July 29, 2015

Leafy Greens and Potatoes with Coconut

July 29, 2015
Earlier this year our brother in bhakti-yoga, Sadhumarga Prabhu, translated into Finnish “Cooking for Gaura Nitai”, a cookbook compiled by the students of Bhaktivedanta Academy Gurukula in Mayapur, West Bengal. The book contains nearly 100 lunch recipes, showcasing the diversity of Gaudiya Vaishnava* culinary tradition.
The book presents several kinds of rice; raita (salad); shukta (bitter preparations); saag (green vegetables); dal (legumes); cacchari (simple vegetable dishes); fritters like pakora, bora, kofta and bhaji; ghanto (stew-like vegetables); dalna (rich vegetables dishes in gravy); chutneys (sweet and fiery “jams”); and finally sweets, including all famous Bengali milk delicacies. There is also a chapter on Ekadasi, the eleventh day after full and new moon, during which we fast from grains and legumes.

Sadhumarga has also added a chapter in which he contemplates the relationship between health and culture – and the wholesome role of physical, mental and spiritual purity; the cleanliness of ingredients and environment; cooking techniques; and our attitude. Despite the small size, the book is packed with information and since I read it a few evenings ago, I’ve been inspired to improve my cooking, as well as my character. I’m not sure how I’m doing with the latter – it seems to take a longer practice – but I prepared leafy greens and potatoes with coconut according to the book’s instructions, and served the dish with rice, raita and roti (bread) yesterday – and, it was a success! Gradually I will be going through the recipes, and post some of them here on the blog, too.
There aren't exact measurements in the book but the recipes only list what ingredients and in which order they are used. I found it very nice. It forced me to look at each item attentively to see how it contributes to the process and result, and focus on cooking more deeply than I would’ve done otherwise. I tried to understand the idea of the recipe, and once I got it, I took the liberty to change some details within it. For example, I used kalonji instead of radhuni seeds, and a mixture of greens from our garden instead of just spinach.
By the way, “Sadhumarga” means “the path of saints”. I am happy to follow his direction, course of action and conduct in the kitchen to reach the goal of life.

*Gaudiya is another way of saying Bengal; Vaishnava is a devotional order dedicated to Sri Vishnu.

(Serves 6 to 8 persons)

6 to 7 liters (24 - 28 cups) lightly packed green leaves and stalks (spinach, Swiss chard, radish greens, and baby beets and beet leaves)
6 medium size summer potatoes
1 coconut
2-3 Tbsp ghee
4 cm (1 ½”) piece of ginger (finely grated, juice squeezed out)
1 tsp jeera seeds
1 tsp kalonji seeds
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp pure hing powder (or ¼ - 1/2 tsp Vandevi hing)
2-3 tsp Himalayan salt

Wash and chop coarsely the greens.
Wash and cut the potatoes into sticks.
Wash, crack open and finely grate the coconut.
Blanch or steam the stalks and greens (and baby beets) until they are soft.
Heat up the ghee in a wok or pot. Add the grated ginger and fry it until it turns light golden. Add the jeera and kalonji seeds along with ground pepper and hing. Fry for 20-30 seconds then add the potatoes.
Fry the potatoes until they get some color and become almost cooked. Finally add the greens, coconut and salt. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.

Thank you.

June 27, 2015

The Book / Pure Vegetarian

June 27, 2015
Recently I saw a clip from a popular TV-series in which the protagonist proclaimed his maxims in life: “never take anything for granted” and “when the job is done, walk away”. I haven’t watched the program and cannot place the quotes in context, but these guidelines could be (to some extent) mine, too. I found them particularly applicable to the way I view and behave towards the book. Here, I finally said it: the book!

The book – Pure Vegetarian – is about to come out, and you might be wondering why I haven’t talked about it yet. That’s because I’ve hardly recovered from writing it! The process had some elements that left me vulnerable, and I’ve needed time to evaluate everything that transpired during the past two and half years.
Throughout the period I had an inner conflict between wanting to convey and being able to convey genuine and beneficial concepts within the given form. It was like a mountain I kept climbing on. Every time I reached the top, I fell down and had to regroup. Then I tried again but failed to meet the expectations again – both, mine and the publisher’s. Finally, when I handed in the umpteenth manuscript, I hastily dusted off and slid down hoping to never hear about the book again!

