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Taoist Cookbook, A

by: Michael Saso

Boston Mass.: Charles E. Tuttle 1994, Hardbound

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(1) page(s): 11

This volume has illustrations that accompany meditations, recipes too. There are woodcuts, too, taken from a late Qing Dynasty collection called the Huitu Lidai Shenxian Juan or The Illustrated Biographies of the Immortals. They are there along with eighty-one recipes to enhance a harmonious life along with the short meditations from the Laozi Daode Jing, one of the basic texts of Taoism. Eating, a part of the cycle of life, helps keep body, mind, and heart in harmony. Taoists believe that good eating habits must be accompanied by good thoughts and healthy exercise, and that no matter how nutritious the food, it can not be digested unless the mind’s thoughts, the heart’s desires, and the body’s well-being are sound and in unison. To enable this, the recipes are mostly vegetarian avoiding animal protein, alcohol, MSG, and fats. They are a method of eating that has kept Taoist men and women vigorous into their late seventies and eighties.

The meditations and accompanying recipes begin with: How To Cook Rice and end with: Thank the Host and Go Home Early. In between are wonderful recipes for Many Bean Stew, Fried Potato Strings, Baked Uighur Bread, Tomato, Onion, and Bell Pepper Stew, Dri Yoghurt, Eggplant and Soybean Paste. Desert Fried Rice, Silk Road Spaghetti, Ginger Root and Ginseng Tea, and even an Open Fruit Pie.

The recipes, collected by the author at various Taoist temples in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, are in order as collected. This and the fact that they were selected to please both Western and Asian palates could be a drawback; but it is not. Before the recipes, a short chapter titled: Getting Ready suggests essentials for one’s larder of foods, spices, pans, and other culinary essentials. It is followed by an even shorter one called: Getting Started; it overviews how to prepare and cook the recipes.

The reflections or meditations, are to be read and thought about before eating. If you do so, this book is a tasty and intellectual combination of Saso’s Masters degree from Yale, his Doctorate from the London University (in Taoism), and his many years of experience studying: 'The Way' as Taoism is called.

If you practice Taoism, vegetarianism, or no-ism, I think you’ll find that you can be inspired, delighted, and satiated in body and spirit. Here’s to the good health it is meant to bring!

Note: This review appeared in the column: Newman's News of Bites, Books and/or Other Things.

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