Govinda Dasu – Vegetarian Cookbook


Home is best defined by the smells, tastes and the looks of the foods, which the family partakes in, together. We go off on those long culinary expeditions, only to return home to those family meals. Our family tastes, originating in the brahmin homes of Andhra Pradesh in India, are passed on to me by my parents and grandparents, as they were raising me in the Silicon Valley. While we cannot trace back the ingredients beyond the Safeway at Rivermark, or the New India Bazar on El Camino, the recipes, minimally refined my parents, go back to my ancestors, geographically separated from us by thousands of miles and several generations. Heavily spiced they may be, but subtleties are unmistakably familial. Static, the recipes are not. There is always innovation, adaptation and amalgamation, sometimes scorned by the purists in the family, but eventually accepted with pride as our own. I am sharing these recipes with you with the hope that you will import some of them, to satiate your own palates for generations to come. I will tell some stories along the way to keep you amused.

Of particular note is the influence of mothers and grandmothers on our family palate. River Krishna and its canals meander through the rich agrarian communities near the new capital at the old city of Amaravati of Andhra Pradesh State. My grandmother’s family hails from Nuzividu, which is famous for its mangoes. However, it is her grandmother from Vuyyuru, who influenced my meals in the Silicon Valley. Much like the genes in my blood, some of my great-grandmother’s mukkala pulusu seems to flow in me! Recipes coming from this branch of my family will be labeled as from Krishna Region. My mother’s ancestors hail from a lost village south of Krishna, on the banks of the temperamental Penna River. They migrated further south to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, and then to Delhi and Simla, way up North. Yet, my mother’s cooking unmistakably traces back to the southern cooking style of Andhra, with some traces of Tamil styles. My mother’s recipes will be labeled as from Penna Region. North of Krishna flows the mightier Godavari with its expansive delta – if there is any influence of their Kona Seema style in our recipes, it is only accidental. Hailing from Krishna and Penna Deltas, I am raised to scorn at those foreign tastes – who in the right mind would put jaggery (raw sugar) in avakaya (raw mango pickled in mustard). Although my family heritage patriarchally dates to 1400s and is documented to hail from the State of Maharashtra to the west of India, there is little from Marathi style in our palate. After all, any excessive use of besan (chick pea flour) is also to be scorned at. If there is any influence of Marathi style, it is because my grandmother spent her summer breaks in Lonavala and Parbhani, in the far reaches of Marathwada, where my grandmother’s father worked for the Deccan railways, although he hailed from Nuzividu. Apparently, she picked up the techniques of making chapathis and aloo curry with besan during those trips. Although my grandmother spent much of her life in the city of Hyderabad, there is no trace of the famous Hyderabadi cuisine in our family recipes. After some research I concluded that this aversion to Hyderabadi cuisine is only because of one particular popular ingredient that is abhorred by our family, allam-ellipai (ginger & garlic) paste. While I may positively enjoy the garlic rolls at Tomatina’s in Mercado, I would never tolerate garlic in my beans koora.

My parents entertained friends and insisted on cooking gigantic meals. They worked together and competed all day to cook up a storm. Those meals were special, but with quite a bit of corruption, for example by including recipes adopted and adapted from Punjab and beyond. I will indicate those as foreign foods. Bon Apetit!

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