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Milk Products

BOTH modern textbooks and the ancient Vedas praise milk as a miracle food because it contains all the nutrients needed for good health. The Vedic scriptures add that milk develops the fine cerebral tissues needed for understanding Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the Vedic age, many yogis lived only on milk, which was so abundant that householders gave it away freely. Because milk nourishes man both physically and spiritually, Vedic culture considers it the most important of all foods, essential to a civilized society.

The importance of milk indicates the importance of protecting cows. Like human beings, a cow is happy when she feels protected. A cow that can suckle her calf and trust her owner not to kill her when she runs dry is happy, and naturally gives sweeter, more abundant milk. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam tells us that under the protection of the saintly king Yudhisthira, the cows were so happy that their large udders filled to overflowing and they wet the ground with creamy milk. Another great Vedic king, Mahāraja Pariksit, astonished to find someone trying to kill a cow in his kingdom, immediately arrested the culprit and punished him.

Because people drink the cow’s milk, the Vedas consider the cow one of the mothers of human society. “The blood of the cow is very nutritious,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “but civilized men utilize it in the form of milk.” The bull, who helps produce grains by tilling the fields, is considered the father of human society. The interdependance of man and the bull and cow is a perfect example of the harmony of nature, as ordained by Kṛṣṇa Himself. Furthermore, both these animals are considered valuable because from them come panca-gavya, five pure substances, namely milk, yogurt, ghee, cow dung and cow urine. All these substances are required in Vedic ceremonies. Even the cows dung and urine are antiseptic and fit for sacrificial offerings and medicine. Thus, in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa personally speaks of go-raksyam, cow protection. Unfortunately, in our “advanced” civilization, people neglect spiritual knowledge and promote cow-killing on a massive scale. “It is to be understood then,” writes Śrīla Prabhupāda, “that human society is advancing in the wrong direction and is clearing the path to its own condemnation.”

In the matter of protecting cows, some meat-eaters will protest, but in answer to them we say that since Kṛṣṇa gives stress to cow protection, those who are inclined to eat meat, despite all reasonable arguments to the contrary, should eat the flesh of less important animals like hogs, poultry, or fish, but they should not kill cows. The Vedas state that anyone implicated in the killing of a cow will have to take as many rebirths in the material world as there are hairs on the back of the cow. And the Vedas are not the only scriptures to condemn cow-killing. In the Bible (66:3) Isaiah declares, “He that killeth an ox is as he that killeth a man.”

On the whole, meat-eating is not completely forbidden in Vedic culture: a particular class of people is allowed to eat meat according to various circumstances and injunctions. Killing cows, however, is strictly forbidden to everyone. Śrīla Prabhupāda proposed that if someone must eat beef, then he should eat the carcasses of cows that die naturally. After an initial period of apparent scarcity, there will be plenty of carcasses to go around.

The most important reason for protecting cows is that Kṛṣṇa loves them. The Vedic scriptures tell us that in Kṛṣṇa-loka, Lord Kṛṣṇa’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky, there are cows called surabhi, which the Lord Himself takes care of. Kṛṣṇa’s abode is also called Goloka, or the planet of the cows.

Five thousand years ago, when Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared in this world, He played as a cowherd boy in the North Indian village of Vrindavana and showed His affection for cows. His childhood pastimes revolved around His cows and calves, His cowherd friends, and milk products. So Kṛṣṇa is also called Govinda, “one who gives pleasure to the cows,” and Gopala, “the friend of the cows. Because in play He pilfered His neighbors’ stocks of butter and yogurt, He is called Makhana-taskara, “the butter thief.”

Cow’s milk is the source of three essential ingredients in Vedic cooking: ghee (clarified butter), paneer (fresh cheese), and dahi (yogurt). Ghee has been an esteemed cooking medium since the Vedic times, when along with grains and cows it was counted among the riches of the household. Ghee is the essence of butter and the very best of all cooking mediums. It is made by heating butter very slowly until all the water is driven off and the solids have separated, leaving a clear golden-yellow oil. It has a faintly sweet, delicate, nutlike flavor that lends an irresistible quality to foods cooked in it. And it won’t raise the cholesterol level in your blood.

Ghee has other attributes besides its taste. You can heat it to high temperatures and it won’t bubble or smoke, because the water (which boils at 212°F/100°C) and the protein solids (which burn at 250°F/125°C) have been removed. Ghee is ideal for sauteing, braising, pan-frying, and deep-frying. It will add a new dimension to your cooking.

Cheese as we know it in the West is virtually unknown in India, where people prefer their milk products fresh, rather than aged. Paneer is a fresh homemade cheese that has many uses. Drained, it can be added directly to soups and vegetable dishes, or eaten as is. Pressed, it can be made into sweets, or, it can be cut into cubes and used, raw or deep-fried, in vegetable dishes.

Yogurt finds its way into practically every Indian meal. If not served plain in a little bowl (always unsweetened), it’s used in preparing some dish. The bland taste of yogurt complements the flavor of spicy dishes, and, mixed with rice and vegetables, it acts as a binder to make it easy to eat with your hands. The Ayur-veda suggests that yogurt be eaten with other foods, not alone.

