September 21, 2012
Although written ten centuries ago; Lokopakara (for the benefit of the people) describes an advanced cuisine that was prevalent in Karnataka at that time. Methods used for preserving cooked food for longer time, ingredient detoxification and substitutions, and removing bitterness from various ingredients are all discussed in great detail in Lokopakara.
1. Preservation of food
In order to preserve cooked rice for longer time Lokopakara recommends an ingenious method. The first step is to prepare flavored water. Leaves of sacred basil or citron are boiled in water and when the solution is cooled, the leaves are strained. Another method is to add ash from burning the bark of guava tree to water and boiling and straining after it is cooled. Rice is cooked in any one of these cooled flavored waters. The cooked rice is then mixed with equal amount of yogurt and stored. “This food will last a long time without being spoiled” says Lokopakara.
Similarly, rice pudding prepared with red rice and mung beans in cow’s milk could be preserved by keeping it in an earthen pot completely immersed up to its neck in cold water.
Sun-drying vegetables and cooked grains to preserve them for use during rainy season was a common practice in India since early days. Here is a recipe using barley to make a sun-dried preserve. Soak the leaves of coffee Senna (Cassia occidentalis) for three days in water drained after cooking rice. Strain out the clear liquid and grind barley, sesame andblack gram in it. Add turmeric and asafetida and mix well. It should have thick dough like consistency. Make small balls of it and dry it the sun. Later it is deep fried in oil or ghee and served with food.
Immature mangoes are cut into pieces and smeared with jaggery and black pepper and kept in sunlight and dried.
Smear rock salt on cut pieces of ripe mango and keep in the sun.
Cut citron into two halves and smear the pulp with a mix of borax and charcoal powder made from burning leaves of fan palm. Dry in sunlight to preserve.
Pellets of mango and other immature fruits can be preserved in ghee.
Ripe mango can be preserved for many days when preserved in liquid jaggery or honey.
Butter and Ghee:
Cook milk and reduce it to half the quantity. Stir in powder of prickly chaff flower (achyranthes aspera) or the root of prickly sida (sida rhombifolia) and ferment this milk. Butter extracted from this would be of very good quality.
Add sesame oil or flowers of karnikara tree (perospermum acerifolium) to milk and heat. Make yogurt with this milk and extract butter from it. When this butter is melted, it will give increased quantity of ghee.
To purify rancid ghee add it to boiling milk. Cool this milk and stir in yogurt culture. Extract butter from this yogurt and make ghee from it. This ghee will not have the rancid smell. Another method of purifying rancid ghee is to add leaves of Indian dill and heat. It will get rid of the rancid smell.
To make good quality flavored ghee mix oil, yogurt, buttermilk and fresh ghee in equal proportion and stir in powdered coriander. Heat this mixture. It gives good quality ghee. Another method is to heat a mixture of wood apple pulp and sesame oil and stir in equal proportion of ghee. Het this mixture to make good flavored ghee.
2. Ingredient Substitution
Sugar was substituted by mixing ground black lotus roots with jaggery in the proportion of 5:1 and cooking this mixture.
Adding 20% jaggery to ground rhizome of Indian blue water lily gives sugar.
To thicken milk, add chickpea flour and ginger to milk and boil in an urn. Keep the pot in cold water. Milk will solidify. Similarly, thick yogurt was also prepared.
Synthetic milk was prepared by soaking grated coconut in water seasoned with long pepper and grinding the mixture and straining it. Another method was to soak the kernel of wood apple in milk for 21 days and drying the mixture in shade. Add sugarcane juice to this pulp. It will have the taste of milk.
Squeeze out the pulp of wood apple and mix with thick yogurt. Strain it and dry in the sun. The dried or powdered pulp can be stored in a new urn and used as yogurt powder. Or mix it with water to make yogurt.
In describing vegetarian dishes, the author claims that certain preparations of wheat or gram flour equaled meat in nutrition. The recipe goes: Add hot ghee to a dough of rice or wheat flour and knead well. Shape the dough in the form of meat and dry. Soak the dried pieces in a cold infusion of chickpea flour (perhaps batter made of chickpea flour) and prepare any dish. This will give strength to the body just like meat.
Similarly, chickpeas and black gram ground together, shaped like a fish and fried in mustard oil has the nutritive value of fish.
To remove the toxicity from seeds of Indian beech (Milletia pinnata) and black plum are cooked along with roots of cowplant (gymnema sylvestre). The seeds lose their toxicity and after washing them they are made into a savory chutney called thovve in Kannada. The major component of cowplant is gymnemic acid, which has anti-diabetic properties.
4. Removing Bitterness
Chavundaraya details various methods of removing bitterness from several healthy ingredients before cooking.
Shoots and seeds of ironwood (mesua ferrea) are first cooked and then a soaked in fresh lime water along with roots of bitter melon. After soaking for some time, the shoots are washed in clean water and used in preparing huli (soup). According to ayurveda ironwood resin is slightly poisonous, but other parts of the plant have medicinal properties.
To remove the bitterness of neem leaves they are cooked with roots of Spanish cherry, Jequirity (abrus precatorius), drumstick tree(Moringa oleifera) or sacred basil.
Lotus rhizomes are first cooked in water soaked with burned ash of dhumrapatra plant (aristolochia bracteolata, worm killer plant). It is then washed in clean water and cooked with ghee. The soaking process removes the bitterness of rhizomes.
Elephant foot yam is cut into small pieces and soaked in water drained from rice cooked in excess water. It is then boiled with root of tamarind shoots to remove the itchiness.
Raw fruits of ivy gourd (coccinia grandis) are cooked in lime water to remove the bitterness. Bitterness of the fruits of pointed gourd (trichosanthes dioica) is removed by boiling them in water along with leaves of marsh barbel (hygrophila auriculata), castor, and Indian caper (capparis zeylanica).
Chavundaraya also includes a list of herbs that are cooked along with various leaves, fruits and vegetables to remove their bitterness:
Leaves of climbing wattle (acacia pennata) are cooked with fiber of Indian cherry to remove their bitterness.
Bitterness of the leaves of heart leaved Tinospora (tribulis terrestris) is removed by cooking them along with leaves of siris also called Persian silk tree (albizia julibrissin).
To remove the bitterness of milk bush (euphorbia tirucalli) are cooked with leaves of field beans.
Cooking with salt removes the bitterness of onion and garlic.
Immature fruits of shatavari (asparagus racemosus) are cooked with leaves of field beans to remove their bitterness.
Immature fruits of shatavari (asparagus racemosus) are cooked with jujube leaves to remove their bitterness.
Elephant foot yam rhizomes are cooked with jujube leaves to remove bitterness.
Betel leaves remove the bitterness of aloe juice. Water strained from rice removes the bitterness of tender jujube fruit.
Sacred basil leaves removes any bitterness from salt.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Ayangara, Valmiki Sreenivasa (translator) Lokopakara, Agri-History Bulletin 6. Asian Agri-History Foundation 2006
Chattopadhyaya, D.P. (general editor) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization Volume V, Part I History of Agriculture in India up to c.1200 A.D. (edited by Lallanji Gopal and V.C. Srivastava) Center for Studies in civilizations, New Delhi 2008
Kamat, Jyotsna. Social Life in Medieval Karnataka. Abhinav Publications 1980