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Meatless Monday: Leslie Cerier -- The Culinary Tao of Beginner's Mind

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When culinary instructor Leslie Cerier teaches her class, Luscious Cooking and Eating for Health and Vitality at Kripalu this weekend, she'll advise her students to "have a beginner's mind."

She means coming at cooking, yoga, even life, with an open mind and heart, with a sense of discovery. Cerier's been doing it even though she's been cooking, eating and teaching organics for over 25 years. "I'm a yogi, so I teach to be flexible," says Cerier, who teaches at spiritual retreats including Kripalu, Esalen and Rancho La Puerta. "It also brings in the art of eating with the seasons, going into the garden, picking the vegetables, herbs, bringing them back into the kitchen and cooking," she says. "I think of farm to table as a sacred experience."

Back in the '60s, Cerier grew up on "frozen food, packaged cake mixes and white bread made into a tight ball so I could use it to play catch with my brother." Fresh-from-the-garden produce came as a revelation. So did other meatless wonders. She'd take her backpack to Integral Yoga's natural food store, "load it up with beans, grains and almond butter and haul it up to the Upper West Side where I lived. You know how it is when you're really passionate about something. That was what I was willing to do for organic food. I would bring home one new ingredient each time to try. I wasn't thinking I was going to write cookbooks," says Cerier, who's written six, including "Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook." "I was happy to experiment."

After apprenticing in the kitchen at Kushi macrobiotic summer camp, "there was no turning back," says Cerier. "This is my passion. I knew this is what I want to teach." She combined her love for organics with a master's degree in teaching and launched herself as The Organic Gourmet. But Cerier always kept that flexible yogi attitude. Her classes aren't just handouts and recipes. "I give a foundation for you to use as a springboard. Then I show how to improvise and make your own variations."

Cerier makes it easy to come to her kitchen with a beginner's mind by introducing students to new foods, "sea vegetables, healthy fats like extra virgin coconut oil that give you that rich quality and lower your HDL, other kinds of proteins, beans and grains -- ancient grains are nutritional powerhouses." So's Cerier, who bikes 12 miles a day. "I sailed through menopause without a hot flash. I'm still juicy, very fit." If anyone knows from luscious, it's her. It must be the organic vegetables.

Perhaps, says Cerier, but it also has to "be about the yum. 'It's not 'hold your nose and eat right,' it's always about pleasure," she says. "People want to be healthy. What I'm teaching is health-supported gourmet vegetarian cooking. They want the food to taste good, to be a celebration. That's what I want to give them -- a celebration of earth's bounty, of ourselves in the kitchen."

Banana Pancakes with Cinnamon

Reprinted with permission from Leslie Cerier's "Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook"  (2010, New Harbinger Publications).

People usually know teff -- if they know it at all -- as the African ancient grain used to make injera, the addictive spongy bread from Ethiopia. For Cerier, "teff was love at first bite," and she's incorporated it into classes and numerous recipes, like this one for gorgeous, gluten-free pancakes.

2 tablespoons flax seeds
4 eggs
2 ripe bananas
1 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups teff flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Extra-virgin coconut oil, for frying

Grind the flaxseeds in a blender until powdery. Add the eggs, bananas, juice, vanilla, honey, and cinnamon and blend until smooth.

Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Pour in the banana mixture and stir until well combined.

Heat some coconut oil in a heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat and brush it over the surface when it melts. Ladle the batter onto the hot pan to make 3 inch-pancakes. Cook for about 1-1/2 minutes, until the tops are bubbly and the edges are dry. Turn the pancakes over and cook for about 1 more minute, until the bottoms are brown. Serve immediately.

Variations

Swap other juices, such as peach or pear, for the apple juice.
Substitute any dairy or non dairy milk for the juice.

Serves 4 to 6.