107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

August 24th, 2009:

Three Bowl Cookbook: Enlightened Cooking From Zen Buddhists

quinoa tabbouleh, sweet sauteed cherry tomatoes, basil hummus

Three Bowl Cookbook is a collection of recipes from the Zen Mountain Center in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. The book places the recipes in the context of a Zen Buddhist lifestyle, which can be pursued through devotion to a monastic life or by simple focused awareness and intention throughout the daily course of an otherwise mainstream life. The three bowls of the title are the standard serving vessels of the monastery, one large and two smaller; the three recipes for each meal are chosen to complement one another and form a balanced, seasonally appropriate whole.

You certainly don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate the offerings in this cookbook. Roasted vegetables, grain salads, savory greens, refreshing beverages, fruit compotes, and soups are spotlighted in appealing photos. The recipes are interspersed with Zen proverbs and anecdotes from the center. I picked up the book several years ago and can hardly believe I’d never gotten around to using it.

Since it is most definitely summer here in New York, I turned to the summer section and opted for quinoa tabbouleh, sweet sauteed cherry tomatoes and basil hummus. The quinoa is for the big bowl. Quinoa is a South American grain that comes in tiny dried pellets, and cooks up to a fine-grained, high-protein base for salads and mixtures like this. I started by rinsing the quinoa well, to eliminate a residue that can give it a bitter taste, then browned it in a heavy pan before adding water and salt and cooking until the water was absorbed. Meanwhile, I diced a cucumber, a red onion, and some parsley; here we come to my first substitution for the dish, since I found I was out of fresh mint and had to use dried instead. When the quinoa was cooked I set it to cool, and whisked together a dressing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. I mixed the dressing with the cucumber mixture and the quinoa, and added some kalamata olives and crumbled feta. The resulting salad was delicious: hearty, savory and refreshing. I will definitely be making it again.

I had to do more adaptation with the hummus, first because I had neglected to notice that the recipe directed you to start with dried chickpeas instead of canned (too late to switch by the time I caught that), then because I found I had only one can of chickpeas. No problem, I thought; I’ll just halve the other ingredients, which were garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and basil leaves. I was still a little nervous, but as the food processor whirled everything but the basil leaves together I relaxed, as it became evident that the consistency would be right. And so was the taste.

The last thing to prepare was the tomatoes, partly because the recipe directs you to serve them immediately, partly because they took virtually no time. I heated some olive oil in a heavy pan (as it happened, the same one from which I had decanted the cooked quinoa), then threw in cherry tomatoes; after I’d tossed them briefly I added sugar, which made for a sort of piquant glaze. I realized as I tossed the tomatoes that while I’d gotten the proportion of oil to sugar correct I had half the tomatoes called for, so there was quite a bit of syrup left in the pan. The tomatoes were delightful; the sweet coating brought out the rich and pungent tomato flavor, though the dish may have been a bit sweeter than intended.

Verdict: Success. I’ll make this again, and perhaps I’ll learn to count in the interim. And I will definitely try menus from the other seasons at the appropriate time. I cannot say that I found enlightenment, but I found a measure of delight, and that is enough for me most days.

Smoothies: Green Fruity Goodness

kiwi kiss

I used the follow-up volume, Super Smoothies, in July, and now am turning to Smoothies. I don’t know why I took them in reverse order — some last-minute juggling of cookbooks, no doubt. This slim volume offers 50 fresh and drinkable recipes, on pages that are mostly readable. A book designer got a little overenthusiastic with these two books; it is really not necessary for pages to feature bright background colors and for type to be pale and hard to discern.

Happily, the kiwi kiss fell within a series of pages that used black type. Kiwi kiss is simple: dice 1 3/4 cups of kiwi (about 3, peeled) and 1 cup of honeydew melon, and put it in a food processor with 1 1/2 cups of lime sherbet. Only I didn’t actually have lime sherbet, because I couldn’t find it at the neighborhood grocery store. I might have been able to find it if I’d trekked to the other stores in the area, but then again I might not have, and when it’s about 90 out I lack the patience for such investigative rambles. So I improvised: I used lemon Italian ice and added a squirt of lime juice.

The smoothie tasted great, and was pretty. The recipe advised using a food processor instead of a blender to minimize the chance of crushing the black seeds, which would impart a bitter taste to the drink. It must have worked: no bitterness here.

Verdict: Success. I’ll have to try some of the other recipes before the summer is out.


This time I only took one more picture than I ended up using in my blog post. But did you know I usually take a lot more photos when I prepare these recipes? You can see the whole set here on my Flickr page, and you can leave comments there as well if you like.