The Vegetable that Ate Durban

The last session of our second trio of Durban classes had us honing in on vegetables – just vegetable dishes, nothing else. The cooks here wanted to brush-up on their vegie-cooking skills. So we gave ’em veg! Twelve dishes in fact.

Here’s our team.

Durban group photo:

And here’s what we cooked, starting top centre outer circle, clockwise, then inner ring, clockwise, then bottom, left to right.

veg lunch:

South Indian Snake Bean Poriyal

Mixed Vegetables in Creamy Gujarati-style Karhi Sauce

Moist Vrindavana-style Vegetable and Badi Stew

Zucchini, Green Peppers and Tomato

Steamed Basmati Rice

Quick and Simple Green Beans

Sauteed Potatoes with Cashews and Coconut

Punjabi Red Bean Curry (Rajma)

Eggplant, Potato and Panir Cheese (

Exclusive Books

very exclusive books:

Exclusive Books is South Africa’s leading book retailer, with 39 stores in major shopping centres and at major airports. Its flagship store in Hyde Park, Johannesburg stocks up to 70,000 titles. In keeping with the group’s strategy of expanding into Africa, Exclusive Books has recently opened its first store in Botswana.

Anyway, the Durban branch is situated in the massive Pavilion shopping centre in Westville, and will be hosting my cookery demonstration and book signing this evening. Rumour has it that the event was booked out even before advertising began. Sounds like a fun event. I’ll keep you posted.

Savouries and Chutneys Workshop

I taught a seven-hour hands-on cookery workshop yesterday on ‘Savouries and Chutneys’. It was intense but successful, and the fruits of our labour were delicious.

I am actually teaching all the cooks that prepare offerings in the inner-sanctum of the temple kitchen here at Radha-Radhanatha Mandir, otherwise known as Durban’s Temple of Understanding, or just plain ‘The Hare Krishna Temple’ if you like. They were very eager to fine tune their culinary repertoire.

Here’s what we cooked:

savouries:

Clockwise from top,

Mauritian-style Dal Rissoles (Gateaux-Piments)

Savoury Lentil Doughnuts (Vadai)

Soft Cashew-Studded South-Indian Steamed Semolina Breads (Rawa Idli)

Cauliflower Pakoras

Whole Fresh Green Chili Pakoras

Mashed Potato Puffs (Alu Vadas)

Broccoli Pakoras
(centre)

And here’s the rest, making 17 items in all:

chutneys:

Clockwise from top,

Hearty Koftas in Tomato Sauce

Cooling Lime Yogurt

Hot and Sweet Tomato Chutney

Fresh Coconut Chutney

Home-style Tomato Chutney

Orange-scented Hot & Spicy Apple Chutney

Sweet and Sour Date & Tamarind Chutney

Fresh Mint Chutney

Savoury Fresh Cheese Balls in Creamy Tomato Sauce (Malai Kofta)
(centre)

Hard to Swallow

“If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us, and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons.”

-C.S. Lewis (novelist and essayist)

Good Morning Sunshine, the Earth Says Hello

The sunrise here in Africa is very pleasant, and increases my meditation. I chant my daily mantras while circumambulating the huge moat that surrounds the temple complex. Meanwhile the sky reddens preluding the first rays of the sun that suddenly burst over the horizon in dazzling splendour.

sun rises over moat:

I remember the words of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

udita tapana hoile asta,

dina gelo boli’ hoibe byasta,

tabe keno ebe alasa hoy,

na bhaja hrdoya-raje

“With every rising and setting of the sun, a day passes and is lost. Why then do you remain idle and not serve the Lord of the heart?”

