Spiritual Fires

Twenty bonus points and a free order of pakoras to anyone who can name all four of the people in this photo. I am only slightly joking. How about 40 more bonus points to anyone who can say where and when this photo was taken?

The problem with throwing out a challenge question like that is, that I am not very patient and want to just blurt out the answer without having to wait for your guesses. I had also originally wanted to talk tonight about things that would require me to give you the answers to those questions. So I will have to adjust how I express my thoughts. Let me just say that one of the people in this photo is a well-known kirtan artist, who I first saw in "concert" way back in 2005 (hint: the photo is not from that year). That kirtan inspired me with the possibility of bringing my spiritual practice of chanting, out of the temple and into the yoga studios. I was also inspired to hear how jammin' the kirtan was. I decided right then and there, that that is what I wanted to do when I grew up. My bandmate, Steve, was also at that 2005 kirtan, and felt inspired to become a kirtan singer when he grew up. The other night he reminded me of that kirtan 11 years ago, inspiring me to look back and see how many things had changed for both of us in the time that has elapsed since then. One of the biggest changes for me is that I get to spend several days out of each month doing exactly what I had at one time only fantasized about - leading people in the sacred art of mantra chanting, often to the tune of very swinging musical accompaniment. This one kirtan concert didn't just affect my life. I can think of at least 12 people (2 of whom are also in this photo) who have developed a serious dedication to the practice of sacred chanting, thanks in part to this kirtan artist. While contemplating the transformation in my life and the lives of those around me, I was reminded of this quote by Marianne Williamson from her book, A Return to Love:

"Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." So go ahead, you beautiful, bright lights out there, dare to shine on. You never know who will be touched just by seeing you live your passion. A forest fire can be started by just a few well-placed sparks, and Lord knows that our world today could use a little spiritual forest fire action.

This Week's Menu: Entree #1 - Green Split Pea Dal with Spinach and Coconut Milk This is week #7, the first week that I would be rotating through Govinda's menu with two of the top entree picks that we decided on 8 weeks ago. Well, I sort of followed the plan. This mild, creamy, coconut milky dal of green goodness was scheduled for this week. Check. Following the plan. The other scheduled entree was the Curried Pumpkin Soup. Hmm... Stop. Reassess. Once I had created the rest of the Bengali-themed menu, that beautiful orange pumpkin soup just kept looking at me, saying "I feel so out of place!" Deeply feeling her pain at being the odd one out, I decided to replace entree #2 with something a little more thematic. Scroll down to find out which entrees are guest-starring this week! *GF, soy-free

(photo ?)

Entree #2 - Bengali Mung Dal Khichari We owe the majority of this week's menu to my acquaintance Sucheta, a professor at Duke University. Although she teaches Chinese history, Sucheta happens to be Bengali. Yesterday someone was asking Sucheta for her famous Bengali Khichari recipe. My ears suddenly grew very long. "What? Sucheta, you have a famous Bengali Khichari recipe?" Had she been holding out on me?! Being as I had not yet picked the majority of this week's menu, I was extra keen to know what said recipe was. So right there in the dressing room of the pool that we both frequent, I pulled out my handy phone/voice recorder and captured the elusive recipe! This khichari is spiced with whole garam masala spices and augmented with green peas, potato, and pan-fried cauliflower. It is typically made for weddings and festivals, most notably the Durga Puja celebration. Since the texture of khichari generally resembles that of porridge (on account of the mung beans & rice being boiled together), it is often served with crunchy sides like pakora, roasted papadam, or a dry eggplant curry. Take a look around the menu - you will see the time is ripe for a Bengali festival. *GF, soy-free

(photo vegrecipesofindia.com)

Entree #3 - Curried Greens & Eggplant I wasn't about to make a dry eggplant curry because 1) they are very hard to make in quantity and 2) many people have not yet discovered their love of eggplant. Eggplant, like tofu, is like a sponge that can soak up whatever luscious flavors it is marinated in/cooked with. However, just like tofu, eggplant can taste pretty bad (like downright yucky) if not cooked properly. As you can see, it is also challenging to make this humble vegetable look nice. It is just not a very photogenic veggie. Don't let his looks fool you! Sir eggplant has a winning personality, when treated right. I made this curry for a catering engagement several months ago, and I have to say that I was pretty dang pleased with it. With its mix of spicy, bitter, savory, fresh and fried flavors, this curry is downright luscious. The recipe originally comes from my fav Indian cooking encyclopedia, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. I found the exact (though uncredited) recipe online. For you collector-types out there, you can find it linked in the title. *GF, soy-free

(photo archanaskitchen.com)

Side Dishes: Brown Rice - $1/serving (1 cup) Tamarind Quinoa - $3.50/serving (1 cup) Tamarind rice is one of my favorite things to pair with Green Split Pea dal. Where the dal is mild and creamy, the rice is tangy and a little spicy, laced with the flavors of curry and cilantro leaves. Since our menu is already a little rice-heavy with the khichari and the rice pudding, I thought it might be fun to simply substitute quinoa for the rice in this recipe. Apparently this idea has already been thought of many times, as there were plently of photos and recipes for tamarind quinoa out there on Google. *GF, soy-free, contains peanuts

(photo thesizzlingpan.com)

Vegetable Pakoras -$3 ea. or 2/$5. These mixed vegetable fritters are made by dipping the cut veggies in a batter of spiced chickpea and rice flours and then frying them in grapeseed oil until they are happy and golden. Pakoras are the perfect crunchy savory to complement the khichari. *GF, soy-free

(photo vegrecipesofindia.com)

Bengali Tomato Chutney - $1/serving. This recipe was also captured by my voice recorder, as Sucheta was saying "You just add a little of this and a little of that..." When a woman says "you just...," beware. Women tend to do so much more than we give ourselves credit for; thus, I have learned to take notes when a woman says "you just." This traditional chutney has a tantalizing mix of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. The perfect partner for your pakoras. *GF, soy-free

(photo myjhola.in)

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding - $4/serving. When I think of sweets from India, I think of milk sweets. Bengal especially, is famous for its rich variety of sweets made from milk. The mithai, or sweet shop, is the Indian counterpart to the corner bakery. There you will find an amazing array of sweets of all shapes and colors, stacked up in gravity-defying conical towers, just waiting for children of all ages to take them home. Many a visitor to an Indian temple will also remember the "prasad," or sanctified food that is given out to guests, as being a tasty piece of sweetened fresh-made cheese (sandesh) or a creamy sweet rice pudding (khir). I have found it challenging to recreate vegan versions of these kind of desserts, which by association, have become dear to my heart. Fortunately coconut milk makes a fine substitution in khir. Eating his delicately-flavored rice pudding is like taking a piece of sacred India home with you. *GF, soy-free

(photo monpetitfour.com)

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