For the monks at Mepkin Abbey, the simple meals they share are essential, meaningful parts of their days.
"Sharing a meal is a prayerful, fraternal experience," says Father Joe Tedesco, who was named superior of Mepkin's Trappist order in 2018.
The Abbey is situated on the sprawling grounds of the historic Mepkin Plantation and bordered by the Cooper River that winds its way through Santee Cooper Country. Just north of Charleston, Mepkin Abbey draws visitors who come for overnight retreats, contemplative strolls through the ethereal campus, or to purchase boxes of fresh and dried mushrooms grown on the grounds by the monks - a fitting enterprise considering their dietary approach.
"There is a deep spirituality to sharing a meal at the monks' table," said Father Tedesco, who prepares meals and invites overnight guests to partake at the monks' table. "I like serving the soup."
Invariably, guests ask for Father Joe's recipes. So, he decided to make them available for all visitors to Mepkin Abbey, not just the overnight retreatants who come for a few days of spiritual contemplation.
In "Food for Thought: Mepkin Abbey Fare," Father Joe follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, whose "Baking with Brother Boniface" sold more than 1,500 copies. Though Mepkin's mushrooms are prized by many, including countless chefs in South Carolina and across the Southeast, Father Joe's cookbook touts a diversity of plant-based recipes.
"We live a pretty simple life and eat a pretty simple, plant-based vegetarian diet," says Father Joe, who entered Mepkin in 2008. "It started out as a discipline, but now we learn it is very healthy as well."
The monks at Mepkin Abbey do tend to live well into their 80s and 90s. Brother Boniface lived to be 95 years old and one brother reached 100 years old - impressive testaments to the Abbey lifestyle.
If a vegetarian diet sounds too restrictive for you, Father Joe has included variations for including meat in his recipes.
One of the first things visitors notice when entering the dining area where the brothers take their meals is a hefty jar of peanut butter - a simple, inexpensive source of protein for anyone subsisting off a vegan or vegetarian diet. Father Joe adds it to a lot of his dishes.
Here is one of our favorites, a West African peanut stew, that is thick, richly spiced and brimming with peanuty, vegetable goodness. Pair it with rice for a filling and nutritious supper, Mepkin Abbey style!
West African Peanut Soup/Stew
Shared with Father Joe's permission
2 tbs. vegetable oil 1 medium red or white onion 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tbs. minced fresh ginger or 1-1/2 tsp. ginger 1 16-ounce can white beans rinsed and drained (If you prefer a meat option, you can use 1 pound of cooked chicken instead of beans.) Pinch of cayenne Salt and pepper to taste 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thick slices 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped and drained (or diced tomatoes.) 1/2 pound of kale, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces (You can also use collards.) 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
Put oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft (about three to five minutes). Stir in stock and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium low so the soup bubbles gently. Stir in tomatoes, kale and beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and kale are tender. Stir in peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes.