A Cookbook of Vegetarian Favorites from The Expanding Light Retreat
by Diksha McCord (Blanche Agassy McCord)
Tested recipes from 30 years of serving guests with loving hearts and hands
An interview with Diksha, author of Global Kitchen:
Where did you learn to cook for a spiritual retreat?
Diksha: I've lived throughout the world and absorbed many vegetarian traditions-including macrobiotic, Ayurvedic, and Mexican. While I was growing up in Israel, I learned Kosher vegetarian cooking. When I was living and studying in Kyoto, Japan, I learned Temple Cooking from Buddhist monks. Through my studies of Hindu and yogic traditions, I learned Ayurvedic cooking theories and techniques. The cooking I have learned has always had spiritual undertones.
What is the secret to good vegetarian cooking?
Diksha: The secret is learning how to make vegetarian food that appeals to everyone. We've been serving guests vegetarian cuisine since The Expanding Light retreat opened in 1968. Thousands of guests have helped us test our recipes. We're offering this cookbook because guests have long urged us to offer them a way to prepare this same wonderful food at home, and now we can pass these secrets on to you.
What's unique about these recipes?
Diksha: These recipes are tested, tested, tested. The cooking procedures are simple, and the ingredients are available in most local markets-this is a big plus. Most people want wonderful meals without having to hunt all over town for exotic ingredients. We're offering 140 nutritious recipes-only three with dairy, and two with eggs. These recipes also reflect one of our basic philosophies at The Expanding Light: we strive to bring out the unique, natural flavors of food in creative ways using subtle spicing and carefully selected cooking techniques. We keep individual dishes simple to make-you don't have to be Julia Child! Then, we combine these individual dishes so that there's a variety of flavors, colors, and textures in each meal. We've also offered menu ideas so you can create a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds.
How did you test your recipes?
Diksha: Over the years thousands of guests have tried these recipes and commented on them. Only the recipes they really liked made it into the book. Throughout the time I was working on the cookbook, I'd always prepare a small portion for those guests who wanted a sample to taste. Americans are very polite-if they don't like something they don't say anything. When guests don't like something, they're quiet and keep silent. By really listening to the guests I began to learn what they'd like. I'd ask for comments and find ways to improve my recipes from suggestions I'd get from the guests.
What is unique about cooking for guests at a yoga retreat?
Diksha: We need to be able to prepare light food that keeps the guests energetic so they're able to do yoga and meditation. The food can't be too stimulating-it needs to also keep the guests calm and centered. The challenge in cooking for yoga and meditation students is how to bring out the natural flavors of vegetables and grains, yet keep the tastes exciting and not dull. We avoid junk foods, but we work hard to find the foods that will satisfy guests so they don't have junk food cravings.
What have you learned from cooking at your retreat that leads to healthier lives?
Diksha: There is much more to a healthy diet than just eating food that you know is healthy for you. It's good to eat in a harmonious environment. Often the guests eat meals here in silence, so they eat consciously, not hastily, which is better for your digestion. Through the types of foods we use and the techniques we use to prepare the food, people feel nourished and satisfied on a much deeper level. Guests tell me they have fewer cravings for junk foods when they're eating at the retreat. They also tell me they feel more grounded and don't require stimulants like coffee and chocolate. Many doctors are proclaiming that a vegetarian diet is better for the body and the heart and one's health in general. The recipes in my book are low-fat, yet very satisfying. The result is that the food is wholesome, simple and tasty; it's not bland. It's delicious food that's good for you.
The food at The Expanding Light has received rave reviews-even by meat-eaters! How do you satisfy them?
Diksha: For meat-eaters I make sure to have heavier dishes that are also healthier. If you're a meat eater and then switch to eating vegetarian foods, these heavier foods can be more satisfying. I fix things like Mexican Rice Casserole or Pad Thai with tofu, vegetables and peanuts. Our Spinach Tofu Pie tastes just like Greek Spanakopitta-people can't tell that there's no cheese in it. Our Mexican food recipes are very popular with first-time vegetarians.
How do you handle the need to have protein in the diet?
Diksha: By using different beans with different spices and herbs that aid one's digestion. For instance, I use tofu, grains, nuts and seeds, which are high in protein. Tahini, which is made from sesame seeds, makes an ideal and tasty base for vegetarian sauces. Several of my recipes include quinoa, which is a grain that is actually a complete protein.
What do you do for those who crave sweets?
Diksha: Instead of sweets, I added a whole section of breads-yeasted and non-yeasted. These breads are easy to make, wholesome, and they replace the need for heavy sweet desserts. For instance, the Zucchini Dessert Bread, which has a cake texture, is very popular. Our Spinach Stuffed Bread, Garlic Potato Bread, and Rosemary Olive Bread are all very popular and we make them fresh daily at the retreat. These are nurturing foods that satisfy the hunger for sweets.
What recipes do guests say they love the most?
Diksha: People really like the Maple Sesame Tofu because it's a combination of sweet and salty tastes. The Kale Sunflower Salad, which may sound strange, is a big hit as well. I make it with a marinade that makes it very tasty. Millet Patties with our Mushroom Gravy as well as the Sweet Zucchini Salad are very popular, as are our Lemon Ginger Dressing and Vitality Dressing. We plan menus ahead for a whole week, making sure that there are balanced meals and a variety for our guests, who often stay here for a week or a month.
What do you do at The Expanding Light to make the food taste better?
Diksha: During the entire cooking process it's very important to have a positive and loving attitude-so we consciously do things that will help the cooks become more calm and centered. We always offer a simple prayer before cooking, and I never cook when I'm angry or upset, as these vibrations will go into the food and the guests will feel it. We treat the food with respect, love and focused attention. The way we handle it, the way we wash it-the whole process is done with care. We play only soft and calming music during preparation and cooking. I have a little altar in the kitchen with some flowers and maybe a candle burning to keep the mood sacred. I allow Spirit to flow through me, through my hands and heart and into the food I'm preparing. Together with the guests, we bless the food before we eat as an act of appreciation and gratitude. We sing the prayer all together, so the entire meal becomes an uplifting experience. I began to discover that when I used this process, guests would unanimously enjoy the food much more-to the extent that they would seek me out and personally come into the kitchen and thank me for the meals.
As you explore these recipes, keep in mind that the most important ingredient for successful cooking is your own "vibration." If you cook with focused attention, joy, kindness and love, this will be reflected in the appearance and taste of the food-and in the compliments you receive.