Unlike many authors who happily chat about their work – like proud parents who introduce a beautiful baby to the world – I felt like a monster who abandoned her offspring at the publisher’s doorstep. Did I suffer from postpartum depression? Or, maybe I was just like one of those callous mommas you occasionally read about in the crime section of a newspaper!
Of course it’s not fair to compare the book to any living being, much less to a baby. Pure Vegetarian was hatched and delivered in collaboration with many persons whose ideas and needs didn’t always meet; in fact, they collided at times. Everyone who has ever worked in a team knows how easily a lack of interpersonal rapport gets the wires crossed. Geographical distance, cultural differences and language barriers don’t help the situation.
Somewhere on the way I decided not to obsess with the end result because there were so many factors beyond my control. Although I initially submerged into writing with a sole purpose in mind – that you would read a recipe collection and be inspired, not only as a cook, but as a wholesome person – I gradually learnt to treat the 320 page product as if it were just a tiny flavor component in a very complex soup. A set of pages had to be published because that’s what I and the editors committed to, but the main body of experience was elsewhere: it was in the attentive performance of my duty. That’s the field where I could exercise my talents in harmony with the level of my consciousness, and grow, without having to worry about whether my presentation was adequate in the scale of relative standards, trends or goals. Therefore, I placed my focus and “never take anything for granted” on the activity of writing, cooking and photographing to the best of my capacity. It was my private, profound reward none of the readers will see. Because it was so powerful, I was able to “walk away when the job was done”, too.
To determine the worth of the outcome is in your hands now. You will observe it according to your knowledge base, individuality and objectives. Of course I wish you will find the book useful and encouraging. By inserting the concept of yoga cuisine, I am hoping that you will look beyond the physical, moral, and even the social implications of eating. Food is a medium for relationships: milk, butter, flour, apples, sugar, and salt are but the means to access a greater experience.

Linking consciousness and cooking is not my invention, but an old discipline. The saints and sages of Vedic India, dating back thousands of years, were gastronomists who connected the physical, chemical, and biochemical nature of nourish­ment with spirituality, and associated the laws of regulating digestion with the reciprocal dynamics between material energy, living beings, and transcen­dence. For them, “life” went far beyond the body and its psychological and intellectual faculties; it included the immortality of the soul. They knew that the attitude we have while cooking, as well as the action itself, aligns with (and contributes to) universal harmony. It was obvious even for a com­moner that feeding one another was both a joy and responsibility.

Pure Vegetarian will bring you closer to such a sattvik thought and lifestyle of goodness, and the practice of non­violence, ahimsa, which is a prerequisite to yogic culture and vegetarianism even today. By sharing my pilgrimage around the table, I hope to feed the insightful, blissful part of you that is hungrier for enlightenment than for bread and butter.
There are 108 recipes in the book. Those of you who are familiar with Eastern traditions know that it is a sacred number. The rosary I count my meditation mantras has also 108 wooden beads. Because cooking is a type of meditation to me, I thought it was appropriate to tie the recipes into a symbolic string of beads, and devote as much care to each of them as I give to my daily series of prayers.
The recipes are categorized according to the type. In the dairy section, for example, you will find homemade cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, butter, sour cream and even crème fraiche.

Among the spice mixes there are sambar, chaat and garam masala. I’ve also presented a way to preserve fresh curry leaves and, as unorthodox as it is for authentic Indian kitchen, offered a curry-powder recipe so that Westerners who buy it from a shop can make it at home!

For grain, rice and dal lovers there are basic recipes, but also unconventional ones, like coconut rice with saffron, green mung beans with fennel, quinoa kitchari and savory semolina porridge.

The vegetable dishes include beetroot kofta, oven fried bitter melon crisps, pumpkin and spinach curry, and Bengali-styled vegetables in mustard-seed sauce. Some of the preparations – like baby potatoes in yogurt and tomato sauce, and spiced green beans – are quite piquant, and others – like Brussels sprouts in sour cream, and cauliflower and coconut curry – are mild.

I demonstrate how to make different kinds of flatbreads, Indian crepes, spicy lentil doughnuts and other side-dishes, snacks and party munches. There is also an introduction to growing seedlings and sprouts, and picking wild flowers for salads in the book.

