Cooking with a priest

Pandit Gadadhara Dasa is the Hindu chaplain of Columbia University. He's been a guest at my raucous Diwali parties, which hubby and I host each year to celebrate the symbolic victory of good over evil. Traditionally, it's a time for lights, fireworks, time spent with family, good food and some libations. We manage without the fireworks...and pack around 500 friends into our New York apartment in a steady stream from mid-morning to the wee hours!

The Pandit is always a smiling presence at these chaotic parties, and I had to check in with him post our last party to make he still counted me among the faithful! He did, and even invited me to teach with him at one of his weekly sessions at the University as part of his Bhakti Club vegetarian cooking classes. Bhakti can be loosely translated as faith - the Pandit's reverence around how he creates his meals makes them a truly pious offering to the Gods. Read more about his philosophy around the act of conscious cooking as part of a religious lifestyle in this Huffington Post article

Teaching a group of about 40 young students how to cook Indian meals without overwhelming them is an interesting endeavor. It helped me see just how much I took for granted the multi-tasking I'd learned by osmosis, watching mom, grandma and multiple aunts and cooks at kitchens in various homes in South India. While in one large pot, I brought the milk to boil, squeezed in lemons and strained the paneer, I also got a paalak panner (spinach and cottage cheese curry) going on the electric wok.

See the recipes here:
Making Panir or Paneer: Indian cottage cheese
Panner curry - in this case made with peas, but you can replace the peas with spinach or choose to use both for a nice twist

The Pandit doesn't use onions or garlic in his cooking, dictated by his deep Hindu beliefs. I was surprised to see how easily the meal came together without these embellishments, and I've cut down on the use of onions at home. The garlic is harder to let go of!

You'll see the students crowding around the table here - they loved the warm smell of the paneer coming together. Feeding a roomful of hungry students, priceless!

See Pandit here, giving a talk as part of the TEDx series: