This year Good Friday and the start of Passover were on the same day—-a rare occurrence given the difference between the Gregorian calendar used by most Western countries and the lunar calendar observed by the Jewish faith. Indeed, the Seder plate used during the first night of Passover tells the dramatic story of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt and includes reminders of their captivity: bitter herbs to signify the bitterness of slavery, haroset which is a reminder of the mortar used between bricks, a shank bone to remember the Passover sacrifice and an egg which represents the new life promised to them after the Red Sea crossing.
Borrowing from our Jewish roots, our own Good Friday dinner was a cross-section of the Judeo-Christian traditions that mark this holy season of the year. Beginning with a candle lighting and blessing at 6:45—the official start of the eight-day Passover festival—and continuing with the meal which included some dishes found at a traditional Passover Seder table including Matzo ball soup, roasted chicken (with haroset stuffing), marinated green beans, Israeli couscous and tabouleh salad. Also gracing our table was one of our year-round favorites: fresh Challah bread baked that afternoon. While Challah—and dishes containing yeast—are not eaten during Passover, we couldn’t help ourselves! This braided bread is so delicious and beautiful to look at and made an honorary appearance on our Good Friday Passover table. Best when eaten fresh, this versatile bread is also wonderful toasted the next morning day. Try out the recipe below and see for yourself!
With wishes for a joyful conclusion for the Passover and Easter seasons, we look forward to the promise of new life this spring!
- Combine the first three ingredients to dissolve the yeast. Let sit for 5 min. or until foamy.
- Add the next 4 ingredients and then the flour and salt, adding as much flour as you need for the dough to start pulling away from the side of the bowl.
- Remove to a floured surface and knead until the dough is no longer sticky.
- Place in an oiled bowl, turn over once, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
- Divide dough into 9 balls and roll each ball into a “rope” using your hands.
- Braid 3 ropes together into 1 braided loaf of bread and continue with the other 6 ropes, making 3 loaves in all.
- Let the bread rise again.
- Make an egg wash and brush on the bread and bake in a 325º oven until golden and cooked through, about 30 min.
Just out of High School I was working in our city’s leading flower shop. The owner of the shop was Jewish and from time to time his mother would surprise all of us employed there with one of her home cooked Jewish dishes. Her chicken Matzo Ball soup with its distinctive flavor was my favorite.
When the sister cooking our convent lunch this week agreed to make this for us I could not have been happier. For many of the sisters this was a brand new taste experience. For me it was a reviving of one of my happiest early life memories.
Original Streits Matzo Ball Recipe
- Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add water, margarine/oil, salt and pepper to the beaten eggs. Mix well. Add Matzo meal and stir.
- Refrigerate at least one hour.
- Form into balls and drop into pot soup or boiling water. Cook 20 minutes.
- Mince the garlic and dice the onion, celery, and carrots.
- Sauté the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots with the vegetable oil in a pot
- until the onions become transparent.
- Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, pepper, and one or two sprigs of dill to the pot.
- Place a lid on the pot and let it come up to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes.
- After the soup has simmered, add the shredded chicken breast to soup.
- Add matzo balls to the soup and let them simmer for 20 minutes without removing the lid.
- Garnish with fresh dill before serving
NOTE: The soup can be done while the matzo balls are chilling in the refrigerator
Most of the sisters enjoy having falafels whenever they are put on the menu, but we have one sister who absolutely loves them. Just mention the word…her eyes light up, her face beams, and she’s ready to reach for the garbanzos to whip some up! “How did you acquire such a passion for them?” I asked. This was her reply:
“Picture,” she said “a dusty winding street in the heart of Jerusalem that leads to an intriguing shop. The walls are covered with hand-woven rugs, and the atmosphere is alive and warm with people sitting all around on the floor on cushions sipping mugs of tea and eating falafels. Here it was that I first fell in love with them.”
Well, you may not be able to go all the way to the Holy Land to become acquainted with this food, but you may learn to love it yourself by trying out this simple recipe right here at home as so many of us have!
- Blend together egg, onion, cumin, salt and pepper and fresh parsley.
- In a separate bowl, coarsely mash the cooked garbanzo beans, leaving some whole.
- Add egg mixture to garbanzo beans. Stir in ½ cup panko crumbs, and chill for 10 minutes.
- Remove garbanzo beans from the refrigerator and form into a ball, using about 1 tablespoon per ball. Roll in remaining panko crumbs.
- Fill a deep sided skillet with 1 inch of oil, and heat over a medium-high heat.
- Gently drop the falafel balls into the oil and fry until golden, turning occasionally for about 6 minutes. Remove falafel balls from oil and set on a paper towel to drain.
- Serve in a pita pocket with shredded cabbage or lettuce and a savory dressing, top a garden salad, or just eat it plain alongside vegetables, and enjoy!
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.