Food and Cookery Continued: After giving detailed descriptions of setting up a royal kitchen and the implements used in the kitchen, King Basavaraja proceeds to specify the qualifications required for a good cook. It is followed by meticulous descriptions of different food articles, how they should be cooked, and their health benefits.
Qualifications of a Cook
A kitchen becomes well equipped only when it is entrusted to a well-qualified cook. He should be a native of the same region, of respectable parentage, endowed with good character and cleanliness, well behaved, and of good morals. He should be free from hatred, should not be greedy and should be able to discriminate dharma (one’s duty to behave according to strict religious and social codes) and adharma (that which is not in accord with the Dharma). He must wash his hands and feet and tie up his hair before entering the kitchen. He should be clever in knowing the properties of different metals. He should know exactly the requirements of his master and go to work cheerfully. Afterwards Basavaraja goes on to describe various food articles beginning with rice – the centerpiece of a South Indian meal.
Varieties of Rice
According to ayurvedic treatises rice can subdue the three humors – vata, pitta and kapha- whose imbalances in the human body causes various types of diseases. In ancient times in South India the cultivation of rice itself was a slow, meditative process, passed down through generations. When the soaking monsoon rains flooded the baked, cracked rice terraces, they were tilled by oxen and buffalo. Then when the land was ready, farmers sowed the seeds and waited for a few days for the tender new shoots to spring up and then replanted them. Rice crops are either direct seeded or transplanted. In transplanting, seedlings are first raised and then they are replanted in the field. In direct seeding, seeds are sown directly in the field. Weeks later, the land was draped in vivid emerald, speckled with pools of reflective water. Slowly, the tall sheaves ripened, hanging in golden bunches. Ayurveda identifies rice groups according to their growing season. The transplanted variety is referred to as Sali, direct seeding variety as Vrihi, and summer rice maturing in sixty days as Sastika.
Basavaraja describes eight varieties of rice used in the royal kitchen – Raktasali, rice covered with red skin; Mahasali, whose grains are as large as the black bean, and when cooked is aromatic and shining and it is said to have a superior quality; Gandhasali (also called sugandhasali), the fragrant variety, Mundasali, whose grains are devoid of bristles; Sthula sali, the larger and heavier variety; Suksma sali, the fine light variety ; Sastika sali, which is harvested in two months and Kalingaka, the variety grown in Kalinga region.
Then he goes on to describe how the harvested grains should be processed. The grains should de-husked with a pestle and then spread on a cloth to remove broken pieces of rice. Several people should be employed to pick stones, mud, grass, and husk from the de-husked rice. It is specifically forbidden to mix one variety of rice with another.
Process of Cooking Rice
Cleaned rice should be washed several times with water before cooking. In the case of red rice, it should be soaked in water for some time before washing. Washed rice should be tied in a thick white cloth. The cooking pot should be placed on the wood burning stove with thrice as much water as the amount of rice to be cooked. The fire in the hearth should blaze without smoking. When the water begins to simmer, the washed rice is put in the pot. Stir the rice with a ladle now and then. When the rice is well boiled and tender on the outside a little hard on the inside, a small amount of milk or ghee should be stirred in. Now remove the cooking pot from the wood burning stove. Using a flat basket as a sieve the excess water in the rice should be strained off. A small quantity of water should left in the cooking pot and allowed to evaporate by placing the pot on a pile of un-smoking embers. Rice thus prepared is worthy of the royal palate.
Eight Defects of Improperly Cooked Rice Basavaraja proclaims “that rice alone is fit to eat which is free from the eight defects of improperly cooked rice”. He then goes on to describe the improper ways of cooking rice.
Asrularice is that whose gruel is not filtered properly, and it may cause skin disease. Picchila is the rice that is overcooked which results in stickiness. This type of rice will cause indigestion. Cooked rice containing insects and hair is termed asuci and is repulsive. Rice cooked in excess water is called kvathika and will lead to diseases. Cooked rice kept for a long time is called suska will become dry and is unhealthy to eat. Dagdha is burnt rice due to excessive heat and it will dry up the tissues if consumed. Virupa rice is that is in the shape of un-boiled rice, and it will diminish years of one’s life. When one consumes antartuja rice – cooked rice that is more than three hours old, it would cause diseases related to sleep and cold.
Basavaraja goes on describe how pulses and vegetables should be prepared and their respective health benefits in the next following segment.