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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.


  1. Sally says:

    These all sound fanTASTIC.

  2. Illyeanna says:

    I’ve been unpacking for what feels like forever and cannot find my 3 Bowl Cookbook. Found you on Google, much to my relief. The important step I had forgotten was *rinsing* the quinoa. This version of tabbouleh is my favorite and I have missed it. Like you I’ve substituted parsley for mint, but my favorite is half of each. One of my best kept secrets for burning off extra fat and building muscle. Just give me Kettlebells and Quinoa Tabbouleh and I’m a happy girl.


  3. […] I poked through the pantry shelves and found the better part of a bag of quinoa, left over from the Three Bowl Cookbook, and thought that looked like a great possibility. Since quinoa is popular with vegetarians, I […]

  4. Toni says:

    This is by far the most wonderful cookbook I’ve ever owned. Easy to follow, wonderfully flavorful, healthy and creative. Good for cooks at all levels.

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