FOR TEN YEARS I LIVED as a nun in Zen temples in Korea. Every year I loved to see some food appear just once to mark a special occasion. For New Year we looked forward to adzuki bean soup with sticky rice balls for breakfast, five-grain rice at lunch, spicy persimmon punch and sweet rice drink for dessert; for the harvest festival we made half-moon rice cakes filled with sweet bean paste. When the summer was very hot we were served cold stringy buckwheat noodles in cold soy milk broth (not my favorite, l must say).
Living in a temple, there were ceremonies and celebrations, and on these special days at lunchtime we would get delicacies like fresh bean curd stew or vegetable pancakes, one of my favorites. The first ingredient was a batter made with water and flour (no eggs or milk because temple food was traditionally vegan). Then either zucchini or potato slices, or a mixture of finely cut zucchini and potato, would be dipped into the batter. This was fried with a little oil in a giant frying cauldron, heated with firewood from the nearby forest.
Coming back to the West after ten years of very traditional Zen training, I saw that in teaching I had to adapt the practice and the form it took to the sensibilities of the people I met who were interested in Buddhism. In the same way, I realized I could not cook the Korean temple way due to the lack of ingredients and the resurgence of my French roots. I started to make my own recipes, which combined the two styles of cooking.
Similarly, as Western Buddhists, we cannot avoid understanding the Buddhist teaching through a certain Western framework. We cannot abstract ourselves from the influence of our cultures, milieu, and history. So a certain Western sensitivity will color the way we practice and the way we teach it. However, the practice will still work and have a wonderful taste.
Mix eggs and milk, add the ground almonds and flour. Grate the zucchini very fine; add to mixture. Season with salt and pepper and fresh herbs according to taste. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil over very low heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and allow to cook for 20 minutes on low heat, uncovered, stirring from time to time.
Cut the eggplant in thin slices (peeled or unpeeled, according to taste). Fry the slices in sunflower oil until soft and allow them to drain on a paper towel. Set aside.
Fry the pancakes (should make 8 pancakes total) in sunflower oil. Serve 2 pancakes per person or layer the pancakes to make a gateau (layer cake). The idea is to place a pancake on a dish, add some eggplant slices, add some tomato sauce (it should not be too watery), and top it with another pancake or continue to pile pancakes, eggplant, and tomato sauce to make a gateau, which can then be cut into four wedges to serve. This is a dish for a special occasion or when you have a lot of time, as pancakes are time-consuming to cook unless you have many frying pans.
Martine Batchelor currently lives and teaches meditation in Devon, England. “Slow and Sincere” is excerpted from Wake Up and Cook, a collection of recipes and wisdom published by Riverhead Books.