Bursting with a harmony of flavors, this spicy vegetable-stuffed pastry is a classic favorite of Lord Krsna and His devotees.
After a long series of experiments, researchers at the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco recently showed that the constituents of our food alter our moods and thoughts by changing the chemistry of the brain. Their statement: "The food that we eat has intimate effects on the brain, on our appetite, our mood, curability to sleep and to think." A practical proof of this is that the students at schools in Fulton County, Georgia, where junk foods have been banned in favor of natural and nutritious meals, are reportedly learning quicker, staying healthier, and even behaving better.
Devotees of Lord Krsna eat only prasadam (vegetarian food that's been offered to Krsna). What effect does prasadam have on the brain? Besides doing all the good things that any well-balanced vegetarian diet does, prasadam also gives us the ability to think clearly about the nature of matter, spirit, and God.
How? Not because it contains certain vitamins and minerals, or complementary proteins, or just the right amount of the right kinds of carbohydrates. Prasadam has all these things, but that's not why it's spiritually potent. Since prasadam isn't material, we can't analyze its spiritual potency in material terms. Only by appreciating the value of offering our food to Krsna can we understand how prasadam can make us spiritually intelligent so intelligent, in fact, that we feel inclined to chant the holy names of God and dance in ecstasy.
Naturally, the average person will pooh-pooh this effect of prasadam, considering it the result of religious fanaticism, brainwashing, or mere sentimentality. But those with a little faith the above-average can take note of this statement from the foremost of all Vedic scriptures, the five-thousand-year-old Srimad-Bhagavatam: "In the present Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy, those who are intelligent will worship God by performing congregational chanting of His holy names."
Of course, one thing about prasadam that none of us needs any scriptural proof for is that it tastes great. And that's part of the meaning of prasadam "the mercy of the Lord." Out of His mercy, Krsna makes Himself available to us in the form of delicious spiritual food. We can all enjoy prasadam to our hearts' content, whether we know its spiritual potency or not. And even if we're unaware of its spiritual potency, prasadam makes us spiritually intelligent, just as nutritious food makes us healthy even if we don't know it's nutritious.
This month we're featuring one of the most popular of all prasadam preparations: the deep-fried, stuffed savory pastry called samosa.
When you bite into a warm samosa, the first thing you'll notice is its wonderfully tender, thin pastry crust, golden-brown from deep-frying. Inside are peas, potatoes, or small chunks of cauliflower, seasoned not too little so that the samosa's bland, and not too much so that it's hot, but just enough to delight the palate. Many flavors harmonize as you taste the crust and filling together, all permeated by the rich, regal flavor of the ghee (clarified butter) that the samosa was cooked in.
Even though they taste great, however, there's no point in relishing samosas unless they've been offered to Krsna. That's when they become prasadam. Then when we cat them, besides being delicious they'll draw our thoughts from matter to spirit and that will be the perfection of our eating.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Pastry with Cauliflower-and-Pea Stuffing
Yield: about 20 pastries 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches
Preparation time: about 1 ½ hours
Ingredients for the pastry:
1 ½ cups unbleached white pastry flour or all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
scant ¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 1/8 cups ghee (clarified butter) or 3 cups nut or vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons ghee
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
¼ cup cold water
Ingredients for the vegetable stuffing:
2 tablespoons ghee
2 teaspoons peeled ginger root, minced fine
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh green chilies, minced fine
1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
1/3 teaspoon mild asafetida (try an Indian grocery)
½ tablespoon white poppy seeds, if available
14 ounces cauliflower flowerettes
1 ¼ to 11/3 cup fresh peas
1 ½ tablespoons coriander powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala (try an Indian grocery)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced fine
1 tablespoon water
2 small bowls
aluminum foil or plastic wrap
10- to 12-inch wok or similar frying pan
frying thermometer (optional)
11- by 14-inch baking dish
Procedure for making the pastry:
1. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder the mixing bowl.
2. Sprinkle warm ghee over the mixture and rub it between your fingertips until it's thick consistency of dry oatmeal.
3. Make a depression in the center of the mixture, add the yogurt and ¼ cup water, quickly stir, and gather into a ball.
4. Adding ½ teaspoon at a time, sprinkle up to 2 more teaspoons of water to cause the mixture to cohere into a stiff pastry dough.
5. Knead the dough on a smooth surface for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it's uniform and elastic. Then shape the dough into a ball, place it into a bowl, and drape it with a moist towel. Let it sit while you prepare the cauliflower-and-pea stuffing.
Procedure for making the vegetable stuffing:
1. Steam the peas and cauliflower flowerettes until tender.
2. Over a medium-high flame, heat 2 table-spoons of ghee in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan until a drop of water flicked into the pan sputters instantly. Toss in the minced ginger, chilies, and cumin seeds, and when the seeds begin to darken add the asafetida and white poppy seeds. When the cumin seeds have turned dark brown, stir in the steamed cauliflower and peas.
3. Reduce the flame to low, add all the remaining seasonings, stir, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and fry, uncovered, until the vegetable is thoroughly dry. Remove, mash to a coarse consistency, and cool to room temperature. You'll need to mash the filling enough so that the vegetables are no longer so ragged that they can pierce through the thin pastry casings. If you mash the stuffing too much, however, there won't be enough to fill the 20 pastries. After a few practice runs you'll find the texture you like best, and you can adjust the amount of vegetable accordingly.
4. Divide the stuffing into 20 equal portions.
Procedure for shaping, filling, and frying the pastries (see illustrations):
1. Roll the dough into a cylinder 10 inches long, cut the cylinder into 10 equal pieces, and drape a moist cloth over them.
2. Take one piece of dough and make a smooth patty by pressing it under your palm. Dredge the patty with flour once on both sides and, with a rolling pin, flatten it into a thin, round disk 6 ½ inches across. Then cut the disk in half with a sharp paring knife.
3. Dip your finger into a bowl of water and moisten the straight edge of one semicircle. Now shape the semicircle into a cone, gently but firmly pressing the moistened edges together so they'll stay sealed.
4. Carefully place one portion of the vegetable stuffing into the pastry cone. Dip your finger into the howl of water and moisten the inside top edges of the cone. Then firmly press the moistened edges together, thoroughly sealing the stuffing inside the triangular pastry casing. Now place the samosa on the cookie sheet, seam-side down. Finish rolling, stuffing, and shaping the remaining samosas.
5. Over a medium-high flame, heat the ghee or oil in the wok until it's about 365 °F. (You can use a deep-frying thermometer if you have one.) Slip 4 or 5 samosas into the hot ghee or oil and fry for 3 to 6 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and an even golden brown. Transfer the samosas to a baking dish lined with a paper towel. Drain and offer to Krsna immediately, or keep warm in an oven preheated to 250° while you're frying the remaining samosas.