The food we eat can put us in different modes; ignorance, passion, goodness—or still better.
by Visakha-devi dasi
When I was seventeen, just out of high school and about to start college, I got a summer job as a part-time waitress in a restaurant near Rockefeller Center, in New York City. Although we had some new customers daily, mostly it was the “regulars”—local businessmen—who came for lunch while I was working. Over the weeks I saw patterns in what they ordered: Some liked “health meals”—fresh fruits, salads with cottage cheese, baked or steamed vegetables, grilled cheese sandwiches on whole-wheat bread. Others favored spicy food, especially Mexican or Italian dishes generously laden with red peppers, onions, or garlic. And still others were the steak-and-beer types, occasionally switching off to a hamburger or fried chicken.
At the time I’d never heard of Lord Krsna or His book, Bhagavad-gita. But now, after trying to understand Krsna’s philosophy, I can understand that those customers revealed something about themselves by what they liked to eat.
Lord Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that every one of us is affected by one, two, or a combination of all three modes of material nature—goodness, passion, and ignorance. They influence every aspect of our lives—what or whom we worship, what kind of sacrifices we make, what austerities we undergo, the charity we give, our knowledge, action, determination, attitudes, and understanding, as well as our concept of happiness.
These modes are constantly vying for supremacy within our mind, and according to which one is prominent, we come under the influence of foolishness and madness (the mode of ignorance), greed, desires, and longings (passion), or illumination and peacefulness (goodness). Even our destination after death is determined by which mode we die in. Our every waking moment, our every thought, word, and deed, is influenced by the modes of material nature.
And the modes of nature also determine what we like to eat. In the Bhagavad-gita (17.8-10), Lord Krsna says, “Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence, and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing.
“Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, pungent, dry, and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery, and disease.
“Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed, and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of ignorance.”
After learning of the modes of nature, if you’re like me you’ll want to try for the mode of goodness. But in Krsna consciousness I found that there’s an even higher goal: to transcend the modes of nature entirely and come to the spiritual platform. And this goal is directly related to the food we eat.
The material world is full of contamination—whether that of goodness, passion, or ignorance. But when we offer our food to Lord Krsna before we eat it, it works like medicine—it makes us resistant to the modes of nature.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says that He will accept vegetarian preparations—those made from grains, fruits, dairy products, and vegetables—when they’re offered to Him with devotion. Such food is called prasadam, “the mercy of the Lord.”
Preparing and eating these foods for our own pleasure is not the same as preparing and offering them to Lord Krsna for His pleasure, because food that’s material when unconnected with the Lord becomes transcendental when offered to Him. So when you or I are fortunate enough to taste krsna-prasadam, we rise above the modes of ignorance, passion, and goodness—simply by eating.
If you’re familiar with Lord Krsna’s cuisine, you may have a doubt lingering in the back of your mind: “What about those spicy chutneys I’ve had at the Hare Krsna temple on Sundays? And sukta, that very bitter dish? And your lemon pickle—it’s so salty!”
Yes, it’s true. Some of the dishes we offer to Lord Krsna (dishes our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, enjoyed heartily) are sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot. In other words, they have the characteristics of foods in the mode of passion. Srila Prabhupada himself confirmed this in a letter he wrote to one of my Godsisters: “Foods in the mode of passion are those that are very rich, such as halava.” (Halava is featured this month.)
Yet it’s not really difficult to understand how the halava we serve at our temples every Sunday is transcendental to the modes of nature. A dish that’s prepared for and offered to Krsna is no longer in the modes of nature but is completely spiritual. So halava, a dish apparently in the mode of passion, becomes completely transcendental when prepared for Krsna and offered to Him with devotion.
So if your ambition is to transcend the modes of nature, what should you order at your local restaurant during your lunch break? Well, unless it’s a Hare Krsna restaurant, the best thing is not to go there at all. In my experience, the cooks who work in restaurants are thinking about a lot of things, but pleasing God isn’t one of them. And since they’re influenced by the modes of material nature, and since the dishes they make aren’t offered (or offerable) to Lord Krsna, you’ll be similarly influenced by material nature when you eat what they’ve cooked.
