Prasadam - Spinach, Part Two
BY: SUN STAFF
Jul 09, 2010 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
Spinach is undoubtedly one of the most excellent of all vegetables. It can be eaten raw, by the handfuls, combined with other greens in fresh salads, or cooked into a buttery soft dish that goes with almost everything. The very appearance of spinach tells us it's a nutritious food. The green, vitamin-packed liquids left over from steaming or sautéing spinach are so healthful, they should always be used elsewhere, in dahls, sabjis, etc.
In his philosophical novel, Prema Pradipa, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur captures the excellence of this green leafy vegetable, in this description of the devotees honoring prasada at the Prema-kunja festival:
"Meanwhile, a conch shell was blown and all the Vaishnavas assembled in the courtyard. All the visiting Vaishnavas sat down to honor the festival prasada. In order to show respect to the renounced Vaishnavas, the grihastha Vaishnavas waited. There arose loud chanting of the names Sri Gauranga and Nityananda. Everyone began taking prasada saying, "Prema sukhe." While taking sak, or spinach, one Vaishnava took a few strands in his mouth and cried out, "Oh! How much happiness Krishnacandra had eating this sak!" Taking krishna-prasada, they were all overwhelmed thinking how Krishna was pleased. After honoring prasada, everyone got up while chanting "Hari bol!" with love and devotion."
Of course, Srila Prabhupada was also very fond of spinach, knowing how greatly Lord Caitanya relished it. In her cookbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, Yamuna devi includes a recipes for Spinach and Tomato Pakora (p. 463) that she prepared at Srila Prabhupada's request on several occasions. Spinach and tomatoes are mixed into a flavorful batter, and the pakoras are pan-fried in ghee until crispy.
Another famous devotee preparation is found in the 1970 'Devotee Cookbook', a manuscript of early ISKCON recipes that was compiled by Revatinandan. Included is Srila Prabhupada's personal recipe for Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cheese:
Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cheese
"Prepare the cheese the same as for pushpanna, breaking up the curds with a rolling pin (smash thoroughly) and then put into a firm layer about ½ inch thick. Cut this layer cross-cross, making squares about 1 inch on a side. Deep-fry these squares in hot ghee until rich brown in colour and keep aside.
Remove the skins from some tomatoes and chop in 6 to 8 pieces each. Make a medium-heavy chaunce with a few coriander seeds, cumin seeds, lighter red peppers, hing. Put the tomatoes in the chaunce, adding plenty of turmeric, medium salt and pepper, rosemary, thyme and basil. Cook down, stirring frequently, into a thick tomato sauce.
Have a large amount of spinach cleaned, stems removed, and chopped up in fairly small bits. At the same time tomato sauce is cooking, put some ghee (a little) in the bottom of a pot, and add the spinach. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is thoroughly cooked. Whenever water forms, drain it off into the cooking sauce, so that spinach remains almost dry. When the spinach is thoroughly cooked, add in the thick sauce and the cheese cubes, and stir together gently, so as not to break up cheese. If there is still a bit of wateryness, cook it off, stirring gently now and then - if not, then having mixed all ingredients, take off heat and let sit for a few minutes with lid (so cheese gets soft), then offer. Excellent feast preparation."
While spinach can be cooked into so many opulent preparations, it is also one of the simplest of vegetables. As we mentioned yesterday, in India, the category of 'spinach' includes many types of wild and cultivated leafy greens. We can understand that for the brahmanas, spinach was a particularly favored foodstuff – it grew abundantly, was easy to find, could be eaten raw or simply cooked and eaten with no other preparation, and it combines with so many other foods. In Madhya lila we read:
dui-cari dinera anna rakhena samhati
yahan sunya vana, lokera nahika vasati
tahan sei anna bhattacarya kare paka
phala-mule vyanjana kare, vanya nana saka
"Balabhadra Bhattacarya used to keep a stock of food grain that would last from two to four days. Where there were no people, he would cook the grain and prepare vegetables, spinach, roots and fruits collected from the forest."
In this verse, the sloka refers to vanya nana saka: vanya -- from the forest; and nana saka -- many kinds of spinach. So Balabhadra Bhattacarya kept basic food stocks on hand, like grains, and foraged for spinach greens, roots and fruits as needed to support a simple brahminical diet.
