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Rice – A Gift From Krsna
by Visakha Devi Dasi

Rice, one of the oldest grains known to man, has throughout history been a staple in the diet of nearly three fourths of the world's people, and it remains so today. Scientists have classified about seven thousand distinct varieties of rice, and they've analyzed how, when, and where the chief strains are best cultivated, how they benefit us nutritionally, and what elements they contain. Astonishingly, however, no scientist has ever been able to produce a single grain of it.

Rice For Krishna

Why, despite having all the necessary chemicals in hand, can't the scientists produce rice, or, for that matter, any living organism? His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada often discussed this point in conversations with his disciple Dr. Thoudam D. Singh, an organic chemist. Srila Prabhupada explained that scientists will never be able to produce life, because life comes not from matter but from life itself, and ultimately from God, or Krsna. By analyzing the elements in, say, a grain of rice, scientists are starting from an intermediate point. Where do those elements come from? And where does the life within those elements come from? These questions remain unanswered by modern science, despite extensive research.

Devotees of Krsna, on the other hand, understand that both matter and life come from Him, as He Himself says in Bhagavad-gita (10.8): "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything comes from Me." So scientists cannot create anything, animate or inanimate; they can simply manipulate, the elements that Krsna supplies them.

Everything we require for our maintenance has come from Krsna. Therefore, out of a feeling of gratitude, we should offer our food to Him before we eat. Srila Prabhupada perfectly showed this gratitude in his daily life. "In my childhood," he once told one of his disciples, "I was taught by my parents never to waste Krsna's energy. They taught me that if even a small grain of rice was stuck between the floorboards, I should pick it up, touch it to my forehead, and eat it to save it from being wasted. I was taught how to see everything in relation to Krsna. That is Krsna consciousness."

But, one may ask, if Krsna is the source of everything, what is the point of offering our meager meals to Him? A similar question used to puzzle me when I was traveling in India some ten years ago, before I was a devotee. I used to see pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River and then taking palmfuls of water and offering them back to the Ganges. It struck me as odd that anyone would offer water to a river especially water from that very same river!

Later I learned the principle behind offering. When we offer something to Krsna, we are not offering something that belongs to us, since everything already belongs to Him. What we offer Krsna doesn't enrich His opulence in any way. But when we offer whatever we have, even if just a dish of rice, we develop our devotion to Krsna, just as the pilgrims develop their devotion to the Ganges. Also, Krsna has arranged nature so perfectly that when we offer Him our food and then eat to our full satisfaction, we are nourished both physically and spiritually and we progress peacefully on the path back to Godhead.

One of the most basic ingredients in Lord Krsna's cuisine is rice, and it's used in limitless ways. Rice cooked with herbs, spices, seasonings, nuts, raisins, homemade cheese, dried beans, and succulent vegetables makes a consummate pilaff entree. Cooled, seasoned rice with yogurt folded into it makes an ideal side dish for a hot summer's day. Rice simmered with seasonings, dried beans, and vegetables produces a delicious all-in-one meal. And rice boiled with milk and sweet spices makes a creamy, scrumptious pudding. You can grind rice down to a flour, heat it into puffs, or roast it into flakes to make pancakes, dumplings, sweetmeats, and snacks.

The first step in any rice recipe, of course, is choosing the best rice. Easy-to-cook, parboiled, precooked, and instant rices are out for all Vedic dishes. They lack both taste and nutrition. Besides, better to offer what you've cooked for Krsna yourself. Most suitable is long-grain rice, of which there are three excellent varieties:

North Indian Patna, American Carolina, and Dehradun basmati (most preferred). The people who harvest, husk, and winnow basmati rice have shunned the bleaching, pearling; oiling, and powdering that produce a commercially appealing rice but diminish both its flavor and nutritional value. You can buy basmati rice in most Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, or in gourmet food shops. (In the same places, you'll find the spices called for in the recipes that follow.) Before you cook basmati rice you must first pick out any small pebbles or other foreign objects, wash it in several changes of cold water, and then soak it for ten minutes.

There is a specific, formal process for offering food to Krsna that devotees follow in Krsna's temples. For your offering at home, however, you can begin with a few simple procedures. First, while preparing the dish, try to remember that it is for Krsna's pleasure. Second, never taste the preparation before offering it: Krsna should enjoy it first. Third, when the preparation is done, place a portion before a picture of Krsna; then chant Hare Krsna and pray for the Lord to accept the offering.

