When one is on the spiritual path, it is important to eat as clean and as organically grown food as possible. Of course, a vegetarian food is the best when one is meditating. With heavily digestible food in the stomach, it is difficult to concentrate or meditate. But let us not make a mistake that vegetarian diet is the only way to salvation just because we are vegetarian ourselves, so let us not make a religion out of the food we are eating. Swamiji Narayananda tells in his books (“The Secrets of Mind Control”) that one must take into account other people’s lives, the climate they live in, and access to food, etc. In the Arctic climate, one needs to eat meat and fish, as no vegetables or other things grow in these cold regions. In Tibet, due to climatic conditions, they also do not grow enough grains and vegetables, so the monks and the people have to eat meat, as well as import grain and other food products from India or China. In East Pakistan, and several places in India, it is impossible to grow vegetables during the rainy season, but since there are plenty of fish, they eat fish because imported vegetables are generally too expensive for the population. Swamiji also mentions that many of the great founders of religions and other spiritual giants like Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Ramakrishna, etc, also ate both meat and fish. The ancient Hindu Aryans were not all vegetarians, but ate meat from bulls, calves, and dry cows that were not giving milk. Milk producing cows were not allowed to be slaughtered. Of course, it is a sin to kill or to harm other living beings in thought, words, and actions. However, if we study the nature around us, we see how the lower life forms serve as food for higher life forms. So in a way, life can only proceed at the expense of another’s life. Just by existing, breathing, and drinking, etc. we destroy so many microscopic organisms. Even vegetables are alive and milk, for example, is blood, only at an early stage of development. The conclusion of all this must be that we try to take as little life as possible and only to the extent that is necessary for us.
If you try to live a life with meditation, it is easier with a lighter vegetarian food. Generally, it is best to eat about every three hours, where the biggest meal should be consumed at midday. The ideal is to fill the stomach half with solid food, one quarter with liquid and then let the last quarter stand empty for free air passage. In the evening, a light meal is best, and as a rule, about three hours before going to bed. Digesting while you sleep gives bad dreams and rest. So never overload the stomach with too much food. With too much food in the stomach, one cannot do positive mental work, think higher uplifting thoughts, or meditate. Another thing is that two persons in general never eat the same food. What is good for one, can be bad for another. We have to listen to our body and learn which kind of food is serving us the best. Avoid old food at any cost. In India, one never eats food that is more than three hours old, but that is due to the hot climate, where the food quickly loses its prana or energy. In colder climates, one can keep the food even up to next day in the refrigerator if one keeps it neat and clean. Avoid also too sour, too fat, too sweet, and too spicy foods. Try to live a simple and pure life. Mother nature has provided us with innumerable kinds of fauna and flora, vegetables, fruits, many corn products and different nuts, honey, egg, milk, etc., etc. There’s plenty to choose from. Let us not make the thing unnecessarily complicated. Furthermore, it is advisable to eat fruits and vegetables, etc. grown in one’s own climate, especially if one has cultivated them themselves. Lastly, when you cook try to do it with love, concentration, and purity. Such an attitude will give the food positive and uplifting energy.
How to make a really good chai:
Every Sunday there is Satsang in our place where we serve good Indian chai for our guests and friends. It is an art to make a good chai. The secret is the spices, which one must try to get as fresh as possible. That might be cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger (freshly grated is best). If it is winter and cold, a few pepper grains will also give aroma and strength to the chai. If one wants really good results, one can also dry roast the spices on iron pan (but it is not strictly necessary). It’s not easy to make a chai as good as they do it in India, where the fresh tea, spices, the Indian milk and suitable climate makes the chai so very tasteful and charming. But if one is “up on the marks,” pretty good results can be achieved. In our little Drumuliai Ashrama, we also serve fresh baked buns (bandelės) with butter. Believe me, they are really good.
Chai recipe for 4-6 persons:
- about 3 tablespoons plain tea, Ceylon tea, or Assam tea
- approx. 3/4 lt water
- approx. ½ l milk
- sugar to taste
- cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, etc.
Boil the water in the pot, add the tea and the spices and let it cook for approximately two, three minutes. Then add the sugar and the milk and let the whole thing cook for another two minutes. Now taste the chai and add more spices and sugar if necessary. Then, strain everything through a sieve and enjoy your chai. The chai with many heat producing spices will stimulate imagination and intellect. You get a little “high” and into a good mood, so conversation will flow freely and cheerfully.
