The European spice trade was one of the major factors in the development of modern Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries. India was a great provider of spices, but the nutritional values of spices are not well-known in modern times and in the western world. Ayurveda – the ancient Indian science of natural medicine – considers eating habits fundamental to health. This includes the use of spices in food. Ideally, spices should be cleaned and dried in the sun or oven, as uncleaned spices contain little specks of dust, glass, insects etc. Spices should be stored in airtight containers(eg. glass jars, plastic containers or tins) in a cool, dry place – to preserve their freshness. They should be kept away from direct sunlight, mositure, heat etc.

Vedic philosophy describes three different modes of material nature – sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) – which cover the broad spectrum of life. A person in goodness, for example is peaceful, happy, healthy and clear-headed. A person in passion is restless, subject to many desires and physically active. A person in ignorance is prone to laziness, sleep and anger. Mint, for example, is sattvic – it soothes the mind and calms the stomache. Chillis are, obviously, rajasic. As are onions and garlic – which are generally avoided in the brahminical (or spiritual/mindful) diet. Mushrooms and meat are considered tamasic and their main quality – aside from violence (in the case of meat) – is the dulling effect they generate. Spices take on similar qualities ‘under the modes’. Below are some spices and the benefits they give:

Black Pepper

Marich (Sanskrit (hereafter, S); kalimiri (Hindi, (H)))

Black pepper is a rajasic spice (‘rajas’ means in the ‘mode of passion’) and contains a lot of solar energy. The fruit is used in cooking and traditional healing. It is a very powerful digestive stimulant and it burns ama (toxic waste that builds up in the digestive system). Pepper is also a good expectorant. Black pepper is not hard on the digestive system because it does not increase pitta. Green and Red peppercorns are more rare, but have a more mature flavour than black pepper. White pepper is made from fully ripened black peppers that have had their outer shrunken skin removed. Garam masala and sambar powder feature ‘the king of spices’ in their blends. Black pepper is added to oats in during ramadan in the Middle East. Pepper is used in Malaysia in curry powder, soups and sauces. Fresh green pepper or soaked dried green pepper is used in Thailand.

Fennel (valyari or soomph (Hindi and Gujarati))

Fennel is one of the best herbs for digestion.  I got dysentry the first time I visited India and my stomach was cramping and rumbling even when I got back to South Africa. One of the ladies who visited our Temple was an ayurvedic practioner and she advised me to roast some fennel and boil into a tea. I did. And the cramps went away.  Fennel also dispels flatulence.  In India (and in Indian restaurants), they often serve sugar-coated fennel or fennel with rock salt – to aid digestion. Fennel also calms the nerves and aids mental alertness.


Lavanga (S). Rajasic.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove plant. They are good for the lungs and stomach, are mildly aphrodisiac and analgesic (eg. you can chew them when you have a tooth-ache).

Ginger (adrak (Hindi))

Ginger is a root and is considered one of the best and most sattvic of the spices. It is a panacea or universal medicine. I can say this, speaking from experience, as it is the only medicine I have used in the past 18 years. Ginger is most commonly used for respiratory and digestive illnesses. It is a good tonic for the heart and also soothes arthritis. It helps with crams (and pre-menstrual cramps brought on by cold). Ginger paste is a good pain reliever for headaches and general bodily pains. The combination of lemon, ginger and honey as a tea has a heating effect and is a wonderful cure for sore throats and colds. Ginger powder can also be obtained at spice shops.

Turmeric (haldi (H))

Turmeric is a root that looks like the orange version of ginger. It is best taken in its root form, but more commonly available as a powder. Turmeric has many healing properties, but is best known for its ability to purify the blood. When externally applied, turmeric helps clot blood and can be applied to cuts in powder form. Turmeric is also used in fasting and adds colour to food.


It is advised to dry roast seeds before powdering, as this gives more flavour to the spices. In traditional Indian aristocratic cooking traditions, spices are crushed to making the eating experience more pleasant (who wants to keep biting into coriander seeds?).

Cumin (jeera)

Cumin is a heating spice. It is used in many North Indian curries. It has a nutty, earthy flavour and is a key spice in Indian cooking. It is usually added after mustard seeds into the braise and goes brown quite quickly. Thereafter, fresh grated ginger and chillis are added, followed by powdered spices. Cumin is added to chaas or buttermilk, which is one of the healthiest beverages according to ayurveda. Chaas aids digestion and is generally good for health.

Mustard Seeds (rai/sarsoon)

Mustard seeds come in three varieties – black, white and brown. Black mustard seeds are one of the oldest spices. Mustard seeds are usually fried in ghee/oil at a medium-high heat until the seeds turn grey and pop. The frying or braising of seeds is called chauncing. Mustards seeds have a mildly nutty flavour which tempers spices that are used in braising. Mustard seeds can also be added to oil to see if it is hot enough for making a chaunce. Mustard seeds are also used in pickles and sauerkrauts and decoratively on delicacies like khandvi and dhokla.

Coriander (dhania)

Coriander adds wonderful flavour to Indian cooking in seed and powder form. The leaves of the coriander plant also adds flavour to food and can be used, like parsley, as a garnish. Since coriander powder loses its freshness quickly, it is better to purchase coriander seeds, roast them, and crush them with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Coriander seeds contain dietary fibre and are a great source of iron, magnesium and manganese (which reduce blood cholestrol). Coriander is often mixed with cumin to make dhania-jeera powder. This combination is used in middle eastern dishes like falafel and in the Egyptian relish, dukka. It is one of the key ingredients in the spice combination garam masala (which just means ‘hot’ or garam ‘spices’ masala).

Asafoetida (hing)

Asafoetida apprently has Roman origins. It is a resin, though it is generally available in powdered form. It is used as a substitute for garlic and onion (by Jains and followers of brahminical culture in India), aids digestion and counters flatulence. It is a useful ingredient in salad dressings.

Bayleaf (tejpatta)

Bayleaves were introduced by the Mughals to India over 1000 years ago. Bayleaves not only add flavour to food, they also add fragrance. They are used in dals and rice dishes and even sweets. They are used to flavour stocks, soups and sauces in the west.

Cinnamon (dalchini)

Cinnamon is a fragrant bark which is sweet and aromatic. It loses flavour quickly in powdered form. It is used in pilau (fancy or masala rice) and in briyani and various curries. It is also used in sweets and chatnis and is an essential ingredient in garam masala. It is also used in chai tea (which is becoming increasingly popular in the West.



Serves 20


1. 1 3/4 500g blocks of butter and 2 500g packets of semolina

2. Melt 1 3/4 blocks of butter (500g) over fairly low heat.  Add fennel seeds and bay leaves to butter.  Add semolina.  Cook until semolina goes the colour of beach sand (about 20 mins).

3.  Syrup. Add 1 3/4 litres full cream milk to 2 litres of water.  Add the equivalent amount of sugar as semolina and butter (1.875 kg) to the water.  Bring to boil, then simmer until it is fairly condensed.  Takes about 25 mins.

4. Slowly pour the syrup into the roasted semolina mix and cook on medium heat for five to ten minutes.  One of the ways you can usually tell that the halava is finished is if it peels from the side of the pot or gets a pasty texture.

5.  Other ways to enhance this preparation is to add currants, saffron, glazed pineapples or cashew nuts.

6.  Always offer your food to Krishna to make your cooking complete.

This recipe was gleaned off a tin of milk powder in the early days of the Hare Krishna Movement in New York City.  Simply Wonderfuls have been a favourite ever since.  The Movement’s founder, Srila Prabhupada, once said, ‘Eat Simply Wonderfuls and go back to the wonderful world.’

Makes about 45 ‘Simplys’

1.  Mix 500g unsalted butter with 500g icing sugar (you may want less so it is not so sweet).  Add currants and about half a teaspoon of grated orange rind and mix all ingredients together.  (You can also add crushed almonds, dried fruit, colouring agents and flavourin essences).  A South American devotee once told me that they used avocado instead of butter for their Simply Wonderfuls.

2.  Mix in milk powder (not quite 500g, since you might need less) until pliable.  The finer the milk powder, the better.  If too dry, add more butter; if too wet, add more milk powder.

3.  Refrigerate for about 25 mins.  Or keep in a cool place.

4.  You can trickle carob over them.

5.  Make spiritual offering.

Cauliflower/Yoghurt Sabji

1. Wash two medium caulifowers. Cut out core. Cut into flowerets.

Boil a little water in a pot and steam the cauliflower flowerets in that water for about 10mins.

