COOKING WITH BODHICHITTA
Eating is such a common activity that we often forget that it also has the potential to be a powerful way to benefit ourselves and others. With a proper motivation, cooking and eating can transform food into spiritual fuel. Maarten de Vries, director of Maitreya Instituut Loenen, reflects on cooking and vegetarianism, and offers instructions for how to make “a better quiche.”
When I was five years old, I asked for a stove, pots and pans and a chef’s hat for my birthday. Strong imprints, I guess. While growing up, I kept a keen interest in food and cooking. After a few years studying graphic design, I decided to become a chef. Since then, my career has taken me from unpretentious diners to five-star hotels, Michelin star restaurants and Caribbean beach resorts.
When I started to become interested in Buddhism, I realized one day that the animals that I killed on a daily basis – lobsters, oysters, clams and so on – were living beings. Just like you and me, they do not want to die, and they too feel pain and fear. That was a true revelation for me and I instantly became a vegetarian.
After a period of experimentation with my new style, my philosophy of cooking came together. Eventually, people at Maitreya Instituut Emst [now, Maitreya Instituut Loenen] asked for a cooking class, so I decided to give it a try.
The class is first and foremost a traditional cooking course focusing on basic skills, techniques and best practices rather than on recipes. Good food depends on the quality of your ingredients and skills, not necessarily access to thousands of recipes. (For those looking for advice to improve their cooking, I recommend watching cooking videos online over reading cookbooks and learning to master one classic dish instead of filling your shelves with cookbooks.)
When the course was first offered, we expected mostly our regular Dharma students to show up, but discovered that the cooking course attracted many who were completely new to Buddhism and our center. They confessed it felt safer and easier to enroll in a Buddhist cooking class than to enroll in a Buddhist study course straight away. This fact made our groups tend to be very diverse with beginning and advanced students of both cooking and Buddhism.
During the course, I give a basic introduction to Buddhism by doing an extensive guided tour of our gompa’s statues, texts and thangkas. A large portion of my talk explores the complex relationship between Buddhism and vegetarianism. I describe how historically the decision whether or not to eat meat centered mainly on the question of directly collecting negative karma or not, but how these days, there are so many other factors to take into consideration that did not exist then: the devastating effects that meat consumption, especially in our culture of over-consumption, has on the environment and the climate, and on our health.
I also try to inspire the participants to incorporate Mahayana mindfulness while they’re cooking. The theory of Mahayana mindfulness is received enthusiastically, but most people find the recipes already quite challenging, and so most of the attention goes to chopping vegetables and not fingertips!
I always warn people that food, health and vegetarianism are topics that are easy to get fanatical and dogmatic about, and stress that it’s important to keep an open and flexible mind. I’ve noticed that for some a too strict health food regimen creates the opposite of the intended effect, making someone sickly instead of more healthy. I also address the issue of protein in a vegetarian diet and tell people to stop worrying about protein intake right now. Unless your body is still growing or if you’re a bodybuilder or on a strictly vegan diet, you are most likely getting all that you need. And I encourage students to please forget about trying to replace meat (who are we trying to fool?) and use tofu only where it belongs: in Asian dishes. After all your efforts to disguise it, a tofu burger still is never going to be really satisfying. Why not make a delicious falafel instead?
How to Bake a Better Quiche, Not the Sad and Soggy Slice You Know
First, we need to make the dough because frozen puff pastry is useless for quiche. Take 300 grams [approx. 10.5 ounces or 2-1/2 U.S. cups] of all-purpose flour, 90 grams [3.2 ounces or 3/4 cup] of cold butter, a pinch of salt and a little baking powder. Add some spices. Use your food processor to make fine crumbles. Add 1 egg and a little cold water and very briefly knead to form a supple dough. Put aside in the fridge.
Take about 600 grams [21 ounces or 3-5 cups] of your favorite vegetables and cut them in small strips or slices. Stir fry the vegetables in a little olive oil until tender and drain in a colander. Press to extract as much liquid out of the veggies as you can. Collect the veggie juice and use it in soups or salad dressings. Slightly grease a round baking tin and dust with flour. Roll out the dough to approximately 3 millimeters and line the pie dish. Try to have the dough hang over the edges of the dish. In a separate bowl and using a stick blender, make a lump free mix of 225 milliliters [1 cup] of heavy cream with 3 eggs and 15 grams [0.5 ounces or 2 tbsp.] of flour. Then add your vegetables, garlic, thyme, the cheese of your choice to this creamy mixture. Get creative. Don’t forget to add some salt and pepper. Fill the baking dish and finally trim the excess dough around the edge.
Decorate the top with some sliced vegetables and sprinkle with approximately 60 grams [2 ounces or 1/2 cup] of grated cheese. Bake at 180° C [350° F] for approximately 40 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out dry. Let the quiche cool for 10 minutes before trying to cut it. Enjoy with some leafy salad!
Mandala has more stories about vegetarianism: read about how Lama Zopa Rinpoche inspired Carina Rumrill, Mandala’s former managing editor, to open a new vegetarian food cart in Portland, Oregon, U.S.; and try out recipes from our favorite cooks, including Rinpoche’s recipe for momos and Tsültrim Davis’ vegan pumpkin “cheesecake.”Tags: maitreya instituut, recipe, vegetarianism