Cooking’s spiritual dimensions inspire cookbooks

Collectors can assemble selections of cookbooks to suit a wide range of interests, even those that might seem far from the material pleasures of eating.

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette has written several cookbooks, from Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, near Millbrook, N.Y., where he’s a resident monk and the monastery cook.

Among his best-selling titles are “Twelve Months of Monastery Soups” (Bantam, 1998, $16.95 paperback) and “From a Monastery Kitchen” (Liguori, 2002, $14.95 paperback). He also tends the monastery garden, and his recipes call for plenty of locally grown natural foods.

Here’s a sampling of other books that combine recipes with settings from religious life:

The Convent Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2002, $24.95), by Maria Tisdall, is subtitled “Divine Meals for Families Large and Small.”

Tisdall works as cook for the nuns at the Saint Walburga Monastery, Elizabeth, N.J., but she’s not a nun. She’s married, and lives with her husband and children in nearby Linden. Coming to the job as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, she has brought a distinctive flair to the nuns’ cuisine.

In the book, her recipes are organized to follow the 12 months of the year and the monastery’s related seasonal activities, described in a scene-setting introduction to each month. Dishes range from January’s balsamic chicken with pears, and July’s peach and blueberry cobbler, to December’s baked honey-glazed hams.

There are black-and-white photos of monastery life, and color photos of food.

The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking: A Year of Our Soups” (Penguin-Compass, 2002, $18 paperback) is by Brother Rick Curry, who has been a Jesuit for more than 40 years. His background includes food writing, but also having founded the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped. He lives in New York City and Belfast, Maine.

His recipes offer a wide and lively range of flavors, including Peruvian Creole soup, Hungarian goulash and Irish potato and broccoli soup, as well as the basic tomato and minestrone.

The Amish Cook: Recollections and Recipes From an Old Order Amish Family” (Ten Speed Press, 2003, $27.95), by Elizabeth Coblentz with Kevin Williams, takes the reader into family life in a rural Indiana community. Coblentz, a farmer’s wife and grandmother who died in 2002, wrote a syndicated column for about a decade titled “The Amish Cook,” chronicling the life of her community in a simple, down-to-earth style.

The book features a selection of the columns, with about 100 recipes, grouped for breakfast, dinner, supper, desserts, and Sundays and special occasions. The recipes are presented amid Coblentz’s personal commentary, with fine scene-setting color.

The Church Potluck Supper Cookbook” (Adams Media Corp., 2003, $15.95 paperback) is by Elaine Robinson, the wife of a New England minister. She researched and collected more than 500 recipes for her book, from a network of church-supper “chefs” across the country, starting with her own recipes.

That explains why Chilly-Night Chili shows up, as does Real New England fish chowder and Hawaiian meatballs. Note the Cemetery Cake that is also known as the Chocolate Wedding Cake — depending on the occasion for which it is baked.

The Chopra Center Cookbook” (Wiley, 2002, $24.95; 2003, $15.95 paperback) by Deepak Chopra, David Simon and Leanne Backer offers recipes from the Chopra Center for Well Being, in Carlsbad, Calif.

The book features more than 200 recipes and 40 meal plans, worked out, the introduction tells us, according to the principles of the ancient healing system of ayurveda, and modern nutritional science. The book’s approach is to encourage vegetarianism, but not mandate it.

There are plenty of recipes calling for tempeh and tofu, even one dubbed Buddha’s Delight Vegetable Stir-Fry. But among just desserts there’s also an Unbelievable Double Chocolate Cake to tempt or reward true believers.

The Zen Monastery Cookbook: Stories and Recipes from a Zen Kitchen” (Keep It Simple Books, 2003, $16 paperback) was compiled by the monks at the Zen Monastery Practice Center, near Murphys, Calif., under the guidance of Cheri Huber.

The text is printed in a script font, with a few line drawings: the recipes are vegetarian with some eggs and dairy. The stated aim, beyond satisfying hunger, is to suggest that cooking and the practice of Zen can be the same thing — a joy that unfolds “day by day, meal by meal, carrot by carrot.”

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