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July 15, 1999


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The 'Taj Mahal Of Cookbooks' Revisited

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Mabel Fernandes

When her sister invited Joan Campanella to attend her wedding in New York, she told Joan that she and her fiance had met an Indian swami who was teaching them Sanskrit and interpreting the Bhagavad Gita for them. Campanella, who was least interested in religion, could not, however, turn down the invitation to the godman's apartment, where she enjoyed a simple vegetarian meal, which was unlike anything that she had eaten in Indian restaurants in San Francisco, her home town. "It was light, vibrant and subtly seasoned," she would write later.

Then the swami, Srila Prabhupada, unknown in 1966, told Campanella that in the Indian tradition the bride's family invited the bridegroom's family to dinner, and he was going to prepare a meal for the bride and her guests. Would Joan Campanella help?

During the several hours Campanella worked with Prabhupada, she was amazed at his ability to cook at least four dishes simultaneously. She was also impressed how gently he discussed Hindu philosophy. ("He did not drone with dry philosophy," she was to remark).

Within a few months Joan Campanella was studying the Bhagavad Gita with Prabhupada. And she successfully persuaded Prabhupada to move to San Francisco. And soon, she would master Indian vegetarian cooking, and become the personal chef of Srila Prabhupada till his death eight years later. By then the International Society for Krishna Consciousness founded by Prabhupada had become known across the world.

Lord Krishna's Cuisine:The Art Of Indian
Vegetarian Cooking After several extended trips across India, Campanella who had changed her name to Yamuna Devi, wrote her first book, Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art Of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. First published in 1987 and just reissued by Button ($ 34.95), the 800 page book with more than 500 recipes, continues to live up to its reputation as being one of the best vegetarian cookbooks ever. Described by the Chicago Tribune as 'the Taj Mahal of cookbooks,' it is filled with exciting recipes especially meant for American homes.

The exhaustive variation of a recipe -- there are half a dozen dosa recipes including coconut dosa and a sweet dosa with mango butter -- is found throughout the book. It offers recipes from across India but the veggie dishes from north India get more attention.

Yamuna Devi has authored several other acclaimed books including Yamuna's Table, winner of the James Beard Foundation's Best International Cookbook of the Year (1992), and India: The Vegetarian Table.

The following recipe and commentary are from the book, Lord Krishna's Cuisine:

Broccoli and Spinach Puree ( Nariyal Sak ):

In India, spinach season is anticipated long before its arrival, and this thick, rich spinach dish is a particular favorite in the Punjab region of North India. In 1970 I traveled through this region with Srila Prabhupada as part of his sankirtan party, and during our two-week stay in Amritsar not a day passed when our hosts did not offer us some form of sak. The combination of broccoli and spinach is not as common as paneer and spinach, but several households did serve some variation on this dish, and they were delicious.

It is also outstanding as a gratin -- sprinkled with buttered bread crumbs and shredded cheese and broiled until browned. To make the bread crumbs, melt four tablespoons (60 ml) of butter in a frying pan, add 3/4 cup (120 g) of fresh crumbs, and toss over moderate heat until crisp. You will be surprised at how much butter the crumbs can absorb. Try it with sauted rice or griddle-fried radish-stuffed whole wheat bread and herbed cracked wheat uppma with mixed vegetables for a special lunch or dinner.

Preparation time (after assembling ingredients): a few minutes.

Cooking time: 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Serves 6 to 8.

1/2 cup (120 ml) water; 1 pound (455 g) fresh spinach, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped, or one 10-ounce (285g) package of frozen spinach, defrosted and pressed dry.

1 pound (455 g) fresh mixed greens, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped, or one 10-ounce (285 g) package of frozen mixed greens ,defrosted and pressed dry.

1 pound (455 g) fresh broccoli, larger stalks trimmed and coarsely chopped, or one 10-ounce (285 g) package of frozen broccoli, defrosted and coarsely chopped.

1 medium-sized potato, peeled and diced. 2-3 hot green chilies. 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger root, scraped and sliced; 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) turmeric; 2 teaspoons (10 ml) ground coriander; 1/2 tablespoon (7 ml) salt; 5 tablespoons (75 ml) ghee or peanut oil; 1 teaspoon (5 ml) cumin seeds; 1 teaspoon (5ml) garam masala ; 3 tablespoons (45 ml) cream cheese or cream; a handful of buttered bread crumbs or shredded cheese (optional).

1. Bring the water to a boil in a 5-6 quart/liter nonstick pot. Pack in the spinach, greens, broccoli, potato, green chilies, ginger, turmeric, coriander and salt. Cover and cook over moderately low heat for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes and every 10 minutes thereafter. You may have to add additional water to prevent scorching.

2. Process in batches in a food processor or blender, until all of the ingredients are reduced to a smooth puree.

3. Heat the ghee or oil in heavy 12-inch (30 cm) nonstick frying pan or saut pan over moderate heat. When it is hot but not smoking, drop in the cumin seeds and fry until they darken a few shades. Add the pureed greens, stir and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir in the garam masala and cream cheese or cream, and cook until thoroughly mixed.

4. Serve on a warmed platter, or transfer to a buttered gratin dish and smooth the surface. To finish the gratin, sprinkle the top with a mixture of buttered fresh bread crumbs and/or a handful of shredded cheese. Place 6 inches (15 cm) from a preheated broiler and brown until crisp and golden.

Serve bubbling hot.

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