Thursday, July 09, 2015

Hilary's Kushari

My favourite spiritual website/blog, City Desert, has an interesting post about what sort of food the ancient desert hermit monks would have eaten while living in their caves in the Egyptian desert back in the day. One tends to overlook these practical things while reading the lives of these extraordinary saints. But (barring miraculous interventions) even a levitating, bilocating mystic gotta eat.

It's got all kinds of interesting links to the foods that would have been eaten in Egypt in late antiquity and early Christian period.

It also mentions a dish that is still the "Egyptian national dish" and which many of us will be familiar with from the local felafel, Lebanese take-away shop: kushari. It's basically, just rice, lentils, salt and fried onions and garlic with olive oil and lemon. These days it's usually served with a dollop of tomato sauce.

Being a bit broke, I did a version of it tonight that was really good.


A cup of the rice/millet/buckwheat combo you picked up on a whim in the healthfood section the other day
two cups water
1 cup lentils cooked in tomato sauce
1 onion chopped
three cloves garlic chopped
grated rind of 1/2 a lemon, minced very fine
handful of fresh mint leaves
1/4 of a vegetale bullion cube
handful of coriander seeds, ground
two small tomatoes, sliced
a bit of red onion, sliced
tobasco and/or plain yogurt

In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine onions, garlic and olive oil and saute until the veg is softened. Throw in the rice and coriander and the bullion cube and let it cook in the oil a bit. Add the two cups of water and cover, reduce heat to minimum and let it steam up for about 20 mins. In a nice big dish, spoon up a layer of the rice and add a big spoonful of the lentils in a well in the middle. Shake a little tobasco over to taste, and add a big dollop of plain yogurt on top of the lentils. Sprinkle the red onion over all, and top with the sliced tomatoes.


SO good!

Things to add: Chopped parsley, cucumber or fennel


I'm growing more and more interested in the idea that the principles of asceticism can and maybe ought to be applied to our lives as laymen living the Christian life in the world. I was talking to one of the monks the other day about "what makes a monk a monk," and he said that two physical things are really important, fasting and a regular schedule.

Of course, fasting for us regular folks has to take into account a lot of things, esp if you are, shall we say, of a certain age and have experienced health issues and whatnot. But the stuff I've been reading lately in the medical research world all say that a lifetime of fairly low calorie intake can have huge health benefits. Really, regular fasting isn't bad for you at all, done sensibly.

One of the things to remember, of course, is the spiritual requirements. St. Philip Neri teaches that any ascetical or penitential action taken absolutely must be done only with the permission of a religious superior. If you just do it on your own, the only result will be a very undesirable one; spiritual pride. Permission, obedience that is, is totally central to any devotional practice. Most of the time, of course, we have the normal precepts and requirements of the Faith, particularly as they are attached to the liturgical year, so of course, special permissions don't have to be granted to follow the normal life of the Catholic Church. But seriously, anything at all beyond that is very unwise to take on without supervision by competent authority.

Here's a few handy rules of thumb that the City Desert website suggests with regards regulating one's eating habits:

The basic principles, which can (and probably should) be applied by contemporary Hermits, were that diet needed to be based on ingredients that were:

• simple – it was not intended to be “gourmet cooking”, nor to require unnecessary expenditure of resources, time or effort in preparation;

• sustainable – any ingredients needed to be able to survive (often for long periods) in the desert without refrigeration, preserving or canning (thus, dried lentils or chickpeas are excellent resources)(although olives might be preserved in oil, or vegetables in brine);

• accessible – ingredients needed to be easily accessible either from the Hermit’s own garden or from local suppliers close-by;

• seasonal – given the lack of means of storage for anything not dry, only seasonal produce could usually be used;

• cheap – Hermits lived with minimal resources and could only buy the cheapest (which also means the best value for money) food;

• nutritious – since Hermits ate frugally (and often infrequently), the diet needed to provide maximum nutrition with minimal quantity and cost (again, lentils are an excellent resource in this regard).



David Roemer said...
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Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Please see the commbox rules posted to the sidebar on the left. Further posts like this will be deleted without comment or warning.

Gerald said...

That would make an interesting recipe book: Dishes of the Desert Monks. And you could include typical food from other monastic deserts in Church history: the sea (like the Celtic and early Anglo-Saxon monks in the British Isles) and the deep forest.

Last week I was in the French Alps and hiked to the remote Grande Chartreuse (of course you cannot drive to it). Once the trail got to the precincts of the great monastery, I saw a sign that in English is translated "Keep desert silence".

I wonder what they eat. Well, I did see their cows wandering high on some steep slopes.

Anonymous said...

You didn't even knock on the front door??