A wide variety of cooking styles lend themselves
to a single purpose pleasing Lord Krsna.
What we have been calling "Lord Krsna's Cuisine" on these pages actually includes five cuisines: western Indian (Maharashtrian and Marwari), eastern Indian (Bengali), southern (Madras;), northwest central (Gujarati), and northern (Punjabi). These differ not so much in cooking techniques as in ingredients and spicing. In each region, the older generation has passed its cuisine on to the younger, thus keeping the traditions intact through many centuries.
Srila Prabhupada once said that the western Indian cuisine was unparalleled in quality. In this cuisine the cook emphasizes the natural flavors of the main ingredients, blending them with suggestive tastes of the subordinate ones. He or she evokes elusive to mild pungency in each dish through the use of judicious seasoning, and composes menus that artistically contrast, balance, and blend the textures, shapes, colors, and sizes of the various dishes.
Eastern Indian cuisine is characterized by vivid, lively seasoning and a few unique ingredients. Black cumin, cumin, black mustard, fennel, fenugreek, cassia, and dried red chili pods are almost always present in various combinations, and bitter, sour, salty, and astringent dishes abound.
Southern cuisine is generally characterized by dishes containing rice and dried beans. These two ingredients form the basis of so many recipes that you could cook an entirely different rice and dried-bean dish every day for months. The coot soaks, drains, and grinds rice and dried beans into light, smooth batters or pastes. He then transforms these into spongy-moist dumplings, faintly sour crepes, or deep-fried savory donuts. Finally he complements these with liquid dishes like fresh chutneys, hot consommes, or vegetable-dal soups. (This month we've featured recipes from this cuisine.)
Northwest central cuisine is notable for its mildness. The cook often integrates an elusive, sweet/sour flavor into many dishes and can make an exceptionally tasty array of between-meal snacks by contrasting textures and flavors.
Northern cuisine, on the other hand, has rich, full-bodied dishes. The distinctive flavor of ghee (clarified butter) plays a predominant role in a wide selection of fresh wheat breads, deep-fried savory pastries, and moist farina dishes called halavas. The cook brings out flavor in dal by using garam masala (a blend of powdered spices), and he evokes warm, robust flavor in milk puddings and milk fudges by adding saffron, rose essence, cardamom powder, or almond paste.
In one sense, then, there are five distinct regional cuisines within Lord Krsna's cuisine. But actually there's only one: cooking for the pleasure of Lord Krsna. Traditionally, throughout India the older generation taught the younger one not only how to cook the regional dishes but also how to offer these fine dishes to the Lord with love and devotion.
This devotional attitude is the essence of Lord Krsna's cuisine. Since Lord Krsna is transcendental to all designations. His cuisine also transcends all regional differences and national boundaries. It is universally appealing. People from any lifestyle or ethnic background will at once be attracted to krsna-prasadam (food offered to Lord Krsna).
Since Lord Krsna is the origin of all variety, His cuisine also offers unprecedented variegatedness. It includes recipes that lend themselves to nearly every occasion, nutritional requirement, budget, time of day, and season; it includes challenges for the accomplished cook as well as quick-and-easy dishes for the beginner or for anyone pressed for time. On whatever level you approach Lord Krsna's cuisine, you'll surely derive great pleasure and enjoyment.
What do you need to start? Nothing more than your desire: Whether your kitchen now reflects rural simplicity or stunning, copper-clad sophistication, you can prepare recipes from Lord Krsna's cuisine. It isn't necessary to collect expensive-looking gadgets; for most recipes, basic equipment will suffice.
To maintain the spirit of this cuisine, external and internal cleanliness in the kitchen are a must. For external cleanliness, keep your kitchen shining clean from the glisten on the bottom of the saucepans to the floor beneath your feet. If you practice cleaning up as you go along, you'll save working space, eliminate clutter, improve your cooking, and increase your pleasure in cooking as well.
As for internal cleanliness, always think of Krsna and never forget Him. You're not just making healthy, natural dishes that taste extraordinarily good; you're not just putting in a little extra measure to please yourself, your family, and your friends. No, you're doing the highest yoga bhakti-yoga by dedicating your efforts for Lord Krsna's pleasure. This is not our imagination: in the Bhagavad-gita (6.47) Krsna declares, "Of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all."
