smooth ovals, and so on. Daily practice is the only way to precision cutting. If you're following the class series, refer to these techniques in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and practice with every vegetable you touch.

Vegetable Basics

In retrospect, I'm somewhat in awe of the masterful way Srila Prabhupada introduced students to vegetable cookery. He didn't teach with recipes but showed us how three cooking methods and seasonings affect the final taste and texture of a dish. The following instructions will let you make numerous dishes with potatoes. By using the same ingredients and changing heat, seasonings, and the size of vegetables, you can give each dish a different taste, texture, and appearance. To keep the fat content of dry-textured vegetable dishes to a minimum, I recommend using a heavy-bottomed nonstick pan. Now let's look at three cooking methods and three seasoning options.

Cooking Methods

Cooking Method 1

Sauteed Dry Potatoes
(cooked without water)

Saute small pieces of uniformly cut potatoes julienned, diced, or diagonal sliced in seasoned ghee or oil in an open pan until they're partially cooked and partially browned. As they cook, turn them frequently to keep them from browning unevenly or sticking.

From here on, there are two options. The first is to reduce the heat to medium-low and stir-fry until the potatoes are tender and golden brown. The second is to add liquid and, by controlling the heat, cook to tenderness so that when the liquid has evaporated, the potatoes are dry and golden brown. This method also works well with yams, beets, parsnips, carrots, or sweet potatoes.

Cooking Method 2

Sauteed Potatoes
(cooked in broth)

Saute the potato cubes briefly in seasoned oil or ghee, and then simmer them in an aromatic broth until they're tender. Four finished textures are possible: potato stew, potatoes in a sauce, moist potatoes, and crusty, dry potatoes. Heat control and timing are important in controlling the finished texture of the dish. Other vegetables suitable for this method include beans, cauliflower, eggplants, and winter and summer squash.

Cooking Method 3

Precooked Potatoes in 
Seasoned Ghee, Sauce, or Broth

Bake, steam, boil, fry, or roast new potatoes until they're almost tender, and then cut them into the desired shapes. Finish cooking the potatoes in seasoned ghee, brown them in oil, and add stock, or fold them into seasoned yogurt, gravy, or sauce. This method works well with almost any vegetable.

Seasoning Options

Now let's explore cooking one pound of potatoes with the cooking methods just mentioned and the seasoning options below. A blend of spices toasted in ghee or oil is called a chaunk. When chilies or spice seeds are toasted, volatile oils lying dormant are released, and their true flavor emerges. Seasonings should be toasted until they darken a few shades; if they turn brownish-black or burn, the flavor will be pungent and unpleasant. In our temple in 1967, most vegetables were made with the first seasoning blend.

Seasoning 1

1-3 tablespoons ghee or unrefined corn oil
¼ teaspoon crushed dried chilies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric
3-4 tablespoons water or stock for Method 1; 1-2 cups for Methods 2 and 3
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Seasoning 2

Same as Seasoning 1, except replace the dried chilies with 1-2 teaspoons chopped hot green chilies and add ½ tablespoon grated ginger root

Seasoning 3

Same as Seasoning 2, except add:

1 teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon ground yellow asafetida
½ tablespoon ground coriander


Example of Cooking Method 1

Indian-Style Hash Browns

Cut 1 pound of potatoes into ½-inch dice. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over moderate heat. When the skillet is hot but not smoking, add the chilies and spice seeds and fry them until the cumin darkens a few shades and the mustard seeds, if you're using them, turn grey and pop. (If you're using seasoning 2, add asafetida and ginger and fry them a few seconds). Add the potatoes at once, raise the heat slightly, and saute the potatoes until they're partially cooked and lightly browned.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in the ground spices. At this point, you can add liquid. Stirring occasionally, cook the potatoes covered or uncovered until they're fork-tender, golden, and crusty. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with herbs.

Example of Cooking Method 2

Potatoes in Aromatic Broth

Cut 1 pound of potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Heat half of the ghee or oil in a heavy nonstick saucepan over moderately high heat. When the saucepan is hot but not smoking, add the red or green chilies, the spice seeds, and the ginger. Fry as above. Add the asafetida and fry a few seconds; then stir in the potatoes. Saute until the cubes are lightly browned.

Stir in the ground spices, half of the herbs, and 2 ½ cups of liquid. Partially cover, reduce the heat to low, and gently cook until the potatoes are tender, resting in an aromatic broth. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with the remaining ghee or oil and the herbs.

Example of Cooking Method 3

Crusty Potatoes with Herb Yogurt

Bake 1 pound of Idaho potatoes until they're tender. Cool, peel, and cut them into ½-inch-thick julienne.

Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over moderate heat. When the ghee or oil is hot but not smoking, add the spices as above. Stir in the potatoes and fry them long enough to warm them through and coat them with spices.

Remove the potatoes from the heat and season them with salt and pepper. Stir the herbs into ½ cup of nonfat yogurt or sour cream and fold this into the potatoes just before you offer it to Krsna.