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QuestionWe have all your cookbooks, and eagerly await the next one. We have always meant to ask you - why don't you use garlic and onions?
(Belinda and Peter Hanrahan, Oxford, UK
)

AnswerDear Belinda and Peter,
You may know that onions and garlic are botanical members of the Allium family - along with leeks, chives and shallots. According to Ayurveda, India's classic medical science, foods are grouped into three categories - sattvic, rajasic and tamasic - foods in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Onions and garlic, and the other Alliums are classified as rajasic and to some extent tamasic, which means that they increase passion and to some degree ignorance.

Those that subscribe to pure brahmana-style cooking of India, including myself, and Vaishnavas - followers of Lord Vishnu, Rama and Krishna - like to only cook with foods from the sattvic category. These foods include fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, dairy products, grains and legumes, and so on. Specifically, Vaisnavas do not like to cook with rajasic or tamasic foods because they are unfit to offer to the Deity.

Rajasic and tamasic foods are also not used because they are detrimental to general health, meditation and devotions. Of course some of the Alliums have specific health benefits - garlic is respected as a natural antibiotic - but it is avoided because it stimulates the central nervous system and disturbs meditation.

You may be aware that strict Buddhists also do not eat any of the Alliums for the same reasons as adherents of India's Ayurveda - they disturb meditation. If you visit any strict vegetarian Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant anywhere in the world you will find no Alliums in any of the cooking.

One reason is because in ancient Buddhist Tao writings, one sage (Tsang-Tsze) described the Alliums as the "five fragrant or spicy scented vegetables", and that each have a detrimental effect on one of the following five organs - liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and heart.

Tsang-Tsze said that these pungent vegetables contain five different kinds of enzymes which cause "reactions of repulsive breath, extra-foul odour from perspiration and bowel movements, and lead to lewd indulgences, enhance agitations, anxieties and aggressiveness," especially when eaten raw.

That in a nutshell is why I don't cook with garlic and onions.

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