The Indian curry soup:
When it comes to food in our Ashrama, we make many soups because they are quickly made and easily digested, so you can meditate virtually right after. Out of all our soups, the curry soup is the most popular. We make it in the Indian way with many spices. A deep “wok-like” iron pan is the best (stainless steel pots are not suitable) as an iron pan is better to withstand high temperature. In India, one starts by frying the different spices (called masala) in very hot vegetable oil. Of course, ghee is the best, but in general, too expensive for most of the people. In South India, people use coconut oil, as many coconuts grow there. One can buy coconut oil in glass jars in our supermarkets now; it gives the fried vegetables delicious flavour. Cut the vegetables first, onions (if it is winter and cold one can use a little garlic), then, for example, potatoes, carrots, aubergine, champion, tomatoes, or other vegetables that you like, and set them apart until you’re gonna fry them.
Heat the oil until it is very hot and then add the masala, which means the mixture of the different spices. You can also use the finished curry powder one can buy in the shop and then add extra spices like coriander, turmeric, aromatic cumin, etc. Let the spices fry in the very hot oil for max. 30 sec., then add the vegetables that take the longest time to cook first, and then afterwards, aubergine, champion, tomatoes, etc. When all the vegetables are fried nicely (see the photo bellow), then add as much coconut milk and water as you like until the vegetables are covered. Don’t forget to add a bunch of fresh dill, which will give the finished soup a wonderful taste. Now lower the heat and let the curry vegetables simmer slowly with a lid on until they are finished. Now taste the soup, if it is not strong enough, then add carefully a little chili powder and if needed a little nature salt. There are different ways of making a good curry soup, you must find your own way, which spices and vegetables you like, etc. In the winter time in Drumuliai, when sometimes it gets up to minus twenty or even more, such a curry soup is wonderful. If one makes a big portion and keeps it cold, it can easily last for the next two days. One can also serve curry soup with chapatis (see the recipe below).
My God, how tasty they understand to make these chapatis in India! Why they are so delicious and tasty is partly due to the good Indian atta-flour, where all the components of the wheat grains are ground on a stone grinder much finer then our western graham flour. In addition, the Indian atta-flour has a pleasant, round, almost slightly sweet flavor, which together with the chapaties baked over charcoal fire, gives them their wonderful taste. I made my own chapatis, while I was living in my Kutir (meditation cottage) along the Ganges River in Rishikesh. It was back in the good old days in 1966. There were hardly any westerners at that time. I made my chapatis on an iron plate over an open fire in the corner of my Kutir. So I had wonderful, sunny days bathing in the fresh and pure Ganges water while doing my daily meditations and exploring the forest and jungle area, gathering twigs and wood for my fireplace. The forest at the foot of the Himalayas is extremely fruitful with beautiful wildlife and in the middle of it all, the legendary Ganges river, which is considered sacred and worshiped and loved all over India.
Chapati recipe for 4-6 persons:
- approx. 125 g whole wheat flour
- approx. 125 g white fine, organically grown, wheat flour
- approx. 25 g butter or ghee
- some water · a little sea salt
Lightly flour the table surface and your hands. Use a bowl for flour, salt, a little ghee (or butter), and mix it thoroughly. It is not necessary to add ghee, butter, or a little oil to the dough, but the chapatis will be much tastier. Then carefully add a little water while you are kneading the dough until it is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands. Let the dough stand and rest for approx. half an hour, covered with a damp piece of cloth. Form the dough into balls and roll them to about a few millimeters thick. When baking chapatis, it’s best to use a heavy iron pan, which can take high temperature. When the chapatis are baked on one side and have its characteristic brown spots, then turn the chapatis and eventually add a little oil or ghee on the pan and press the chapatis with a piece of cloth down into the hot oil until they blister and bubbles up in a charming manner. When the chapatis are ready and warm, add a little bit of salt on it’s the surface. There are many ways to make chapatis, of course, one has to experiment a little and find one’s own way.
Indian Kheer, a delicious rice dessert
When we study “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,” we will learn about the Kheer which Ramakrishna greatly appreciated. I have, the night before a spiritual feast or celebration with many people, often prepared the Kheer, so it could cool down and stiffen up to rice pudding, and then served it the next day with a delicious cherry sauce. Kheer is the most famous rice dessert in India and tastes, when it is prepared correctly, just wonderful.