(Arunodaya-kirtana, songs to be sung at dawn, from Gitavali by Bhaktivinoda Thakur)

In vedic astrological calculation, the previous day ends not at midnight, but at sunrise. I often recall a verse that I learned as a young teenage devotee while living in Double Bay, Sydney:

ayur harati vai pumsam

udyann astan ca yann asau

tasyarte yat-ksano nita

uttama-sloka-vartaya

“Both by rising and by setting, the sun decreases the duration of life of everyone, except one who utilizes the time by discussing topics of the all-good Personality of Godhead.”(Srimad Bhagavatam)

The sun is the eye of God. It’s not hard to conceive of this given its limitless radiance.

yac-caksur esa savita sakala-grahanam

raja samasta-sura-murtir ashesa-tejah

yasyajnaya bhramati sambhrita-kala-chakro

govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

“The sun, full of infinite effulgence, is the king of all the planets and the image of the good soul. The sun is like the eye of the Supreme Lord. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda, in pursuance of whose order the sun performs his journey, mounting the wheel of time.”
(Sri Brahma Samhita)

Off we go, round and around the moat. Keep on chanting, keep on chanting. It is a very enjoyable way to start the day. Along with eating, drinking water, breathing air and sleeping, its something I do everyday.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

This is the Maha Mantra (the Great Mantra) and my constant friend this lifetime.

Durban Cooking Day # 3

The concluding day of our first three-part cookery seminar went exceptionally well. The feedback has been exclusively positive: everyone enjoyed the course and learned a lot.

The team was quite proficient and efficient by the last day. Here they are, hands-a-blur with the sweet potatoes, and a multitude of other mis-en-place.

kitchen action:

Our calzone, soft yeasted breads filled with fresh ricotta, spinach, red peppers, kalamata olives and three types of mature cheese were spectacular. Almost 100 disappeared in record time at lunch.

calzone:

The fennel-scented malpoura doughnuts floating in fresh strawberry yogurt were a highlight. There were a lot of happy punters on campus after lunch.

malpoura:

We pose for a group photo on the lawns behind the kitchens. Soon we begin another 3-day course, on specialty cookery entitled Spices, Breads and More.

durban crew:

Not Hard to Swallow

The first thing that struck me here in Kwazulu-Natal is how hard people work. Commuter traffic is roaring from extremely early in the morning. And thousands of Africans on foot, almost exclusively of Zulu origin and many of them women, swarm past the compound from pre-dawn on their way to work.

But working hard to support the family is not the exclusive domain of humans. There is an abundance of bird life here on the hilly ridge where I am staying in Durban. They are also diligently ever-responsible home owners.

Just outside my door is an avenue of palms that are home to what appears to be swallows. From very early I see them flitting to and from branch to branch, twigs and grass in their mouths, building their nests. They never sleep in, and they never take a day off.

swallows:

I recognise the nests from my stay in Belgium. At least I think I do. And I seem to recognise their distinctive swooping style of flight, and the way they construct their nests early in the mornings, entering the intriguingly shaped globular nest from a hole in its base.

I saw European swallows (Hirundo spilodera) building their nests in the eves of the Chateau where I was staying. And here, these South African Swallows (Hirundo rustica) are nesting in the palms. If you look carefully in the picture above, you’ll see some hanging underneath their nests, off loading their building materials momentarily before flitting off at frenetic pace.

The African variety of swallows differ from their European counterpart in that they do not have the distinctive forked rear plumage. Correct me, anyone out there ornithologically inclined.

This leads me seamlessly to share this nonsense from the past. Gosh, my mind wanders ever so. Talk about a flow of consciousness!

The Swallows, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(The film begins. Out of a dense fog trots Arthur, accompanied on two
empty coconut halves by his trusty servant, Patsy. They approach a
castle. Suddenly a guard appears atop a high rampart.)

Guard: Halt! Who goes there?

Arthur: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot.
King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!

Guard: Who’s the other one?

Arthur: This is my trusty servant Patsy. We have ridden the length and breadth of the land in search of knights who will join me in my court at Camelot. I must speak with your lord and master.

Guard: What, ridden on a horse?

Arthur: Yes.

Guard: You’re using coconuts!

Arthur: What?

Guard: You’ve got two empty ‘alves of coconuts and you’re bangin’ ’em
together!

