The steward offered us "just vegetables,"
but we had a feast in our flight bag.
Last summer, when my husband, daughter, and I were flying to California to visit my in-laws, the steward dutifully brought our vegetarian meal: boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, and boiled corn, with salt and pepper on the side. Perhaps out of disbelief at the prisonlike meal, the woman sitting in front of us asked the steward, "What's your vegetarian menu?" With a slight shrug and a disinterested look, he answered, "Just vegetables."
We hadn't planned on eating the airplane meal anyway, so we unpacked the lunch we had brought from the temple: fried whole-wheat breads, fried and spiced fresh cheese, cauliflower and peas in sour cream sauce (sabji), stuffed vegetable savories(samosas, pictured above), mango pickles, and sweets (sandesa and laddus). The ingredients for these dishes were simple, but a little know-how had transformed them into a delightful meal.
Am I a dreamer to expect United's menu planners to have sympathy for those vegetarian creatures who frequent their flights? They seem to think that vegetarians have renounced all palatable dishes.
Behind "Lord Krsna's Cuisine," the spiritual vegetarianism that's presented on these pages each month, lies a vast culinary art that pleases vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike. Judiciously combined, spices, vegetables, fruits, grains, and milk products can produce the gamut of textures, colors, forms, aromas, and tastes that make a meal satisfying.
Srila Prabhupada, who first brought Lord Krsna's cuisine to the West, once explained, "Simply by expert cooking, hundreds of thousands of palatable dishes can be prepared from agricultural produce and milk products. Still today in India, in Jagannatha-ksetra and other big temples, very palatable dishes are offered to the Deity, and prasadam [offered food] is distributed profusely to the public. Uncivilized men living in the jungle and being unqualified to produce food by agriculture and cow protection may eat animals, but a perfect human society advanced in knowledge must learn how to produce first-class food simply by agriculture and protection of cows."
Unlike the other passengers on the flight that afternoon, my family and I, as vegetarians, had a lot to be thankful for. We didn't have the overweight problem that plagues many who overconsume animal fats and underconsume the natural fibers found in whole grains and natural fruits and vegetables. We had ninety percent less risk of cancer and reduced chances of cardiovascular diseases. We knew we were doing our bit toward ending world hunger, as one acre of spinach, for example, produces twenty-six times more protein than an acre devoted to meat production. And we weren't hypocritically protecting some animals while eating others. (I remember how one of my relatives looked out her kitchen window and said, "Oh, there's that cat I don't like he's the one that kills birds," and then continued stirring her chicken soup.)
And, although it may seem incredible to some, we were protecting our future. Srila Prabhupada once explained, "The animal-eaters do not know that in the future the animal will have a body suitable to kill them. That is the law of nature. In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance, people do not see that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is a son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant's being killed. One has to pay for it."
Our variegated vegetarian diet was also providing us with all nutrients vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates. And by eating krsna-prasadam we were making spiritual progress. But being vegetarian was a disadvantage, too. We had to tolerate the odors of sirloins and lamb chops. We had to tolerate the sight of people witlessly increasing their suffering physically, morally, and spiritually with every bite. We had to tolerate our feelings of compassion for the defenseless cows and lambs who gave their lives for the satisfaction of some traveler's taste buds. And we had to tolerate the misconceptions that people had about vegetarianism and the vegetarian cuisine.
I suppose the passengers who noticed us that afternoon must have thought us odd. First, instead of the much-advertised airplane fare, we'd gotten some dry vegetables. Then we'd pushed that aside and unwrapped a foreign-looking lunch.
My husband and I understood. For twenty-five years we had eaten whatever we were served, and we too had looked upon those who didn't as odd. But Srila Prabhupada had provoked our thinking. He had made us reexamine our values, our lives, and our goals, and as a result he had transformed us into devotees of Lord Krsna. As devotees, our vegetarian menu isn't "just vegetables," it's a world of its own, where nothing is lacking from nutrition, to taste, to transcendence.
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)
Preparation time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
1 pound white flour ¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces melted butter or ghee (clarified butter)
½ cup cold water
2 or 3 medium-size potatoes
1 small cauliflower, separated into flowerets 7 ounces fresh or frozen peas
4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
'/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger ½ teaspoon ground coriander ½ teaspoon asafetida
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. Put the white flour and salt in a bowl and slowly pour in the melted butter or ghee. Rub the butter or ghee into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Now slowly mix in the water and gather the flour together to make a dough. Knead vigorously for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft but doesn't stick to your fingers. Gather the dough into a ball, sprinkle with a few drops of water, and cover with a damp cloth.
