"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf,
a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." – Bhagavad-gita
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu spent the first twenty-four years of His earthly pastimes in Navadvipa, West Bengal, where He played the perfect child, student, scholar, and householder. At the end of His twenty-fourth year, He entered the renounced order(sannyasa), completely dedicating Himself to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Of course, Lord Caitanya was Krsna Himself, playing the part of a pure devotee; He was, therefore, already perfect and did not require to enter the renounced order. This was His transcendental pastime.
Sacidevi, the Lord's beloved mother, was grief-stricken by her son's renunciation. Of course, she wanted her divine son to fulfill His spiritual mission, but the thought of being separated from Him was unbearable. To resolve this problem, she requested Him to make His headquarters at Puri, a city in Orissa on the Bay of Bengal. There He would be unfettered by family ties, but because people frequently traveled between Navadvipa and Puri, Sacidevi would often hear of His activities.
Thus, although the Lord and His mother were apparently separated by hundreds of miles, strong transcendental love united them. Lord Caitanya once explained this to a devotee in Puri who was about to return to Navadvipa. The Lord spoke as follows(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta):
Take this prasadam [food offered to the Deity of Lord Jagannatha] and this cloth and deliver them to My mother, Sacidevi. I am subordinate to the love of My mother, and it is My duty to serve her in return. I am staying here in Jagannatha Puri to comply with her orders. However, at intervals I shall go to see her. Indeed, I go there daily to see her. She is able to feel My presence, although she does not believe it to be true.
One day in Navadvipa, My mother offered food to her Deity. She offered rice cooked from sali paddies, various kinds of vegetables, spinach, curry made of banana flowers, fried patola with nimba leaves, pieces of ginger with lemon, and also yogurt, milk, sugar candy, and many other foods. Taking the food upon her lap, Mother was crying to think that all that food was very dear to Me.
My mother was thinking, "Nimai [Lord Caitanya's childhood name] is not here. Who will accept all this food?" As she meditated upon Me in this way, her eyes filled with tears. While she was thinking thus and crying, I immediately went there with great haste and ate everything. Seeing the dish empty, she wiped her tears away. She then began to wonder who had eaten all that food. "Why is the plate empty?" she wondered.
She began to wonder if there had actually been anything on the plate in the first place. She thought that some animal might have come and eaten everything. She thought, "Perhaps by mistake I did not put any food on the plate." So thinking, she went into the kitchen and saw the pots. When she saw that all the pots were still filled with rice and vegetables, there was some doubt in her mind, and she was astonished. She then offered another plate to the Deity.
Now when she prepares some good cooked food and wants to feed it to Me, she cries in great anxiety. Being obliged by her love, I am brought there to eat. Mother knows all these things internally and feels happiness, but externally she does not accept them.
Such an incident took place just one month back. You can ask her about this and make her believe that I actually go there.
Atheists and impersonalists, who think that the Supreme Lord is nonexistent or has no senses, cannot understand this pastime. To them it is simply mythology. But in actuality, Lord Caitanya's pastimes are transcendental and thus inconceivable to mundane philosophers.
The Lord promises in the Bhagavad-gita that "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." He is not speaking metaphorically. Because He is absolute, His hearing, seeing, and smelling are wholly identical with His eating and tasting. In other words, His senses are interchangeable: one sense can perform the function of any other. Therefore, when food is offered to the Lord with love, the Lord may physically eat the food, as He did for His exalted mother Sacidevi. Or He may eat simply by hearing the sincere prayers of His devotee or simply by glancing at the food on the plate or by smelling the aroma. In any case, the fortunate devotee who makes an offering of love directly relishes the Lord's association, just as the Lord directly relishes the love of His devotee.
Sacidevi is not an ordinary devotee, and we cannot imitate her ecstatic emotions or her intense and pure love of God. But we can follow her example. We can prepare vegetarian dishes that the Lord enjoys, offer them to Him, meditate on Him, and hope to please Him with our humble effort. If our attempt is serious and sincere wherever and whoever we are the Lord will surely come, for He is not hindered by time, place, circumstance, or any other material condition.
When the simple, transcendental ingredients of love and devotion are in the offering, Lord Caitanya is present. A cook can know no greater reward.