Likewise, Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami exemplifies the austere diet of the renunciate, who takes simple foods like spinach leaves, fruits and roots. From the Parishads biography of Srila Raghunatha das:
"When the Lord asked after Raghunath and learned that he was no longer taking prasad in the same way as before, but begging by the Simha-dvara, he was satisfied to see that he was taking the renounced way of life so seriously. He said,
"That's very good. He is taking the life of a renunciate seriously. A renunciate should always be engaged in repeating the names of the Lord and should keep his body and soul together through begging. Anyone who takes the renounced order and then becomes dependent on others cannot achieve his ends and Krishna will ignore him. One who becomes a renunciate and then lusts for tasty foods will never attain his spiritual goal, and will simply become the slave of his tastebuds. A vairagi's duty is to always chant the names of Lord Krishna and fill his belly with spinach leaves, fruits and roots. One who runs here and there looking for good things to eat becomes attached to his sex organs and his belly and will never attain Krishna." (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.6.222-7)
Whether a grhastha, brahmacari or sannyasi, spinach is an excellent vegetable to regularly incorporate in one's diet. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes in his Sri Bhaktyaloka:
"A grihastha Vaishnava should feel satisfied with whatever food and clothing he gets without difficulty. As stated in the Caitanya-bhagavata (Antya 4.293):
saba' haite bhagyavanta-sri saka, vyanjana
punah punah yaha prabhu karena grahana
"The spinach and vegetables are the most fortunate of all, for the Lord accepts them again and again."
Today we leave you with three more excellent spinach recipes – one that is extremely simple, another that combines many flavors but takes little time to prepare, and a third that is very opulent. All three are perfect for offering to Sri Krsna and distributing to the Vaisnavas, who will be eager to get spinach prasadam.
2 heads fresh Spinach
Ginger, 1 inch fresh
Salt to taste
½ tsp Turmeric
½ tsp Sugar
1 Tblsp fresh Cream
Blanch the spinach and puree it. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a pan and fry the finely chopped ginger until crisped. Add the palak mixture and fold in well. Season with a little salt and turmeric, then add half a teaspoon of sugar. Remove from pan, add one tablespoon of fresh cream, and offer.
Spinach with Coconut & Lentils
Sri Lanka Spinach with Lentils
2 bunches fresh Spinach
1 Green Pepper
1/2 cup Masoor dal (orange lentils)
1/2 cup Coconut milk
2 Tblsp Mustard
2 Tblsp unroasted Masala powder
1 Tblsp Turmeric powder
1-1/2 tsp Asofoetida
pinch Lemon grass
Salt to taste
1 cup Water
Clean the spinach and chop into small pieces. Dice the green pepper. Wash the lentils. Put all the ingredients except coconut milk into a pot and boil for 10 minutes at medium heat. Last, add the coconut milk and simmer for another 10 minutes on low heat with the lid on. Offer hot with rice.
(Spinach and Paneer Kofta)
For Koftas (Green Portion):
1 bunch Spinach
4 Tblsp Water
¼ tsp Salt
2 cup boiled & mashed Potatoes
2 Green Chilli, minced
2 Tblsp chopped Coriander leaves
2 Tblsp Cornflour
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Red Chilli Powder
For the Paneer (White Portion):
1 cup grated Paneer
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tsp chopped Coriander leaves
Cornflour and Water batter for dipping the Koftas
Bread Crumbs for rolling the Koftas
Ghee for frying
2 Tblsp Butter
4 Green Chilli, minced
1 inch piece Ginger, minced
2 large Tomatoes, pureed
2 tsp Coriander powder
1-½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Red Chilli powder
1-½ tsp Mango powder
1-½ tsp Garam Masala
2-½ cups Water
1 Tblsp dried Methi (Fenugreek) leaves
1 Tblsp chopped Coriander Leaves
2 Tblsp well-beaten Cream
1 Tblsp Honey
Butter or Cream
Garam Masala powder
For Koftas: Green Portion - Boil the spinach in salted water. Cool and drain off excess liquid, then coarsely puree it. To the mashed potatoes add spinach puree, green chilli, coriander leaves, cornflour, salt, red chilli powder and set aside. White Portion - To the grated paneer add salt, pepper, coriander leaves. Make balls, putting the green mixture into the center of the white ball. Dip the Koftas in cornflour batter, roll in breadcrumbs and fry in hot ghee till golden brown. Drain well on paper and set aside.
For Gravy: Heat butter and add cardamom, cloves, green chilli, ginger and sauté. Add tomatoes and spices, and cook for 10 minutes. Add water, methi, cream and coriander leaves and mix well. Turn off the heat and add honey.
To Serve: Cut the Koftas into halves. Pour the hot gravy overtop. Garnish with coriander leaves, almonds, butter or cream, and sprinkle garam masala, and offer hot.
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