A Feast for Lord Caitanya
Five hundred years ago, a great feast and even greater
love drew the Supreme Lord to the home of His pure devotee.
by Visakha-devi dasi
During Lord Caitanya’s first twenty-four years, He played the role of a student, a teacher, and a householder. At the end of His twenty-fourth year, He entered the renounced order (sannyasa). Then, absorbed in love for Krsna, He set out on foot on a thousand-mile journey to Vrndavana, the site where Krsna enacted His childhood pastimes on earth 4,500 years before. But on the way He lovingly allowed Himself to be tricked into going to the home of His intimate associate Advaita Acarya, in Santipura, West Bengal.
To induce the Lord to come, Advaita Acarya had told Him, “You have been fasting continuously for three days in Your ecstasy of love of Krsna. I therefore invite You to My home, where I have just one palmful of rice. The vegetables I serve are always very simple. There is no luxurious cooking.” But actually, Advaita Acarya’s wife, Sita-devi, had cooked a huge feast of many dishes.
And what an offering it was! A mound of rice moist with ghee (clarified butter) was surrounded by one hundred pots, each one filled with a different, appetizing vegetable preparation, most of them unknown in the West—patolas, manakhacu, sukhta, and phula-badi. The feast also included a sweet preparation of coconut pulp mixed with curd and rock candy, a curry made of banana flowers, and squash boiled in milk. Three kinds of soft cakes made with mung dal, ripe bananas, and urad dal were offered, along with rice cakes in condensed milk, and many kinds of small cakes in sweet and sour sauces. There were also sweet rice and chipped rice made with milk and bananas. (Some of these dishes are featured in this month’s recipes.)
Advaita Acarya offered to the Deity of Lord Krsna the feast his wife had prepared. Pleased to see the gorgeous arrangement for Krsna’s pleasure, Lord Caitanya expressed His great satisfaction. Then He humbly sat down to one side, expecting to take a small portion of the offering.
But Advaita Acarya had a different idea, and taking Lord Caitanya by the hand, he seated Him before the huge offering. The Lord protested, saying, “It is not proper for a person in the renounced order to eat such a variety of food. If he does, how can he control his senses?” But Advaita Acarya would not be fooled by Lord Caitanya’s pretense. He explained that since Lord Caitanya is identical with the Deity of Lord Jagannatha in Jagannatha Puri, Orissa—who receives fifty-four large offerings of food daily—the present meal was, by comparison, insignificant. “By my great good fortune,” Advaita Acarya then said, “You have come to my home. Please do not juggle words. Just begin eating and do not talk.”
The Lord sat down and, smiling, began to eat the prasadam. After eating half of each vegetable dish served to Him, Lord Caitanya would abandon the dish and go on to the next, and Advaita Acarya would replenish the half-empty pot. In this way, as the Lord would finish half of each preparation, Advaita Acarya would again and again replenish it, requesting the Lord to go on eating. In this way, Advaita Acarya persuaded Lord Caitanya to eat, and, by eating, Lord Caitanya fulfilled all of Advaita Acarya’s desires.
When the people of Santipura heard that Lord Caitanya was staying there, they all immediately came to see Him. Being very pleased upon seeing the beauty of the Lord, they loudly began to shout the holy names of the Lord, “Hari! Han!” And, as soon as it was evening, they joined Lord Caitanya and Advaita Acarya in dancing and in congregationally chanting the holy names of God: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Advaita Acarya led the chanting.
We can all benefit by following the example of Advaita Acarya: make a feast for Lord Krsna and Lord Caitanya and chant the holy names of God and dance. In this way, we can convert our home into the spiritual world. The Lord does not demand all the opulent dishes that Advaita Acarya offered. But He wants our love and devotion. If we include those two ingredients, surely He will accept our humble offerings, too.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Split Mung Dal Soup
(Moong Dal )
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours
Servings: 4 to 6
2/3 cup split mung beans (moong dal), without skins
6 ½ cups water (5 ½ cups, if pressure-cooking)
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
½ tablespoon coriander seeds
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced fine
1 teaspoon fresh hot green chilies, seeded and minced fine
2 tablespoons fresh coriander or parsley leaves, minced fine
1. Sort, wash, and drain the split mung beans.
2. Place the split mung beans, water, turmeric, and a dab of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan, and bring to a full boil, stirring occasionally. Then reduce the flame to medium low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 1 hour, or until the dal is soft and fully cooked. For pressure-cooking, combine the ingredients in a 6-quart pressure cooker, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, using 5 ½ cups of water.
3. While the dal is cooking, slowly dry-roast the coriander and cumin seeds in a heavy iron frying pan for about 8 minutes, then remove and coarsely crush with a mortar and pestle, kitchen mallet, or rolling pin.
