Carrot Cake
Carrot Cake

Fresh, local, sustainable, seasonal and vegetarian – all sprinkled with a sense of humour. This, delightfully and appropriately (have you heard the Dalai Lama’s giggle?) is the flavour of The Cake the Buddha Ate: More Quiet Food (Jacana), the new cookbook from the Buddhist Retreat Centre (BRC).

The quirky playfulness that flows through the book – between recipes with names like Clouds Across the Moon (apple crumble), More is More, Dhal (spicy mixed lentils and coconut) and Up to The Elbows (macaroni cheese) and entertaining stories about each recipe – is encapsulated in the title.

Durban architect and BRC founder Louis van Loon explains: “Daniel (Jardim – the former BRC chef who developed the recipes for the book) and Anthony (Shapiro – celebrated potter and for two years, artist in residence at the BRC) had had a difficult day, which believe it or not can happen even at a retreat centre. To console themselves, Daniel said he’d make a carrot cake, their favourite dessert.”

Just after the cake went into the oven, there was a power outage, as regularly happens at the rural BRC property near Ixopo that Van Loon purchased in 1970, and where he has been running retreats since 1980.

In brief what happened was, that the cake continued to cook in the remaining heat of the oven. It came out perfectly baked. Jardim iced it by torchlight and he and Shapiro took it to their kutis (small cottages) at the edge of the forest, where they each had a slice and covered the rest.

When Jardim woke up in the morning, he saw another slice of the cake was missing. Who could have taken it was a mystery. But when he noticed a smudge of icing on the mouth of his small Buddha statue, the title was born.

The Cake the Buddha Ate follows Quiet Food, the BRC’s first cookbook, published in 2005 and now in its sixth reprint. Both have come directly from Van Loon’s commitment to vegetarianism and to having the BRC showcase fabulous vegetarian food in South Africa’s typically meat-obsessed culture. (Incidentally, Green’s Restaurant in San Francisco – widely regarded by many as the world’s best vegetarian restaurant – belongs to the San Francisco Zen Center, which has spawned a number of world-famous vegetarian cookbooks.)

“When I travelled to Asia in the Sixties you got served things in retreat centres like gruel cooked in coconut oil and nut roasts that made you sink to the bottom of the bath,” says Van Loon. He loved when people arrived at the BRC alarmed at the prospect of eating vegetarian all weekend and left asking for recipes.

In the early days a resident good at calligraphy would transcribe recipes onto paper serviettes that people would take home and frame. “At some point we photocopied a collection of these, stapled them together – and that was our first cook book.”

The new book has recipes created, tweaked and developed by Jardim, who no longer lives at the BRC but regularly runs workshops there. A UK-trained nutritionist, Jardim comes from a family of cooks and chefs. He has a refined food aesthetic and believes, literally, that we are what we eat.

“I don’t know if it was someone Chinese or Japanese who said ‘all suffering begins in the stomach’, but I learnt it first when I was studying nutrition.

“And working here, I regularly see the huge difference small modifications to how people eat can make,” Jardim told me when I interviewed him at the BRC when he was working on the book.

“Daniel refined many of our existing recipes and gave them pizzazz,” says Van Loon.

“He’s a highly adventurous and creative cook – and charismatic. He really should be on BBC Food TV.”

So, for example, the BRC menu featured a popular feta and spinach pie. One day when Jardim went to make it, there was no spinach, but a lot of butternut.

So the recipe transformed into what features in the cookbook as Beatrice’s Butternut Bake (usually served with spicy tomato couscous and lashings of fresh tzatziki).

It became, and remains, a menu hit.

“Beatrice” of the butternut bake is Beatrice Dlamini. She has worked at the BRC since 1995, regularly in the kitchen, and recently qualified as a sangoma.

Hers is one of many stories woven through the new cookbook that give a glimpse into life at the BRC through people who work, teach or have lived there.

Durban-based photographer Angela Shaw brings the place alive with a photo selection that intersperses the food with the people and the place.

Beware. The recipes might make you want to get into the kitchen to cook – or, alternatively, sign up for a retreat simply to experience the food.

The Cake the Buddha Ate Carrot Cake

The book tells us that this scrumptious cake is a firm favourite served at most morning teatimes during weekend retreats at the centre. It advises that the cook be adventurous with spices such as cardamom, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Serves 12 to 15.

750ml brown sugar

375ml sunflower oil

4 eggs (extra large)

12.5ml vanilla essence

5ml salt

750ml cake flour

12.5ml bicarbonate of soda

12.5ml ground cinnamon

375ml chopped walnuts or pecan nuts

375ml dessicated coconut

375ml carrots, cooked and pureed

180ml crushed pineapple, drained

Icing

2 cups icing sugar

100ml cream cheese

30ml soft butter

5ml lemon juice

5ml lemon zest

5ml orange zest

1 Preheat the oven to 180ºC and grease two 20cm cake pans.

2 Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla essence and salt together in a large mixing bowl.

3 Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon into this mixture and blend thoroughly.

4 Add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. When skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, it is ready.

5 For the icing, combine the icing sugar, cream cheese, soft butter, lemon juice, and lemon and orange zest. Add teaspoons of water, if necessary, until the icing is thick and pliable.

6 Decorate with crushed walnuts or pecan nuts.

Golden Kisses

Chocolate, cornflake and almond kisses

Cornflakes are a wonderful base for making these delicious gluten-free nibbly bits. This is a simple dessert that is quick and easy to whip up without having to trawl the pantry for ingredients. Using dairy-free dark chocolate, creates a delicious vegan treat. Makes 24.

50g nibbed almonds, toasted

50g butter

4 tbsp golden syrup

1 bar plain chocolate (100g)

75g cornflakes

small paper cupcakes

1 Toast the almonds in a dry pan until golden.

2 Gently melt the butter, syrup and chocolate in small, heavy pan.

3 Stir in the cornflakes and the almonds.

4 Place spoonfuls of the mixture into individual paper cups and arrange on a baking sheet.

5 Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Rumi Rounds

Rose and cardamom slicing biscuits

This recipe is inspired by the Persian “love poet” Rumi. Roses are scarce at the centre and when they are available, they beg to be revered in a memorable way. The addition of fresh rose petals transforms a simple biscuit into a glorious teatime treat. Makes 20.

200g butter, soft

100g icing sugar, sifted

pinch of salt

rose essence

300g self-raising flour, sifted

1 tsp ground cardamom

rose petals (approximately 12 – fresh and unsprayed)

castor sugar

1 Cream the butter, icing sugar, salt and rose essence, until light and fluffy.

2 Add the flour and cardamom and mix well.

3 Add the rose petals and knead lightly until combined.

4 Roll into a “sausage” shape, roughly 4cm thick. Cover with cling-film, place on a tray and refrigerate overnight.

5 Grease baking sheet and preheat oven to 180ºC

6 Slice the biscuits into 1cm slices, using a sharp knife. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Sprinkle with castor sugar. - Sunday Tribune