A Poor Man’s Feast
These dishes prepared for Lord Krsna offer a simple way to enjoy plenty.
by Visakha-devi dasi
“A poor man’s feast fit for a king.” That’s what Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master, called the meal in this photograph—khicari, fried potatoes, yogurt, and fresh fruit.
Feast? Where are the cocktails, the hors d’oeuvres, the entree, or at least the dessert?
No, this feast is not an extravaganza. But whether you’re rich or poor, it will give you great pleasure and satisfaction, and without much cost. In this feast there’s a range of taste, texture, and color, without unneeded calories but with enough bulk to satisfy you. You won’t feel the urge to overeat. And when you feast on khicari, you’ll get half the protein you need in a day for only $.40. (If you “feast” on a steak instead, you’ll have to spend $1.10 to get the same amount of protein.)
This feast is for poor men in another way, also. No doubt a man is poor if he must eat khicari because he can’t pay the extra $.70 for a steak. But a poor man is also one who has no spiritual knowledge. In this sense, most of us are embarrassingly poverty-stricken. And for us these dishes are a genuine feast.
The ingredients for this khicari feast were gathered, prepared, and offered to the Supreme Lord, Krsna, in a mood of love and devotion. Since the cook was thinking of Krsna when she made it, she didn’t use any ingredients He wouldn’t accept: no meat, no fish, no eggs. And since she understood that Krsna had kindly provided her with the ingredients, the fire, and the intelligence she needed to cook, she offered the dishes to Him with sincere humility. “My dear Lord,” she thought, “I have nothing to offer You; everything is Yours already. But I have made this meal for Your pleasure. Now please accept it.”
When we hear this simple prayer, the skeptic within us immediately judges it a pathetic display of sentimentality: “Is God so hungry that He needs to eat? And if He eats, why is the food lying there after the offering?” But if we look into the matter, we’ll find satisfying answers to such objections.
First, if we accept that God exists, we must also accept that He’s omnipotent. (By definition, God is unlimited: a limited God makes as much sense as cold heat.) From the Vedic scriptures we learn that one of the ways God is omnipotent is that each of His senses can perform the functions of all the others. So simply by seeing the devotees’ offering, or by hearing their words of love as they offer the food, Krsna actually tastes the dishes. And Krsna, unlike us, can taste them without having to consume them. He can taste everything and then leave it all for us to enjoy. Actually, Krsna is hungry not for our food, but for our love.
All food, whether or not offered to Krsna, is produced by His natural arrangement. But once He tastes our offering, the quality of the food changes completely. It becomes spiritualized, Krsna-ized, and just by eating it we become spiritually wealthy. To explain how, Srila Prabhupada would relate a simple analogy. Sometimes over-indulgence in milk will cause an illness, but milk is also the cure for that illness when it is taken in another form, yogurt. Yogurt is nothing but milk transformed by the addition of a culture, yet its effect is therapeutic.
Similarly, prasadam is food that has been transformed from matter to spirit by the touch of the Supreme Lord. Therefore, although we are implicated in material life by eating ordinary food, we are liberated by eating prasadam. Lord Krsna states this in Bhagavad-gita: “The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food that is first offered for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, eat only sin” (Bg. 3.13).
Srila Prabhupada further elaborated on this point in a letter to one of my God-brothers: “Regarding your question ‘What is meant by an object regaining its spiritual quality?’ the answer is that in our conditioned state we take it for granted that everything is separated from Krsna. But actually, nothing can be separate from Krsna, because everything is resting on His energy. Therefore, things which we now consider matter regain their spiritual quality when dovetailed for the cause of the Absolute Truth, Krsna.
“For example, when we cook food for ourselves, it is a different thing from the food which is prepared and offered to Krsna. The same dal [bean soup] and rice are material for one purpose but become spiritual when offered to Krsna. So on the higher platform, there is nothing material when everything is accepted in relationship with Krsna, the Supreme Spirit.”
Medicine will act, whether taken knowingly or unknowingly. Similarly krsna-prasadam. And you don’t have to live in a Hare Krsna temple to feel the spiritual effects of prasadam. You can cook, offer, and partake of prasadam alone or with your family and friends, and you’re sure to get tangible spiritual benefit.
In this time of confusion, prasadam can be a pleasant introduction to spiritual life. Just by eating some, a person who is otherwise uninterested in Krsna consciousness may become curious—”What are these dishes? How were they made? Why were they offered?”—and from that point progress spiritually.
As Srila Prabhupada once remarked, “Prasadam is our secret weapon”—not a weapon to harm, but a weapon to end our spiritual poverty and make each of us rich, eternally. Why eat a feast that does anything less?
