Awakening Our Spiritual Taste
Whether it’s a spicy chutney or a cooling raita, food offered to Krsna enlivens our spiritual senses.
by Drutakarma dasa
When your taste buds lose their edge after savoring several mouthfuls of the mild main course of a vegetarian feast, take a spoonful of chutney. Immediately your tired tongue will awaken to a tingle of spices and irresistible fruit-flavored sweetness. Now you can return to the main course with your digestion and your palate stimulated. But when the main course itself is hot and spicy, your tongue craves a different kind of relief—the kind that can only be provided by a raita: crisp fresh vegetables in a cooling, soothing yogurt sauce.
Our tongues seem to crave an endless variety of delightful tastes. Actually, all of our senses hunger after their various objects. The eye delights in seeing beautiful forms and colors, the skin in feeling the pleasures of touching and caressing, the nose in smelling delectable aromas and perfumes, and the ears in hearing music and sweet voices. Yet although the senses hunger after pleasure, they are inevitably subjected to the pain and suffering of disease, old age, and death.
The Vedas tell us that the pleasures of the material senses are temporary because the material senses themselves are temporary. The Vedas also inform us that the conscious self who experiences the pains and pleasures of the material senses is an indestructible entity distinct from the temporary body. The self’s natural position is to live an eternal life of full knowledge and pleasure in association with the Supreme Self, Krsna. Reestablishing the soul in its connection with Krsna is accomplished by the process of bhakti-yoga, the yoga ofdevotion.
The basic principle of bhakti-yoga is to transfer the activities of the senses from material sense objects to spiritual sense objects. For example, rather than using our ears to hear songs that celebrate sense gratification, we can use them to hear the transcendental sound of the Hare Krsna mantra, which has the power to free the soul from the material world. In the case of the tongue, we can use it to taste transcendental food, vegetarian dishes prepared and offered in sacrifice to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the Bhagavad-gita (3.13), Krsna says, “The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is first offered for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” If we eat food that has been offered to Krsna, we can obtain liberation from material existence. Food not offered to Krsna, even vegetarian food, remains material, and eating it keeps one in the cycle of repeated birth, disease, old age, and death.
By Krsna’s inconceivable power, food offered to Him becomes transformed from matter to spirit. Such food is called prasadam, the Lord’s mercy, and is considered nondifferent from Krsna.
A great Krsna conscious spiritual master, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, wrote a prayer explaining the role of prasadam in spiritual life: “O Lord, this material body is a place of ignorance, and the senses are a network of paths leading to death. Somehow we have fallen into this ocean of material sense enjoyment, and of all the senses the tongue is the most voracious and uncontrollable; it is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world. But You, dear Krsna, are so very kind to us and have given us such nice prasadam just to conquer the tongue.”
The taste of prasadam is wholly divine—not just a tingle on the taste buds but a genuine spiritual experience that touches the soul. Lord Caitanya, an incarnation of Krsna who appeared five hundred years ago in India to propagate the chanting of the holy names of God, once said about prasadam, “Everyone has tasted these material substances before. However, in these ingredients there are extraordinary tastes and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the difference in the experience. Apart from the taste, even the fragrance pleases the mind and makes one forget any other sweetness besides its own. Therefore, it is to be understood that the spiritual nectar of Lord Krsna’s lips has touched these ordinary ingredients and transferred to them all their spiritual qualities.”
By using this month’s recipes for raitas and chutneys in preparing prasadam, you are guaranteed an exciting taste of Krsna conscious life.
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)
Fresh Coriander Chutney
Preparation time: 15 min
6 ounces fresh coriander leaves (weight without stems)
4 tablespoon grated coconut
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 or 2 fresh chillies, chopped (use to taste)
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
8 ounces plain yogurt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1. Thoroughly wash the coriander leaves and chop them fine. In an electric blender, mix the leaves, coconut, ginger, chilies, and lemon juice until they form a smooth paste.
2. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar,salt, and cumin with the paste from the blender. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to offer to Krsna.
Date and Tamarind Chutney
(Khajur Imli Ki Chatni)
Date and tamarind chutney
Preparation and cooking time: 35 min
3 ounces tamarind
1 1/2 cups water
7 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1. Break the lump of tamarind into small pieces and boil them in the water for 10 minutes. Then pour the tamarind and water through a strainer. With a wooden spoon, push as much of the pulp as possible through the strainer into the water, scraping the bottom of the strainer every few seconds. Continue until all the pulp has been extracted from the seeds and fiber.
2. To this juice, add all the other ingredients. Cook, uncovered, over a medium flame until most of the liquid evaporates and the chutney is the consistency of marmalade. Offer to Krsna alone or with savories.
Green Mango Chutney
Preparation time: 15 minutes
1 large green mango
1 fresh chili
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
Peel the mango, cut the fruit off in strips, and scrape the remaining fruit off the seed. Chop the fruit and mix it with all the other ingredients. Now grind the mixture in an electric blender (or with a mortar and pestle) to form a thick pulp. Offer to Krsna.
Spinach and Yogurt Salad
(Palak Ka Raita)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
1 pound fresh spinach
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry-roasted and ground
½ teaspoon garam masala ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1. Remove the stalks from the spinach and wash the leaves in several changes of water. Then plunge the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds to wilt them. Drain, press out the excess water, and chop the leaves coarse.
2. Put the yogurt in a large bowl with the spinach and other ingredients. Mix with a fork. Offer to Krsna.
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
Preparation time: 15 minutes
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 medium-size cucumbers
1 cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon garammasala ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pinches of asafetida (optional)
Dry-roast the cumin seeds and grind them into a powder. Wash the cucumbers and grate them through the large holes of a metal grater. Squeeze out the excess liquid, combine the grated cucumber with all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl, and toss. Offer to Krsna.
Chick-Pea-Flour Pearls in Seasoned Yogurt
Preparation time: 30 minutes
4 ounces chick-pea flour
3 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup cold water
1 cup warm water
2 cups plain yogurt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
a pinch of cayenne pepper
ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil for deep frying
2 pinches of paprika
2 teaspoons fresh coriander or parsley leaves, chopped fine
1. Sift the chick-pea flour into a large mixing bowl and add ½ teaspoon of salt. Slowly pour in the cold water, stirring constantly, until you have a thick, smooth batter. Set aside. Dissolve 2 teaspoons of salt in the warm water and set aside. Put the yogurt in a bowl with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, the ground cumin (reserve a little for garnishing later), and the cayenne pepper. Mix well and refrigerate.
2. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil over a medium flame. The ghee is hot enough when a drop of batter put into it immediately rises to the surface and sizzles. Over the ghee hold a colander with 1/8-inch holes. With the help of a spatula push several spoonfuls of batter through the holes. Cover the surface of the ghee with droplets. The bundis, or pearls, should cook slowly for about 5 minutes, or until golden yellow. Don’t let them turn brown. Drop them into the salted water to soak. Transform all the batter into bundis and let them soak for 20 minutes.
3. Remove the bundis from the water and squeeze gently between the palms of your hands to remove excess water. Be careful not to break them. Now mix most of the bundis into the yogurt and use the rest as a garnish. Sprinkle with the ground cumin, paprika, and chopped coriander leaves. Chill and offer to Krsna.