Yogurt gets its healthful qualities from the friendly bacteria in it. Avoid commercially produced yogurt that has been heat-treated, sterilized, or treated with artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors. The processing destroys the bacteria. We hope you will discover how easy and pleasant it is to make your own yogurt.

Ghee

Clarified butter

Making ghee is neither difficult nor complicated, but it does take some time. Bringing out the sweet, nutlike flavor of the melted butter requires long, slow cooking to fully evaporate the water and allow the milk solids to separate and float to the surface leaving clear, amber-colored ghee.

2 – 10 lbs (1 – 5 kg) unsalted butter

Begin by heating the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. When the surface of the butter is covered with a white foam, reduce the heat to as low as possible and simmer uncovered. From time to time remove the solids that accumulate on the surface. Make sure the ghee doesn’t burn. If ghee is cooked over too high a heat or cooked too long, it will darken and give off a pungent odor.

How much time you need for preparing the ghee depends on how much you are making (see table below). The finished ghee should be golden-colored and clear enough to see through to the bottom of the saucepan. Carefully ladle the ghee into a can or crock and allow it to cool uncovered to room temperature. The milk solids skimmed off the surface and the solids remaining in the bottom of the pan can be mixed into cooked vegetables, soups, and grains.

Ghee properly prepared and stored in closed containers in a cool dry place will keep for months.

Preparation and cooking time

Quantity of butter Cooking time Yield of ghee
2 Ibs (1 kg) 1/2 hr 1 3/4 Ibs (800 g)
5 Ibs (2.5 kg) 3 hrs 4 1/2 Ibs (2.2 kg)
10 lbs (5 kg) 5 hrs 9 Ibs (4.6 kg)

Several points to remember when frying with ghee

• There are two types of ghee: usli ghee and vegetable ghee. When we refer to ghee in this book, we always mean usli ghee, or genuine ghee, which is clarified butter and can be made at home. Vegetable ghee is a combination of various vegetable oils and can be bought in large cans. Vegetable ghee may be less expensive and lighter, but it can never compare to real ghee for flavor.

• Ghee is pure butterfat. Since it is has no milk solids to turn rancid, it will keep for months, even without refrigeration.

• All ingredients to be deep-fried should be prepared, shaped, cut, or rolled close at hand, and at room temperature. When using ghee to pan-fry spices, gather all the spices first, so that the ghee doesn’t burn while you’re looking for them.

• Before putting ghee in a pan for deep-frying, make sure the pan is perfectly dry. Avoid mixing or splashing water into hot ghee. The ghee will splatter violently.

• The ghee may foam when moist vegetables are deep-fried, so leave enough space at the top of the pan to prevent spilling over. You can tell if the ghee is hot enough for deep-frying when a morsel of food dropped into it rises immediately to the surface and sizzles. Then lower the heat just enough to keep the ghee from burning.

• If the ghee is too hot, it darkens and burns the outside of the food, leaving the inside undercooked; if it’s not hot enough, your food will soak up too much ghee and become greasy. Cover the surface of the ghee with only one layer of food, leaving enough space for the food to move. Too much food put into the ghee at one time will lower the temperature.

• To conserve ghee, which devotees sometimes call “liquid gold,” drain the fried foods in a colander or strainer placed over a pan to catch the drippings. Filter the ghee through several layers of paper towels or a fine sieve before using it again, otherwise residues from the previous cooking will burn, discoloring the ghee and altering its flavor.

• For deep-frying, you can use the same ghee for several weeks, as long as it isn’t burned. If the ghee stays dark even after being filtered, or if it gives off a pungent odor, it should be discarded.

Paneer

Homemade cheese

Fresh cheese, called paneer in Hindi, can be eaten by itself or used as an ingredient in recipes. There is no substitute for paneer. It is unique among cheeses for its versatility, its fine taste, and its resistance to melting at high temperatures.

Preparation and cooking time: about 30 min

10 cups (2.3 ltr) whole milk
5 tablespoon lemon juice, or 2 teaspoon citric acid,
or 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) yogurt, or 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) sour whey

Heat the milk over medium heat in a pot large enough to allow the milk to rise without overflowing. While waiting for the milk to boil, prepare the curdling agent and get a strainer ready by lining it with two layers of cheesecloth and propping it above a receptacle to collect the whey.

When the milk begins to rise, stir in the curdling agent. Almost immediately, the spongelike paneer will separate from the clear, yellow-green whey with a kind of a magical suddenness. If the whey is not clear, add a little more curdling agent and stir again.

After the curds and the whey have separated completely, remove the pot from the heat. Collect the curds in the cheesecloth. Rinse them under cold water for half a minute to make them firmer and to remove any excess curdling agent, which would alter the taste. Then press out the rest of the liquid in one of the following ways:

• If you want firm paneer for making cheese cubes or kneading into a dough, bind the paneer within the cheesecloth and press it with a weight for some time. The longer it is pressed, the firmer it will be. Remove the weight, cut the paneer into the desired shapes, and use as required. Paneer will also become firm if you suspend it in a piece of cheesecloth and leave it to drain.

