THE BLOG

Meatless Monday: Lighten Up For Diwali

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ellen Kanner Author and syndicated columnist, the Edgy Veggie

Namaste, as yogi know, is Sanskrit for I honor the light in you, you honor the light in me. This week, Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, honors the light in all of us everywhere.

Diwali, a Sanskrit term for a gathering of lamps, celebrates the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. It's observed in India by lighting candles and oil lamps, by dazzling fireworks, by wearing new clothes to symbolize a new beginning and the renewal of life, by giving sweets and exchanging gifts. Diwali's a good time, it's all about joy, and you don't have to be Hindu to play. Get yourself a fetching new outfit if you like, but if you really want to honor -- and see -- the light, practice ahimsa.

Technically, ahimsa is Sanscrit for nonviolence, but something gets lost in translation. It really refers to divine, universal love. We all love the world in abstract, but it's easy to get tripped up in the details. The real true practice of ahimsa means rejecting anything negative -- that's setting a pretty high bar. Even your unkind but perfectly justified thought about your stupidass boss can be defined as violence and definitely not ahimsa. So, wow, how to begin?

Charity begins at home, they say, so start by practicing ahimsa on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Keep your own inner light going by caring for the case it comes in -- your fabulous body. Even an inner supernova will sputter without proper fuel.

The proper fuel is plant-based, and it's not just me who says so. The Vedic poem the Mahabharata, a cornerstone of Hinduism, has some 100,000 verses, making it a real challenge to recite. Too bad, because there's a lot of wisdom in those many verses, including, "Those who desire to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual strength, should abstain from animal food." Who wouldn't want all that? Many Hindu practice vegetarianism to be beautiful and healthy but also as a doable aspect of ahimsa. Controlling what you eat is often easier than controlling a passing naughty thought.

Diwali is a party, but also the time when Indians contemplate and honor their connection with others -- friends, family, but also their connection with the world and all the creatures in it, because you can't have too much ahimsa. A plant-based diet helps spread the light there, too. According to Johns Hopkins' Center for a Livable Future, "The way we breed animals for food is threat to the planet." Talk about violent. On the other hand, Bard College physics professor Gidon Eshel has said, "However close you can be to a vegan diet and further from the mean American diet, the better you are for the planet." And if you can't go whole hog ahimsa, as it were, here's a place where even half-measures count. "If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you've already made a substantial difference."

One single act -- pursuing a plant-based diet -- has multiple payoffs. It's good for you, good for the planet, gives you a lot of ahimsa creds and spreads a lot of light. It lets you live an aligned, enlightened life.

Diwali is this Saturday, but festivities begin Thursday, and when it comes to seeing the light, you can't start too soon. Wishing you a joyful, light-filled Diwali. Namaste.

Veggie Bhaji

Celebrate Diwali with this vegetable bhaji -- it's fireworks-bright, with a bit of chili providing a small, pleasant explosion in the mouth. With a food processor, it's a breeze to make. Purple cabbage adds big eye appeal, fancier cabbage like Napa or Savoy are tenderer and cook quicker -- your call.

Serve with brown basmati rice, or scoop up with naan, roti or other Indian flatbread.

3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon unsweetened dried coconut (optional but very nice)
1/2 cabbage, or about 4 cups, shredded
1 onion
3 carrots, or about 2-1/2 cups, shredded
1 red pepper
1 jalapeno
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add mustard seeds. Cover with lid and cook until the mustard seeds pop, about a minute. Remove lid, lower the heat to medium and add cumin and turmeric and optional dried coconut, stirring for another minute, or until mixture becomes fragrant.

Using a food processor, shred onion, cabbage and carrots as if you were making cole slaw (otherwise, use a knife to chop vegetables fine. It will go quickly. Think of the light). Add confetti of vegetables to skillet and stir together over medium heat. Mince jalapeno and slice red pepper into skinny strips. Add to skillet and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add lemon juice, chopped coriander and salt to taste.

Serves 4.