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Cooking with the Spices of Life

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The Spices of Life

Seasoning with devotion.

by Visakha-devi dasi

1984-05-16

The utensils and ingredients in this photo are for making paste masalas. “Paste masala” refers to spices and herbs that have been ground to a moist, smooth consistency. When slowly simmered, paste masalas impart a full-bodied flavor that is distinctive yet subtle—an ideal spicing for dry bean dishes, dals, gravies, and moist vegetables. This method of spicing will add a versatile and sophisticated dimension to your cooking.

To make paste masalas in the traditional way, you need a large, heavy stone mortar and pestle for pulverizing the dry ingredients. It’s a time-consuming and arduous task (especially for a large quantity), even if you’re good at it, so in the photo we’ve also included a small electric grinding mill and an electric blender. With these you can make paste masalas in a jiffy that taste just like those made the traditional way.

Now, you may think that using such equipment isn’t spiritual, but my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, has taught differently. He writes,

One should not be attached to material sense enjoyment but should accept everything enjoyable which is in relationship to Krsna. One should not give up anything which can be utilized in the service of the Lord, That is the secret of devotional service. Anything that can be utilized in advancing Krsna consciousness and devotional service should be accepted. For example, we are using many machines for the advancement of our present Krsna consciousness movement, machines like typewriters, dictating machines, tape recorders, microphones, and airplanes. Sometimes people ask us, “Why are you utilizing material products if you condemn the advancement of material civilization?” But actually we do not condemn. We simply ask people to do whatever they are doing in Krsna consciousness. We are utilizing these machines for Krsna’s service. With such sentiment for Krsna, or Krsna consciousness, we can accept everything.

Everything is connected with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore everything should be engaged in His service. As one great devotee prayed, “My mind, my body, my family, whatever may be mine, I have surrendered at Your lotus feet, O my dear Lord Krsna.”

So a hesitancy to use the grinder and blender in Krsna’s service indicates an incomplete understanding of the philosophy if Krsna consciousness. Such appliances nay seem material, but when used in a spiritual way—to make food for Krsna—they become spiritual.

That is the absolute nature of Krsna: everything connected with Him acquires His spiritual nature. By cooking for Krsna, therefore, we spiritualize not only our grinder and blender but our whole kitchen. And even our senses, when engaged in the service of the Supreme Lord, are spiritualized. That’s why the great devotee I quoted earlier also prayed, “The spiritual world appears in my home whenever I see the worship and service of Lord Krsna going on there.” In the spiritual world, everything is being used in Krsna’s service, and when our home is similarly devoted to Krsna’s service, it’s as good as the spiritual world.

But laboring for something other than Krsna’s service, whether with old-fashioned or new-fangled devices, is useless. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.8) states: “The occupational activities a person performs are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” And a few verses later we read that the highest perfection we can achieve by discharging our duties is to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

So use the grinder and blender—or mortar and pestle—for Krsna. That will make cooking a labor of love, an activity that evokes our natural affection for the Lord. It’s the proper use not only of our utensils but also of our lives.

(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)

Cumin and Black Pepper, Coriander, Cumin, or Fennel Paste Masala

For the cumin and black pepper masala., use approximately 1 part whole black peppercorns, plus 2 parts cumin seeds, to 3 parts water; for the other masalas, approximately 1 part any dry seed to 1 part water.

1. Pulverize up to ¼ cup dry spice seeds into a fine-textured powder. Transfer the contents into a small bowl. Add almost an equal amount of water to make a loose, wet paste; let the paste sit for 1 hour before using.

2. The pastes may be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 2 or 3 days. The pastes will thicken. Therefore before using, add small quantities of water.

Simple Combination Paste Masala

A basic paste seasoning for any cooked rice, vegetable, grain, or dal preparation. Allow 1 to 2 tablespoons of the paste seasoning for any 4 to 6 servings of a preparation. Simply heat ghee in the pan, fry the paste seasoning over a medium to medium-high flame for about 1 or 1 ½ minutes, and add your grain or vegetable and the desired quantity of liquid for cooking. Garnish as desired and offer to Lord Krsna.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

2 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 ½ tablespoons peeled, fresh ginger root, minced fine
1 to 1 ½ tablespoons seeded hot green chilies, minced fine
1 medium-size tomato, peeled and diced, or 1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 ½ tablespoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons turmeric

1. Combine the cumin, fennel, and black peppercorns in a grinder; pulverize to a fine powder. In a small bowl thoroughly mix the powdered spices and water.