Arthur: So? We have ridden since the snows of winter covered this land.
Through the kingdom of Mercia, through…

Guard: Where’d you get the coconuts?

Arthur: (somewhat taken aback) We found them.

Guard: Found them? In Mercia? The coconut’s tropical!

Arthur: What do you mean?

Guard: This is a temperate zone!

Arthur: The swallow may fly south with the sun, or the house marten or the
plummer may seek warmer climes in winter, but these are not strangers to our land!

Guard: Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?

Arthur: Not at all! They could be carried.

Guard: (incredulous) What, a swallow, carrying a coconut?

Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!

Guard: It’s not a question of where ‘e grips it! It’s a simple question of
weight ratios! A five-ounce bird could not carry a one-pound
coconut!

Arthur: (exasperated)
Well it doesn’t matter! Will you go and tell your master that from the court of Camelot is here!

(pause)

Guard: Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to
beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?

{Kurma notes: Actually, this is wrong. By comparing the European Swallow with bird species of similar body mass, we can estimate that the swallow beats its wings 18 times a second with an amplitude of 18 cm. Even the tiny Zebra Finch flaps its wings no more than 27 times a second while cruising.}

Arthur: Please!

Guard: (patiently) Am I right.

Arthur: I’m not interested!

( A second guard appears on the rampart. )

Guard 2: It could be carried by an African swallow!

Guard 1: Oh, yeah, an African swallow, maybe, but not a European swallow, that’s my point.

Guard 2: Oh, yeah, I agree with that.

Arthur: (extremely exasperated) Will you ask your master if he wants to join
my court at Camelot!!

(pause)

Guard 1: But then of course, African swallows are non-migratory.

Guard 2: Oh yeah…

(Arthur and Patsy give up and trot away)

Aum

om:

While here in Durban I received an interesting letter from a Mr Natrajan, who wrote:

“Namaskar Kurma Ji !

I am turning 70 in September and I am delighted to read your articles and the
quotations of intelligent humans in this world. The Brahmins of South India
are considered clever in many respects because they are mostly vegetarians?
Am I right.

Om bhur bhuvah svaha

Tat savitur varenyam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

What a beautiful Sanskrit Prayer. Om sound is because of the rotations of
the globe and other planets in the universe, yes?”

My reply, in part:

Dear Natrajan,

Regarding Brahmins being clever because they are vegetarians, yes and no. Monkeys are also vegetarians, does this make them noble? No, actually the real clever Brahmins are the Krishna Bhaktas. It is devotional love, bhakti that is the most dear thing to God.

In this connection, and commenting on your appreciation of aum, {omkara, om}
actually aum sound is God himself.

In the Rig-veda we find the following information:

“One who chants om, which is the closest form of Brahman, approaches Brahman. This liberates one from the fear of the material world, therefore it is known as tarak brahman.”

“O Vishnu your self-manifest name, om, is the eternal form of cognizance. Even if my knowledge about the glories of reciting this name is incomplete, still, by the practice of reciting this name I will achieve that perfect knowledge.”

“He who has unmanifested potencies and is fully independent, manifests the vibration omkara, which indicates Himself. Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are the three forms He manifests.”

“Aum takes the form of Gayatri, then Veda and Vedanta sutra; then it takes the shape of Srimad Bhagavatam and the lila, the divine pastimes, of the Lord.”

Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, 7.8 and 9.17, “I am Om”, and that one must chant Om thinking of Him in order to attain Him personally (‘mam anusmaran’, 8.13).

Also from Bhagavad-gita:

“From the beginning of creation, the three words om tat sat were used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth. These three symbolic representations were used by brahmanas while chanting the hymns of the Vedas and during sacrifices for the satisfaction of the Supreme.” (Bhagavad-gita 17.23)

And from Srimad Bhagavatam:

“Just as a spider brings forth from its heart its web and emits it through its mouth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself as the reverberating primeval vital air, comprising all sacred Vedic meters and full of transcendental pleasure. Thus the Lord, from the ethereal sky of His heart, creates the great and limitless Vedic sound by the agency of His mind, which conceives of variegated sounds such as the sparsas.