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)
Bengali Mixed Vegetable Stew
Preparation and cooking time: 35 minutes
5 medium-size potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large eggplant, diced
12 ounces squash, diced
1 pound peas or cut green beans
3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 dried chilies, crushed
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups water
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 lemons, quartered
6 sprigs of parsley
1. Heat the ghee or oil in a nonstick saucepan over a medium flame. Toss in the mustard seeds, chilies, bay leaves, and fenugreek seeds. Cover the pan to prevent the mustard seeds from jumping out. When the mustard seeds stop sputtering and the fenugreek seeds darken, add the anise seeds and ground cumin. Then immediately put in the diced potatoes. Turn the potatoes for about 8 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Add more ghee if needed. Then add the squash and eggplant. Keep cooking and stirring for 5 more minutes.
2. Next add the peas or green beans along with the water, and cover. Cook over a medium-low flame, stirring gently every 5 minutes or so. After 15 minutes, add the sugar and salt, stir to mix, and cook slowly on the same low flame until the vegetablesare tender and the sauce is thick.
3. Before offering to Krsna, garnish each portion with a lemon wedge and parsley sprig.
Cauliflower, Potato, and Curd Stew
(Alu phul gobhi paneer sabji )
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 fresh chilies, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups water
8 ounces pressed paneer (curd)
1 medium-size cauliflower
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander or parsley leaves
1. Peel and cube the potatoes, and cube the paneer. Then wash and trim the cauliflower, and cut into flowerets.
2. Heat the ghee or oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium flame. Toss in the mustard seeds and cover the pot. When the seeds finish popping, add the chilies, ginger, and bay leaves. Stir for 30 seconds. Now stir in the powdered spices except for the garam masala and immediately add the water. Bring to a rapid boil; then lower the flame and simmer gently.
3. While this liquid masala is simmering, deep-fry separately the potato cubes and the paneer cubes until they are golden brown. Then drain them. Now deep-fry the cauliflower flowerets until lightly browned and partially cooked. Put the cauliflower into the liquid masala, cover, and cook over a low flame. After 5 minutes, lift the cover, drop in the fried potatoes and paneer cubes, stir once, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes more, until all the ingredients are heated thoroughly.
4. Season with the salt and garam masala, and sprinkle in the fresh coriander or parsley leaves. Mix and offer to Krsna hot.
Peas and Curd in Tomato Sauce
Preparation and cooking time: 25 minutes
8 ounces paneer (curd)
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 tablespoons ghee
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 or 2 fresh chilies, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 pound frozen or fresh peas, shelled
1 cup water
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1. Chop the tomatoes.
2. Knead the paneer well until it is smooth and soft, and then form it into grape-size balls. Deep-fry the paneer balls in ghee or vegetable oil until they are crisp and golden brown. Remove them from the ghee with a slotted spoon and drop them into a solution of 3 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons turmeric, and 2 cups warm water or whey. Let them soak.
3. In a medium-size saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons of ghee over a medium flame. Then add the cumin seeds, followed by the minced chilies and grated ginger. When the cumin seeds are brown (in about 30 to 45 seconds), toss in the asafetida and, a few seconds later, the peas. Now add the water, cover the pan, and cook the peas until tender. Then add the tomatoes and curd balls, and cook over the same medium flame for 5 more minutes.
4. Just before offering to Krsna, add a generous squeeze of lemon, and season with the remaining salt and the garam masala.
Fried Cabbage and Potatoes
(Bandgobhi alu sabji)
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
1 pound cabbage (a small head)
4 medium-size potatoes
4 medium-size ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/8-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves (or ¼ teaspoon ground cloves)
2 cardamom pods (or ¼ teaspoon ground)
1/3-inch cinnamon stick (or ½ tsp. ground)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
½ cup water
1. Wash the cabbage, shred it, and let it drain. With an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon stick into a powder and set aside.
2. Peel and cube the potatoes, and cut each tomato into 8 wedges.
3. In a nonstick saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee or vegetable oil over a moderate flame. Put the cubed potatoes in the pan and stir-fry them, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.
4. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in the same saucepan and stir-fry the grated ginger. Add the cayenne pepper and turmeric, and continue to fry for a few seconds more. Now add the shredded cabbage and fry for 3 or 4 more minutes, stirring regularly to mix it with the spices and prevent scorching. Add the tomatoes, fried potatoes, salt, sugar, and water. Cover the pan and simmer over a low flame until all the vegetables are tender.
5. Before offering to Krsna, sprinkle the previously prepared ground sweet spices over the top and mix gently.