Test to see if the cauliflower is tender with a knife (the flowerets shouldn’t be too soft otherwise it will turn into a mush). Drain in a colander.

2.  The Chaunce (masala/braise)

Heat 2 tablespoons (tbsp) ghee/oil in a frying-pan at medium-high heat. Add 1 heaped teaspoon (tsp) of mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds pop, add 4 curry leaves, 3 medium cinnamon sticks and 1 tbsp grated ginger. Stir together. Then add 1/2 tsp chilli powder, 1/2 a tsp hing and 1/2 a tsp kalonji (nigella) seeds. Add two cups/500ml amasi or yoghurt. Add 1 heaped tsp turmeric/haldi powder and 1 tbsp of salt. Stir, again.

3.  Add steamed cauliflowers to the chaunce and cook on medium heat for 5mins (to draw the flavours out).

4.  Make an offering to Krishna.

Learnt this from my friend Gaura-sakti das. Modified a bit with the help of Madhumangala das

1. Wash 2 and 1/2 bunches of spinach, then add to boiling water. Add salt. In the meantime, turn oven to full heat, then down to 180C.

Defrost two puff pastries – for the base and the top of the pie.

2. The White Sauce.

Bring 500 ml milk to boil. Add 5 tablespoons (tbsp) butter to milk. Thicken with maizena (thickening agent), until it starts to thicken. Add tbsp crushed black pepper, a small punnet of sweet basil (my addition) and 1 teaspoon (tsp) hing/asofoetida. Allow sauce to simmer and get thick. Add tbsp salt at the end and five or six tbsps of eggless mayonnaise (“Knorr” makes a nice on in South Africa). Allow to cool.

3. Shallow fry soya chicken strips in oil, ghee or butter until crisp. Stir spinach into the sauteed soya chicken strips. Add white sauce to spinach and chicken.

4. Place one of the puff pastries on a smooth surface. Roll it out a little, so it can amply fill the baking tray. Place the pastry at the bottom of the baking tray (the large ones that we usually use to roast vegetables in) and bring the pastry up to the of the tray. Fill the pastry base with the spinach/soya chicken mix.

5. Cover the pie with the second rolled-out puff pastry. Seal the pie by joining the top pastry with the bottom one. Brush milk over the covered pastry (to give it a golden appearance and to make it less crispy) and puncture the top with a fork.

6. Place in the oven at 180C for about half-an-hour. Turn the top grill on for the last few minutes (be careful you don’t burn the top of the pie). Turn off the oven. Allow to cool a bit. Offer to Krishna.

7. Serving suggestion (from Madhumangala prabhu): serve with mash potato and baby carrots cooked in butter with a little cinnamon. It is also nice with date and tamarind chatni.

PIZZA (Preparation time 40min, makes two trays of pizza, 6-8 people)

1. The Base

Ingredients: 3-4 cups cake flour, 3/4 packet instant yeast, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup hot water, 1tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup amasi/buttermilk/yoghurt, 2tbsp fennel seeds and 1tsp salt

Pre-heat oven at 230C while preparing the base.

(i) Mix flour, fennel seeds, salt and yeast.
(ii) Mix hot water, sugar and olive oil.
(iii) Add wet mix to dry mix, until consistent.
(iv) Knead pizza dough for about five minutes, adding more water or flour if necessary.
(v) Roll out into two bases. Place into greased trays, and place in oven until bases are light brown (about 20 mins).

2. Tomato Puree

Ingredients: 6-8 tomatoes (jam tomatoes are the best) or canned tomato puree, two cups finely chopped fresh basil, 2 tbsp tomato paste, 1tbsp thyme, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1tsp salt, 1tbsp black pepper and 1tsp hing/asafoetida.


(i) Place pot with two cups of water on high heat. Place colander on top. Fill colander with tomatoes once water is boiling. Cover with a lid, and steam.
(ii) Remove tomatoes when skins burst (10 mins). Allow to cool.
(iii) When tomatoes are cooled, puree in blender or crush with potato masher.
(iv) Place pureed tomatoes in small pot and bring to boil on medium-heat.
(v) Add other ingredients. Cook for 15 minutes or until thick. Remove.

