Homemade Spice Blends (Masalas)

assorted spices:

“Homemade is best”. That’s what I tell my students when it comes to spice masalas. Whereas you can buy pre-made mixtures in Indian grocer shops, they are never as aromatic and fresh as what you can make yourself.

I am telling you this because Maya from Tampa, Florida USA wrote and asked:
“Hi Kurma, one of your recipes calls for Chat Masala. Can I make my own?”

I replied and told her that there are a number of homemade spice blends, including chat masala, on my website here.

Cancer Doc Urges Cell Phone Precaution

the cellphone:

A prominent cancer researcher’s warning to limit cell phone use has rekindled anew the longstanding question over mobile-phone health risks.

The media is abuzz with news of the memo from Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. He sent it to faculty and staff Wednesday, saying, among other things, that children should use cell phones only for emergencies, since their developing organs are the most likely to be sensitive to possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Dr. Ronald B. Herberman

In his 10-point advisory (see below), Herberman also urges adults to keep phones away from their heads and use speakerphones or wireless headsets.

He suggests that people try to avoid constantly carrying their cell phones on their bodies and also try not to keep the devices nearby at night under the pillow or on a nightstand. He even warns against using cell phones in public places like buses because it exposes others to the phone’s electromagnetic fields.

Herberman notes that the precautions have been reviewed by UPCI experts in neuro-oncology, epidemiology, and neurosurgery, as well as the Center for Environmental Oncology.

The tumor immunologist’s words are grabbing widespread attention both because of his professional position and because they contradict numerous studies that don’t find a link between cancer and cell phone use.

Herberman said his warning was based on early findings from unpublished data.

“Recently, I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer,” he says. “Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use.”

For anyone concerned about possible health repercussions of cell phone use, many of Herberman’s suggestions are easy enough to implement and minimally disruptive at most. Still, the topic can prove daunting to consumers.

Read the New York Times article.

Practical Advice to Limit Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation Emitted from Cell Phones

cell: Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies. The developing organs of a fetus or child are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

cell: While communicating using your cell phone, try to keep the cell phone away from the body as much as possible. The amplitude of the electromagnetic field is one fourth the strength at a distance of two inches and fifty times lower at three feet.

cell: Whenever possible, use the speaker-phone mode or a wireless Bluetooth headset, which has less than 1/100th of the electromagnetic emission of a normal cell phone. Use of a hands-free ear piece attachment may also reduce exposures.

cell: Avoid using your cell phone in places, like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone’s electromagnetic fields.

cell: Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body at all times. Do not keep it near your body at night such as under the pillow or on a bedside table, particularly if pregnant. You can also put it on

Attention: all Vegetarian Shepherds

the good shepherd:

Linda from (not sure) wrote:

“Hello there, many years ago I borrowed one of your cookbooks from the local library and cooked a meal that was reminiscent of shepherd’s pie, but it used panir cheese and celery – well that is all I can remember. I have since bought one of your books but cannot find this particular recipe. I would be most grateful if you could steer me in the right direction or send me the recipe if you have it. By the way I love the rest of the book – your recipes give a whole new slant on vegetarian cooking. Kind regards, Linda.”

My reply:

“Hello Linda, Thanks for your letter. Yes that’s my famous vegetarian shepherd’s pie recipe, perfected in the 1980’s at Gopal’s Restaurant in Swanston Stret, Melbourne. Here it is:”

veg shepherd's pie:

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Those of you (like myself) of “Anglo-Saxon” background, will perhaps be familiar with the cruel, non-vegetarian origins of this dish. It contains the cooked minced flesh of slaughtered baby sheep {called ‘lamb’, by the way} which is smothered in mashed potatoes and baked in the oven. Here’s my tender-hearted version.


YIELD: enough for 6 to 8 persons

For base of pie

1 1/4 cups brown lentils

2 litres water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon yellow asafoetida powder

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup celery, diced

home-made curd cheese (panir) from (2 litres) milk and pressed for 1/2 hour, or 200g shop-bought panir cheese

5 tablespoons good quality tamari or soy sauce

For potato topping

2 tablespoons butter

6 large baking potatoes, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sour cream

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Boil the brown lentils and water in a heavy 6-litre/quart saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and cook until they become soft. Strain through a colander. Put the lentils aside and retain the liquid for use as a soup stock at a later date.

Meanwhile, boil the potato cubes in slightly salted water until they become soft. Drain and mash them until smooth. Add the butter, milk, salt, and sour cream and mix well.

Heat the olive oil in a small, heavy pan until very hot. Add the asafoetida and pepper and saute momentarily. Add the celery bits and stir well; reduce the heat and braise the celery until soft, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

Mash the drained lentils until smooth.

