Cooking for Sri Radha

Sri Radha is none other than the Divine Consort of Sri Krishna, as described on my previous blog.

And so it came about that I was invited to cook for Radhastami, the grand Birthday Festival of Sri Radha to be celebrated at the Sydney Hare Krishna Temple in North Sydney.

Sri Radha Gopinatha:

I had not cooked at the Sydney Temple since way back in 1975, the year I left Sydney to live in Melbourne, which was to become my home for the next quarter-century.

So yesterday was a very special day for me, and one of the highlights of my cookery career. I felt a constant surge of a rare but tangible spiritual ecstacy throughout the very long cookery day (7.30am-8.30pm). I attribute that to the special kindness of Sri Radha and Her Consort Gopinatha, for whom I used to cook way back in the early 70’s.

Here’s a photographic summary of events seen through my camera, and that of Antony Brennan, roving reporter extraordinaire.

a quiet start:

We started off quietly with a core team of three stalwarts – Tatiana from Macedonia, Rohini from Ukraine and Jitendriya from Peru.

best of the tomato cutters:

Things soon became busy, and after a massive communal gulab-jamun marathon, the vegie chopping began.

balushai #1:

These sweet doughnut thingies are sort of a home-made recipe based on different tastes, techniques and textures. They are close in texture and taste to the Bengali fried sweet-spiced and glazed wheat pastries Balushai, but the dough is made moist enough to scoop out in doughnut shapes in hot fresh ghee. Scented with lots of Lucknow fennel, it is one of my favourites for big feasts.

out of the syrup:

This blurry person is Mohit, a strong passionate devotee from Punjab who is a chef by trade. He really knows the big-kitchen scene. He suggested the exact sugar glaze proportions – a 3 to 1 sugar to water syrup – to drench the Balushai in. When the syrup reached the correct thread consistency, we had only a small window of time to dunk the doughnuts, so to speak. And since we had a thousand of them, Rohit and I moved fast.

big balushai:

Here they are, up close and personal. Melt-in-the-mouth, a bit crumbly, a bit crunchy anise-scented wonders. And only 5 ingredients – self-raising flour, sugar, ghee, fennel and water. So much more than the sum of their parts.

some fine tuning:

Pausing to discuss the state of the union. How much water do we need for our two 10-litre buckets of basmati rice?

big spinach:

Here’s our main man Mohit, with the kitchen wonder – the Bratt Pan, a huge stainless-steel electric cooker with a huge hinged lid and internal heating elements that can evenly cook vegetable dishes at lightening speeds and then tilt to slide out it’s contents. We cooked the spinach for 300 serves in 5 minutes. By the way, a bratt pan gets its unusual name from the German word brat meaning ‘to fry’, though they are not called bratt pans in German, but kippentopf, meaning ’tilting’.

frying samosas:

I decided to make half-moon shaped samosas to speed up proceedings, since we had to make 500. The filling was a very tasty mix of green beans, potato, carrot with a smidge of roasted peanuts, lemon juice, fresh coriander and a whole swathe of spices. It’s been many-a-year since I attempted samosas for a feast.

half-moon shaped samosas:

The samosas were fried slowly in a very large wok throughout the afternoon. Slow cooking means flakey pastry, at least when it comes to samosas.

General Jitendriya:

Jitendriya hails from Lima and is a strong, silent, sober and expert gentleman. He’s preparing a very large batch of the famous fresh tomatoes, peas and fried panir dish, Matar Panir.

big matars house:

Yes it makes me hungry too.

if you don't like the heat...:

Vegetable preparation number two in full swing. Into the spinach goes loads of butter-soft chickpeas and some succulent fried eggplant, seen here in mid-pour thanks to Antony, our quick-fingered Paparazzo.

a moment of contemplation:

I pause to think out a few things culinary. It’s been a long day.

last stages of feast:

Night falls. Time to prepare the offering, ie to gather small portions of each item prepared and assemble it on a plate to offer on the altar.

cooked with love for Radha:

In the other kitchen, many cooks were preparing 108 other dishes to be offered for the pleasure of Sri Radha.

Radha's pretty cakes:

Some of many cakes cooked all day long.

pretty cake ladies:

Most of the pujaris, (those who perform the puja or temple worship) at the Sydney temple are ladies. Here’s a couple that I persuaded to stand still for a moment as they emptied the altar of a room full of offerings.

Radha prasada:

More delights prepared with love.

let the feasting begin:

By 8.20 (we were dead on time, no pun intended) all festivities were climaxing, and the crowds rolled past to pick up their groaning plates of feast. Another blessed day in my blessed life. Profuse thanks to those that made it possible.
Posted by Kurma on 9/9/08; 1:29:45 PM

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