So, with your mind sincerely fixed on pleasing Krsna, whatever pure vegetarian dishes you choose to make and offer whether from the north, south, east, or west will happily be accepted by the Lord as part of His cuisine. Then cooking and tasting will take on a new dimension for you, and after the experiencing, you'll know that there couldn't be any greater cuisine anywhere.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Rice and Urad Dal Dosha Pancakes Stuffed with Seasoned Potatoes
Soaking time: 30 hours
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Servings: 10 to 12 stuffed pancakes
Ingredients for Potato Stuffing:
2 medium-size new potatoes (about 12 ounces), boiled, peeled, and diced into 'A-inch cubes
1 ½ tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
½ to 1 tablespoon scraped, fresh ginger root, minced fine
½ to 1 tablespoon scraped, hot green chilies, minced very fine
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds 6 to 8 fresh or dried curry leaves, if available
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
1 ½ teaspoon chat masala, if available
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 to ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
½ tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced, fresh coriander or parsley leaves
Ingredients for Dosha Pancakes:
½ cup split urad dal, without skins
1 ½ cups raw long-grain white rice
1 ½ teaspoons salt
about ½ cup ghee or vegetable oil, for frying
To Prepare the Potato Stuffing:
1. Heat the ghee or oil in a 10-inch frying pan over a medium flame until a drop of water flicked into it instantly dances. Drop in the minced chilies and ginger root and fry until they start to brown. Add the mustard seeds and fry until they sputter and pop. Immediately add the curry leaves, then the diced potatoes. Stir well.
2. Sprinkle in the four powdered spices and salt. Saute for one minute. Pour in the water, lower the flame, and cook until the vegetable is dry (about 5 to 10 minutes).
3. Remove the pan from the flame and blend in the lemon juice and fresh or dried coriander leaves.
To Prepare the Dosha Pancakes:
1. Sort through the urad dal and remove any foreign matter. Wash the dal in several changes of water by rubbing the grains between your palms, until the water is practically clear. Strain in a wire sieve. If basmati rice is used, repeat the same process for sorting, washing, and draining.
2. Place the rice and dal in separate bowls, add 2 ½ cups cool water to each bowl, and soak for at least six hours, or even overnight. Then drain off the water.
3. Place the rice in an electric blender or food processer, add 2/3 cup water, and blend at high speed until it is ground into a smooth batter. Pour the pureed rice into a 1 ½-quart bowl, scraping the sides of the blender jar or processer with a rubber spatula to remove all of the contents.
4. Place the drained dal in the blender or processor, add ½ cup water, and blend at high speed until it is a smooth, fluffy batter. Add the pureed dal to the rice batter, add salt, mix thoroughly, cover, and allow the batter to sit at room temperature (about 75°F) for 24 hours. Check to see if the batter has risen. If not, let the batter sit for 1 or 2 hours more.
5. Add about 1/3 cup water and gently stir. The batter should resemble a thick, heavy pancake batter with a smooth consistency.
6. Heat a 10- to 12-inch cast iron griddle or skillet on a medium flame. Lightly grease the surface with ghee or oil. Before cooking, sprinkle water on the cooking surface to test the temperature. If it's too hot, the water will vanish immediately. If it is not hot enough, the water will boil. When the surface is the right temperature, the water will dance and sputter, then vanish.
7. Using a large serving spoon, place 3 spoonfuls of batter on the griddle and immediately begin spreading it into a thin 8 ½-inch round or oval shape, starting from the center and spiraling outward. Try to use the right pressure and motion in a rhythm to yield an even, very thin pancake. Allow the dosha to cook for about 30 seconds, then sprinkle 1 teaspoon of melted ghee or oil around the edges and on top of the dosha.
8. After 1 ½ to 2 minutes of cooking, scrape around the edges with a thin spatula to lift the pancake and check if the bottom is sufficiently browned. Simultaneously, on the surface, small holes will appear, and patches of brown will be visible through the pancake. When the bottom is brown, it is ready to turn. Slip the spatula around the edges and loosen the dosha from the pan. If your pancake is sticking, either the flame is too high or low, the batter consistency is wrong, or your pan isn't properly "seasoned." Cook to a light-brown color on the other side for about two minutes.
9. Remove the dosha, place about two table-spoons of the potato vegetable on one half of it, fold, and cover with the other half. If you cannot offer the doshas piping hot, place them in a preheated oven at 250°F. When ready to offer to Krsna, cover with the moist coconut chutney featured in the next recipe.
Creamy Fresh Coconut Chutney
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 ½ cups fresh grated coconut, packed loose
1 cup plain yogurt, or ½ cup yogurt and ½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon peeled, fresh ginger root, chopped fine
2 to 3 teaspoons seeded, hot green chilies, chopped fine
¼ teaspoon mild asafetida powder, if available
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ to ¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee or light vegetable oil
½ tablespoon split urad dal, if available
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 to 12 curry leaves, fresh or dried, if available
1. Combine the coconut, yogurt, ginger root, chilies, asafetida, pepper, and salt in a 1-quart bowl.
2. Heat the ghee in a small saucepan. Fry the urad dal, cumin, and black mustard seeds until the cumin and urad dal brown and the mustard seeds sputter. Remove from flame, toss in the curry leaves, wait 10 seconds, and pour the spices into the 1-quart bowl. Mix well. Place over dosha pancakes and offer to Krsna.