This is a practical cookbook, designed to help you prepare authentic Indian meals in your own home and to acquaint you with the tradition behind India’s great vegetarian cuisine. It explains not only the techniques of Vedic, or classical Indian vegetarian cooking, but also the Vedic art of eating, which nourishes both the soul and the body and mind.
The first four chapters discuss Vedic philosophy and vegetarianism with corroborations from classical and modern science, religion, and ethics.
The next three chapters talk about the meal itself: the utensils used for cooking, dishes that go well together, and everything else you might need to know about preparing, serving, and eating an Indian meal.
Then come 130 kitchen-tested recipes. Although this is only a fraction of the thousands of possibilities offered by the Vedic culinary tradition, these recipes, chosen for their diversity as well as their ease of preparation, give an idea of the vastness of Vedic cooking. The recipes were contributed by the best cooks in the Hare Krishna movement, some of whom were taught by Srila Prabhupada himself.
The appendixes include a glossary, conversion tables, advice on where to get essential ingredients, and addresses of Hare Krishna centers, where you can sample the recipes in this book.
To be fully appreciated, Vedic cooking must be understood in the context of Vedic culture. The word Vedic comes from the Sanskrit word veda, meaning “absolute knowledge.” The ancient Sanskrit scriptures of India are known as the Vedic scriptures, or the Vedas, because they present knowledge of the Absolute. The Vedic culture of ancient India, based on these scriptures, is still followed by many people today.
According to the Vedas, a human being is meant to realize his true identity as an eternal servant of God. This Vedic understanding begins with the knowledge that we are not our temporary material bodies but the eternal spiritual souls within our bodies. Because we mistake ourselves for material beings, we suffer, though by constitution we are eternal, full of knowledge, and blissful. The process of reviving our original, joyful consciousness and awakening our dormant love for God is called bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness.
The name “Krishna” has a special significance. Even though there is one God, people call Him by different names, each name describing an aspect of His personality. But there is a name given in the Vedas that expresses the sum total of God’s infinite characteristics. That all-encompassing name is Krishna, which means “infinitely attractive.”
The Vedas are a treasure-house of knowledge about Krishna and our eternal relationship with Him. They differ from the other scriptures of the world in that they describe God’s personal features in great detail in order to awaken our love for Him, and the ways in which we can express this love in everything we do. This is India’s gift to the world: a culture that unites all fields of human endeavor with the spiritual perfection often thought to be the exclusive property of recluse meditators. Indeed, in Vedic culture Krishna consciousness permeates every aspect of life: not only art, music, architecture, and literature, but cooking and eating as well.
What distinguishes Vedic cooking from other types of cooking is the cook’s spiritual consciousness, his awareness that he is preparing an offering for God. In most religious systems, people ask God to give them their daily bread, but the devotee of Krishna offers the daily bread to God as an expression of love for Him. And God reciprocates. In the Bhagavad-gita, one of the Vedic scriptures, Lord Krishna says that He accepts a vegetarian offering, be it no more than a leaf or a fruit, or a glass of water, if it is presented with devotion, and out of His inconceivable mercy He spiritualizes the offering by personally tasting it. What was ordinary food then becomes Krishna-prasada, the mercy of Lord Krishna. And what would have been ordinary eating becomes worship, a loving exchange with the Lord.
The effect of eating prasada is different from that of eating food cooked merely for profit, for the pleasure of the tongue, or even for survival. We think about a lot of things when we cook, but pleasing God isn’t usually one of them. And when food is cooked without God consciousness, the materialistic thoughts of the cook subtly affect whoever eats it. But when we eat prasada, food cooked with devotion to God and offered to Him in love, our hearts become purified. Mukunda Gosvami, one of the present spiritual masters of the Hare Krishna movement, has said, “If you eat ordinary food, you simply develop lusty desires to enjoy this material world; if you eat prasada, you increase your love of God with every mouthful.”
Naturally, we don’t expect all of our readers to switch over completely to Indian-style cooking. Although you may think that Vedic cooking is exclusively Indian, the principle of offering food to Krishna is transcendental to worldly designations. A recipe does not have to come from India, as long as the ingredients and procedures follow the Vedic principles. For example, in Italy where most of our devotees and friends are still very fond of their native cuisine, almost every Indian meal includes a serving of pasta. The style of cooking is not so important as the devotion to Krishna that goes into it.
The term “Indian cooking” when used in this book refers to Vedic cooking, not to any of the “chicken-curry” schools of Indian cuisine. Meat-eating was practically nonexistent in the ancient Vedic culture. It was introduced into India by foreign conquerors, especially the Moguls, who came via Persia in the sixteenth century; the Portuguese, who ruled Goa for four centuries; and finally the British colonialists. But despite centuries of domination by meateaters, India is still the home of vast numbers of vegetarians.
