Prasadam - Ghee, Part Three
BY: SUN STAFF
Aug 17, 2010 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
The importance of golden ghee in cooking Krsna prasadam is very evident when we consider books of Vaisnava literature such as Sri Govinda-lilamrta and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. In Govinda-lilamrta we find descriptions of the great range of uses for ghee, as it's described in the conversations between Mother Yasoda and the gopis who are arranging so many nice foodstuffs for Krsna.
In Verse 53, Mother Yasoda is telling Kilimba that they had milked the cow named Sugandha, and churned her milk into butter, and the gopis could use this special butter to make ghee. Yashoda requests the gopis to make many different dishes cooked in ghee, and to prepare sweets with ghee, and Rohini Devi also describes the preparations Radharani has been making for Krsna with ghee.
Among the sweets mentioned in Govinda-lilamrta that are fried in ghee are Karpura keli and Amrita keli, two complex preparations we have described in previous segments of this series. Pishtaka are rice-cakes cooked in ghee adding various kinds of flour and sweeteners, and made in different sizes and shapes. Laddus are made using thin strips of white flour dough fried in ghee. These are joined by three types of sweet balls made from flat-rice, puffed rice and mung dahl powder, all of which are first fried in ghee and then boiled in sugar water.
Among the sharbats, Rasala is a beverage made from thick milk, yogurt, sugar, cardamom, ghee, honey and black pepper. Shikharini is eight parts yogurt, two parts sugar, one pal of ghee, one pal of honey, one half pal of ground black pepper, one tola of cinnamon, one tola of teja leaves, one tola of cardamom, and one tola of nageshwar. Sarab is made with two parts milk and one part thin yogurt with sugar, cardamom, ghee, honey and black pepper mixed with buttermilk.
The buttermilk leftover from ghee making is also offered to Krsna, and is called Matha. Pancamrita, the well known transcendental beverage that is enjoyed as a beverage or used to bathe Sri Krsna-vigraha, is a mixture of yogurt, milk, ghee, honey and sugar.
Many vegetable sabjis and savouries using ghee are also described, including an opulent sabji made with moca (banana flower), mankocu and panikocu (roots that grow in the ground and in the water), gourds, pumpkin, potatoes, and darasha (lady fingers), all cut into circular pieces and fried in ghee, then bathed in a sweet sauce made from mung dahl paste.
Ghee-fried dumplings are made from chickpea flour alone, while others are filled with moistened whey and amla. Both soft and hard cakes were made by boiling chickpea flour that is mashed, then fried in ghee with ground coconut and spices.
Some of Krsna's favorite treats are baka, kanchan, and other types of flowers that are simply fried in ghee and mixed with yogurt. Some are also made into dumplings, adding yogurt. Patola fruits are also fried in ghee. Another preparation is made by cooking large turnips in ghee with dhatriphala spice, yogurt and sugar.
Many of the dishes made for Krsna seem quite simple, composed of ghee and just a few other ingredients. This highlights the fact that pure ghee is so rich in flavor that the most accomplished preparations are made with it.
Throughout the Madhya and Antya lilas of Caitanya-caritamrta there are descriptions of preparations made with ghee that the devotees offered to the Lord. Many of these refer to ghee served on cooked rice, or ghee mixed into sweet rice preparations. There is one more complex preparation that Raghava's sister Damayanti made for Mahaprabhu to enjoy while traveling. This prep is reminiscent of the Amrita keli described in the Rasa-tarangini Tika of Govinda-lilamrta:
Caitanya-caritamrta Antya 10.29-30:
"She powdered fried grains of fine rice, moistened the powder with ghee and cooked it in a solution of sugar. Then she added camphor, black pepper, cloves, cardamom and other spices and rolled the mixture into balls that were very palatable and aromatic."
The various references to mixing ghee with cooked rice illustrate just how excellent this simple preparation is, and underscore the virtues of using only the purest cow's milk ghee, which is rich in flavor and replete with sattvic qualities:
"The cooked rice was a stack of very fine grains nicely cooked, and in the middle was yellow clarified butter from the milk of cows." (Madhya 3.44)
"Then the whole stack of rice was mixed with so much yellowish and fragrant clarified butter that it began to overflow the leaf." (Madhya 15.208)
"He had cooked fine rice, mixed it with ghee and piled it high on a banana leaf. There were also varieties of vegetables, placed all around in pots made of banana tree bark." (Antya 12.125)
Likewise, ghee is described as an ingredient in various types of sweet rice:
"Along with the various vegetables was sweet rice mixed with ghee. This was kept in new earthen pots. Earthen pots filled with highly condensed milk were placed in three places." (Madhya 3.53)
"Sweet rice mixed with ghee was poured into an earthen pot and mixed with canpa-kala, condensed milk and mango." (Madhya 15.217)
"The other half was mixed with condensed milk and a special type of banana known as canpa-kala. Then sugar, clarified butter and camphor were added." (Antya 6.58)
There are two additional pairs of slokas that mention ghee in a very interesting context. The first verses from Madhya lila 14 describe how the Lord tastes a certain mellow of ecstatic love. The second set of verses from Madhya lila 19 describe how the devotee tastes a particular type of ecstatic love. Both tastes, or ways of experiencing ecstatic love are described as a combination of ingredients: yoghurt, (sugar) candy, ghee, black pepper, and camphor. While Krsna's love is also like adding honey and cardamom to the mix, these two ingredients are absent from the devotee's taste of transcendental love of Krsna.