Crumble the curd cheese in a bowl and add the soy sauce. Mix well. Combine this mixture with the mashed lentils and the braised seasoned celery bits.

Spread this pie filling evenly in the bottom of an ovenproof casserole dish. Cover this with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the mashed potatoes and use a fork to mark the top with lines.

Bake in a very hot oven 230°C/450°F until the top is browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and serve hot.

Ancient Sweets


The temple at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh state prepares 100,000 boondi laddoo sweets every day to give as prasadam (benediction) to the 50,000 visiting pilgrims. Thirty cooks are employed full-time in the temple

Limping Home

I’m back from my lightning trip to the southern regions of Australia for my class in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. Absolutely exhausted!

Saturday was certainly an action-packed day. It started at 2.00am when I awoke in the beautiful Melbourne Hare Krishna Temple guest quarters and performed my morning temple duties. Certainly a highlight and a much-needed boost to my dwindling spiritual fuel tanks.

I headed to the station at 5.30am, breathing frosty flumes, and after falling down an escalator at Flinders Street under all my heavy bags, limped to the train.

My host Geoffrey picked me up at Lilydale Station at 7.30. We set up for the class until 10.00am, when the guests arrived – an assortment of friends and relatives of Michele and Geoffrey.

Yarra Valley Punters:

That’s Geoffrey, top row, fourth from left. His wife Michele is fourth from left, front row.

let's get this party started:

The kitchen was the usual finely-honed hive of culinary activity: measuring spices, chopping fresh coriander, boiling the milk for fresh cheese, blanching spinach for the raita, dry-roasting fennel seeds, squeezing fresh lemons, slicing pumpkin for the soup, to name but a few.

anyone for salad:

Cathie escorts our West Coast Indian Cabbage, Coconut and Peanut Salad (Kobi Pachadi)
to serving bowls. A pachadi is a raw vegetable salad with finely cut pieces of vegetables, lemon juice and oil dressing, nuts, freshly grated coconut with an incredible seasoning of mustard seeds, turmeric and asafetida. This attractive salad, a sort of ‘Indian coleslaw’, originates in the Maharashtra state on the West Coast of India. It always amazes me just how delicious it is.

lunch is lauched at Launching Place:

The car ride back from Launching Place by a couple of lovely class attendees – Jayne and David (bottom left of very top photo) – found us stuck in football traffic as we approached the Melbourne CBD.

Then my taxi to the airport from Melbourne’s Southern Cross station was again swallowed in the ‘Footie Crowd’.

As I wandered around Melbourne airport I espied giant newspaper headlines about a similarly full Qantas jet to the one that I was about to board reporting a gigantic hole in it’s side and making a life-and-death emergency landing in Manila the evening before. The 346 passengers were cruising at 29,000 feet when the explosion took place. Cheery stuff! At least I had booked my usual exit row aisle seat. I’d be heading up the evacuation team in case of a similar event.

Hole in side of qantas jet:

We landed in Sydney without incident, where my taxi home was again swallowed in a Sydney football traffic jam of monumental proportions. After paying another obscene taxi fare I crawled to bed at 10.00pm and here I am, Sunday morning, still yet to unpack, dazed, bruised but nevertheless reporting the events to you, dear readers.

These are the austerities of travel; but they are all more than offset by the joy of my work.

Fleeting and Everlasting Beauty


Amaranth is one of the most nutritionally wonderful pseudo-grains in existence, especially for vegetarians, since it contains some very rare and valuable amino acids normally only found in animal-origin foods. Amaranth seeds, like buckwheat and quinoa, contain protein that is unusually complete for plant sources. Most fruits and vegetables do not contain a complete set of amino acids, and thus different sources of protein must be used.

Several studies have shown that like oats, amaranth seed or oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters. While the active ingredient in oats appears to be water soluble fibre, amaranth appears to lower cholesterol via its content of plant stanols and squalene.

I often eat puffed amarath for breakfast. It makes a great food on Ekadasi fasting days when grain-based dishes are eschewed. It can be sprinkled on other cereal, but I also make it into a porridge. Mainstream supermarkets in Australia carry it on the shelves near regular breakfast cereals. Healthfood shops always carry it.

In Sanskrit, mara means death. Amara means deathless. The word in Ancient Greek (a descendant of Sanskrit) carries the same import – amaranthus: never-fading, never-dying.


