When you eat what Krsna eats, you know you're eating
the best way you can for body, mind, and soul.
Like most Westerners, I was raised a meat-eater. Then, about ten years ago, after wrestling with the Krsna consciousness philosophy for about a year, I finally accepted it, and along with it came krsna-prasadam(vegetarian food that's been offered to the Lord). For me, prasadam was a delightful part of the whole Krsna conscious culture. I never questioned it or examined its merits. I simply relished it along with the singing, dancing, and philosophy, and the association of the Lord's devotees. But during the last year I've been analyzing this cuisine from many angles, and I've found that, like everything else directly related to the Supreme Lord, there's no fault in it. I'm convinced there is no better way to eat, whether for health, nutrition, taste, variety, or spiritual advancement.
For example, consider that the typical Vedic lunch is the main meal of the day. "But supper has always been my main meal," you object. Well, listen to Laurel Robertson, co-author of the best-selling Laurel's Kitchen: "Food is the fuel for your day's activities, so it makes no sense at all to eat your biggest meal at night when it's all behind you . . . Dinner should not be heavy." ** (Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey, Laurel's Kitchen (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), pp. 108, 150.)
The typical Vedic lunch consists of capatis (unleavened whole-wheat breads) rice, dal (bean soup), cooked vegetables, and salad. "The best health insurance of all seems to be a well-chosen vegetarian diet from varied sources and a life free of junk foods," says Vie Sussman, author of The Vegetarian Alternative. ** (Vie Sussman, The Vegetarian Alternative (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1978), p. 124.) Those who associate vegetarians with slump-shouldered, spaced-out oddballs should know that Dr. Irving Fisher of Yale University found that vegetarians performed better than meat-eaters in a series of endurance tests.
And combining various vegetables with rice, whole-wheat bread, and beans has tremendous nutritional advantages. Eaten separately, each of these foods will give you a certain amount of protein, but when you combine them in one meal the total protein your body receives is greater than the sum of the parts. Such combinations can increase the protein by as much as fifty percent!
Here's another way Vedic eating makes sense nutritionally. At a traditional Vedic luncheon you'll find a wedge of lemon on every plate. Why? I always thought it was there for the nuances of taste that lemon juice adds to the various dishes. But according to Gary Null, author of The New Vegetarian, lemon juice has another function as well: "Your body has difficulty absorbing iron. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) increases this absorption." ** (Gary Null, The New Vegetarian (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1978), p. 317.) There are good sources of iron in our lunch the bean soup, the whole-wheat bread, the rice, and some of the vegetables and the lemon juice, rich in vitamin C, helps our body absorb it.
Last summer more fuel was added to the fire of my conviction when a panel of dietary experts from the National Academy of Sciences issued a list of recommendations. Having fully explored the connection between nutrition and cancer, the experts advised people to eat less fat and more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. In particular, they urged all of us to eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and betacarotene in other words, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, spinach, and the like. These are all staples in Krsna's cuisine.
Ultimately, of course, my faith in Krsna's cuisine is part of my faith in Krsna. We can adjust our diet in so many ways to become healthier or stronger or thinner, or just to enjoy ourselves. But if we simply offer Krsna what He likes and then eat that, we can get all these benefits and more. Why? Because there's no mistake in Lord Krsna's dietary preferences: they're as perfect and complete as He is.
Westerners often doubt the health value of krsna-prasadam, or the truth of Vedic wisdom in general. In response, Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master, would often give this example: Although we ordinarily regard excreta of any kind as contaminating, the Vedas declare that cow dung is pure so pure that when smeared on a dirty place the place becomes decontaminated. And, in fact, for centuries simple Indian villagers have cleansed their homes with cow dung (much to the horror of Westerners). Only recently has a prominent scientist and doctor in Calcutta analyzed cow dung and found that, sure enough, it has antiseptic properties.
Similarly, Krsna's devotees have eaten His prasadam for centuries, and only recently have nutritionists and doctors discovered its nutritional benefits. Yet with all their experiments, analyses, and studies, they have yet to disclose the spiritual benefits of eating prasadam. But why wait for them? Each of us can experience those benefits for ourselves simply by cooking and offering our vegetarian food to Lord Krsna, for His pleasure.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Water Chestnuts and Fresh String Beans
Sometimes fresh water chestnuts are available at Indo-Asian grocers or Oriental markets. For those of you fortunate enough to come across them, this combination will prove delightful.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4 or 5
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter)
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½-inch to 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, sliced into paper-thin julienne strips
1 pound fresh green stringbeans, washed, trimmed, and cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon cumin powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
5 to 6 ounces water chestnuts
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced
1. Prepare the water chestnuts by slicing them from the crown through the base and peeling away the soft brownish-black casings. Slice the smooth, crispy white bulbs into round pieces ¼-inch thick and soak in cool water until ready to use.