The Vedic sound branches out in thousands of directions, adorned with the different letters expanded from the syllable om: the consonants, vowels, sibilants and semivowels. The Veda is then elaborated by many verbal varieties, expressed in different meters, each having four more syllables than the previous one. Ultimately the Lord again withdraws His manifestation of Vedic sound within Himself.” (Bhagavata Purana 11.21.38-40)

Hope this finds you well, Kurma.

Focaccia Comin' At Ya

Focaccia Come'n At Ya:

I’m writing this report as the warm golden sun starts to peep over the African skyline. I am just about to head across the massive campus here at the Temple of Understanding to the kitchen complex and prepare for Durban Cookery Class Day #3; but before I get too ahead of myself, here’s a report on how things went yesterday with Durban Cookery Class Day # 2.

We cooked another fabulous lunch for 50 or 60 attendees, and in the process I shared my experience with a dozen eager and submissive crew.

Our menu:

Greek-style White Bean and Vegetable Soup (Fasoulada)

Pecan and Orange Wild Rice Pilaf

Stuffed Italian Flat bread (Focaccia)

Mediterranean Salad of Steamed Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrot, Grean Beans Cucumber, Red Peppers & Chick Peas with Lemon-Olive Oil Parsley and Tahini Dressing

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

Fresh Mixed Citrus Lemonade

Oh the Focaccia! The recipe is in my slate-coloured ‘Cooking with Kurma’ book, but if you twist my arm, I’ll share it with you. It is just such a nice recipe! Rich, crispy olive oil-enriched bread top and bottom filled with oozing mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan cheeses with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and kalamata olives. Magnificent!

The Canadian Pecan and Orange Rice was sans wild rice, since it is so expensive here, but it was still delightful, scented as it was with orange, fresh green chili slivers and lots of freshly ground pepper, and folded with crunchy slivers of pan-crisped pecans.

Canadian Pecan Rice:

We folded fresh strawberries into the apple crumble instead of blackberries. They were by far the most fragrant strawberries I have ever encountered. The whole kitchen actually smelled of strawberries even before we unwrapped the plastic wrappers from the punnets. Amazing.

Our warm salad – the recipe originally shared with me by my old friend Radha Caran (hello Radha Caran – I know you’re reading this) was indescribably lovely – as nice as it looks, in fact.

warm salad:

Finally I just have to show you some of the local produce we used in the cooking. Notice the Jungle Oats and Safari Currants. Corny? Yes!

dem jungle oats!:

I'm Not Complaining

you've changed:

Oops! I actually missed a day of blogging for the first time in many many months, so Wednesday 26 July will be forever blogless. Getting a bit misty here…. {pauses to wipe a single tear from corner of eye}…

I’m just getting myself adjusted to being back in the Southern Hemisphere, and specifically African winter after European summer. Temperature changes, drastic sunrise and sunset differences and just different air and water all combine to put a lot of stress on the body when one travels. There is a saying in India (I think it is accredited to the sage Chanakya) that constant travelling ages one more than anything else. And that was written thousands of years ago when the fastest travel was on horseback. So what to speak of air travel and all its concomitant pressures on the subtle and gross body.

By the time I get thoroughly used to being in Durban with its cold nights, cool morning seaside breezes and warm days, much like my home base Perth at present (we share the same latitude almost, and the same Indian Ocean), I’ll be in Johannesburg with its much lower temperatures. And then ‘bham!’, I’ll be back in Europe again with long hot Slovenian days, fresh warm Croatian seaside breezes, and balmy Italian nights.

Believe me, I’m not complaining. I am blessed to be able to travel and share my life and experience with others. The austerity of travel is well worth it if I can benefit people by my association and share my God-given talents to educate, entertain and uplift. And by doing so, my life becomes all the more rich in the process.

By the way, if you’re waiting breathlessly to see how the little toast dialogue above connects with this blog entry, it really doesn’t. I just thought it was cute.