2. Peel and dice the potatoes. Either grate the cauliflower flowerets through the largest holes of a metal grater or dice them like the potatoes. Boil the potatoes and cauliflower in salted water until tender, and then drain.
3. Place a large frying pan over a medium flame and fry the cumin and fenugreek seeds in 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil. When the seeds begin to darken, toss in the grated ginger and powdered spices and fry for a few seconds more. Now put in the potato cubes. Stir-fry for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the grated or chopped cauliflower. Stir-fry for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add the peas and 2 tablespoons of water, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender (watch closely to prevent burning). Season with the salt and black pepper, then spread the contents of the pan on a clean surface to cool.
4. Dust the rolling surface with flour. Form the dough into 10 balls, roll out each ball to make a 6-inch disk, and cut each disk in half. Then take each half-disk and moisten its straight edge from the center to one end. Bring the two ends of the straight edge together to make a cone. Now firmly press the dry side over the wet side to seal the cone. Stuff the cone two-thirds full with filling. Then close the opening by pinching and folding the two edges together to form a pleated top.
5. Heat the ghee or oil in a deep-frying vessel over a medium flame. Fry a few samosas at a time (as many as will cover the surface of the ghee in one layer). Fry them for 10 to 15 minutes, turning them often until golden brown. Remove, drain, and offer to Krsna.
Fried Spicy Potato Swirls
Preparation and cooking time: 40 minutes
4 medium-size potatoes
2 tablespoons grated coconut 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger 2 fresh green chilies, minced
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, minced 2 teaspoons garam masald
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice 7 ounces white flour
'/2 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder 2 teaspoons melted ghee
4 ounces water
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. Boil the potatoes until they are soft, then rinse them under cold water and peel them. Use a fork to mash them in a bowl with the grated coconut and the next 8 ingredients. Now spread the mixture on a surface to cool.
2. Combine the flour, turmeric, and cayenne pepper in a large mixing bowl. Rub the melted ghee into the flour, then add the water slowly, while mixing with your hand, until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a rolling surface and knead well till it becomes soft and elastic.
3. Flour the rolling surface liberally, and then roll out all the dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Spread the potato mixture evenly on the surface. While dusting the dough with flour to prevent it from sticking to your fingers, roll it up to make a compact roll. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the roll into slices '/2 inch thick. Pat and form the slices so they retain their shape. Place them on a platter.
4. Heat the ghee or oil in a shallow pot. The ghee is hot enough when a pinch of dough dropped into it rises immediately to the surface and sizzles. Put several slices into the ghee. Fry them for 3 to 5 minutes, turning them over once, till they're golden brown. Offer to Krsna.
(Urad dal kacauri)
Soaking time: overnight
Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour
14 ounces white flour
2 ounces butter or ghee 1 teaspoon salt
½ ,up water
7 ounces urad dal, washed and soaked overnight 1 tablespoon ghee
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground anise seeds ½ teaspoon ground cumin
''/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger 1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 teaspoon chopped fresh coriander leaves 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1. Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Blend the butter or ghee into the mixture with your fingertips. Slowly add the cold water and form a soft (not wet) dough. Knead the dough vigorously for 5 minutes, then cover with a moist cloth and set aside.
2. Drain the dal and blend it in an electric blender (or a grinder) with just enough water to make a smooth paste. Heat the tablespoon of ghee in a small frying pan and fry the cumin seeds until brown (about 30 seconds). Then add the powdered spices and the pureed dal. Stir-fry for several minutes until partially cooked. Mix in the chopped coriander leaves, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside to cool.
3. Form the dough into 10 balls and divide the ddl mixture into 10 parts. With your thumb, poke a hole in each ball. Now fill each hole with one part of the dal mixture. Seal the hole, flatten the ball into a patty between your hands, and roll each one out quite thick. Put the ghee over a medium flame. After about five minutes, test the ghee by dropping a piece of dough into it. If the dough immediately rises to the surface and sizzles, the ghee is ready. Put in the kacauris and deep-fry them for about 10 minutes, until they are flaky and golden brown. Offer to Krsna.