We have just returned from India where we taught at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, a delight nearly impossible to express. I brought back two souvenirs for you ~ a refined recipe for Palak Paneer, below, and a few words to try to convey the essence of the experience.
At the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies, we were spontaneously asked to speak to help welcome the Participants. It captured so much of what it means for me to be in that divine place, so I wrote it down the next day to keep as a kind of memento. I share it here with the hope that it brings you, wherever you are in the world, some of the magic of Rishikesh ~ because Rishikesh is more than a place: it is a state of mind, a Heavenly presence, a way of being that belongs to all.
In the words of Puyja Swamiji, “Welcome…Home.”
Welcome ~ To the Home of Yoga; to the Source of the Vedas; to the Place of the Rishis whose profound wisdom has given us Yoga; to the Divine Love of Mother Ganga, the holiest of rivers; and to the Land of Shiva, who is the Grace in the Mystery of Eternal Silence.
Welcome ~ To this Place of Deep Peace and Immense Beauty that allows us to rest and soften into our own deep peace and immense beauty within, a peace and beauty that has been beckoning us, calling us home the whole of our lives.
Welcome ~ Above all, to this, the Heart of All Existence, where we discover the true gifts of the heart and where we remember that in the Heart, We Are All One. Where Immortal mountains point us towards Heaven – and the very real possibility of creating Heaven here on earth. Where in the Heart “a river runs through” – an eternal stream connecting us back to our own ancestors, to our own wisdom, to our own Source, to our own Infinite Heart.
Pranams, great gratitude, to Puyja Swamiji for your generous heart that called to us, and gathers all of us here, in the name of Love. To all the great Swamis and Sages here tonight and all the Swamis, Yogis, women and men throughout the ages whose Sadhana has enabled ours, thank you. To our beloved Sadhvi Bhagwatiji, for your inspiration and example, thank you. To all the Parmarth Niketan family, for your humble, devoted service that makes our temporary home here comfortable, we thank you.
In particular, to all the participants of the 2011 International Yoga Festival, thank you for the courage, effort and devotion it took to come here and join us in this One Heart where we celebrate Yoga as Divine Union.
To that One Heart, we say “Welcome.” To that Radiant, Infinite Heart in You, we say, “Namaste.”
This was our third trip to Rishikesh, but the first time we stopped in at the Green Hotel, just behind Parmarth Niketan Ashram where the Festival was held. We had heard that the restaurant here serves the best food in town, but we had no idea that this rooftop restaurant also offers one of the most exquisite views of the mountains from anywhere in Rishikesh.
It is simply stunning to sit there in the early evening and watch the play of light on the Himalayan foothills as the sun sets over the river Ganges behind. In those moments, you really feel the blissful serenity that Yoga promises. It’s as if you’ve plugged into the mind of Yogis who meditated here since time immemorial and become one with that eternal stream of consciousness. Pure Ananda…
We went back numerous times, as much for the view as for our favorite meal, Palak Paneer and Navrattan Korma. The Green Hotel Restaurant’s version of these dishes is so fresh, so delicious, so fortifying, heart-warming and soul-stirring that, beyond the best in Rishikesh, it is easily the best I have ever had. I vowed to improve my own recipes at home and learn how to make a Palak Paneer every bit as creamy and rich.
I have always made Palak Paneer without reference to any recipe. It seems easy enough: spinach, a bit of cream and some spices. But since our return I have been mining the seemingly infinite number of recipes to see if there are any particular gems that would make it especially creamy and delicious.
It turns out I was missing something. Tomatoes! Every recipe I am reading recently includes tomatoes, canned, stewed, diced or as a paste. But I don’t care for tomatoes, they are too acidic for me, and the Green Hotel’s version definitely did not have them. So I am going back to my own version, but with some adjustments to the spice, a finer chop to the spinach, and a crunchier, firmer Paneer.
After much experimentation, here is the recipe I have come up with to get that rich, creamy, almost sweet, absolutely divine Palak Paneer, without tomatoes. If you want it sweeter you can stir in a teaspoon of jaggary, just before adding the Paneer. Most recipes call for that.
I would love for you to try it and let me know what you think.
A few notes ~
Paneer is a fresh cheese used often in Indian vegetarian cooking. It has a great texture and holds flavors better than tofu. You can buy it at Asian/Indian ethnic grocery stores, but it is so easy and great fun to make. Manjula will show you how ~ Making Paneer.
Cumin Seed is so much tastier than cumin powder. You can purchase it at ethnic food stores, but more and more healthy grocers are stocking it so you might find it at your local. If you cannot find it, by all means substitute with the powder: same amounts, just stir it into the heated oil with the other spices.
BBC Food has a unique version they call “Crunchy Palak Paneer” which I look forward to trying as well.
Is it trivial to go from Ananda to Spinach? I hope not. Love is the foundational principle of existence. Out of love, you and everything in this world were created. Remembering that the natural world is an expression of love, that food is a sacred offering of that love, and that our meals, therefore, are a primary, intimate relationship with boundless love helps us restore our sense of place, purpose and meaning – and encourages an experience of life as profoundly, satisfyingly sweet and sacred.
This is why I call it “Food: A Love Story.” Food comes from Mother Nature wanting to love, support and merge with you. When you cultivate that sacred relationship, and eat love everyday, you become a living vessel of Love shining a radiance so bright that Heaven can look down and see its own reflection in you. You come home to yourself.
And then you might even hear your Palak Paneer whispering with love, “Welcome Home!“