In the coming months, you will from time to time be treated to new recipes from “guest bloggers”. These are old and new friends — dedicated chefs and passionate voices who share our love of cooking. After all, we are Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen, and these kitchens extend far and wide, all over the world. Tables that welcome the “Stranger as Christ”, kitchens that “practice the presence of God” as Brother Lawrence taught, and communities that are built by hospitality, love and prayer. Our lives are enlarged as we welcome them and listen to their unique voices, share in their story and try our hand at their creativity.
Mepkin Abbey is a monastery of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and were founded in 1098 in Citeaux, France, from which we get our name “Cistercian.” As Trappists we are a cloistered contemplative community, worshipping God by chanting the psalms daily and seeking God in silence and solitude. Mepkin Abbey was founded in 1949 from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, the first Trappist abbey in America founded in 1848 from France.
We have the tradition of eating simple meatless meals. The recipes in “Food for Thought” are chosen with the eye to healthy, easy to prepare meals that met the needs of our tradition and satisfy hard working monks. Good healthy food contributes to the mindfulness of God that we seek as we give thanks for all God has provided us.
Lent is a special time, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday our main meal consists of bread and water. And in the evenings the brothers share a time of sacred reading of the Lenten book they chose, which was given in ceremony to each one by Father Abbot.
- Put oil in pot over medium heat.
- Add onion, ginger, garlic, cayenne, and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is soft, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in the stock, sweet potatoes, bring to a boil and then turn down heat to medium low so the soup bubbles gently.
- Stir in tomatoes, kale, beans and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes till potatoes and kale are tender.
- Stir in peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes.
- Taste to adjust seasoning and serve.
To Order “Food for Thought”, call Mepkin Abbey at 843-761-8509, prompt #2, for the Gift Shop.
The other day someone asked me about our Convent meals. “Who decides what you eat?” was one of the questions. It just so happens that at this particular time we are doing something a little different than usual about our menus.
Each week a different sister is asked to submit a suggested menu for approval. This has been quite successful. It is a help to the chef and an almost sure guarantee that there will be variety in our meals. For instance yesterday we were totally surprised to be served potato latkes for lunch, something we have not had in a long time and never for our noon meal. The genuine cheers of delight and energy in the food line were a joy to all. We are not sure how long this method of meal planning will last but for the time being everyone is enjoying it.
- Finely grate potatoes with onion into a large bowl. Drain off any excess liquid.
- Mix in egg, salt, black pepper and bacon bits. Add enough flour to make mixture thick, about 2 to 4 tablespoons all together.
- Turn oven to low, about 200 degrees F (95 degrees C).
- Heat 1/4 inch oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
- Drop two or three 1/4 cup mounds into hot oil, and flatten to make 1/2 inch thick pancakes.
- Fry, turning once, until golden brown.
- Transfer to paper towel lined plates to drain, and keep warm in low oven until serving time.
- Repeat until all potato mixture is used.
This week’s recipe was inspired by an Asian guest that we were hosting for lunch at our guest house. As a novice learning to cook, I was always taught by the Sisters to really think about the person that I was cooking for: What would they like to eat? What would bless them? Subtle subtext here: it’s not about what I like to cook, or what blesses ME! So a gluten-free, colorful Thai soup came to mind — a recipe that I squirreled away awhile ago in hopes that some time I would have the opportunity to make it. I made a few adaptions which resulted in the recipe below.
As I was chopping, I noticed that all of the ingredients were vibrant shades of green, so I dubbed them the liturgical ingredients of ‘ordinary time’. We rounded this lunch off with a delicate spinach and spring mix salad topped with avocado, fresh strawberries and candied almonds, and pita crisps. The dessert was a homemade Mango and Vanilla Panna Cotta — a recipe that I hope to share in future weeks!
** This recipe was adapted from Once Upon a Chef **
Thai Chicken, Spinach and Rice Noodle Soup
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup shallot(s) thinly sliced, from 1-2 large shallots or red onion
- 1 tbsp. ginger minced, fresh, about a 1" piece, peeled
- 2 tbsp. curry paste Thai green
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5 fl oz), unsweetened
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce
- 4 packed tsp. brown sugar light or dark
- 2 tbsp. lime juice fresh, from 2 limes
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- For Serving
- 4 oz. rice noodles thin
- 2 cups chicken cooked, shredded, from a rotisserie or roast chicken
- 4 handfuls spinach baby, stems removed
- 1 handful cilantro fresh, chopped
- 3 scallion(s) thinly sliced
- Sriracha sauce
- Lime wedges
- Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium-low heat.
- Add the shallots and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the green curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute more.
- Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, and turmeric; bring to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions. If not using immediately, let them sit in a bowl of cold water.
- When ready to serve, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.
- Gently reheat the noodles in the microwave, if necessary (remove from water first!).
- Place baby spinach in the bottom of the serving bowl, place the rice noodles and shredded chicken on top and ladle the hot broth over top and sprinkle with cilantro and scallions.
- Serve with a lime wedge for garnish.
Meals at the Convent are planned and prepared by the Convent kitchen staff for each day of the week—except Sundays, when rotating groups take turns making dinner. This gives Sisters who don’t normally cook an opportunity to do so, and to select a favorite dish they particularly enjoy. Often these meals turn out to be “fun” or ethnic in nature, such as last night when an abundance of chopping, chatter and laughter resulted in a tasty, colorful Thai meal enjoyed by all.
Crunchy Tofu Noodle Salad
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Cut tofu into chunks about 1” square or ½” strips. Marinate in soy sauce and fry in oil in a sautee pan until slightly brown and semi firm or line sheet pan with aluminum foil, coat with a layer of oil and cook tofu at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and semi firm.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.
- For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
- Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers, scallions, fried tofu in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.
Stamping the snow off of my boots I came into the convent from the windy cold outdoors. As I shed my coat, I thought “Nothing could be more comforting than the warmth of being indoors right now.” But then I entered the refectory where I was met with something else even more comforting. It was the unmistakable aroma of one of our favorite meals, simmering in the skillet. Cooked with just the right combination of spices and seasonings, few, if any can resist this Southwestern chili especially on a chilly night like this.
As mealtime arrived the Sisters all gathered in the dining room where a glowing fire crackled in the fireplace. Each of us had a bowl of chili with our own favorite choice of toppings. Nothing could have warmed our hearts or satisfied our pallets more. We ate our meal with gladness and gave God thanks for all His many, many blessings to us.
Make-ahead note: The flavors continue to develop as the chili sits, so go ahead and make it up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate it in a container with a tight-*fitting lid. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
- Sauté the vegetables, ground beef, and spices, then put the mixture into the Crockpot or covered skillet along with tomatoes and kidney beans. Simmer until it’s thickened and has a nice beefy flavor, and then stir in jalapeños. We like this served with cornbread.
- To use dried beans in place of canned, start with 1 cup dried beans, soaked and cooked to yield 3 cups.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin, stir to coat the vegetables, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground beef and measured salt and cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until the beef is browned, about 7 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker or covered skillet, add the diced tomatoes and their juices, tomato sauce, and beans, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on lowest possible heat until the chili thickens and the flavors meld, adding small amounts of the beer and coffee as needed to keep mixture from sticking. Stir in the jalapeños or green chiles. Taste and season with salt as needed.