If you have a taste for a little bit of heat, I’ve presented various chutneys made from nuts, berries and fruits. And, if you still grave for hotness, you will find a recipe for a quick eggplant pickle.
Then, the desserts will take you around India from Braj, where thick milk-sweets are cooked down for Sri Krishna’s pleasure, to the coastal town of Puri, where the Lord of the Universe enjoys, with a wide smile, burnt cheese and molasses cakes in an ancient Jagannatha Mandir. You will visit an aristocratic Bengali tradition of making steamed cheese pudding, and sense the royal opulence of Karnataka by tasting a melt-in-the mouth candy, Mysore Pak. When you are about to twist your tongue with exotic names – Kheer, Kalakhand, Bhapa Doi, Gopinatha, Laddu, Amrakhand and Sandesh – you may take a break with ice-cream, peach pie or energy bars! One thing is for sure: you won’t be deprived of sweetness while browsing through Pure Vegetarian!

Should you decide to walk on the healthier side of life, I recommend you to skip the syrupy temptations, and make a cup of yogi-tea, green smoothie, beet and carrot juice, or a refreshing lime and cucumber drink as shown in the end of the recipe section.
In addition to all this, I’ve also itemized my kitchenware to give you an idea of which utensils and appliances are practical to have on hand, and included a conversion table to help you change any volume, weight, or temperature into your standard unit.
I’ve also taken time to consider the connection between food and hospitality, culture and etiquette, and composing and serving a meal. If you find anything valuable in the book, apply it to your life and pass it on to others!

Thank you.
Pure Vegetarian is available:

In Finland:


You can also order the book via any bookshop around the world by the ISBN: 9781611801446.

An update (June 29, 2015):

My husband and I were sitting in the garden this morning, eating fruit salad, when a post-office vehicle turned in the front of our house. The driver pulled out two large boxes and an envelope. I signed the delivery-sheet while thinking that my internet-shopping must be getting out of hand because I don’t recall ordering anything of this size recently! What is in the boxes?

When I saw the United States Postal Service stamps I realized the books have arrived! We both grabbed a book, sat down and started to read. After an hour or so, we looked at each other and smiled. My husband said: “I always knew the book would be like this; it is wonderful”. He saw the final content for the first time, and he liked it! We both became hungry after browsing through the pages and went inside to cook.

Whatever trials I had while writing, cooking and photographing for the book were there to mold my character and keep me sincere. I am very grateful for them now.

Shambala / Roost Books, and especially Rochelle – my editor – has done a beautiful job making Pure Vegetarian so soothing and wonderful experience to read. I have no complaints. I love the book!

June 18, 2015

Homemade Yogurt

June 18, 2015
Meet our new neighbor – she is my fourteen year old niece who is intelligent, socially sensitive, creative and beautiful. There is a small wood cabin, built in 1925, in her family’s courtyard which my husband and I occupied in May.

Anyone who has ever relocated knows that changing the address is a small transition, but there are other adjustments that require more serious adaptation. It is a stressful situation and, especially when everything is still stacked in piles and unpacked, it feels confusing and hopeless: will there ever be any kind of normalcy again?
Overnight, our lifestyle converted from urban dwelling to country living. Although we had never lived lavishly in the city, we downshifted considerably by choosing some old-world alternatives to replace basic amenities, like central heating and automatic warm water. Instead of contributing to electricity consumption, of which fourth is produced by nuclear power in Finland, we opted to chop and burn wood to heat our radiators and water. First time in my life I’m experiencing how much energy it takes to enjoy a shower! When two persons bathe in the morning and evening, you have to load a big furnace twice a day and, in the winter, the amount will double. But thankfully, it’s rewarding and purifying to set a fire as the first task upon waking up. I quite like to use an ax, too!
I planned to buy a gas stove for the kitchen as a second cooker but having boiled, braised and baked on wood for the past month I’m postponing the decision. Why is it that a humble potato tastes so much better when steamed on a woodstove?

Expect the recipes to simplify here, too. I won’t be able to give you exact instructions, or count seconds and minutes of each step, because cooking is so much more unpredictable and intuitive on wood. You have much less control of the heat. In the future, I will be concentrating more on concepts and ideas which you will have to perfect yourself.
Maybe the most startling revelation that living in the countryside has brought out is the direct contact with natural elements. Lucid is perhaps the best adjective to describe the influence of earth, water, fire and wind to, both, sleep and alert states. Dreams are vivid and clear here, almost clairvoyant, but you feel rested and refreshed in the morning. And, although you may work in the garden or carry logs, you don’t get dirty. The hair, for example, seems always fragrant and aerated; it doesn’t get flat and glued to the skull at all!