3. Toppings

Ingredients: 3 peppers, 2 medium brinjals, 3 tomatoes, 500g mozzarella cheeze and 1 cup olives.


(i) Cut peppers into cubes or thin strips.
(ii) Cut brinjal into thin slices and deep fry in oil on high heat.
(iii) Cut tomatoes into thin slices.
(iv) Cut olives in half.
(iv) Grate mozzarella (or combination of gouda and cheddar or gouda and tasser’s cheeze).

4. Final Preparation

(i) Brush tomato puree onto 3/4 baked bases.
(ii) Sprinkle cheeze over puree.
(iii) Place tomatoes, olives, green peppers and olives over cheeze.
(iv) Sprinkle salt and black pepper over toppings.
(v) Place in oven at 230C. Bake for 10 mins or until cheeze is fully melted.
(vi) Remove from oven (at this stage you can add avocado).
(vii) Allow to cool for five minutes and cut into slices.

GREEN SALAD AND SALAD DRESSING (Preparation time: 5 mins/serves 10)

1. Salad

Make a green salad out of the following ingredients: 1 lettuce, three tomatoes, 2 green peppers, 2 medium carrots, 1 cup finely cut fennel and 1/3 cucumber. Cut vegetables to your suiting, but leave lettuce and tomatoes aside (as they make the salad soggy otherwise).

2. Dressing

Ingredients: 1 avocado, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup amasi/yoghurt, 1 squeezed lemon, 1 tbsp black pepper, 1 cup water 2tsp hing, 1tsp salt, 1/4 cup honey and 1tbs cumin and/or coriander powder.


Blend ingredients together in blender

AVOCADO SHAKE (Preparation time: 5min/ Serves 4)

Ingredients: 2 ripe avocados, 385g condensed milk (tin), 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar.


(i) Boil water and sugar together until it makes a sticky syrup.
(ii) Add syrup to avocados and condensed milk, and blend.

This khichari recipe took me several years to develop.  I recently prepared this dish for a SATV cooking programme but was very nervous in front of the camera (so it might not be screened!).  Influences: Yamuna Mataji, Kurma prabhu and Gaura Sakti das (from South Africa).  To quote Prabhupada: ‘A pauper’s meal fit for a king.’  Nice if served with puris, bread-sticks, papadams, lemon, yoghurt and/or tomato chatni.  Please forgive sketchy presentation.  Your servant, MCD.

Serves 5 to 6 people.  Total preparation time 45 minutes.

8 cups/2 litres water.  Add 1 cup split yellow mung dal (washed),  1 tablespoon turmeric,  1 bay leaf,  1 cinnamon stick,  3 whole pepper corns. Bring water to boil.  Boil until the dal begins to split (about 25 mins).

Add cup of basmati rice (washed), 2 medium-sized potatoes cubed.  And 150g green beans.  Cook for about 10 mins at high heat.

Add several large zuccini bits, a couple of cauliflower heads and several large slices of green/yellow/red pepper (green or red are nice for colourful effect).  Cook at high heat for about 10 mins or until vegetables (including potatoes) are soft (the rice should also be soft).  The khichari should have a reasonably thick consistency.  (Note: It is better to remove excess ‘juice’ from the khichari than to add water.  We do not want to water down the natural flavour of the mixture.  It is ideal if you get your water quantity just right.  I like the khichari to be a little runny – consistency of a wet porridge).

Turn off flame.

Add one-and-half tablespoons salt and one-and-half tablespoons sugar (voluntary).

Chaunce: Heat ghee (oil if vegan) in separate frying pan.  When it is hot add one-and-a-quarter teaspoons mustard seeds.  When the mustard seeds pop, add same quantity cumin seeds.  When the cumin seeds go brown, add grated ginger and chilli (de-seeded).  Add 3/4 curry leaves.  And a pinch of cinnamon powder, a pinch of nutmeg powder and a teaspoon of hing/asafoetida powder.  Mix chaunce/masala into khichari.

Garnish with 2 tablespoons chopped dhanya (coriander).

Add 2 tomatoes (cut into 4 or 8 bits).

Offer to Krishna with love and devotion.