The rice dishes described below should be offered steaming hot and garnished with a sprinkle of golden ghee, purified butter. (Use melted butter for now; we'll explain how to make ghee in our next column.) These dishes can form the center of innumerable luncheon and dinner plates that include dal (a bean soup), vegetables, yogurt, relish, pickles, or salad. You'll be pleased to know that rice complements the protein in other foods: when you eat rice together with such foods as dried beans, nuts, or dairy products, the total food value increases by up to 45% another perfect arrangement by Krsna.

(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)

Simple Rice and Green Pea Pilaff

(Matar Pulau)

Servings: about 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
2 black or 4 green cardamom pods, if available
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
6 whole cloves
1 ½-inch cinnamon stick
1/3 cup slivered or sliced raw almonds
1 2/3 to 2 cups water
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
½ to 1 teaspoon salt

1. Lightly tap each cardamom pod to partially crush.

2. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 1 ½-quart saucepan (nonstick cookware is ideal) over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the whole cloves, the cinnamon stick, the bruised cardamom pods, and the almonds and then stir-fry until the almonds begin to turn pale golden brown.

3. Add the rice and stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Pour in the water, fresh peas, and salt. Stir, raise the heat to high, and bring the water to a full boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently simmer, without stirring, for about 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender and flaky. (If you're using frozen peas, defrost them in a strainer under hot running water. After the rice has cooked for 10 to 20 minutes [depending on the type], remove the lid and quickly sprinkle the peas on top of the rice. Replace the cover and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes.)

Rice and Cauliflower Pilaff [Gobhi Pulau]

Servings: 6 to 8
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 to 45 minutes

Ingredients for preparing cauliflower:

10 ounces cauliflower, cut into flowerettes 1 inch long and ¾ inch wide and then washed and thoroughly dried
¼ cup fresh or dried grated coconut, lightly packed
1 tablespoon fresh, seeded, minced hot green chilies (use as desired)
1 tablespoon fresh, scraped, minced ginger root
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley or coriander leaves
½ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

Ingredients for preparing rice:

1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
1 ½ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 cassia or bay leaf
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 large black or 4 large green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 ¾ to 2 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar or equivalent sweetener
6 lemon or lime wedges or twists for garnish

To prepare the cauliflower:

1. Combine the grated coconut, minced green chilies, minced ginger, minced coriander or parsley leaves, and yogurt in a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. Scrape into a small bowl and mix in the turmeric, salt, and pepper.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Drop in the cauliflower flowerettes and stir-fry for 5 or 6 minutes, or until the cauliflower has begun to brown. Pour in the yogurt mixture and stir well. Fry until the vegetable is dry and half-cooked.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a small bowl. Wipe the pan clean.

To cook the rice:

1. Heat 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Fry the cassia or bay leaves, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, and crushed cardamom pods until the mustard seeds sputter and pop. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add the water and sugar, raise the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a full boil. Add the seasoned cauliflower, reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer, without stirring, for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender and flaky. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, still covered, for 5 minutes to allow the fragile grains of rice to firm up. Just before offering the dish to Krsna, remove the cover and fluff the piping hot rice with a fork. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge or twist.

Lemon Rice (Nimbu Bhat)

Servings: 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 to 35 minutes

1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
1 2/3 to 2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
½ cup coarsely chopped or broken raw cashews
½ tablespoon split urad dal
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or coriander leaves
¼ cup fresh or dried shredded coconut for garnish

1. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy 1 ½-quart saucepan. Stir in the rice, salt, and ½ tablespoon of the ghee or vegetable oil and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, without stirring, for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until the rice is flaky and tender and the water is fully absorbed. Set aside, still covered.

2. Heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Drop in the cashew nuts and fry until golden brown. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and pour them over the surface of the cooked rice. Cover the rice again.

3. Toss the urad dal and the mustard seeds into the remaining ghee or vegetable oil and fry until the mustard seeds pop and crackle and the dal is richly browned.

4. Gently spoon the cooked rice into the fried spices and sprinkle with turmeric powder, lemon juice, and fresh parsley or coriander leaves. Gently fold in all the ingredients until mixed.

5. Remove from the heat and, before offering the dish to Krsna, garnish with a sprinkle of shredded coconut.