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, a brother in the Trappist order located on the banks of the Cooper River just north of Charleston. "There is a deep spirituality to sharing a meal at the monks' table."
The monks welcome the abbey's overnight guests to join them at meals, which Father Joe prepares. "I like serving the soup," he says. Invariably, guests ask for Father Joe's recipes.
So, he decided to make his recipes available for all visitors to Mepkin Abbey, not just the overnight retreatants. 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.
"We live a pretty simple life and eat a pretty simple, plant-based vegetarian diet," says Father Joe, who was a Catholic priest before joining the brotherhood. "It started out as a discipline, but now we learn it is very healthy as well."
The two dozen 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.
If a vegetarian diet sounds too restrictive for you, Father Joe has included variations for including meat in his recipes. You can pick up a copy of the cookbook at the Mepkin Abbey gift shop or you can order one at by calling 843.761.8509, then pressing two.
One of the first things you will notice when you visit the abbey and see the building where the brothers take their meals is a very large jar of peanut butter, a simple, inexpensive way to get protein if you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet. Father Joe adds it to a lot of his dishes. Here is one of our favorites.
West African Peanut Soup/Stew
(used with permission from Father Joe)
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.
Makes 6-8 servings.