Southern Exposure

Where were we? For those of you who are newly joining us or who suffered from momentary ADD and didn't read last week's blog (lol!), let me catch you up. Last week we talked about the worldwide Renaissance of the 14th-16th centuries that ushered in an era of light, inquiry, and exploration. I introduced Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a great saintly personality, considered by Vaishnavas to be an Incarnation of Lord Krishna, who appeared at the end of the 15th century in Bengal. Because He taught spiritual equality and a simple method of self-realization that could be practiced by the elite and the masses alike, Caitanya Mahaprabhu attracted the jealousy and hatred of the local ritualistic caste brahmanas, or priests.

At that time in history, much of India was ruled by Moghul rulers. The Moghuls were Muslims who traced their lineage back to both Ghengis Khan (not famous for his pleasantry) and Timur, who conquered Delhi in 1398. Being extremely contemptuous of the "idolatrous" Hindus, Timur executed a genocide in Delhi so massive that anything in modern history is peanuts in comparison. His succeeding rulers varied in their degree of religious tolerance and liberalism, yet suffice it to say, that after such a bloody introduction to the subcontinent, the peace between Muslim rulers and Hindu citizens hung in a timorous balance.

In the early 1500s the administrator of Navadwip, Bengal was named Chand Kazi. Desiring to eliminate Caitanya Mahaprabhu's troublesome egalitarian preaching efforts, the caste brahmanas decided to enlist the political force of the Kazi. The brahmanas went to him, complaining that Caitanya was misrepresenting and ruining Hindu dharma by his Nama Kirtan (public chanting of the names of Krishna). The Kazi subsequently issued a moratorium on kirtan in Navadwipa and the surrounding areas. In response, Caitanya Mahaprabhu organized a massive protest march (one of history's first) from the center of Navadwipa to the Kazi's palace. Many thousands of people joined the march, chanting kirtan all the way, in peaceful defiance of the Kazi's ban. His palace surrounded by the residents of the city, the Kazi had no choice but to meet with Caitanya Mahaprabhu to hear His demands.

Mahaprabhu discussed philosophy and religion at length with the Kazi, who ultimately surrendered to Lord Caitanya. The Kazi admitted that he had previously had a vivid dream which had filled him with repentance for impeding the sankirtana movement. He begged forgiveness from Mahaprabhu, promising never again to interfere with the Krishna kirtan. In fact, the Kazi became a supporter of kirtan, and issued an edict protecting the public chanting of Krishna's names throughout his jurisdiction.

Shortly after this incident Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was only 24 at the time, made the difficult decision to accept sannyasa, the renounced life of a mendicant. He left His home, family, students, devoted friends and followers in order to travel widely, thus bringing His revolutionary message of equality and liberation through love and service to God, to all of the Indian subcontinent. Lord Caitanya is often called "The Golden Avatar" on account of His effulgent golden complexion. Perhaps this name has a double meaning, in that His teachings were like the rising sun that issued in the new day of the Indian Renaissance and revived the true essence of India's spiritual culture from the long dark night of casteism and foreign conquest.

*Afterthought: For those who have a devil's advocate mind like mine that says "What about the still-rampant poverty and social injustice in India?" The response is that if it took a long time to turn the Titanic, how much longer must it take to turn an ancient culture spread throughout a country of 1.25 billion people? The fact that the sun has risen does not immediately eliminate the shadows. It does however, mean that the light of truth can be readily seen by anyone who chooses to step out of the shadows to gaze upon it.

This Week's Menu:

Entree #1 - Zucchini Kofta in Coconut Tomato Sauce

Here at Govinda's we are very customer centered. Nearly everything on today's menu was a customer request. I grouped together this collection of special requests because they are all Indian recipes and because a very dear friend, who is more like my South Indian, is coming over for dinner. So naturally when your South Indian uncle comes over, you must make your best Indian preps. You must also pray for guidance and inspiration from the South Indian grannies who have gone before you ... For those of you who are new, let me introduce you to Govinda's favorite dish, kofta. Kofta is a two-syllable way to say "just about the most delicious thing you have ever put in your mouth." I am not sure if it is the fresh veggies, or the spices, or the coconut milk/tomato sauce combo, or the frying of the kofta (frying always=naughty flavor boost), or just the amazing synergy of all of the above, that gives this dish its inexplicably attractive flavor. *GF, soy-free

(photo journeykitchen.com)

Entree #2 - Sambar

South India is beautiful, or at least it was back in 2001 when I was there last. It was in general, cleaner, more orderly, more intact than North India seemed to be. Everywhere you looked there were temples with mind-blowingly intricate hand-carved decorations, doorsteps with traditional rangoli paintings on them, freshly done each morning by ladies with jasmine and mogra flowers in their hair. The only thing that I couldn't find when I desperately wanted it was vegetables. South Indian cuisine has plenty of rice and beans, prepared in a wide variety of ways. But vegetable curries are more of a North Indian specialty. As we were already working with a salad moratorium (just don't even think of eating raw in India), I learned to look forward to the Sambar each day because it would always contain some sumptuous veggies along with the toor dal and tamarind that I love so much. *GF, soy-free

(photo mariasmenu.com)

Entree #3 - Yellow Mung Dal with Spinach

This recipe comes from one of my favorite foodies, Kurma Das. He reposted it from his cooking guru, Yamuna Devi's epic, Cooking for Lord Krishna. She has this to say about the recipe, "Moong, North India's most popular dal, was a great favorite of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. It is easy to digest and has a good flavor and high vitamin content. The spinach, preferably fresh, enhances the texture and marbled color of this power-packed dal soup, and the fried spices poured in at the end of the cooking add lashings of flavor." *GF, soy-free

(photo spiceupthecurry.com)

Side Dishes:

Brown Rice - $1/serving (1 cup)

Lemon Quinoa - $3/serving (1 cup) *Note: The title says quinoa, and the photo shows rice. What gives? A couple of weeks ago, I took a tamarind rice recipe and simply substituted quinoa for the rice. As I was not the first to think of this, there were plenty of photos on the internet to choose from. Apparently no one with a good camera has tried this lemon quinoa yet. Maybe my photographer friends need to come over for dinner, so that there might be a truth-in-advertising photo for the next time. ;-) *GF, soy-free

(photo sailusfood.com)

Dhokla -$3/ea. or 2 for $5. "Here comes the sponge, Little Darlin', here comes the sponge. It's all right." Okay, so maybe I haven't gotten enough sleep and am a wee on the loopy side... I couldn't help myself! When I saw this photo, all I could remember was how light and spongy and flavorful dhokla is. You would never guess that these little "breads" are made from chickpea flour and then steamed. *GF, soy-free

(photo kitchenpops)

Green Coconut Chutney- $1/serving. This fresh cilantro & coconut chutney is a quintessential South Indian accompaniment to dosas, idlis, and other savory breakfast foods. Its creamy, curry, mustard-y flavor punch also combines smashingly with the spongy yumminess of dhokla. *GF, soy-free

(photo rakskitchen.net)

Coconut Chocolate Macaroons - $2/ea. or 2 for $3. Since we are having a bit of a South Indian theme this week, I figured that these could fit in on account of their sheer coconutiness. Variations on macaroons are found everywhere that the coconut palm graces the soil. Thanks to global transport, macaroons are also much beloved in places that have never even seen a palm tree. These simple sweets are simply wonderful and can also be made without the chocolate, for those of you who don't do chocolate. *GF

(photo minimalistbaker.com)

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