And the sweetest thing is the flora and fauna! The other day I was performing arotik (comes from a Sanskrit word aratrika which means “to remove darkness” by offering auspicious items like incense, ghee lamp, water, cloth, flowers and fan) in our temple room, and as I reached out to the acamana-cup (to purify what enters and leaves the hand), I saw a beautiful deer standing outside the window, as if observing the rite! How many times would such a spontaneous, yet mystical scene occur in the city?

As you see, I love every split of a second of our new phase of life!
Before we talk about the recipe, which is homemade yogurt, let me thank all of you for visiting the blog in my absence. I’ve read and appreciated all the comments although I’ve been too out in the woods - literally - to answer them. Special thanks to FoodGeekGraze for taking so much time to wade through the old posts and giving such personal and insightful feedback.
Why do I claim that homemade yogurt is much better than store-bought? Because the flavor is sweeter, it has less acetaldehyde, and there is a layer of cream on the top!

Acetaldehyde is the main aroma component of yogurt, which unfortunately is also carcinogenic. In some commercially produced yogurts its intensity has been found to be several times higher. However, eaten in moderation, yogurt and other fermented foods are safe, and have more health-promoting propensities than harmful ones. Among other gastrointestinal benefits, yogurt is known to ease up both, dysentery and chronic constipation.

There are a couple of things to remember when making yogurt at home:

  1. All utensils must be clean.
  2. Fermentation is quicker in glass and ceramic vessels than in stainless steel. Never use aluminium containers!
  3. Don’t disturb, stir or move around the yogurt while it’s fermenting.
  4. Try to maintain a steady temperature (no draft!) around the yogurt.
  5. Too much and too little starter culture will cause the yogurt to be too runny.
  6. A longer fermentation time will produce tangier flavor and lift a layer of whey on the top.
  7. Serve homemade yogurt with fruits and berries, or with savory spices and vegetables. It is ideal for using in cooking and baking because it holds together much better than commercially produced yogurt due to a high fat content.
  8. If your yogurt fails to come out properly after 12 hours, make cheese from it by bringing it to a boil and adding some lemon juice to it!


Bring 2 liters (8 cups) organic full fat milk to boil. Don’t rush with this step because if the milk heats up too quickly, the yogurt may become grainy.

When it bubbles, remove it from the stove and cover with a lid to prevent a skin forming.

When the temperature has decreased to 40-44 C (104-111 F), stir the milk. Take a ladleful of it and mix it with 1-2 teaspoons of natural yogurt that has living culture in it in a glass or ceramic vessel. Gently stir in the rest of the milk. Place a loose lid on and transfer the vessel in a warm place.

I don’t use a thermometer because I learnt a good trick to test the temperature when living in the temple ashram: Stick your clean middle finger into the milk pot and recite the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) once; the temperature is correct when you are barely able to hold your finger in the milk without burning it until the end of the mantra! The milk should be above body temperature and below 45 C (113 F) when you add the starter culture. If it is too hot, the bacteria that does the fermentation dies; if it is too cold, it takes much longer time to ferment.

Let the milk-yogurt mixture stand in one place for 6 to 8 hours. If you have a really cozy spot in your kitchen it may take a shorter time to mature.

When ready, scoop a couple of spoons of ready yogurt in a separate jar as a starter for your next batch, and place it in the refrigerator with the rest of the yogurt.

Eat the yogurt within a week.

Thank you.

April 5, 2015

Lunch Wraps

April 5, 2015
Like all patterns of behavior, you can change food habits, too.

Last October I went cold turkey on sugar. I didn’t intend to quit sweets permanently, but wanted to experiment what – if any – short-term benefits reduction of glucose has on my health. Little did I know how much it would affect my cooking, eating and well-being!
Up until I was 40, I had a healthy relationship with sugar, and honored a sweet treat usually on Sundays during a feast in the temple ashram. When my interest in cooking developed, I found desserts to please most people: serving a knock-out cake or fudge would patch whatever shortcoming the main course might’ve had. When I started to organize cookery courses, baking pies and cobblers along with preparing candies and puddings became everyone’s favorite class. To the degree I enjoyed inhaling the scent of caramel, cardamom and butter in the kitchen – who wouldn’t – my tongue acquired more and more sweet taste, and sooner than I realized, I was buying ice-cream, chocolate bars and vegan gummy bears from the shop – something I hadn’t done since my teens.

