The title of my next cookbook is a novel in itself: From a Monastery Kitchen: A practical cookbook of vegetarian recipes for the four seasons complete from soups to desserts with breads . This cookbook, written in 1976, was inspired by a visit to a monastery in the Hudson Valley. The recipes were compiled by Elise Boulding with the assistance of Brother Victor Avila.
Divided by season, each section features starters to deserts. Illustrations are more whimsical and have nothing to do with the final dish.
Each recipe is framed with, as the author describes it, “a collage of quotations and art that is intended to reflect the nearly two-thousand-year-old experience of monastic life as an affirmation of wholeness, simplicity, and joy.” Many are good reading while you are waiting for your pot to boil or your food to cook.
These are a few the struck a cord with me:
“A little Madness in the Spring is wholesome even for the King” – Emily Dickinson
“Many’s the long night I dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly” – Robert Louis Stevenson
“Many excellent cooks are spoiled by going into the arts” – Gauguin
“The bigger the dairymaid, the better the cheese” – Derbyshire Proverb
This is a strange yet fascinating little cookbook. The instructions and recipes are simple but sometimes basic steps or directions are missing. For example, one recipe begins, “cook the apples, using as little water as possible, sweetening at the end of cooking”. How am I cooking the apples? In a pan? In a skillet? In the oven? How long am I cooking them?
This is a primarily vegetarian cookbook but there are a few fish dishes included. The index is divided by type of dish such as “egg and cheese dish”, “pancake and cereal dishes”, “vegetable dishes”. The listings underneath are by recipe title. So, if you don’t know what Beans Bengal contains, you have to flip to the recipe page. (By the way, it’s yellow split peas, cheddar cheese, curry powder, onion, green pepper, olive oil and seedless raisins).
There is also a page of “useful culinary instructions” with some interesting tidbits about how to make “hi-protein matzo balls” (“Follow recipe on box, double egg and add wheat germ.”) and a heading called “Curry” (“Is very digestible. (OK for persons with ulcers!) Use in white sauces.)” I did learn how to “pseudosaute” with the instructions appearing at the end of the recipe below.
I did find that there is a new edition of the cookbook printed in 2002. Looking through it, there are fewer quotations and excerpts, and the recipes are updated. (I compared the chickpea soup recipe and the instructions changed from, “Boil, in plenty of water, until soft. Chop vegetables and simmer together with seasonings. Combine with cooked chickpeas and serve as soup.” to, “Add the remaining ingredients and cook slowly over medium heat for about an hour, until chickpeas and vegetables are tender.”)
I found that in the 1976 edition, while some of the recipes are a bit simple, they do sort of provide a foundation for elaboration. And, most a pretty adaptable, like this recipe. The recipe reads as if someone is verbally telling giving you the recipe and giving approximations a la “you can throw a little bit of this, and a little bit of that and then cook it. ” So, I decided to do just that.
Instead of rice, I used risotto. I omitted the beans and used a smoked tofu instead of regular tofu. (If you haven’t used smoked tofu before, run out and get some, it adds depth to any dish and provided a sort of, dare I say, “meaty” flavor.) Towards the end of cooking, I just ended up throwing in all the mushrooms I had and could also see throwing in steamed broccoli, snap peas and other asian vegetables into the sauce. I think the key with this dish is that if you’re adding vegetables, precook them and then drench them with the sauce.
Poor Person’s Sukiyaki
From a Monastery Kitchen , 1976 edition
- 1 cup scallions or onions finely sliced
- 1/2 cup light cooking sherry or sweet wine
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 cups fresh spinach or well-drained frozen (any steamed greens can be substituted)
- 2 cups mushrooms, if available, other vegetables can be added
- sugar to taste if desired
- soy bean curd (tofu) cut in squares (if available)
- 4 cups cooked or 1 1/2 cups uncooked rice (or any combination of rice and beans such as blackeye peas and rice, pinto beans and rice, etc.)
Cook scallions or onions according to the “pseudosauteing method” (see below).
Add sherry and soy sauce and stir.
Add spinach and other vegetables. Simmer 3 or 4 minutes. Add a little sugar as sauce cooks, if desired.
Remove from heat. Add tofu and pour mixture over rice or rice and bean combination. Other vegetables can be added. Amounts of all ingredients can be varied. Serves 6 to 8.
“Pseudosauteing technique”: delicious and healthy To give a sauteed taste without indigestibility of fried foods: instead of sauteing in butter or oils, cook in just enough slightly sugared water or broth so that when fully cooked water is all absorbed and fod is beginning to stick to the pan and burn a little. Quickly pour in a little cold-pressed oil; stir it up well and scrape all the brown which had begun to burn. (This retains all the vitamins from vegetables and oil, uses oil as seasoning, and still gives the sauteed taste. Recommended for carrots, greens, potatoes, parsnips, onions, string beans, broccoli, etc.) People who can’t digest fried foods can eat these. Salt and pepper to taste after cooking.