Kheer recipe for 4-6 persons:
- approx. 1.5 l. milk (eventually mixed up with a little cream)
- approx. 3/4 cup of long grained rice
- approx. half cup of sugar
- a little almonds (or as much as you like)
- a little freshly ground cardamom seeds
- one glass of pitted cherries in syrup
- eventually a little sugar
- skinned almonds
- a very little fine ground star anise
- a little potato starch
There are different ways to prepare the delicious Kheer. You can prepare the Kheer in the traditional way, that means cooking rice and milk over a longer time until it has thickened. But it takes a little time. If you don’t want to cook for such a long time, the soft Basmati rice is the best. Wash the rice and set it aside to drain. Bring the milk to a boil in a pot with a thick bottom, then adjust the heat so the milk is boiling, but not bubbling over. To minimize the cooking time, let the milk boil uncovered for the first 15 minutes while you stir it with a wooden spatula or kitchen whisk, to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot. Now pour the rice into the milk and continue stirring over a medium – high heat for at least 20 minutes, until the milk and rice has thickened. Now add the sugar and the mixture will become more liquid. Don’t care about it, but continue stirring, you might lower the heat a little, so the rice mixture doesn’t settle on the bottom of the pot (however, should it happen, then change the pot and continue stirring until the Kheer has thickened enough). Now add the skinned almonds (to skin almonds is easy, just pour boiling water over them and then let them rest for awhile until you can easily remove the skin). Now add the cardamom and cook a little longer. Sweet rice should only be slightly thick when removed from the heat because it will thicken when refrigerated and become rice pudding. The whole cooking process should not take more than approx. 60 minutes, especially if you are using the soft Basmati rice. If you use other type of rice, then the cooking time might be even longer. To shorten the cooking time, others let the rice soak in water for approx. 1 hour. Others again are also adding raisins into the Kheer. A little rose water, vanilla, or saffron added in moderation will also give the finished Kheer both color and flavor. Well, it’s a little work to make the Kheer dessert, but when you taste the finished result, you realize it was a time well spent.
The cherry sauce:
Use pitted cherries in syrup of good quality. Boil it carefully up and if necessary add more sugar and a very little fine ground star anise. Take the cherry sauce away from the heat and make it a little thicker, but still liquid, by adding a little potato starch mixed with water. Serve the Kheer pudding in decorative dessert glass with the cherry sauce mixed with skinned almonds on the top.
How to prepare an Indian meal:
Why the Indian vegetable dishes have such a good taste is because of the many aromatic spices, which one first fries in an iron pot with very hot vegetarian oil or ghee. When the spices are fried, then one adds the vegetables and fries them until they become tender and golden brown. After that, one can add coconut milk and water, and let the vegetables simmer under lid until they are ready. We will now make a famous North Indian rice and vegetable dish called Biryani, enriched by yellow colored saffran, different nuts, like almonds, cashew nuts, raisins, and other good stuff. Originally, the Biryani dish was first introduced by the Moguls (Muhammadans), which in the 15th century intruded the peaceful India.
Biryani dish for 4-6 persons:
- 2 cups of white basmati or jasmine rice
- approx. 3 table spoons of raisins
- 3-4 cups of different vegetables ( onions, sliced carrots, green beans, small cauliflower bouquet, aubergine, paprika, champion, etc.)
- different spices which you like, a little saffran, a cinnamon stick , 6 cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, 4 cardamom pods (lightly crushed), 2 bay leaves, 1 crushed star anise, very little red chilli powder, and a little Himalaya salt
- a little fried almonds and/or cashew nuts
Wash and cook the rice carefully together with four cups of water on medium heat. You can add little raisins and also a little saffron if you like. While the rice is cooking, heat a few table spoons of ghee or vegetable oil in an iron pot until it is very hot, and then fry first the spices approx. 30 sec. When the spices begin to crackle and smell fragrant, then add the fine sliced onions and stir until it is soft and golden brown. Now add the other vegetables. Firstly, of course, those vegetables that take the longest time to cook, the fine sliced carrots, the cut green beans, the small cauliflower bouquets, paprika, aubergine, green peas, etc. It is important that the rice and the vegetables are cooked to perfection, therefore many prefer to precook and fry them separately. And then in the end, carefully mix the rice and vegetables with a fork. Now lastly, sprinkle the mixed rice and vegetables with toasted almonds (skinned) or cashew nuts. One can, of course, make the Biryani or rice pilau in different ways. Some even bake the rice and the vegetables in the oven, but the recipe given here is a little easier. To the tasty Biryani dish one can of course serve a good home made chutney, puris (the small deep fried flat bread), chapaties, etc.