The Glories of Raghava's Bag, Part 8
BY: SUN STAFF
[Photo courtesy Saffronstreaks.com]
Feb 19, 2016 CANADA (SUN) A journey through the nectarian contents of Raghava's Bag.
Long-lasting Cheese & Milksweets
Today's description of the foodstuffs found among raghavera-jhali is from Caitanya-caritamrta Antya lila 10.26:
cira-sthayi ksira-sara, mandadi-vikara
amrta-karpura adi aneka prakara
cira-sthayi -- long-lasting; ksira-sara -- cheese; mandadi-vikara -- varieties of sweetmeats made from manda, or milk and cream; amrta-karpura -- a preparation made with milk and camphor; adi -- and others; aneka prakara -- many varieties.
She made long-lasting cheese, many varieties of sweetmeats with milk and cream, and many other varied preparations, such as amrta-karpura.
Verse 10.26 describes a long-lasting cheese, called ksira-sara. The Sanskrit term ksirasara is used to describe "essence of milk, cream, butter", so the ksira-sara Damayanti prepared could be one of many types of fresh paneer. Curd can be made with just milk, or with heavy creamed milk. And for a particularly opulent mixture, the cooked curd can later have fresh butter blended in with it.
Fresh cheese is generally not long-lasting, and spoils within days. But as Srila Krsnadas Kaviraj explains later in Antya 10, the foodstuffs contained in Raghava's Bag are not subject to the normal influences of time and degeneration. In other words, raghavera-jhali, being the Lord's paraphernalia, is transcendental. Despite this reality, Damayanti no doubt included preparations she knew would be long-lasting, nicely transportable foods.
In the case of fresh cheese, there are a number of techniques one might use to make it cira-sthayi, or long-lasting. One method would be to cause the cheese to form a hard crust, or skin. This can be done by heavily salting it or by soaking it in a brine bath until a thick skin forms, then allowing it to dry to a hard crust. Or, the fresh cheese can been stored in a brine liquid. Paneer can also be rubbed with an acidic liquid from citrus or vinegar, or floated in an acidic bath for storage.
The idea is to form a barrier between the fresh cheese and outside bacteria. This can also be accomplished by charring the outer skin, and/or rubbing it with charcoal ash.
Another approach is to cook the cheese to lengthen its storage life. Fresh cheese can be prepared by frying it, then soaking it in a protective syrup, such as the Paneer Jalebi below. Using aromatic spices such as cardamom, clove or camphor in the syrup will also increase shelf life. Fresh cheese can also be pickled, as in Achari Paneer, a sabji made with fresh or fried chenna that's cooked with a pickle gravy (e.g., lime or mango pickle). The pickle juice becomes a preservative for the cheese.
Having talked in previous segments about the sweetmeats stowed away in Raghava's Bag, we will not mention further the delightful varieties of confections Damayanti prepared, except for mandadi-vikara described today in Verse 10.26 as "varieties of sweetmeats made from manda, or milk and cream". The Sanskrit term manda generally refers to the thick part of milk or cream, as in the head that forms on top of the milk. This head forms when slowly heated milk is being prepared for paneer.
In India, manda is considered one of the most opulent by-products of Mother Cow's milk. The manda is continuously scooped off as the skin forms on the surface of the hot milk, and set aside until the cooking is done. It is then further processed into a preparation, either fried, hung to drain like yoghurt cheese, or cooked down to a dry curd for khoya, which is like ricotta cheese. It can be seasoned at any point along the way. In this case, Damayanti has made various sweetmeats from the thick-cooked milk cheese.
The last item specifically mentioned is amrta-karpura, a preparation made with milk and camphor. This could be one of an endless variety of preparations. There are many well known devotee milk preps that call for camphor, such as sweet rice and kheer.
Basically, camphor can be added to milk at any stage: fresh, heated, condensed, or separted for cheese. Again, camphor has strong preservative qualities, and no matter how it's added to the milk, it will result in a longer life for the foodstuff.
Like the astringent foods Damayanti included to help the Lord maintain good digestion while traveling, camphor is also known to have many healthful qualities. Made by distilling the bark and wood of the camphor tree, it is then crystallized for the edible camphor used in cooking. Camphor is used in everything from turpentine to cold remedies, and is an excellent aide for the heart and respiratory system.
Indian Paneer Jalebi
Make chenna in the usual way, with full-fat milk.
In a heavy bottom pan dissolve 1 cup of sugar in ½ cup of water and bring to a slow boil. Add 3 or 4 green cardamoms and continue boiling on medium heat, stirring until the syrup is between single and double string.
Knead 2 teaspoons of fresh milk into 5 ounces (150 grams) of paneer, adding ¼ teaspoon of cardamom powder and ½ teaspoon of baking powder and knead to a soft, moist dough. If the dough cracks. moisture your hands with milk and keep kneading.
Roll the dough into a thin rope and place gently into medium hot ghee, frying until golden brown on both sides. Immediately immerse in a bath of warm syrup, and let stand for a few hours. Then heat the syrup with the jalebis just until it comes to a boil, add a few threads of saffron or other spices. Remove from heat, cool and cover. Jalebis will absorb most of the syrup and swell nicely.
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