India is traditionally vegetarian (meateaters are called “non-vegetarians”) because her timeless Vedic culture teaches that all life is sacred, and to kill innocent creatures unnecessarily is a gross violation of the laws of God. All forms of plant and animal life are bound by nature’s laws to follow their instinct in selecting what they eat; but man, with his advanced intelligence, can consider higher spiritual principles in choosing his food. In his writings Srila Prabhupada explains, “Although the law [of nature] states the human being must subsist on another living being, there is the law of good sense also, for the human being is meant to obey the laws of the scriptures. This isn’t possible for animals.”
The Vedas define a true vegetarian as one who eats no meat, fish, or eggs. Those who abstain from meat but eat eggs or fish are not considered true vegetarians because they are eating flesh, even though it may be hidden, as in eggs, under a calcium coating. One who becomes a vegetarian only to avoid killing may see no reason to refuse unfertilized eggs, but if we take the Vedic view that all flesh is unfit for human consumption, it makes sense to shun eggs, which, fertilized or not, are nothing but the assembled materials for the bodies of chickens. Krishna’s devotees are strict vegetarians in the Vedic sense of the word: they eat no meat, fish, or eggs.
Some vegetarians, called vegans, abstain not only from meat, fish, and eggs but also from milk and milk products, because of moral concern about abuse of cows in the dairy industry. The devotees of Krishna also condemn animal abuse, but rather than abstain from milk, which the Vedas consider essential for human beings, they show their compassion in a positive way by teaching the Vedic principle of cow protection, and, as far as possible, drinking milk only from Hare Krishna dairy farms, where the cows are loved and protected.
Many people become vegetarian but then later, because of a lack of taste and conviction, fall back into former eating habits. How many more people would consider giving up meat-eating if they knew of an alternative diet which was tastier and scientifically perfect. We hope that the magic touch of Ancient India found in this book will inspire you to see that for health, taste, and spiritual advancement, there is no better way of eating than to eat vegetarian food offered to Krishna. It’s not only easy, it’s absolutely enjoyable. And once you experience the satisfaction of eating food prepared with the consciousness of pleasing Lord Krishna, you will know what we mean when we say you have acquired a higher taste.
Vegetarianism, then, from the Vedic point of view, is part of something larger, the natural way of eating for those who want to make the most of their human life. In whatever way we follow the Vedic teachings, whether we become perfect spiritualists or simply purify our eating habits, we become happier and lessen the suffering in the world around us. “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that as an offering to Me.” (Krishna speaking to Arjuna, His dear devotee, in the Bhagavad-gita 9.27)
This is no ordinary cookbook. You could say it’s more a way of life. I have always believed that we are what we eat. This book of basically Indian recipes supports that philosophy, answers many questions, and offers a viable alternative for so many people who, like myself, were never entirely convinced of the virtues of eating meat. I did not realize it at the time, but that small doubt was the beginning of a whole new way of looking at everything.
I had never been completely happy about being a meat eater. Even being brought up on a farm did not condition me to it. Rather, it made it harder. I could not blind myself to the facts. They were there, part of my life every day. I could never come to terms with the knowledge that those beautiful little calves I had watched being born and had later stroked as they came to nuzzle my hand would end up on my plate. That they should unnecessarily die in fear and pain seemed appalling; and with a third of the world starving, it did not make any sense at all to give animals grain that could nourish people. A field of grain that can feed two cows can feed sixty-four people.
It is very easy to label vegetarians mere sentimentalists and health nuts, but we are all aware that there is so much more involved than that. The question concerns us all, on moral, health, economic, and religious grounds.
Still, it was a difficult choice to make, and a difficult path to follow in many respects. The alternatives to meat-eating seemed rather boring and, what’s worse, fattening. I imagined that it would require huge amounts of will power.
Then there was the family aspect. Keeping my hungry, active, young children fully satisfied and happy at mealtimes was a headache. And, of course, there was the question of nutrition: I was naturally concerned with their getting enough protein. So I gathered a few good vegetarian recipes, which I trotted out again and again, with monotonous regularity. Sure enough, the ever present baked potato was the cause of many a mealtime mutiny. Indeed, I even began to think that if I ever had to look another bean in the face, I would not be answerable for my actions!
I was beginning to despair and lose heart, but help was at hand. You will find it in this book of interesting, varied, and wholesome recipes. It shows how easy it can be to maintain a delicious and balanced diet without ever touching flesh of any kind. Added to this, the recipes are simple and easy to prepare. The days when one’s plate looked bare if bereft of meat are a thing of the past.
Of course, underlying all this is the philosophy, the attitude towards eating. You are what you eat. The how and why of it is inextricably tied up with the most fundamental questions of belief and feeling about life, about the true value of life-all life, not simply human.
I first tasted this food at one of the Hare Krishna temples in this country. It was absolutely delicious, and made even more so by having been prepared by devotees with pure hearts, and offered with love to God.
Here, then, is a cookbook with a philosophy behind it. Even if you only enjoy making the recipes, that’s good. But if you want to, it can change your life.