Better if you prepare and offer some-, thing at home and take it with you for lunch. This takes more time, but it saves you money. And for the extra effort, you’ll be healthier—physically and spiritually. What to make at home? Well, why not start with this month’s halava. If you don’t finish it at lunchtime, you can easily reheat it for supper. Or you can share it with your friends at work and let them relish krsna-prasadam along with you. That will please Krsna even more.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Basic Nut-and-Raisin Halava
One of the most popular of all Vedic desserts, halava is a buttery-rich, warming, sweet grain dish ideal for special occasions or on frigid winter mornings. (It bears no relation to the Middle Eastern or Turkish candy of the same name.) Halava is best when served piping hot (and should always be offered to Krsna that way), but it’s also excellent reheated. To keep halava warm, place it in a covered double boiler in an oven preheated to 250 °F. Stir occasionally.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
2 ½ cups water, or 1 cup water and 1 ½ cups milk
1 1/8 cups honey, or 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons honey
a dozen or so high-quality threads of Spanish saffron (optional)
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, powdered coarse
¼ teaspoon nutmeg powder
1/8 teaspoon clove powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 tablespoons raisins
½ cup ghee (clarified butter)
1 cup semolina, farina, or Cream of Wheat
¼ cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons dried or fresh coconut, shredded
1. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the water or water-and-milk mixture with 1 cup sugar or honey, saffron, cardamom, and the powdered spices. Boil briskly over a high flame for 3 mintues. Then remove the pan from the flame, add the raisins, and set aside.
2. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan over a medium-low flame for 2 minutes. Add the semolina or other grain and stir-fry about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains turn a rich golden tan. Then, while stirring constantly, slowly pour in the boiled syrup and the walnuts. Now continue to simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed into the grains. (Cooking time will vary, depending on the grain you use.)
3. When the halava is light and fluffy, remove the pan from the flame, fold in 2 table-spoons of honey, and transfer to a decorative serving bowl. Now garnish with shredded coconut and offer to Lord Krsna.
Note: A pinch of salt during the final stages of cooking helps round out the flavor of halava. It is a matter of personal preference,
(Suji Halava II)
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
2 ¼ cups milk
1 cup sugar or honey
1 teaspoon powdered cardamom seeds
¼ cup raisins
½ cup ghee 1 or 2 cassia leaves or Bengali bay leaves
¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ cup sifted chickpea flour
1 cup semolina, farina, or cream of wheat
1/3 cup chopped raw almonds or walnuts
1/3 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground to a medium consistency
1. Combine the milk, sweetener, and cardamom in a 1-quart saucepan and place over a medium-high flame. Stir until the mixture boils. Then lower the flame slightly and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Now remove the pan from the flame, drop in the raisins, and set aside.
2. Over a medium-low flame, heat the ghee for 2 minutes in a heavy 2 ½- to 3-quart saucepan (nonstick cookware is ideal). Toss in the cassia leaves and fennel seeds, and stir-fry until the seeds turn a light golden brown. Then slowly pour in the chickpea flour and grain, and stir-fry until the ingredients absorb the ghee and turn golden-tan (about 15 to 20 minutes).
3. While stirring constantly, pour in the milk syrup and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the halava is a fluffy pudding. Now transfer to a serving dish or dishes, sprinkle with chopped nuts and ground pepper, and offer to Krsna.
Shredded Carrot Halava
For this halava, select crisp, tender, bright-orange carrots and shred them at a 45 ° angle through the medium-sized holes on a hand grater. This will assure that your carrot shreds are long and medium thick rather than short and coarse. Carrot halava is delicious warm or at room temperature, and it goes well with any menu. Among devotees of Krsna it’s a favorite on Ekadasi (see BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol. 18, No. 1) because it contains no grains.
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Servings: 10 to 12
1 ½ pounds carrots
1 ½ cups half-and-half
2 ½ cups whole milk
8 whole peppercorns
½ cup white sugar
½ cup light-brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, powdered coarse
1/3 cup ghee ¼ cup raisins or currants (an additional ¼ cup raisins is optional)
¼ cup walnut bits
¼ cup whole walnuts (optional)
¼ cup sliced or slivered raw almonds
¼ teaspoon clove powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg powder
teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 tablespoons honey
a few square inches of edible gold or silver foil (optional; try an Indian grocery)
1. Combine the carrots, half-and-half, whole milk, and peppercorns in a heavy 5- to 6-quart saucepan and place over a high flame. While stirring constantly, bring the liquid to a full boil. Then reduce the flame to medium high and, stirring frequently, cook for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until the liquid has boiled off and the carrots are nearly dry.
2. Add the sweeteners and half the cardamom. Then, while stirring steadily to prevent scorching, cook for 10 to 14 minutes, or until the carrots are again nearly dry.
3. Pour in the ghee, ¼ cup raisins, walnut bits, almonds, powdered spices (including the rest of the cardamom), and fry until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan in a mass. Remove the pan from the flame and extract the peppercorns.
4. Transfer the halava to a decorative serving bowl or tray. Before offering to Krsna, garnish with raisins or whole walnuts, or decorate the surface with a sheet of edible gold or silver foil.