2. Blend the ginger root, chilies, and tomato or yogurt until smooth. Combine with the moist powdered spices, add the coriander and turmeric, and mix well.

Deep-Fried New Potatoes in Seasoned Broth

(Aloo Dam)

Preparation time: 1 hour
Servings: 6

Ingredients for preparing the potatoes:

2 pounds peeled red or white potatoes
2 pounds baby new potatoes
3 cups ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil

Ingredients for preparing the paste seasoning:

12 blanched almonds
½ teaspoon sesame seeds
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger root, minced fine
1 ½ to 3 teaspoons hot green chilies, minced fine
½ tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon sugar or honey

Remaining ingredients:

3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 cassia or bay leaf, crumpled
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon mild asafetida powder, if available
1 cup plain yogurt, whisked
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced

To prepare the potatoes:

1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 ¼-inch cubes to correspond in size with the baby new potatoes. Pat them dry. Steam or parboil the new potatoes for 12 minutes, then peel. Air dry.

2. With a fork, prick each new potato or cube in 4 places about ½-inch deep; divide the potatoes into 3 batches. Pour ghee or oil into a 10-to 12-inch wok or deep-frying pan, making sure the oil level reaches only half way up the sides of the pan. Place pan over a high flame. When the temperature reaches 360 °F on a deep-frying thermometer, fry the potatoes, one batch at a time, until they turn golden brown. Transfer them to absorbent paper to drain.

To make the paste seasoning:

1. Pulverize the almonds and sesame seeds to a fine powder with your mill or mortar.

2. Blend the water, ginger root, and green chilies for about 1 minute or until the liquid is smooth. Pour the liquid into a small cup, add the powdered almond-sesame mixture and the ground coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and sweetener; blend thoroughly.

To assemble the vegetable:

1. Heat the ghee or oil in a 3-quart saucepan over a medium-high flame for 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Fry the cumin and cassia or bay leaf until the cumin seeds brown. Add the asafetida and paste seasoning, and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until the ghee or oil oozes out of the paste and the color darkens slightly. Stir in the yogurt and water. Raise the flame to high and bring the broth to a boil. Add the potatoes, salt, and ½ of the fresh herbs. Reduce the flame as low as possible and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. This dish dries out if it is allowed to simmer longer. Before offering to Lord Krsna, sprinkle in the remaining herbs.

Deep-Fried Cauliflower and New Potatoes in Tomato Broth

(Phulgobhi-Aloo Dam)

Preparation time: 1 hour
Servings: 5-6

1 pound cauliflower, washed, trimmed, and thoroughly dried
1 pound new potatoes, peeled, washed, and thoroughly dried
3 cups ghee or vegetable oil

Ingredients for the paste seasoning:

1 ½ tablespoons dried powdered coconut
1 ½ tablespoons sesame or white poppy seeds 12 raw blanched almonds or cashews
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger root, minced fine
2 to 3 teaspoons hot green chilies, minced fine
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon sugar or honey

Remaining ingredients:

3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 small cassia or bay leaf, crumpled
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 medium-size firm, ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced fine
2 cups water
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced

To prepare the vegetable:

Divide the cauliflower into flowerets, about 1 inch thick and 2 inches long. Cut the potatoes into 1 ¼-inch chunks. Make 4 or 5 ½-inch-deep pricks with fork tongs in each potato piece. Pour the ghee or oil into a deep 10- to 12-inch frying pan or wok, making sure the oil level reaches only ½ way up the sides. Place the pan on a high flame until the temperature reaches 350°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Gently drop in all the cauliflower and deep-fry until the pieces are golden brown; transfer to absorbent paper to drain. Deep-fry all the potatoes until golden brown and transfer them to drain. Remove the pan from the flame.

To prepare the paste seasoning:

1. Pulverize the coconut, sesame seeds or poppy seeds, nuts, and fennel seeds to a fine powder.

2. Blend the water, ginger, and hot chilies until smooth. Pour the liquid into a small cup, add the powdered coconut-fennel mixture, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and sweetener; blend thoroughly.

To assemble the vegetable:

1. Heat the ghee or oil in a 3-quart saucepan over a medium-high flame for 1 ½ minutes. Toss in the cassia or bay leaf, cumin, and mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds crackle and sputter. Add the paste seasoning and stir-fry until the ghee or oil oozes out of the paste.

2. Pour in the water, salt, and ½ of the fresh herbs and bring to a full boil. Reduce the flame as low as possible; add the fried cauliflower and potatoes, cover, and allow the vegetables to steep in the slowly simmering broth for about 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining fresh herbs just before offering to Krsna.

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