The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Kitchen Religion Cookbooks Reveal Secrets of Quantity Cooking
By: Madhava Smullen ISKCON News on June 26, 2014
Sunanda cooking at Burning Man festival
The first in the new “Kitchen Religion Series” of cookbooks, Rice: 65 Recipes From Around the World doesn’t just offer an astonishing amount of sumptuous ways to prepare that simplest of staple foods.
It’s also the first ever ISKCON cookbook to focus on how to cook in large quantities, an extremely valuable resource for its target audience of ISKCON devotees.
The recipes are presented in graph form with ingredient quantities and directions on cooking for 10 to 1,000 people. This means they can be used by not only ISKCON catering programs, Food For Life programs, and restaurants, but also temple kitchens and even home gatherings.
“I have long felt the need for recipes of this kind within ISKCON’s arsenal,” says author Sunanda Das.
Sunanda knows what he’s talking about. One of the premier ISKCON cooks for the past forty years, he “became a prasadam addict” when he joined ISKCON in Brooklyn, New York in 1971 at the age of 16 and tasted the sanctified vegetarian food for the first time.
Sunanda serves up Kalachandji's delicious vegetarian fare in the 1980s
Learning the craft of prasadam cooking from Apurva Das, another celebrated ISKCON chef, he cooked for the presiding Deities of ISKCON New York, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, and then toured with the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party.
Next, he helped open restaurants in St. Louis, Missouri; Austin, Texas, and finally, in 1982, Kalachandji’s in Dallas.
“Kalachandji’s just exploded,” Sunanda says. “It became the most popular vegetarian restaurant in Dallas. On weekends, 150 people would wait for three or four hours to get in. There would be lines going out the door. Then, in 1988, it was reviewed by Vegetarian Times magazine as one of Top 10 vegetarian restaurants in the U.S.”
During this time Sunanda also provided specialized catering for vegetarian bands and solo musicians on tour with his Magic Lotus Catering. He served prasadam to some of the most celebrated names in music, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., The Kinks, Boston, David Bowie, B.B. King and Peter Gabriel.
Moving to New York at the tail end of the 1980s, Sunanda cooked for major street fairs organized by ISKCON guru Romapada Swami, and was one of the official food vendors travelling with the 1994 Lollapalooza music festival to 35 shows across the U.S.
“These were all very good experiences for me to cook and reach out to different types of people through prasadam,” he says.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sunanda took a break from cooking to focus on other means of livelihood for his family. But in 2007 he returned to quantity cooking as head chef for the Krishna Lunch program in Gainesville, serving 1,000 students at the University of Florida every day.
Sunanda cooks up a giant pot of carob, walnut and vanilla halava at Pranafest 2012
“There was a set weekly menu when I arrived, and I like variety, so I started to expand the recipes,” says Sunanda. “That was when I got the idea to start writing down quantity recipes and putting them in book format for devotees.”
Sunanda drew recipes from not only traditional ISKCON or Indian sources but also from cultures all over the world, modifying them when needed.
The staggering array of rice recipes in his first book include Indonesian coconut rice, Mexican black bean and corn rice, Oriental mixed vegetable rice, Cajun Jambalaya rice from New Orleans, spinach, lentil and pine-nut rice, and spicy ginger lima bean rice. There’s even one rice that gets its unique flavor from orange juice, and another that incorporates peaches.
“Most people we cook for at festivals and other venues are still not aware that there’s so much variety in vegetarian cooking,” says Sunanda. “So to have a wide variety of dishes to prepare will engage people’s tongues in Krishna’s service and attract them to Krishna consciousness. As Srila Prabhupada would often quote, variety is the spice of life.”
Along with his recipes, Sunanda reveals the secrets of how to cook them in quantity. “There’s a real art and science to cooking rice in quantity,” he explains. “For ten people, if you use one cup of rice, you generally double the water, using two cups. But as the amount of rice increases, the amount of water gradually reduces. So for 25 people, it’s slightly less, and anything above a certain point is always just one and a half times the amount of water.”
There are other elements, too. “If you overcook the rice, it breaks apart and turns to mush. If you don’t cook long enough it will have hard bits in it,” Sunanda says. “And there’s a whole art in stirring rice so that you don’t mush it all together.”
Sunanda's book Rice - 65 Recipes From Around the World
For non U.S. cooks, Sunanda includes Metric conversion charts in his book, and promises that future editions will include Metric equivalents in the recipes themselves.
Meanwhile, he also goes into detail about the standards Srila Prabhupada set for ISKCON kitchens, making his book a useful tool for temple managers to train prospective new cooks. For quantity cooking at restaurants or festivals, these standards are a little more flexible, but for temple cooking they’re very specific. Temple cooks, for instance, shouldn’t wear street clothes in the Deities’ kitchen or use canned foods, and should keep conversation limited to Krishna conscious topics.
“Cooking is a meditation,” explains Sunanda.
As well as these kitchen standards, each recipe page in the book includes a quote from Srila Prabhupada about prasadam. And in his introduction, Sunanda offers up more inspiration, talking about how Srila Prabhupada called Krishna consciousness ‘the kitchen religion,’ and giving examples from scriptures that show prasad at the center of Vaishnava relationships.
He also talks about prasadam’s importance in keeping devotees enthusiastic on their path of devotion. “In the early days of the movement, Prabhupada used to keep a bucket of gulabjamuns (sweets) outside his room at the New York temple,” he says. “And every time devotees felt some anxiety or lack of inspiration, they would get a gulab, and that would make them feel better.”