2. Heat the ghee in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan or a 10- to 12-inch wok over a medium-high flame until a drop of water flicked in sputters at once. Stir in the black mustard seeds and julienne strips of ginger root and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and pop.
3. Add the sliced string beans and stir-fry for about 5 to 7 minutes. Pour in the water, cover securely, and boil gently for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and boil off nearly all the remaining liquid. When the water has nearly evaporated, add the water chestnuts and the remaining ingredients and cook for a few minutes until the beans are tender-crisp and the water is gone. Remove the pan or wok from the stove and offer the dish to Krsna immediately.
Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice and Green-Pea Pilaf
(Tomatar Mattar Pulau)
Preparation time: 25 to 35 minutes
4 medium-size firm ripe tomatoes, washed and dried
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick 1 ½ inches long
2 whole black cardamom pods
½ tablespoon peeled, finely minced fresh ginger root
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup basmati rice or any other superior quality long-grain white rice
2 cups water
1 cup fresh green peas
To prepare the savory rice and green-pea pilaf:
1. Clean, wash, soak, and drain the rice.
2. Lightly tap each cardamom pod to partially crush open.
3. Heat 3 ½ to 4 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 1 ½-quart saucepan over a medium flame for 1 ½ minutes. Add the whole cloves, cinnamon stick, and bruised cardamom pods, and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
4. Add the rice and nuts and stir-fry for about 4 minutes, or until the nuts begin to turn pale golden brown.
5. Boil the water and pour it into the rice-and-nut mixture. Then add the peas and salt. Stir, raising the flame to high and bringing the water to a full boil. Immediately reduce the flame to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and, without stirring, simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender.
6. Remove the cover and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to allow the rice to dry out. Fluff with a fork and, if desired, remove the whole spices.
To prepare the baked tomatoes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350" F.
2. Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato and set the slices aside. With a teaspoon, carefully scoop out the seeds and pulp and set aside. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt and invert them on a rack to drain for about 15 minutes. Chop the tomato pulp and force it through a strainer. Collect the pulp and discard the seeds.
3. Heat 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over a medium flame until it is hot. Drop in the minced ginger root and fry until brown. Add the tomato pulp and turmeric, and then stir-fry until the pulp is reduced to a thick puree. Remove the pan from the flame and set aside.
4. Stuff the tomatoes with the savory rice and pour a teaspoon of the thick tomato sauce into the opening of each tomato. Replace the tops of the tomatoes saved in step 1.
5. To bake the tomatoes, set them on a rack over a small, shallow tray with ¼ inch of hot water at the bottom. Bake in the oven at 350° for 10 to 15 minutes before offering to Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada's Deep-Fried Cauliflower and Potatoes in Sour Cream
Note: The sour cream puts a glistening coat of flavor on the vegetables, but if you let the dish sit the sauce will dry up and the potatoes will turn soggy. So offer this dish to Krsna as freshly prepared as possible.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Soaking time for potatoes: at least ½ hour
Servings: 6 to 8
3 cups ghee or vegetable oil
1 medium-size cauliflower
2 large, mature baking potatoes, soaked at least ½ hour
1 to 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cup light cream, plain whisked yogurt, or whisked sour cream at room temperature
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley or fresh coriander leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 250° F.
2. Wash and trim the cauliflower, and then cut it into flowerettes 1 ½ inches long by ¼ inch thick. Rinse and dry the flowerettes. Cut the potatoes into slices 1/8 inch thick.
2. Deep-fry the cauliflower and potatoes in either of the following ways:
(A) Heat the ghee or oil over a medium-high flame until it reaches 360° (use a deep-frying thermometer). Divide the cauliflower into two batches and fry each batch until the flowerettes are crispy, tender, and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Keep warm in a preheated oven. Divide the potatoes into two batches and fry each batch until crisp and golden brown.'Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Keep warm in the oven.
(B) Fry the cauliflower as instructed above and double-fry (souffle) the potatoes. You'll need really mature baking potatoes with a mealy texture and a high starch content. The potatoes must be evenly cut into slices '/« inch thick and then rinsed and soaked for at least a half hour in several changes of ice-water. Fry in small batches, a handful at a time, at 275° to 300° for 4 minutes. Drain for at least five minutes. For the second frying, fry at 380° to 390° for 1 or 2 minutes, or until the potato slices puff and turn brown. Although tricky, soufleed potatoes are novel eye-catchers, and even the duds are acceptable.
2. Combine the fried, hot vegetables in a mixing bowl, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and turmeric, and toss gently to coat the vegetables evenly with the spices. Just before offering to Krsna, fold in the cream, yogurt, or sour cream and garnish with the fresh minced herbs.