On this morning, I think about the authors of a new cookbook, two people who also love the prayerful quality of cooking. A Zen Buddhist monk and a Zen meditation teacher have teamed up to write a beautiful collection that takes vegetarian food up a notch.
"3 Bowls" by Seppo Ed Farrey and Myochi Nancy O'Hara (Houghton Mifflin) will take you inside the Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a traditional Zen Buddhist monastery in New York's Catskill Mountains. From simple vegetarian fare to joyful celebration dishes, there is something here for everyone. With its thoughtful poems, prayers, quotes, and calligraphy, "3 Bowls" is much more than a cookbook. It is a heartfelt rendering of the Zen spirit in America.
The title comes from a custom at the monastery. Each visitor is given three bowls: a large one for the base meal, often a grain or noodle dish; a medium bowl for stew, such as a Thai curry; and a small bowl for a vegetable dish. The recipes in the book fill each of our three bowls with mouth-watering dishes.
All of the dishes are vegetarian, and many are vegan. Farrey, a monk at the monastery, is called the tenzo, or head chef. He has to create dishes that are nourishing, interesting, and hearty enough to sustain monastery residents during their vigorous schedules of work and meditation. They are also delicious enough to remind us that eating, too, can be a spiritual practice.
"When I came here, I very consciously made a decision to do service for other people. I'm able to do that through my cooking. I love being able to nourish people," Farrey says. Farrey, whose dharma name is Seppo, starts his workday at 6:35, right after morning chanting service. He changes out of his robes into work clothes, laces up his shoes, and starts the morning meal. In less than an hour, 20 monks and as many as 70 retreat visitors will stream in for breakfast. The breakfast gong will go off at precisely 7:15 a.m., the lunch gong at 1 p.m. Farrey will be ready.
Although the manner of serving is traditionally Japanese, the food itself is decisively international. Recipes range from simple breakfast porridges to rich port cream sauces and spaghetti with chipotles and garlic. The book includes dishes such as Soba Noodles With Shiitake Dashi and Sweet Potato-Walnut Burritos, and desserts such as Samara Cheesecake and Strawberry-Banana Layer Cake.
O'Hara, a frequent visitor to the monastery, encouraged Farrey to write down his varied and enticing recipes.
"She was a seasoned author, and I agreed to do the book only if we could work on it together," Farrey said. As the tenzo, Farrey has one foot in the monastery world and one foot in the secular world. Once a month he heads into New York City to shop at the various ethnic stores, then heads over to a large Japanese supermarket in New Jersey. The monastery has a one-acre vegetable garden.
Red Grape Dressing
Makes 4 servings
Tiny pieces of glowing red grape skin shine through this delicious vinaigrette. Toss this with 4 to 6 cups of steamed, stir-fried, or even baked vegetables such as green beans, yellow squash, and onions.
1 cup seedless red grapes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola or corn oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Pinch sea salt
Place the grapes, oil, juice, vinegar, and salt in a food processor or blender and blend until the grapes are liquefied. When the vegetables are ready, toss with the vinaigrette and serve.
Ginger Butternut Biscuits
Makes 12 to 14, 2 1/2-inch biscuits
These biscuits really say autumn to me and are a great way to use up butternut squash baked for an earlier meal. I have also adapted the recipe to include more buttermilk and maple syrup, to create a fluffier biscuit--reflected in the higher portions of these ingredients.
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour or unbleached white flour (or combination)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup cooked, pureed butternut squash
1/4 to 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and the baking soda in a large bowl or food processor. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender or pulse in the food processor until the mixture forms pea-size crumbs. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until the butter is hard, 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk together the squash puree, buttermilk, ginger, and maple syrup in a medium bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface (keep the surface well-floured while kneading the dough). Knead 20 to 30 times, or until smooth, incorporating enough flour so the dough isn't sticky. Pat the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Gather any scraps of dough, gently pat them together, and cut again.
Place the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the sides of some of the biscuits begin to split and the bottoms are quite brown. Remove from the oven and immediately place on a cooling rack before serving.