Within a couple of years an innocent pleasure transformed into sugar addiction. Instead of supplying energy for the body, the constant munching of confections made me chronically fatigue and contributed to all sorts of ailments from brain fog to eczema, hot-waves, insomnia, heartburn, over-weight and other endocrine complications. Finally, when a blood vessel in the wall of an ovarian cyst ruptured and caused me to bleed all September and the beginning of October last year, I was inspired to break up the love affair with sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, I was ready to do anything to alleviate the physical mayhem, hoping that paying a closer attention to nutrient intake would help my hormones to moderate energy reserves and balance out the metabolism.
Of course I had cravings at first. Every afternoon around 4 pm, when the blood glucose levels hit rock bottom, the mind knitted hypotheses to refute my new found sugar-free lifestyle, and statements like “you are seduced by righteous eating” and “you have orthorexia nervosa or abnormal attachment to health food”, and “eating is a social experience you are ruining by your fanatic attitude” ambushed my determination. At the same time, there were results that counteracted these arguments: the eczema I had battled with for six years cleared out; I regained a normal sleep rhythm; and all premenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, heartburn, irregular periods and moodiness ceased. When I figured out, in two or three weeks, how to maintain a steady energy level by increasing fats and proteins in the morning, and consuming highly concentrated nutrients from items like raw beets, avocadoes and cruciferous greens on each meal, I no longer hankered after creamy tarts and pastries. My body started to burn fat instead of sugar and, as a bonus, I lost 12 kg (26lb) within six months. It seems that by replacing excess sugar and carbohydrates with more substantial elements, the body will gradually burn its fat supplies, and find its ideal state.
From the point of view of food-blogging, I’m facing identity crises. The most viewed posts on this site have been infused with sugar. Some of you may wonder if I’ve become a food-fascist that will  torment you by condemning all syrup-dripping desserts by uploading only vitamin-laced recipes from the platform of entitlement!

I haven’t worked it out yet how to proceed or whether I will ever cook with sugar again. Probably when time goes by, I might start adding a teaspoon of sweetness to cancel overly sour ingredients like tamarind or tomatoes, but for now I’m happy to stick to recipes that don’t require even that. My objective is to be stronger and more active in my 50’s than I ever was in my 40’s and, somehow or other, I hope this blog will reflect the mood, too.
Letting something go is never one dimensional. Omitting sugar from the diet bound me to fresh foods – salads, sprouts and all kinds of greens, and fruits – which I hardly ate before. In some ways I think I have been “a carbohydrian” or “a protenian” rather than a vegetarian, because grains and pulses covered my plate in a larger extent than vegetables. Now I find myself thinking of food in a different way, and couldn’t imagine a meal without an uncooked component that gives the instant burst of vitality. Instead of eating cooked beans and lentils daily, I prefer them three or four times a week in small portions. Unlike before, I can well skip rice and bread.
I’m developing new recipes every day. Here is one of them:

Butterbeans, cashews and oven dried cherry tomatoes wrapped in lettuce leaves

250 - 500 ml (1 - 2 cups) butterbeans + water for soaking and cooking
Lettuce leaves
A bunch of watercress
A bunch of sage leaves
Oven dried tomatoes (recipe here)
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp hing powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
250 ml (1 cup) cashew nuts
1 Tbsp desiccated coconut
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dry roasted jeera (powder)
½ tsp amchoor powder (green mango powder)
1 tsp kala namak powder
1 ½ tsp Himalayan salt

Sort, wash and soak the beans overnight. Cook them in a pot or pressure cooker until they are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Wash the lettuce, watercress and sage. Set aside to dry.

Heat up the olive oil over a moderate heat and add the hing and cayenne powder, immediately followed by the cashews. Roast the nuts until they are light golden on all sides.

Add the coconut and toast until they change the hue and become fragrant.

Add the beans, tomatoes and sage leaves. Sprinkle everything with black pepper, jeera, amchoor and kala namak powder, and salt. Remove the pan from the stove.

Place a spoonful of beans in the middle of each lettuce leaves, and add a couple of stalks of watercress. Wrap up the leaves and secure them with cocktail sticks.

If you cook the beans and roast the tomatoes in advance, it takes only couple of minutes to assemble a quick lunch or snack.

I sprinkled the tomatoes with olive oil, cayenne powder and Himalayan salt before roasting them. You can use other spices and herbs for variety.

Thank you.