Seppo Ed Farrey, Myochi Nancy O'Hara, Dai Bosatsu Zendo (Monastery) - Three Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery

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3 Bowls and I'll Have More

Mar 9, 2004 (Updated Mar 10, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Delightfully different and interesting

Cons:No pictures; hard to find ingredients

The Bottom Line: This book provides delicious and healthy vegetarian recipes with interesting Zen Buddhist reflections.

Another of my favorite recipe books is 3 Bowls Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery” written by Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O’Hara. I discovered this book at a friend’s home who, with Japanese heritage, cooks delicious yet simple Japanese dishes.

You may be asking what the 3 bowls are about. According to Farrey, “each diner gets three bowls, a large bowl, a medium bowl, and a small bowl, and chopsticks. The largest bowl contains the base of the meal, usually a grain or noodle dish. The middle bowl is usually filled with a stew, and filling the smallest bowl is a vegetable dish or salad.”

Let us understand the nature of this book. It was not written on the Asian continent, though you might be fooled with some of the recipes. It was written by the head chef at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a traditional Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery in New York's Catskill mountains. The book was not written in the early Ming Dynasty. It was written in the year 2000. Therefore you will find soba which are “thin, delicate noodles. You will also find your basic pasta. You will also page through and read the mind-calming Buddhist reflections and beautiful calligraphy. The author, Seppo Ed Farrey writes of the spirituality of cooking.

The purpose of 3 Bowls is to not only offer deliciously unusual gourmet vegetarian recipes, but it also provides interesting colorful illustrations of a day in the monastery. The recipes are unique, the reflections of the life in a monastery are vivid. The chef, Seppo Farrey encourages the reader and the eater to “fuse with the universe and mature on many levels, in both apparent and imperceptible ways”. This book was written for, in my opinion, persons looking for unusual healthful vegetarian dishes, “bringing together unlikely ingredients from different cultures in harmonious combinations”, and for those willing to be creative.

If you are not willing to try something new, this book is not for you. This book is not for those who are seeking carnivorous dining, or for anyone who are not comfortable with ingredients that are not easily found at the local supermarket or who are not familiar with cooking kudzu for example. There are a few recipes, such as Sesame Tofu (Gomadofu) that prescribes stirring kudzu with your hands. Do you even know what quinoa is or where to find it

Not sure if this book is for you? I bought this book because of the variety of recipes and the guide to ingredients at the back of the book along with Zen terms for those of us who know little about Zen. There is also a guide to Mail-Order Sources. So when you thought you’d never find these items, Farrey has found them for you. His monastery is nowhere near the big mega supermarket and he must be creative with buying stocking up on ingredients. The same applies to us.

There are ingredients found in this book that are not found easily at your local market. One of those items is unpastuerized, certified organic miso. If you reside in a larger metropolitan area, there should be little problem in finding these items. Unfortunately if you do not plan carefully, you may make trips to several different stores for items needed for one recipe. If, like me, you are out in the country far from the big city, you may have to order your items or make that one big trip into town to find them.

In terms of the philosophies and the reflections of the American Zen Buddhist, this book is for the person who has interest in reading or learning about it. It doesn’t mean you have to believe in the faith, but have the desire to expand your knowledge about the world around you. You do not have to fuse with anything if you do not want to. You may simply choose to browse through the pages and find a recipe, ignoring all the wonderful philosophies of Zen. I recommend reading 3 Bowls entirely.

When I cook a recipe in 3 bowls, I do take time to read the words of Farrey and find myself eating “differently”. I often eat in quiet and slow down while eating taking time to think about what I am eating, the textures, the flavors, the combinations. We live such busy lives, we tend to scarf down our meals forgetting to take the time to appreciate the food prepared.

Are you able to eat in silence? You should be since you have complete control of your vocal chords. And have you ever really thought about what you are eating, the textures, the flavors, the time spent preparing it? You can’t if words are escaping your lips at a high rate of speed. This book offers some wonderful excerpts of the Zen practice along with descriptions on eating in the Dai Bosatsu Zendo, the traditional Zen Buddhist monastery where the author of 3 Bowls can be found.

I have prepared about fifteen dishes in this book. The recipes are not difficult, however, there are a few that require some knowledge of ingredients as described in the previous paragraph. Scallion-Tamari Mayonnaise calls for three ingredients, a whisk, and a bowl. The banana-almond smoothie requires 3 ingredients and a food processor. Quinoa-Sunflower Stuffing calls for 15 ingredients and a saucepan. Of course, there are other recipes that have a more steps and more utensils. Simmered Tofu in Mellow Shiitake Dashi sounds difficult. I found it to be much easier than expected. It requires 4 ingredients, a large saucepan, a medium bowl, a fine sieve or coffee filter, a strainer, and small bowls. With the latter, you must be familiar with shiitake mushrooms and tofu. Fortunately, Farrey gives clear instructions, I believe, in each of his delicious recipes. Fortunately, most of the recipes do not invite fancy utensils or gourmet cutting or dicing skills. The methods are easy to read and follow.

I found the book well organized. The book is laid out in order of the three bowls, the large bowl, the medium bowl, and the small bowl, according to the time of day meals are served. Farrey draws the reader through the life in the monastery in each chapter. For example, he includes a writing by Myochi, “How to crack a hard-boiled egg.”

There are no pictures in this book. Many cooks prefer to have pictures of the dish they want to prepare so as to be familiar with the end result. Experienced cooks will do just fine without pictures.

What would I change about this book? I would have a more comprehensive guide to mail-order sources. I would also include beautiful glossy photographs of the dishes in their ‘ready to eat’ form. Photographs always move me to cook. I also hope that Farrey writes another book!

I find 3 Bowls to be inspiring, offering wonderfully delicious, simple and nutritious recipes. I believe the most interesting part of this book are the interspersed vignettes of short meditations on the life, the work of the monastery complimented by Eido Tai Shimano Roshi’s brush calligraphy.

Table of Contents

Tofu, Grains, and Beans
Salads and Dressings
Baked Goods
Spreads and Sauces
Tea and Other Beverages
Some Zen Terms
Guide to Ingredients
Mail-Order Sources

3 Bowls--Vegetarian Recipes
American Zen Buddhist Monastery (ISBN 0-395-97707-X)
Copyright 2000
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
254 pages

Recommend this product? Yes

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