Having been brought up in a Sikh family, I was used to the Sunday “langar” culture. Maybe it was the fun of communal cooking that got me excited or maybe the perpetual asking for help by the priest that got me to assist him with cooking. Whatever it was, in a few years I was cooking the small communal langar on my own, causing my dad to nickname me a “Langri”, Punjabi for a temple cook.
Now when I have been formally married to food for 18+ years and I have had the chance to study it in its various forms and incarnations, I feel it’s my duty to write about the contribution of temples towards nurturing local cuisine and safekeeping the reverence for food in our culture. Throughout centuries many temples in India have been using the same recipes and same cooking styles which otherwise would’ve gotten lost a long time ago.
The largest kitchen in the world is set at Jagannath Temple in Puri where the mahaprasadam is still cooked in earthen pots placed in a pyramid over wood fire. Also in a lot of temples many recently arrived ingredients are avoided; like a lot of temples in south india use sweet potatoes and yams, and not potatoes. Travelling down southern India there are many unique preparations that are sacredly kept intact through centuries, like the No-mustard seed Aviyal of the Padmanabhaswamy temple or the unique Panchamrat of Muruga temple at Palani that stays good for six weeks .
I am a miniscule culanarian in such a grand culinary heritage, yet as a chef I feel it’s my humble duty to acknowledge and bring forth the contribution of temples for having preserved the culinary heritage and the joy in communal cooking and eating that we Indians are so proud of.
Heres a “Karha” Prasad recipe, the delectable halwa of Gurudwaras…
1 cup ghee or 1/2 lb unsalted butter (2 cubes)
1 cup whole grain flour (atta)
1 cup sugar3 cups water
1. Add sugar to water and set in pot to boil.
2. Melt ghee or unsalted butter in a pan.Add whole grain flour (atta) to melted butter.Stir mixture continuously to toast flour.
3. Pour boiling sugar syrup into toasted flour and butter mixture.Mixture will sputter. Take care not to be scalded.
4. Stir rapidly until all water is absorbed. Keep stirring as it thickens into a firm pudding and slides easily from pan. Serve hot.