Don't let a devotee's near-empty shopping cart fool you.
There's a feast within those simple ingredients.
I picked out some fruits and vegetables from the produce section of the neighborhood supermarket and slowly maneuvered along the back of the store, looking down each long aisle to make sure there was nothing else I needed. Overhead, signs announced the products below: soft drinks, canned fruits and vegetables, coffee, cookies, cakes and snacks, pickles, salad dressings, meat, fish, and so forth. I moved on to the dairy section at the opposite side of the store, picked up some milk and yogurt, and checked out.
Except for an occasional light bulb, bag of whole wheat flour, or box of detergent, the entire middle section of the store might as well not exist for my purposes. As my spiritual master. His Divine Grace A C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, explained once in a letter, "The eating program should be nutritious and simple, not luxurious. That means capatis [unleavened bread] dal [bean soup], vegetables, some butter, some fruits, and milk. This is necessary for keeping good health." He advised his disciples that food was for keeping the body and soul together, that we should "eat to live, not live to eat." So it was by his influence that I found myself going from the fresh produce section at one end of the store to the dairy section at the other end, and skipping the fourteen fully laden shelves in between.
Out of gratitude and love, devotees offer their food to the Supreme Lord, who alone provides for all of us. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna explains that He does not accept nonvegetarian offerings, so His devotees avoid offering anything that contains meat, fish, or eggs. Similarly, since devotees never take intoxicants, they also avoid alcoholic drinks and even tea and coffee. These basic regulations rule out for devotees a sizable percentage of the supermarket fare.
Canned fruits and vegetables are all right, but I prefer fresh: I want the food to be as tasty and attractive as possible when I offer it to Lord Krsna. I want to begin with high-quality ingredients, prepare them with Krsna in mind, and offer the dishes to Him with feeling. Canned and ready-made food, I find, interfere with that mood.
Srila Prabhupada explained, "When we cook food for ourselves, it is different from food that is prepared for and offered to Krsna. The same rice, dal, and vegetables are material for one purpose but become spiritual when they are dovetailed with Krsna…. If we are sincere in offering something to the Lord in devotional love. He will accept it."
Krsna is not in need of anything: He is the complete whole. Yet He appreciates our love for Him. And He kindly allows us to show that love. He reciprocates with us just to give us the opportunity to find the real object of our loving propensity. Our cooking (along with everything else we do) should be for Krsna's pleasure; afterwards we can enjoy the sanctified remains of Krsna's food.
On hearing all this and on seeing my half-empty shopping cart, a materialistic grocery shopper might think, "How unfortunate she's depriving herself of some of life's pleasures." But I would explain that my spartan shopping habits don't really indicate a poor, uninteresting diet. Since I start from scratch and use the freshest ingredients, I need get only the basics when I shop: fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, and grains.
I can make many dishes from Lord Krsna's cuisine using basic ingredients, and an accomplished cook can make hundreds more some simple, some elaborate, but all tasty, nutritious, and varied. Moreover, these dishes are prasadam. They're Krsna-ized. And they will Krsna-ize whoever eats them.
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)
Mixed Fried and Seasoned Tidbits
Preparation time: 30 minutes
10 cups deep-fried puffed rice ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil for deep-frying
2 cups dried green peas, soaked overnight in water
1 cup grated potatoes
1 cup tiny cauliflower flowerets
1 cup diced skinned eggplant
¼ cup cashew nuts, slivered almonds, or pistachio nuts
¼ cup raisins
1 fresh chili, chopped
½ teaspooon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
If the puffed rice is not already deep-fried, deep-fry it for a few seconds in smoking hot ghee and let it drain. Drain the soaked green peas thoroughly and deep-fry them for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until they swell and become crisp. Deep-fry the grated potatoes, the tiny cauliflower flowerets, the diced, skinned eggplant, and the nuts. Set them aside in a colander to drain. After all the items have drained, combine them in a mixing bowl. Add the raisins, the spices, and the sugar and mix well. Offer to Krsna.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
3 cups fresh coconut or 2 cups desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 or 3 fresh chilies, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Break the coconut and save the coconut milk. Detach the pulp from the shell and pare off the brown skin. Cut the pulp into small pieces and blend them in an electric blender with all the other ingredients. Add enough coconut milk or water to make the mixture smooth. If you don't have a blender, grate the coconut and use a mortar and pestle or a grinding stone to make a smooth texture. As an alternative to coconut milk or water, try yogurt, which gives a creamier texture. Offer to Krsna.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
2 cups sifted whole wheat or white flour
2 tablespoons caraway or sesame seeds
1 ½ teaspoons rock salt (or ordinary salt)
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
¾ cup water
1. Combine the flour, caraway seeds, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Rub the 2 tablespoons of ghee into the flour. Add enough water to form a fairly firm dough. Knead well for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then set it aside for a few minutes.
2. Fill a medium-size wok two-thirds full of ghee and put it over a medium flame. While the ghee is heating, roll out the dough into a large square, ½-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamonds or rectangles 2 inches long. Gently drop half of them into the hot ghee. The heat should be adjusted so that the crackers become golden-brown on both sides in 4 or 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put in a colander to drain. Then cook the remaining crackers the same way. Offer to Krsna.
Pureed Eggplant, Spinach, and Tomatoes
Preparation time: 40 minutes
2 pounds eggplant, peeled and diced
1 pound fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, and chopped
2 pounds tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and chopped
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 or 2 dried chilies, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon asafetida
½ cup water
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garam masala
1. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan and fry the chilies and the ground coriander for a few seconds. Follow with all the other powdered spices, except for the garam masala, and fry a few seconds longer. Then immediately drop in the eggplant cubes. Stir-fry gently over a medium-high flame until the eggplant becomes soft and begins to release its seeds.
2. Now stir in the chopped tomatoes, spinach, and water. Mix well. Partially cover the saucepan and simmer (stirring occasionally) for about 20 minutes or until the eggplant is very soft. Turn up the flame to medium and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently until the spinach, egg-plant, and tomatoes have merged into a thick velvety sauce. Finally, season with the sugar, salt, and garam masala. Mix well. Offer to Krsna.
Preparation time: 50 minutes
Chilling time: 30 minutes
2 pounds fresh carrots
6 ounces butter
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons almonds, lightly fried
3 tablespoons raisins
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1. Wash the carrots, scrape them, and shred them through the small holes of a metal grater. The shreds should be fine and as long as possible. Melt half the butter in a saucepan and put in the grated carrots. Cook them uncovered over a medium flame for 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure even cooking and to prevent burning. Add the milk, sugar, almonds, raisins, and the remaining butter. Cook for 15 to 25 more minutes, until the halava thickens and forms a single mass in the saucepan.
2. Put the halava on a serving dish. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, shape it into a round cake 1 inch thick. Garnish with the ground cardamom and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then cut into wedges and offer to Krsna.