The Road to Launching Place

the road to Launching Place:

The import of today’s blog title becomes clear when I tell you that I fly to Melbourne late morning, then catch a train east to Lilydale, and a car to the beautiful Yarra Valley, home to such picturesque-sounding places as Woori Yallock, Mount Donna Buang and Launching Place.

where I'm going:

I think it’s going to be a chilly weekend for a cookery class. It was -1 degrees C this morning in the region. There’s snow on top of Donna Buang, and in the indiginous Wurundjeri language, Woori Yallock means ‘cold, wet and windy’. Yeah, that would be right; so I’m packing my new hemp trackkies and some extra socks.

My trusty Canon accompanies me, so I can share with you, yet again, some ‘Kodak moments’.

Kurma's Canberra Curry

cooking coordinates:

The topic of curries is on my mind, since I’ve just planned a class menu based on the topic. But in actual fact, the word ‘curry’ is a misnomer, popularised and perpetuated by the British. There is no historical precedence to that name in classic Indian culinary culture before the 18th century. There’s a great deal of speculation and guess work as to how the name ‘curry’ was first introduced.

Some sources explain: “The term curry could be possibly derived from ‘koora’ in the Telugu language, which means stew or gravy of any vegetable.”

Also: Curry leaves – (Murraya koenigii) are known as ‘Karuvapillai’, in the Tamil language, ‘karibevu’ in the Kannada, and ‘kariveppila’ in Malayalam.

Another theory: the root word for curry is ‘Kadhi’, which derives from the term ‘Kadhna’ meaning ‘to simmer’ or ‘Karahi’ denoting the cooking vessel used in Indian kitchens.


It’s my guess that definitely the Brits just Anglicized words they heard and these words ‘morphed’ into new words.

Here’s a well-known example: The British witnessed the awesomely massive wooden chariots of Jagannath rolling down the main road in the seaside Temple festival at Puri, and upon asking about them from locals, invented the word ‘Juggernaut’ to approximate how they heard the word ‘Jagannath’. (Read this fascinating disambiguation).

And another: the classic rice and lentil stew ‘Khicheri’ was enjoyed by the British during their sojourn during the Raj period. After the recipe returned to England, the Brits added fish, and it became ‘Kedgeree’. There’s many more examples.

Anyway, I’m meandering. Here’s our Curry Class menu, to be held in Canberra in September.

degustation 2:

Vegetarian Curries of the Subcontinent

“India still surpasses as the vegetarian capital of the world. Kurma Dasa is back to share some of the most inspirational ‘curries’ of the Subcontinent. His generous class includes Simple & Sublime Gujarati Pumpkin Curry, Creamy Maharashtran Mixed Vegetable Karhi with flaky Paratha Breads, Karachi Masoor & Potato Dal-fry with Fresh Lime Wedges & flame-toasted Pappadams, Cashew-Studded Sooji Upma with Sourdough Toast, Fresh Yogurt and Chutney, and Bengali Chickpea, Panir and Cauliflower Tarkari. Come hungry!”

And the class details:

Cooking Co-ordinates Cookery School

Belconnen, Canberra ACT

Morning Cookery Workshop, Saturday 13 September

Bookings call 02 6253 5133

Hope to see you there!


Gitte from Copenhagen, Denmark asks: “Hello! Do you have a recipe for Sri Kand, which we tried while in India last year. Delicious!”

My reply: Yes indeed, here’s my new revised version, complete with a fragrant, thick saffron syrup on top.”


Creamy Cardamom-infused Condensed Yogurt Dessert with Pistachios and Saffron Syrup (Shrikhand)

This popular Indian sweet from India’s Maharashtra State is simple to prepare. Yogurt is hung in a cloth to remove the excess liquid. The solid residue, called yogurt cheese or dehin, is sweetened, flavoured with saffron, pistachio nuts, cardamom, and rosewater, beaten until silky-smooth, and served ice-cold in little cups.

Shrikhand is ideal to prepare in large quantities. Remember the simple sugar to yogurt ratio: good quality yogurt should yield up to 50% liquid (whey) when hung. Add sugar to the final yogurt cheese in the ratio of one to four: in other words, the sugar content of shrikhand is one-eighth part the original quantity of yogurt.

You may wish to reserve the liquid that drips out of the yogurt. It

Ronald McDonald Goes Veg


“The clown who starred as Ronald McDonald in McDonald’s telly ads has quit to lead a crusade against burgers. Actor Geoffrey Giuliano – famous world-wide as the burger-loving clown – revealed he is a vegetarian!

He has pledged to rescue animals from the slaughterhouse “as my way of saying sorry for selling out to concerns who make millions out of murdering them.” Giuliano, 38, has bought ten calves who wander free on his “Cow Protection Estate” in New York State.”

This is not exactly breaking news, but interesting nevertheless.
Loads more info….