Dieting the Hare Krishna Way


Dieting the Hare Krishna Way

When ninety percent of Americans think they are overweight,
remaining slim is no easy thing. Here’s how we do it.

By Visakha-Devi Dasi


“Sixty-five million people are on a diet at any given time in America. Millions are going on and off diets, losing weight, gaining it back, giving up, feeling desperate….” (“Wellness Letter,” University of California at Berkeley, Volume 1, Issue 12)

Some years ago I was with a group of devotees who were chanting, dancing, and distributing Krsna conscious books and magazines near Wall Street in New York City. Many businessmen were sitting and strolling outside, enjoying their lunch hour in the spring weather. Back to Godhead in hand, I approached one middle-aged businessman who was watching our chanting party. Before I said a word, he said, “All you people are so trim. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fat Hare Krsna. How do you do it?” It had never occurred to me before, but I reflected that it was true—generally devotees aren’t overweight.

How do devotees do it? Certainly not by following any popular diet program. In fact, registered dieticians Dr. Michele Fisher and Dr. Paul Lachance of Rutgers University recently analyzed eleven popular diets and found that they may well endanger the health of dieters because of nutritional inadequacies or excesses. All the diets fell short—some in important vitamins and minerals, others in protein, fiber, fat, or carbohydrates, Still others were too high in cholesterol and sodium. What is the use of diets that sacrifice health to lose pounds?

Americans, especially, go to phenomenal lengths to lose fat. According to Better Homes and Gardens survey, ninety percent of Americans think of themselves as overweight. To battle the bulge, Americans spent about five billion dollars in 1985 alone on diet and fitness guides, over-the-counter diet drugs, low-calorie foods, and the like. Yet by now (a year later), ninety percent of those shed pounds have resettled on the same American hips, thighs, and paunches from where they came, keeping the population of the U.S. the world’s fattest. No wonder my Wall Street businessman wondered about the devotees’ physique: it’s practically un-American to be normal-looking and not to be dieting.

A partial explanation of why devotees aren’t overweight is their vegetarian diet. Although devotees are vegetarian not because they want to be thin, their diet of milk and milk products, vegetables, fruits, and grains is generally less fattening than a diet that includes meat. The Vegetarian Times advocates “vegetarian tactics to get thin” and lists seven reasons why these tactics are preferred to nonvegetarian ones. A vegetarian diet (1) lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels, (2) allows you to eat “no-nos” (potatoes, beans, rice), (3) provides better balance and more variety, (4) eliminates the dangerous chemical residues in meat, (5) increases energy and slows aging, (6) reduces high-calorie protein foods in the diet by fifty percent, and (7) is the oldest, most natural way to lose weight. Vegetarian diets, unlike modern diets, easily deliver all the important vitamins and minerals, as well as protein, fiber, fat, and carbohydrates.

If devotees are overweight, they manage their overweight condition through will power and moderation, the God-given weight-control mechanisms. They regulate their diet and abstain from certain foods. Devotees generally don’t go on binges due to stress, loneliness, sexual conflicts, and frustration. They don’t try to solve their problems with food, using it as an escape, sedative, or solace. Neither are they bored with it or with their life-style. A devotee’s lifestyle is rigorous and Spartan in certain ways, and this is conducive to health and vitality. Binging, sloth, and self-indulgence do not affect a God conscious person. Because devotees of Krsna are practiced in sense control, they are automatically practiced in weight control.

Before a meal ISKCON devotees usually recite a prayer that expresses the quagmire that the overweight—and all of us—are in:

This material body is a place of ignorance, and the senses are a network of paths to death. We have fallen into this ocean of material sense enjoyment, and of all the senses, the most voracious and uncontrollable is the tongue.
Although to conquer the tongue is very difficult, You, dear Krsna, are very kind and have sent us this prasadam just to help us. Now [at this meal] let us take this prasadam to our full satisfaction and glorify Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.

Trying to lose weight can seem like a Sisyphean punishment, but for one who tries his best and depends on the mercy of the Supreme Lord, anything is possible.

(Shown on the opposite page, clockwise from the top, recipes from The Hare Krsna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)

Green Beans in Chickpea-Flour Sauce

(Phansi kadhi)

Preparation time: 30-40 minutes

Servings: 4-6

1 ½ pounds fresh green beans
3 ½ cups water
1 cup plain yogurt
3 ounces sifted chickpea flour
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 teaspooon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon asafetida
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1 lemon, washed and quartered
2 tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges

1. Wash and trim the beans, then snap them in half Cover the bottom of a mediumsize saucepan with I inch of water. Insert a basket steamer, then add the beans. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pan to trap the steam. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the beans darken and become tender. Drain the beans and put them aside.