Sunanda hopes to release to more books on quantity cooking by 2015: one on soups and dahls, and another on vegetable dishes. Another book, featuring no less than 108 halava flavors, will follow. And Sunanda hopes to work with Apurva Das and other ISKCON cooks on further volumes on savories, salads, desserts and drinks.
Meanwhile he’s also compiling Prasadamrita, a book of quotes from Srila Prabhupada on the glories of prasadam.
All this seems like a lot of work. But for Sunanda, it’s all part of sharing the joy he gets from preparing prasadam and feeding it to others.
“The satisfaction of seeing prasad distributed to hundreds of people at a time is like chanting Hare Krishna,” he says. “We get a certain spiritual satisfaction from chanting the Holy Names, and there’s a very special feeling of satisfaction from cooking and distributing prasad to thousands of people and seeing them enjoy it. It’s like taking a step closer Back to Godhead.”
For more information on the Kitchen Religion Series, and to buy Rice: 65 Recipes From Around the World, please visit http://www.kitchenreligionbooks.com. To order the book in bulk, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food for Life Global
Uniting the World Through Pure Food
New Kitchen Religion Cookbook series launched
June 21, 2014, by Priyavrata Das
The Hare Krishna movement is famous all over the world for the delicious meals they serve at large festivals. It is truly astonishing how the cooks are able to make so much food taste so good. As a result, the spiritual organizaton is often referred to as the “kitchen religion.”
“I made this movement successful simply by love feast*,” explained the founder, Srila Prabhupada during a room conversation at the end of his life.
*Love feast: Another name for the Hare Krishna free vegetarian feast served on Sundays at ISKCON temples around the world.
“They did not come to hear Hare Krishna. They came for love feast. From very beginning, when I was in 26 2nd Avenue, every Sunday I was giving nice foodstuffs, at least 200 men….I was cooking myself. That is the beginning of our movement.”
Srila Prabhupada cooking lunch
Srila Prabhupada is the inspiration behind the Food for Life project and was himself an expert at cooking delicious meals for large gatherings — and this is an important difference between Srila Prabhupada and other leaders of spiritual organizations. Srila Prabhupada always considered himself a servant of God and demonstrated his humility when establishing his new spiritual organization (ISKCON) by cooking for his students himself and then cleaning up after them!
In fact, Srila Prabhupada made it abundantly clear that eating pure food (prasadam) was an essential activity of his new movement.
“Our Hare Krsna movement is standing on three principle things: chanting, dancing, and eating prasadam. It is not very difficult. It is very enjoyable to chant, dance, and take prasadam. And if you like, you can hear a little philosophy of this movement. Or even if you do not understand the philosophy, even you do not read the books, simply if you take part in these three things, chanting, dancing, and taking part in eating the prasadam, your life will gradually progress in spiritual advancement of life.” (1974 London Rathayatra festival)
One of his early students, Sunanda Das (Saul Porecki) has taken on the task of sharing the Hare Krishna wisdom of cooking for large gatherings in a new publication called, The Kitchen Religion Series, with the first volume offering 65 delicious rice recipes from around the world.
Sunanda explains, “This series is a unique and versatile offering for the novice cook or the skilled Hare Krishna chef looking to master quantity cooking, as well as for the family cook seeking new ideas and solutions for that big family gathering.”
The series of cookbooks are filled with practical tips, quantity charts, metric equivalents and inspiring quotes and instructions from the master chef and guru, Srila Prabhupada.
It is important to note that all the recipes in the series can can be adjusted to suit a vegan diet and that Food for Life Global only supports projects that serve vegan meals or meals that have sourced non-violent (ahimsa) dairy.
Typical Hare Krishna Feast served at an ISKCON temple.
About the Author
Sunanda Das, 1980s
In 1971, at the age of 16, I started visiting the Hare Krishna Temple in Brooklyn, New York and got my first taste of Krishna prasadam. In fact, like most of us, I became a prasadam addict, and that was one of the most important factors which attracted me to Krishna consciousness. In due time I got ivolved in kitchen services (pot washing was always the first service for new bhaktas), and after getting initiated became one of the cooks for Sri Sri Radha Govinda, New York Temple’s beloved Deities.
Eventually, I became the cook on one of the Radha Damodar Traveling Sankirtan buses and even got the opportunity to cook for Srila Prabhupada during his drive to Gita Nagari farm on this bus. My cooking services led to opening three restaurants, one in the St. Louis, Missouri Temple, another in Austin, Texas, and finally to the opening of Kalachandji’s in Dallas, Texas in 1982. It soon received much local recognition, and in 1987 the Vegetarian Times magazine rated it as one of the Top 10 vegetarian restaurants in the U.S.
Magic Lotus Catering, a vegetarian catering service, was an offshot of Kalachandji’s Restaurant directed at the music entertainment industry which succeeded in serving many notable vegetarian bands and artists. The service even traveled as one of the food vendors with the 1992 Lollapalooza Music Tour to 35 shows across America.
More recently I served for three years as the cook for the famous Krishna Lunch program at the University of Florida in Gainesville (now in its 41st year of operation) where 1,000 + students a day enjoy a healthy and tasty lunch of Krishna prasadam. It was here that I began to conceive and develop the idea of quantity cooking cookbooks, and the Kitchen Religion Series is the outcome of that.