4. Remove the dal soup from the flame, uncover, add the roasted spices and salt, and beat with a wire whisk or rotary beater until creamy smooth.
5. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a small saucepan over a medium flame for 1 minute. Toss in the ginger root and seeded chilies, fry until the ginger turns golden brown, and pour into the soup. Cover immediately and allow the seasonings to soak into the hot dal for 1 or 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the fresh herbs, stir, and offer to Krsna.
Rich Rice and Condensed-Milk Pudding
(Bengali Bhat Payasa)
Preparation time: 1 hour
8 cups fresh milk
¼ cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
½ to ¾ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 cassia or bay leaf
¼ cup raisins
1/3 cup sliced, blanched almonds
½ to 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
¼ cup raw blanched pistachio nuts
as many grains of pure edible camphor as will adhere on the tip (not the head) of a straight pin-don’t use too much
1. Sort through the rice and remove any foreign matter. Wash and drain.
2. Mince 6 pistachio nuts and Set aside for garnishing. Thinly slice the remainder of the pistachio nuts lengthwise.
3. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy 5-quart saucepan over a medium flame for approximately 1 minute. Drop in the bay leaf and drained rice and stir-fry until the rice turns translucent. Pour in the milk, add the cardamom powder, and stir.
4. Raise the flame to high. Bring the milk to a rolling boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. When the milk starts to boil, reduce heat slightly and stir in the sugar.
5. Continue to rapidly boil the milk for 30 minutes, stirring attentively, until the milk is reduced to half of the original volume. Then lower the flame.
6. Add the sliced almonds, pistachio nuts, and raisins and continue cooking for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the milk is reduced to a viscous liquid.
7. Remove from heat. Place the grains of camphor on a small plate. Crush them to a powder by pressing with a teaspoon. Sprinkle into the pudding and stir well. Cool to room temperature and chill if desired.
8. Garnish each serving with minced pistachio nuts. Offer to Krsna.
Stuffed, Deep-Fried Circular Pastry Cakes
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours Servings: 12
For the pastry:
1 cup unbleached white pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 ¾ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
¼ to 1/3 cup cold water
3 cups ghee or vegetable oil for frying
For the stuffing:
5 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon blanched pistachio nuts, minced
1 tablespoon minced raisins
1 tablespoon minced walnuts
½ teaspoon cardamom powder
For the syrup:
1/3 cup sugar or honey
1/3 cup water
1. Combine the flour and salt in a deep bowl. Sprinkle the oil or melted ghee over the surface of the flour and, using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the consistency resembles the texture of dry oatmeal. Pour in ¼ cup cold water and quickly stir to gather the ingredient into a ball. If the dough is crumbly, gradually sprinkle in more water, up to 2 ½ tablespoons, until the particles adhere into a dough. Knead on a smooth counter-top for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is silky smooth and pliable. Gather the dough into a smooth ball, drape with a damp kitchen towel, and set aside for at least 1 hour.
2. Knead all of the ingredients for the stuffing together until thoroughly blended. Divide into 12 equal portions and pat each portion into a thin patty 2 inches in diameter. Set the patties aside on a plate.
3. To make the stuffed pastries, divide the dough into 24 even-sized small pellets, rolling each piece into a smooth ball; cover them with a damp towel. One by one, pat each ball into a pattie, dip it in flour on both sides, and roll it with a rolling pin into an evenly thick, round disc 3 ¼ to 3 ½ inches in diameter. Place a portion of the stuffing in the center of the disc, leaving at least ½ inch around the edges. Dip your finger in water and moisten the entire outer edge of the circle. Place a second 3 ¼ -to 3 ½-inch piece of dough over the first. Press around the edges to seal them securely, and roll around the edge with a decorative pastry wheel, or pleat with a decorative overlapping fold, or press with fork tines. Place the finished pastry on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and stuff and seal the remaining pieces.
4. To prepare the syrup, combine the sugar and water in a 1-quart saucepan; boil for about 5 minutes, or until the syrup is quite sticky and thick. Keep the syrup warm over the lowest possible heat; if it begins to crystallize, add sprinkles of water. An alternative to the above: warm 1/3 cup of mild light honey.
5. Heat the ghee or oil in a wok or deep frying pan over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 350 or 355F on a deep-frying thermometer. Gently slip in four pastries. The temperature will quickly drop 25 degrees. Fry the pastries, allowing the temperature to rise again, until the pieces are crisp and golden brown-approximately 5 minutes per side.
6. As they brown, lift them out with a large perforated spoon and place them on absorbent paper to drain. Then fry another 4 pastries. Dip both sides of the fried pastries in the warm syrup, remove them, and allow them to drain on a cake rack. The finished pieces may be sprinkled with a few minced pistachios. Offer to Krsna.