2. Add the chickpea flour to the boiling water while stirring rapidly with a whisk. Then add the yogurt and bring to a second boil, stirring constantly. Boil rapidly for 15 minutes.

3. Heat the ghee in a small saucepan, and fry the mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the grated ginger, cayenne pepper, and asafetida. Turn with a spoon for a few seconds, then pour the ghee and seasonings into the kadhi sauce. Add the turmeric, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Mix well. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring more frequently as the mixture thickens. Then fold in the beans and heat to serving temperature, stirring constantly. Garnish with wedges of lemon and tomato. Offer to Krsna.

Scrambled Cheese with Fried Tomatoes

(Tamatar panir malai)

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Servings: 4-6

1 pound panir (milk curd)
4 medium-size tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped coriander or parsley leaves

1. Keeping the panir in the cheesecloth, rinse it under cold water for a moment, and then squeeze out some of the water.

2. While the panir is still moist, break it into 1-inch cubes and set aside. Heat the ghee in a wok or medium-size saucepan. Add the cumin seeds, and as soon as they darken (about 30 seconds) add the tomato wedges. Turn the tomato wedges gently until they are lightly browned. Put in the chunks of panir. Season with the turmeric, salt, and pepper and stir-fry gently for 2 or 3 minutes, taking care not to break the pieces of panir and tomato.

3. Finally, fold in the sour cream. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Offer to Krsna hot.

Bitter-Melon Stew


Preparation time: 45 minutes

Servings: 4-6

2 or 3 bitter melons (karela), green and firm
1 pound cauliflower flowerets
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound squash or eggplants, cubed
1 pound fresh peas or green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon femigreek seeds
6 curry or bay leaves
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 or 2 fresh chilies, seeded and minced
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons coriander
½ teaspoon asafetida
1 cup plain yogurt
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon panca masala (see below)

1. To make panca masala, mix together 2 tablespoons each of cumin seeds, black cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, anise or fennel seeds, and 1 tablespoon of fenugreek seeds. Store in an air-tight jar.

2. Remove the seeds from the bitter melons. Cut the bitter melons into 1-inch cubes. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee over a medium flame and fry the fenugreek seeds for 30 seconds, then add the cut vegetables. Add the curry leaves and stir-fry the vegetables for 5 minutes, turning them gently with a wooden spoon. Pour in the water, cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle or a blender to grind together the cumin seeds, grated ginger, minced chilies, turmeric, and a few drops of water to make a smooth masala paste. Heat the remaining tablespoon of ghee in a small saucepan and stir-fry the masala paste for a minute or two. Then add the panca masala, ground coriander, and asafetida. Stir for a few seconds. Pour the remaining water into the seasonings and boil for I minute. Empty the liquid masala into the cooking vegetables and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every now and then until the vegetables are slightly tender.

4. Lift the lid, add the yogurt and the salt. Stir and toss gently to mix the spices and sauce evenly with the vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes uncovered. Offer to Krsna.

Steamed Spinach with Fresh Cheese

(Panir sak)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4-6

1 pound fresh spinach, stemmed, washed, and drained
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pinch asafetida
3 tablespoons water
½ cup sour cream (optional)
8 ounces panir, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar

1. Chop the washed and drained spinach leaves into small pieces. Heat the ghee in a saucepan over a medium flame and fry the powdered spices. Put the chopped spinach into the saucepan with the 3 tablespoons of water. Cover, and cook over a low flame for 10 minutes, until the spinach is tender.

2. Now fold in the sour cream and the cubes of panir. Add the salt and sugar, stir well, and continue cooking over a low flame for 5 more minutes. Offer to Krsna.

Cauliflower and Potatoes in Yogurt Sauce

(Alu phul gobhi ki bhaji)

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Servings: 4-6

1 medium-size cauliflower
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon curnin seeds
1 or 2 dried chilies, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tablespoons water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup plain yogurt
¾ teaspoon gararn rnasd1d
2 firm ripe tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1 lemon or lime

1. Trim the cauliflower and cut it into floweretes 1 ½ inches long by 1-inch thick. Rinse them in a colander and let drain.

2. Heat the ghee in a heavy saucepan over a medium flame. Drop in the cumin seeds and crushed chilies and fry them for 30 to 45 seconds, until the cumin seeds turn golden-brown. Add the powdered spices, fry a few seconds longer, then immediately add the cubed potatoes. Turn the potatoes for 2 or 3 minutes, letting them brown in spots. Add the cauliflower and stir-fry for another 2 or 3 minutes. Then add the water and salt and put the lid on the pan to trap the steam. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender but still firm.

3. Stir in the yogurt and simmer for 3 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Sprinkle with garam masala and stir gently to mix. Garnish a serving with slices of tomato and a twist of lemon, and offer to Krsna.

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