Prasadam means food for the body, food for the soul and food for God. More specifically, it is food which has been sanctified by special selection and preparation and then offered to Krsna, God, in love and devotion. Cooking for God? How absurd that sounds to the sophisticates of this modern age! How anthropomorphic! Even most transcendentalists will smile a smile of condescension at the suggestion: cooking for God! But why not? We cook for every conceivable nonsensical purpose. Why not cook instead for the Lord? Why shouldn’t this most important and central activity of life be dedicated to the Supreme? Why not cook transcendentally?
We are not so naive as to suggest that God needs our food, but we are suggesting that we need God to bless the energy of our hands, and thus to sustain us by means of daily bread. He does this by accepting and eating the food which we prepare and offer to Him, and then giving it back to us in the form of prasadam.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it. O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Gita, 9.26-27) Of course, He doesn’t need food; He is Supreme, Absolute. He is full of all opulences, namely, wealth, fame, beauty, strength, knowledge and renunciation. He is never in need or want of anything. Still, He asks His devotee to offer Him these simple fruits of the earth. The key word is devotion. Twice it is used: “If in full devotion a pure devotee offers a little leaf, a little flower, a little fruit with a little water, because he offers it with great devotion, the Supreme Per venality of Godhead accepts them and eats them.” So it is not as if the Lord were in need of something; He is fully satisfied in Himself. Indeed, He is EVERYTHING. So whatever we are offering Him, be it a grain or a fruit, it is already His; it is not, and never was, “ours.” But out of His Causeless Mercy, He is so kind to His devotees that any small offering given in devotion He accepts and eats. The Lord is not hungry for our food, but for our hearts; He is not wanting for our substance, but for our consciousness, our love, our union.
This is why prasadam is “mercy.” In shopping, in preparation, in eating, we are given a chance to remain conscious of Him, to be engaged in His transcendental loving service. This is why the word bhakti, or devotion, is so stressed—it is this bhakti which makes the Supreme Lord “transcendentally hungry.” Even the greatest banquet cooked by the most renowned chef has no appeal to one who is not hungry; so, too, Krsna’s acceptance of our gifts is dependent upon His being “hungry”; and only our love and devotion can do that. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes: “The devotee is so humble and submissive to the Supreme Lord that whenever he prepares something for the Lord, he takes all care to finish the preparation nicely. And for such offering a devotee asks nothing. It is the exchange of love. That love is accepted by the Supreme Lord, and He eats … Therefore, devotional service is the only way to offer anything to the Supreme Lord, to understand the Supreme Lord, to be in the confidence of the Supreme Lord, and to go back to the Supreme Abode of the Supreme Lord.” Devotional service begins with the chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names, as in the Maha Mantra: HARE KRSNA, HARE KRSNA, KRSNA KRSNA, HARE HARE/ HARE RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE. That is the first great activity of transcendental service, and the next is to prepare and offer food to the Lord. There are a number of reasons for doing so. First of all, Krsna commands it: “The devotees of the Lord are released from all sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin. All living bodies subsist on food grains; food grains are produced from rains, rains come from performance of sacrifice, and sacrifice is born of man’s work.” (Gita, 3.13-14). Here, then, the Lord asserts that EVERYTHING belongs to and comes from Him alone. It is already His, but He invites us to take it and offer it to Him first, and then eat the remnants for our bodily demands.
Similarly, because everything belongs to Him, we have no right to take anything we please, but only what He allots us; and our allotment, according to the Gita and the Vedas, is what can be offered to Him: a leaf, a fruit, etc. At no point does He ask us to offer meat, or fish, or eggs; but, on the contrary, the prohibition against animal slaughter is so strong that even if one has only an indirect dealing with animal slaughter, such as selling or transporting, he is guilty of murder and must pay a murderer’s price. (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.7.37) Therefore, we cannot offer Lord Krsna animal flesh, and to do so is an offense.
If I am preparing a dinner for my friend and I know he does not like spinach, I do not fix spinach. I go to all pains to prepare only those things which he likes. That is the meaning of friendship. If one has no regard for Krsna’s wishes, how can he claim to be the Lord’s friend? If we want to cook nicely for Krsna, we must dovetail our desires with His desires, and that is clearly expressed in the above-quoted verses.
There is another reason why we must offer our food to Krsna if we wish to make spiritual progress. Not only are we thieves if we do not, but we become further implicated in the wheel of samsara by sinful reactions. That every action has a reaction is as true in regard to our personal behavior as in the laboratory test tube. The slaying of life automatically provokes a like result upon the slayer, and if I sustain myself on another’s life, at some point my life will be demanded in return. That is nature’s law.
