Upside-slime cake, slugetti, pureed slug tartare-ugh! I'll stick with my fruits and vegetables, thank you.
Beneath an azure sky, kids romp in a spectacular, sun-sparkled fountain, lively Scotsmen dance on the main stage, and crowds gather at dozens of fascinating booths Ukranian folk art; Greek hand weaving; wood-carving; pottery; basketry; calligraphy. It's the first annual International Village Fair, a nine-day extravaganza under a huge open-air pavilion in the most popular spot in town. And in the center of it all: live cooking demonstrations.
For two days I watch as cooks demonstrate a grotesque array of cuisines from around the world. A smiling Jamaican with glossy black hair makes refreshing ginger tea and a swordfish stir-fry. A nervous Irish lady tells of her native boiled bacon. An African-American fast-foods cook holds up a browned rib cage, and as I walk up she carves it and sprinkles on a southern spice mix. A kosher cook explains gefilte fish. A proud Iranian marinates ground veal.
The people listen and laugh, take notes, ask questions, and feel happy to be there, enjoying summery breezes and a symphony of native music, falling water, and casual cross-cultural enrichment.
"Why did you demonstrate only vegetarian foods?" I asked the surly cook from India. "Well, we have limited time," she said. "And besides, I didn't make the menu; the fair's organizers made it. I could just as well have demonstrated nonvegetarian, but they asked me to cook things like puris, pakoras, and wadas."
For a devotee, the remarkable thing about an event like this is to see how people all over the world eat without discrimination. A few months back, in an article called "Odd But Edible," food columnist Jim Quinn wrote, "I had the very best braised pig's intestines and the best duck foot and sea cucumber casserole I've ever tasted … odd but edible parts of animal anatomy that delight me and a sizable majority of Inquirer readers but that lead others to write letters of intense moral fervor. Please, if you are the kind of vegetarian who thinks it's somehow worse to eat the webbing between the toes of a cute little duck than it is to eat hamburger made from the neck of a lovable, young, dewy-eyed steer, stop now. . . . Just put this article aside; you won't like it."
No, Mr. Quinn, we're not that kind of vegetarian. We agree that eating hamburger is as bad as eating duck's foot. And we think that you and other omnivores would delight in timing your next tasting experiment with the springtime Slugfest cookout held annually in Guerneville, California (population 900). For eight years locals have vied for prizes for producing the tastiest dishes made from slugs, which thrive along the banks of the nearby Russian River. Last year's winners included upside-slime cake, slugetti, and pureed slug tartare.
There are other tastes, even more available and unexplored, that Quinn and his brethren are missing taste delights that were known to our 12,000-year-old ancestors. Archaeologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, reporting of the Stone Age Britons, says, "It now looks definitely as though the humans were treated in just the same way as the animals as food."
Certainly Quinn and the Village Fair goers would think of Lord Krsna's cuisine as dreadfully constrained. Even kosher food which includes meat is subject to this criticism. Two women at the fair left the kosher demonstration after a few minutes, one saying to the other, "This is the least interesting demonstration the cuisine is too limited." So then, what of a diet that contains no meat, fish, or eggs? It must have the appeal of solitary confinement to a society girl.
As I returned from the Village Fair, I thought of the Iranian cooking pounded calf's flesh, the Afro-American sawing through ribs, and the Indian who didn't care what she cooked. I wished that the devotees had been there, showing that the "limited" ingredients of grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products can fulfill all the reasons for eating: health, strength, satisfaction, and happiness; and showing that fifty kinds of spice, fifty varieties of vegetable, fifty different grains and legumes, and dozens of different fruits and milk products can be combined to make thousands of delicious dishes.
Maybe then a few "lovers of strange cuisine," as Quinn calls them, could have been attracted to the divine delights of Krsna's normal and spiritually uplifting cuisine.
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa.
Chick-pea-flour and coriander-leaf tidbits
Preparation and cooking time: 45 min
2 ounces fresh coriander leaves
2 cups sifted chick-pea flour
2 cups plain yogurt
1 or 2 fresh chilies, chopped
3 teaspoons salt
ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. Wash the coriander or spinach leaves thoroughly and remove the largest stems. Chop the leaves into small pieces and combine in a mixing bowl with the chick-pea flour, yogurt, chilies, and salt. Slowly add water, stirring as you do, until the batter has a milk-like consistency.