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Cauliflower, Green-Pea, and Mung-Bean Stew
This dish is superbly composed and is satisfying as a meal in itself. Srila Prabhupada once commented, “A bowl of this khicari, a small portion of plain yogurt, and a dry fried-potato dish is a poor man’s feast fit for a king.”
Preparation time: About 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6
1 cup basmati rice or other good quality long-grain white rice
2/3 cup split mung beans, without skins
1 small cauliflower
¼ to ½ teaspoon asafetida
5 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or, if ghee is unavailable, 4 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter
½ tablespoon fresh ginger root, scraped and minced
½ to 1 tablespoon seeded, minced fresh hot green chilies (use as desired)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2/3 cup fresh or frozen green peas
7 cups water
1 ¼ teaspoons turmeric
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1. Sort out any stones from the split mung beans and wash and drain the beans.
2. Wash the cauliflower and trim it into florets 2 inches long by ¾ inch thick, and then rinse and dry them. Keep the cauliflower and asafetida next to the stove.
3. Over a high flame, heat 4 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan for 15 seconds. Stir in the minced ginger root, seeded green chilies, and cumin seeds and fry for 5 to 15 seconds, or until the cumin seeds turn golden brown.
4. Quickly add the asafetida and then immediately drop in the cauliflower. Turn the florets constantly with a spoon, frying them for about 4 or 5 minutes, until slightly browned and partially cooked. Stir in the rice and mung beans and fry for 1 minute.
5. Pour in the green peas, water, and turmeric and bring to a full boil over a high flame. Reduce flame to low, partially cover, and simmer (stirring occasionally) for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until the rice and mung beans are soft and fully cooked and the vegetables are succulent. Stir in the salt and 1 tablespoon of butter or ghee before offering to Krsna.
Rice-and-Split-Pea Stew with Fried Cashews
This juicy, thick, and mildly seasoned south Indian stew is an ideal way to combine the complementary proteins of split peas and rice. When you eat peas and rice together, you get 43 percent more protein than you’d get if you ate them separately. What’s more, this easy-to-prepare dish is also easy to digest, and it tastes great.
Preparation time: about 1 hour
Servings: 5 or 6
1/3 cup green or yellow split peas
1 cup basmati or other good quality uncooked long-grain white rice
7 ½ cups water
5 ½ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, scraped and minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup raw cashews, chopped or broken coarse
5 or 6 pats of butter, if desired
5 or 6 sprigs parsley
1. Soak the split peas for 1 hour and drain. If you’re using basmati rice, clean, wash soak, and drain it.
2. Partially cook the split peas by rapidly boiling them for 15 minutes in 3 cups of water. Pour into a strainer and drain.
3. Over a medium to medium-high flame, heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil for 30 to 60 seconds in a heavy 3-quart saucepan (nonstick cookware is ideal). Stir in the minced ginger, cumin seeds, and cloves, and fry for about 30 to 45 seconds, or until the cumin seeds turn golden brown.
4. Add the asafetida and then immediately stir in the rice; fry for about 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in 4 cups of water, the turmeric, black pepper, and salt, and rapidly bring to a full boil. Stir in the parboiled split peas. Now cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the flame to low, and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the stew is tender. If the mixture is too thick, stir in part or all of the remaining ½ cup water. Remove from the flame.
5. Heat the remaining ghee or oil in a small frying pan over a low flame. Stir-fry the cashew bits until golden brown, and then fold into the stew. Place the stew over a medium-low flame and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes. Now garnish each serving with a pat of butter and a sprig of parsley, and offer the first one to Krsna.
Simple Rice-and-Mung Stew with Braised Tomatoes
(Gili Mung-Ki Khicari)
Warming, nourishing, and tasty, this stew is exceptionally easy to digest and an excellent source of nutrition.
Preparation time: About 1 hour
Servings: 5 or 6
¾ cup basmati or other good quality long-grain white rice
¾ cup split mung beans, without skins
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala (try an Indian grocery)
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/8 to ½ dried red chili pepper (use as desired)
¼ teaspoon asafetida
2 medium-size tomatoes
1. Wash the tomatoes and cut each of them into eight wedges.
2. Place the rice, mung beans, water, turmeric, and garam masala in a heavy saucepan and bring to a full boil. Reduce the flame to low, partially cover, and gently simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the ingredients are tender and the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the flame.
3. Over a medium to medium-high flame, heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a small saucepan over a medium to medium-high flame for about 1 minute. Stir in the cumin seeds and dried red chili, and fry for about 30 to 45 seconds, or until the cumin seeds are golden brown. Then sprinkle in the asafetida and immediately add the tomato wedges. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes soften and glisten with ghee or oil. Now pour the fried seasoning into the khicari, stir in the salt, and offer to Krsna.