• If you need soft cheese, simply tighten the cheesecloth around the paneer and squeeze out the water.

Some advice concerning the making of paneer

Some people refer to fresh curds as chenna, and pressed chenna as paneer. For the purposes of this book, however, the term paneer will mean fresh curds, and pressed paneer will mean pressed curds. Remember also that the terms cheese, Indian cheese, curds, and paneer all refer to the same thing, paneer. To know approximately how much milk you will need to make specific amounts of yaneer (drained for a few minutes) or pressed paneer (pressed under a weight for ten minutes), see the following table.

 

Quantity of milk curdled Yield of paneer Yield of pressed paneer
cups liters oz g oz g
2 1/2 600 ml 4 100 3 75
7 1.7 9 250 7 200
12 3 14 400 12 350

 

The following are a few of the most commonly used curdling agents and their characteristics.

• Lemon juice. This gives a light, sour taste to cheese. About 1 tablespoon of lemon juice will curdle 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) of milk.

• Citric acid (sour salt). These crystals, obtainable in any pharmacy and most supermarkets, are practical to use and store. For nice, firm curds, bring the milk to a full boil. Begin to add the citric acid, a little at a time, stirring constantly until the milk curdles completely. Then stop and remove the pan from the heat. Too much citric acid will result in mushy curds. About 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid will curdle 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) of milk.

• Yogurt. Some cooks prefer yogurt because it produces a thick, soft cheese. Before adding the yogurt to the boiling milk, dilute it in a small quantity of warm milk. Generally, 4 or 5 tablespoons of yogurt will curdle 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) of milk.

• Whey. Whey left over from curdled milk can be used as a curdling agent the next day. Whey becomes sour, and therefore more effective, if kept at room temperature for 2 days or more. Like lemon juice, it imparts a faintly sour taste to the cheese. At least 2/3 cup (150 ml) of sour whey is required to curdle 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) of milk.

Dahi

Yogurt

With a little experience you’ll learn how to make yogurt and get good results every time. Keep your equipment clean to guard against incubating unwanted strains of bacteria.

Preparation and cooking time: 15 min
Setting time: 4 – 8 hrs

10 cups (2.3 ltr) whole milk
1/4 cup (50 ml) plain yogurt

Bring the milk to a boil in a pot and remove from the heat. Now lower the temperature of the milk either by letting it cool by itself or by placing the pot in cold water.

The ideal temperature for the yogurt bacteria is 110 – 115°F (43 – 45°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, there is a simple test: the milk should be just hot enough for you to hold your little finger in it, without burning it, for 10 seconds, just long enough to say, “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.” Mix the yogurt into a cup of the warm milk and stir it back into the pot. On cold days you may need more yogurt to start a culture than on warm days.

The yogurt bacteria need several hours of warmth and quiet to grow. Keep the temperature of the milk constant by wrapping the covered pot in a thick cloth and placing it near a source of heat. Avoid leaving the pot near anything that may cause movement; if possible, make your yogurt at night, when there is the least chance of disturbance. It usually takes from four to eight hours for the yogurt to become firm. Once the yogurt sets, refrigerate it to retard the growth of the bacteria. Otherwise they’ll continue to eat the milk sugars in the yogurt and turn it sour in two days.

Your yogurt should stay good for four – five days. Don’t forget to save some as a culture to start your next batch of yogurt. If the starter culture grows weak, replace it with newly bought yogurt.

Yogurt, one of nature’s best medicines

Because of yogurt’s health-giving properties and its many uses in preparing foods, it has an important place in the Vedic diet. The Āyur-veda speaks in detail of the curative properties of yogurt.

Outside India, yogurt is most popular with the people of Russia and the Balkan countries, who are known for their longevity. The link between a yogurt-rich diet and increased longevity was revealed a hundred years ago by the Russian gerontologist Elie Metchnikoff. His major contribution to science was his auto-intoxication theory, which stated that it is possible for the contents of the colon to enter the bloodstream and thereby poison the entire body. Metchnikoff examined and interviewed many centenarians in Asia and Russia and noted that their diets contained large amounts of yogurt and fermented milk. He concluded that their longevity was due to the bacilli in these products, which replaced the bacteria of putrefaction in the bowel. In the wake of his theory came the first wave of interest in yogurt as a health food. As the consumption of yogurt in the West increases, modern science is discovering more of its remarkable qualities.

A few examples:

Yogurt produces lactic acid, which destroys the bacteria responsible for the putrefaction of food in the large intestine, one of the main causes of disease and premature aging.

• Because it is pre-digested by its lactobacillus bulgaris bacteria, yogurt is assimilated by the body faster than milk.

• Yogurt is rich in proteins, minerals, enzymes, and most known vitamins, including hard-to-get ones like D and B12.

• Yogurt gives the intestinal bacteria their favorite food: lactose. People whose intestinal bacteria have been destroyed by antibiotics are often advised by their doctors to eat yogurt to replenish the bacteria.

• Yogurt has natural antibiotic properties strong enough to kill certain amoebas and such virulent bacteria as staphylococcus, streptococcus, and typhus.