2. Pour the batter into a medium-size pot and place over a medium flame. Cook gently for 15 to 20 minutes. As the batter thickens, stir frequently with a wide wooden spoon to avoid scorching. The batter is ready when a dab of it solidifies on a cool surface. Now pour the batter into a shallow cake pan (1 to 2 inches deep) and let it cool for at least 15 minutes. When it becomes firm, cut it into diamonds and deep-fry the pieces in ghee or vegetable oil until golden-brown.
3. Remove, drain, and offer to Krsna hot or at room temperature with date-and-tamarind chutney.
(See third column for chutney recipe.)
Spiced carrot croquettes
Preparation and cooking time: 25 min
4 or 5 medium-size carrots, washed and scraped
1 cup chick-pea flour
2 tablespoons walnuts or filberts, chopped coarse
1 tablespoon grated fresh coconut
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander or parsley leaves
2 fresh chilies, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. Grate the carrots on the fine holes of a metal grater until you have about 9 ounces of grated carrots. Put the grated carrots and all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with just enough water to make a paste thick enough to hold together when deep-fried.
2. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a wok or saucepan over a medium flame. Pick up a lump of batter with a tablespoon. Use your finger to push the lump into the hot ghee or oil. Do this until you have 8 to 10 vadas cooking at the same time. Adjust the heat and turn the vadas often so that they become nicely browned on all sides in 4 or 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain in a strainer or colander. Offer to Krsna.
Dal croquettes in yogurt sauce
Soaking time: several hours for the dal
Preparation and cooking time: 40 min
1 cup urad dal, sorted and washed
water for soaking
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 fresh chilies, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon asafetida
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 tablespoon grated coconut
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1. Soak the dal in warm water for several hours. Drain it and grind it in an electric blender (or a grinder) with just enough water to make a thick, smooth paste. Scrape this paste into a bowl and mix in the cumin seeds, chilies, ginger, asafetida, and 1/2teaspoon of salt.
2. Heat the ghee or oil in a wok or saucepan over a medium flame. Moisten your left hand and put 2 ounces of the mixture on it. Flatten it slightly with the thumb of your left hand to form a flat patty. Poke it in the center with the little finger of your right hand to make a depression. Now carefully slide it into the ghee. Because the dal is not very firm, this operation may require some practice (if it seems difficult, don't worry: you can also use a spoon to put lumps of the batter in the hot ghee). Fry the vadas for 6 to 8 minutes on each side until they become reddish-brown. Remove and drain in a colander.
3. Mix the grated coconut, fresh coriander, cayenne pepper, and the remaining salt into the yogurt and cover the vadas with this sauce. After one hour, garnish each vada by filling the dent in the center with a dab of date-and-tamarind chutney. Offer to Krsna.
Date and tamarind chutney
Khajur imli ki chutni
Preparation and cooking time: 35 min
3 ounces tamarind
1 1/2 cups water
7 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1. Break the lump of tamarind into small pieces and boil them in the water for 10 minutes. Then pour the tamarind and water through a strainer. With a wooden spoon, push as much of the pulp as possible through the strainer into the water, scraping the bottom of the strainer every few seconds. Continue until all the pulp has been extracted from the seeds and fiber.
2. To this juice, add all the other ingredients. Cook uncovered over a medium flame until most of the liquid evaporates and the chutney takes on the consistency of marmalade. Offer to Krsna.
Toasted chick-pea-flour fudge
Preparation time: 30 min
3 cups sifted chickpea flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cashew or pistachio nuts, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons coconut
1. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Stir the chick-pea flour into the butter and stir-fry it gently over a low flame, taking care not to burn it. After about 15 minutes, when the flour is lightly browned, remove the pan from the heat.
2. In another saucepan, make the syrup by boiling together the milk, water, and sugar, until a drop of syrup makes one strand between your thumb and forefinger. Stir the nuts and coconut into the syrup, and pour the syrup into the chick-pea flour. Cook and stir gently over very low heat until the mixture thickens and becomes less sticky.
3. After it cools enough to handle, form it into a square cake on a plate. When it becomes firm, cut it into pieces. Top each piece with half a cashew nut or some chopped pistachio nuts. Offer to Krsna.