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A Virtuous Kitchen – Tassjara Dinners & Desserts

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Written by Heather Jones   
Wednesday, 10 June 2009

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Photograph by Patrick Tregenza
Tassajara Hot Springs, located in an inland valley off the coast of Big Sur in Carmel Valley California, is the ultimate destination when you need to rest and re-charge your weary soul.  As a busy working mother of two, I don’t always have the luxury of getting away from it all as often as I should, but with this latest cookbook, Tassjara Dinners & Desserts written by former Tassjara residents Dale and Melissa Kent, I can at least eat as if I was nestled away in the mountains.  Tassjara is well-known for their gourmet vegetarian fare and the selection of recipes in this book do not disappoint.

Aside from the interesting recipes, I love some of the philosophies that are expressed in the book such as “Kitchen Work as Sacred Activity”, “Kitchen as Refuge”, and “Working in a Zen Kitchen”. For those who may be curious, a Zen kitchen is one in which the preparation of food is thought to be a spiritual practice, an opportunity to be generous, mindful, loving, kind, compassionate, and calm while you are preparing the meal. In our daily lives of hustle and bustle I would imagine it would be difficult for many of us to slow down a bit and have a more Zen-like kitchen.

There were so many unique recipes in this book that when it was time for me to try one out I had a bit of hard time picking just the right one, but one thing I’ve learned from spotlighting so many cookbooks is that when all else fails go with the cover recipe.  The cover recipe is almost always one of the best in the book.  So I decided to try my hand at the Dragon’s Head Tofu (see recipe below), I didn’t tell my husband it was tofu, he simply thought it was some sort of veggie fritter, and to this day he knows no different. I was so impressed that I may have to make them the next time we have guests over. 

I’m going through a bit of a phase right now where I have to have dessert after dinner practically every night.  I try to keep it light and somewhat healthy.  The Sweet Coconut Rice (see recipe below) proved to be the perfect sweet treat to end the meal; think rice pudding with a different texture and flavor, but just as good.  So if you decide you need a little enlightenment in the kitchen, or just some new vegetarian fare, be sure to check out Tassjara Dinner & Desserts.

Dragon's Head Tofu

From Tassajara Dinners & Desserts by Dale and Melissa Kent, Gibbs Smith 2009.

Reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith.

There is quite a collection of cookbooks in the Tassajara kitchen, and this recipe is in a now out-of-print cookbook titled Food in a Japanese Mood (1984), by Yukiko Haydock and Robert Haydock. This was one of those cases where scaling-up the recipe to serve 250 people worked, and it was served many times throughout the guest season.

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 block firm tofu, pressed to remove water
  • 4 medium fresh shiitake mushrooms (or reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms), julienned
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon mirin or white wine
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 cup julienned carrots
  • 1/4 cup cooked peas
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

Heat enough oil to 350 degrees in a pan large enough to submerge a golf-ball-size dragon head. Crumble tofu into a large bowl. Sauté mushrooms with sesame oil, garlic, salt, and mirin until tender and flavorful; add to tofu mixture and let cool. Mix in the egg, carrots, peas, and scallions. Gently form balls and drop into heated oil. Cook until brown, then place on a cooling rack to drain. Serve warm or at room temperature on a bed of sprouts or Napa cabbage with your favorite sweet or savory Asian sauce.

Serves 4-6

Sweet Coconut Rice

From Tassajara Dinners & Desserts by Dale and Melissa Kent, Gibbs Smith 2009.

This sweet sticky rice is a great base for any fruit. Traditionally, ripe mangos or bananas would be sliced fresh and served on top of a serving of this rice for a soothing dessert. Use whatever fruit is fresh, local, and at the height of its season. Peaches, pears, and berries are all delicious with this dessert. Make sure to toss peaches or pears with a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

  • 2 cups glutinous (sweet) rice
  • 2 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Soak rice overnight in plenty of cool, clean water. Drain rice and steam over boiling water in a steamer basket lined with cheesecloth. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the center of a grain of rice is no longer chalky and hard. Put the rice in a saucepan and add the coconut milk, sugar, and salt. Simmer covered over very low heat until the coconut milk is absorbed. Stir occasionally as it cooks to keep it from sticking.

Serves 6-8

About Tassajara Dinners & Desserts


ImageTake a look behind the doors of this great monastic kitchen to see that preparing food can be a spiritual practice. You'll learn to make mouthwatering vegan and vegetarian recipes such as Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Corn, Frittata with Caramelized Onions, Coconut Curry with Mixed Vegetables, Ginger Mashed Yams, Sweet Tapioca Soup with Honeydew, and Ricotta Chevre with Ginger Berry Compote.

Available at Amazon.com
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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