This applies equally to those who take animal life and to those who take plant life. Life is life, and the slayer will be slain. Then what is the difference? The difference is that Krsna says we may offer the leaves and flowers to Him, and by accepting them He also accepts all the sinful reactions, leaving the purified remnants, free from all reactions, for our consumption. But those who eat that which is not offered to Krsna, or that which Krsna will not accept, are left with all the reactions on their own heads. That is why the Lord says: “The devotees of the Lord are released from all sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin…” (Gita, 3.13)
Of course, the devotee’s primary concern is not for himself, nor even for liberation, but always for Krsna. Therefore suitable foodstuffs—suitable, that is, for Krsna—are the concern of the pure devotee: vegetables should be fresh and appealing to the eye, grains should be wholesome, fruits large and sweet, and milk fresh and pure. Obviously, living under the conditions of the modern metropolis, these are often impossible to procure—at least on our budgets; but we must do the best we can. That is Krsna consciousness.
No canned foods—please!
Having selected the items for preparation, our next concern is cleanliness. Since it is the Supreme for whom we are engaging our energy, we want to be super-hygienic—not for ourselves, but for Him. Wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you come into the kitchen; wash the food as you prepare it; use nothing that touches the floor or other contaminated areas, such as the sink and garbage pail, unless it can be cleansed. In all preparations, use only fresh things; no left-overs should be mixed in (they should not even be in the kitchen, but rather kept in a specific area of the dining room). Remember, we are cooking for the Supreme, and that which has been offered once should not be offered a second time. And, as good Vaisnavas, we refrain from using garlic, onion, mushroom, and from mixing salt with fresh milk (although there is no restriction with any other kind of milk culture).
Finally, and probably hardest for American cooks, don’t taste the food during preparation—not even to see if it is seasoned properly. I know that it is difficult, but it is worthwhile; we are cooking for Krsna, and He must be the first to relish it.
When the food is nicely prepared, we offer it back to the Source from which everything emanates. If we remember that His “hunger” is proportional to our love, the offering is sure to be successful. Simply place love, and a generous portion of each item to be offered, on a plate or metal tray, along with a glass of fresh water, and set it before the Deity. Then prostrate yourself and pray:
O Lord, this material body is a place of ignorance, and the senses are a network of paths to death. Somehow, we have fallen into this ocean of material sense enjoyment, and of all the senses the tongue is most voracious and uncontrollable; it is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world. But You, dear Krsna, are very kind to us, and have given us such nice prasadam, just to control the tongue. So now we take that prasadam to our full satisfaction, and glorify You, Lord—Radha and Krsna—and in love call for the help of Lord Caitanya and Nityananda.
1 cup rice
1 cup split peas
8 cups water
1 teasp. red pepper
1 teasp. Cumin
1 teasp. Salt
1 teasp. Turmeric
4 teasp. ghee or sweet butter
First wash rice and vegetables thoroughly. Measure water and pour into a pot. Add the rice, split peas, potatoes and cauliflower, then turmeric and salt. Boil lightly on high flame, with the pot covered. After 25 minutes, mixture should reach a thick consistency, with no water remaining in the pot.
Now in a separate pot heat ghee on very high flame. When the ghee begins to smoke, add cumin seeds and red pepper, and add mixture to kittrie. Stir in nicely. Serves four.
Cuddy (Sauce for Kittrie)
1 cup yogurt
3 cups water
¼ cup chick pea flour
1 teasp. Salt
1 teasp. Turmeric
½ teasp. red pepper
½ teasp. cumin seeds
2 teasp. ghee or sweet butter
Mix yogurt, water and chick pea flour in a pot. When mixed, heat on a medium flame. Add turmeric and salt. Stir frequently. Chaunch (spicing process):
In a separate pot, heat ghee until it smokes. Then add cumin seeds, red pepper and asafetida. Add mixture to cuddy and stir. Serves four.
2 cups whole wheat flour
approx. ½ cup water
Mix flour with water and knead until dough reaches a soft consistency. Make into balls about the size of golf balls, and with a rolling pin roll into a circular shape about ½ inch in diameter. Deep-fry in ghee or vegetable oil (preferably ghee) until blown up like balloons. Serves four.
1 gallon whole milk
1 cup rice
2 cups sugar
Wash rice thoroughly and add to milk, while stirring on a medium high flame. Stir constantly, until it reaches the consistency of pudding. Then stir in sugar. Make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot while cooking. Takes approximately 45 minutes. Refrigerate and serve cold. Serves four.
1 teasp. Salt
1 ½ cups water
½ teasp. crushed red pepper
1 teasp. cumin seeds
4 teasp. ghee or sweet butter
Cut potatoes and cauliflower into small pieces. Heat ghee in frying pan over a very high flame, until it begins to smoke. Now add cumin seeds and red pepper, and let brown. Add potato and cauliflower to ghee and sprinkle on turmeric and salt. When all is mixed, add water. Cook vegetables in covered pot until soft. Serves four.
Pera Or Laddu
1 cup chick pea flour
¼ lb. sweet butter
1 cup powdered sugar
Melt butter on low flame. When butter is melted, add chick pea flour. When flour starts to tan (which takes about ten minutes), add powdered sugar and continue stirring until sugar has mixed in evenly with flour. Let cool, then roll into little balls. Serves four.