"There are eight symptoms of ecstatic love on the platform of transcendental jubilation, and when they are combined and tasted by Krsna, the Lord's mind is completely satisfied. Indeed, they are compared to a combination of yogurt, candy, ghee, honey, black pepper, camphor and cardamom, which, when mixed together, are very tasty and sweet." (Madhya 14.177-178)
"When the higher standard of ecstatic love is mixed with the symptoms of sattvika and vyabhicari, the devotee relishes the transcendental bliss of loving Krsna in a variety of nectarean tastes. These tastes are like a combination of yogurt, sugar candy, ghee [clarified butter], black pepper and camphor and are as palatable as sweet nectar." (Madhya 19.181-182)
These are no doubt two of the most amazing recipes in Vaisnava literature. The many qualities of ghee have been described throughout the ages in sacred literature. In several of the early Sanskrit sastras, both the relishable qualities of ghee as a foodstuff, and its medicinal qualities are described.
In South India, ghee is customarily given to infants as one of their first solid foods. A spoonful of ghee is mixed with rice and mashed to a creamy paste, helping the child's constitution to grow strong. The opulence of an Indian wedding is customarily judged by the generous quantities of ghee served with the dishes, and all effort is made to acquire only the purest ghee for the cooks.
The medicinal qualities of ghee are so many as to be impossible to list here. Ghee is taken by kirtaniyas to improve their voice, it improves eyesight, and overall wellness. It's an excellent healer of skin burns, and has been known to rapidly heal very serious burns, leaving little or no scarring behind. During times of war in ancient India, wells were constructed and filled with ghee, to be used as healing tanks in which those with serious wounds could be submerged.
For devotees, cooking with ghee is one of the greatest kitchen pleasures, as the purity, opulence and beauty of the stuff, combined with its great function, is a fitting tribute to Sri Krsna. Adding just a little ghee to almost any prep takes it from plain fare to an opulent preparation.
Ghee is famous as a frying oil. Because of its purity, the super-excellence of Mother Cow's milk it is derived from, and its natural constituents, ghee has one of the highest flash points of all oils. It is very difficult to burn or smoke hot ghee, making it perfect for deep-frying, pan-frying, sautéing or stir-frying.
We find that one of the finest kitchen utensils to cook ghee in comes from China– a high quality steel-hammered wok. Good woks are excellent for ghee deep-frying because the steel evenly distributes the heat to the oil, the hottest spot above the burner or flame is restricted to the smallest wok surface – the bottom of the cone – and this helps eliminate burned foods while frying. The broad upper surface of the wok lets fried foods pop to the surface and bob around as they cook, so more items can be fried at one time. Also, a high-quality steel wok doesn't leech metals into the ghee, and it's easy to scrape loose any bits that stick to the bottom or sides.
Once you've finished cooking and the ghee has cooled, always run it through a fine sieve or cloth to remove all the food particles. The unused portion can be stored in a clean jar, either kept in a cool, dark place or refrigerated. Moisture and sunlight are ghee's two biggest enemies, followed by foodstuffs that become home to bacteria. So the better eliminated these things are, the longer you'll preserve high quality ghee for re-use.
Fresh ghee can be stored in a cool dark place for countless years. In India, ghee connoisseurs treat the oil like aged cheese or wine is favored in the West. 100-year old ghee is highly valued, and brings very high prices. The oldest ghee is most likely to be found in temple pantries, where it is stored in large vats. Families will often pass aged ghee on from one generation to the next, to be used medicinally and in devotional practice.
Even more common than its use for frying foods, ghee is used to temper spices, allowing the full flavors to release before the spices are mixed into the foodstuffs. The order spices are tossed into the chaunk (tempered spice mixture in oil) depends on the desired flavors, but mustard seeds are usually the first in, giving them time to splutter in the hot ghee before adding chilis, aromatic spices, etc. A few spices are always last in, like fenugreek and sesame, which burn quickly at high heats and can become bitter or lose their good flavor qualities.
Ghee is wonderfully used on snacks like popcorn, sev or mixed nuts and raisins. Liberal quantities can go into the dal pot and sabjis while cooking, with a little drizzled on top just before offering. Likewise, drizzle it over fresh steamed vegetables of all kinds, and brush it onto hot chapattis and roti.
In sweets, ghee is used to bind ingredients together before they're fried or bathed in syrup, and sweeteners like jaggery or coconut cream can be melted down with ghee.
While we can't offer many recipes for ghee itself, other than the method for making it, there are a few ways ghee can be flavor enhanced. For example, you can mix other oils together with ghee, like coconut or sesame oil. Ghee and coconut oil mixed gives a wonderful combination of nuttiness and sweetness.
Many cooks keep a separate jar of ghee infused with fresh herbs, chilis or peppercorns. Likewise, ghee to be used for making sweets can be infused with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, bruised cardamoms or other aromatics, including aromatic herbs like peppermint, spearmint, rosehips, etc. These can be tied into a little cheesecloth bag and submerged, so they're easy to keep separate when using the oil.
Saffron, paprika and turmeric are also excellent spices to steep in ghee. While the more subtle flavors may be lost when frying foods in these special ghees, the full flavors can really be appreciated when you drizzle these oils on breads, or on top of dals, raitas, etc. to serve them.
What better foodstuff to offer Lord Krsna than ghee? It is pure, beautiful, tasty, and directly offered by Mother Cow, with a few devotional steps in between to transform the milk, cream, butter, curd and whey to ghee – giving the cook an opportunity to contribute service to what begins, and ends, as a perfect bhoga ingredient.
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