Prasadam - Buttermilk, Part Three


Oct 26, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

The glories of buttermilk are evident in the many passages from sastra that describe the delicious preparations offered to Sri Krsna and Sri Krsna Caitanya by the devotees. In the Govinda-lilamrta of Srila Krishna das Kaviraja Goswami and the associated Rasa-tarangini Tika commentary by Sri Yadunandana Thakur, we read Mother Yasoda's instructions to the gopis, who are preparing dishes for Krsna, including a buttermilk sharbat called Sarab:

    Govinda-lilamrta, Verse 44:

    "Oh child Lalite! You can prepare rasala, and Vishakha can make sarab. You prepare shikharini, and daughter Champakalata will make matha."

    Rasa-tarangini Tika:
    These are all various kinds of sharbat (refreshing beverages): Rasala is 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. Matha is buttermilk."

In Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 15.210 is described a preparation called badi ghola, which is buttermilk with small pieces of fried dhal. Buttermilk takra is described as a beverage in Madhya 14.33. Likewise, in Madhya 4.74 are mentioned pots of buttermilk (matha), was served alongside the vegetables. Sri Caitanya also drank a pot of buttermilk after liberating the Kashis:

    kashi-vasi-janoddhara-carita kilbiapaham
    takra-pana ca gopasya / navadvipa-shubhagamah 9

    "(By mercifully giving the process of Hari-nama-sankirtana) Shri Chaitanya delivered the people of Kashi from sin. Then after drinking a pot of buttermilk [takra-panam - drinking the buttermilk] given by a gopa, He travelled on and arrived in the land of the nine islands, bringing auspiciousness with Him."
    (Shri Krishna Chaitanya-carita Mahakavya of Shrila Murari Gupta, 4.26)

Other traditional Vedic methods of serving buttermilk are indicated by certain Sanskrit terms. For example:

  • audazvita means 'dressed with buttermilk'

  • khada is buttermilk boiled with acid vegetables and spices

  • madhudazvita is buttermilk with honey

  • masara is a meal of slightly parched barley mixed with buttermilk

  • samjavana is made by pouring a little buttermilk into warm milk

  • sattaka is made with buttermilk mixed with cumin infused water

  • and morata is soured buttermilk

The matha served to Lord Caitanya, described in Madhya 4.74, is most likely a sour buttermilk. Of course, there is an important difference between this sort of sour buttermilk and 'sour' as in spoiled buttermilk. The latter is tamasic, and should be avoided. But fresh buttermilk that has aged just the right amount of time, and under the right conditions, develops an excellent sour flavor.

There are a number of methods cooks use for making quick substitutes for natural buttermilk, when caught short while cooking a preparation. Although these are not as nicely flavored and shouldn't be depended on for beverages, they will serve as a reasonable substitute in sauces, sabjis and the like.

Make a cup of buttermilk by taking the same quantity of fresh milk and adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and letting it settle for 5 minutes, then stir and use. You can also add two teaspoons of cream of tartar to a cup of fresh milk and let stand for 10 minutes. For baking, substitute buttermilk with two parts plain yogurt plus one part fresh milk. Baking times are generally longer when using natural buttermilk, compared to commercial or substitute buttermilks.


Because of its constituent acids, which provide the lovely sour tang, buttermilk was also used in ancient India as a pickling paste, mixed with salt and ginger. Likewise, buttermilk is a traditional preservative used in a preparation called Balaka, which is sun-dried green chilis with a long shelf life. The buttermilk acts as an anti-bacterial and preservative, and also lends a nice flavor to the chilis.



    50 Green Chillies
    3 cups sour Buttermilk
    4 tsp Salt

Wash and dry the chilis, then make a slit up two sides, half the length of the chili. Keep the chili intact, and don't open the slits up. In a bowl, mix together the buttermilk and salt. Submerge the chilis in the buttermilk bath for three full days, covering with cheesecloth, and stir a few times each day. When done, pluck the chilis out of the bath, reserving the liquid, and lay the chilis out on racks or trays to dry in the hot sun. Leave them under the sun all day, then return them to the buttermilk bath.

Repeat this process for about three days, then remove the chilis, discard the buttermilk mixture, and let the chilis sun dry for another four or five days, until all the moisture is gone and they are completely dried. If you don't have hot sun, you can dry them on the lowest possible oven temperature. This may cause them to be slightly sweeter, as the sugars carmelize at higher heats. (Lower heat, like 120 degrees F., cures the chilis much better than the lowest oven settings.)

Store the dried chilis in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dark place. They'll last for at least a year. To use them, fry in a little ghee until golden brown then toss into rice or sabjis.

Buttermilk Rice

Buttermilk is an excellent addition to rice dishes. It can be diluted with water and used as the cooking liquid when making rice, or it can be added full strength after the rice is cooked. As with biryanjis or lemon rice, if you want to keep a firm texture, lightly toast the rice grains in ghee until they darken a few shades, then boil in a thinned buttermilk and cook the rice.

There is a story told from ages past about a wealthy man in Kanchi, the son of a prince, who went out looking for a wife. Along the way, he was served a preparation made from boiled rice with curds, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, fragrant cool buttermilk, and fermented rice gruel. Using both fermented rice broth and buttermilk would give this dish considerable pungency.

Among the many excellent uses for buttermilk in sabjis and main dishes, here are recipes for buttermilk sago and a banana-buttermilk curry:

Buttermilk Sago

Sabbakki (Sago) Chitranna


    Sabbakki (Sabudana/Sago) - 1 cup, big pearl
    Sour Buttermilk - 2 cups
    Green Chilis - 2
    Roasted Chana Dal, powdered – 1 tsp
    Coriander leaves – small handful
    Ghee for tempering
    Mustard seeds - ¼ tsp
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Salt to taste
    Asofoetida – ¼ tsp
    Curry leaves, fresh – a sprig
    Chana Dal (split black chickpeas) - 1tsp
    Urad Dal (split black gram) - 1/2 tsp

Wash the sago pearls well and soak them in the buttermilk overnight. Drain the sago next morning, and spread it on a clean towel to remove the excess moisture. In a little ghee fry the mustard till it splutters, then add the minced chilis, chana dal and urad dal, until they darken a few shades. In the last minute add the curry leaves, turmeric and salt. Stir in the sago and reduce the heat. Add the chana dal powder and mix gently. Keep on low heat until the mixture gets warm, then garnish with chopped coriander and offer hot.


(Banana and Buttermilk Curry)


    1 cup Raw (green) Banana, peeled and cut in chunks
    2 cups Water
    1/2 Tblsp Tamarind paste
    1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
    1/2 tsp Jaggery
    1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
    Salt to taste

    For Masala:
    1 tsp Channa Dal
    1/2 tsp uncooked Rice
    2 tsp Coriander seeds
    1 tsp Mustard seeds
    Ghee for tempering
    2 Green Chilis
    1/2 cup fresh grated Coconut
    1/2 cup Water

    For Seasoning:
    1 tsp Urad Dal
    1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
    1 Red Chili
    A little ghee
    1/8 tsp Asofoetida

Put banana chunks and water in a pot along with the salt, tamarind paste and jaggery. Cover and cook on medium heat until the banana chunks are well cooked. Meanwhile, soak channa dal and uncooked rice in water for at least 20 minutes. Fry the coriander and mustard seeds in a little ghee until they splutter. Next, grind the channa dal, uncooked rice, coriander, mustard, green chilis and coconut, along with ½ cup water.

Once the banana is cooked, add the masala paste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the tempered seasonings. When the mixture has cooled down, add the buttermilk and fold together gently. Offer alongside rice.


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