Here is an extract from Kakuho Aoe‘s book “Food for the Buddha” about how to use soy beans to make dashi soup stock and practice meditation at the same time…
The kind of dashi that is most common to household cooking is the one made with konbu seaweed and bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi). Small dried sardines, called niboshi, and shiitake mushrooms are also used. In the temple, we don’t use any ingredients that come from animals, so katsuo-bushi and sardines are not used; however, we do use a variety of other ingredients and so never lack variation. One particularly useful ingredients for dashi is soy beans. Dashi made from soy beans has a full-bodied fragrant sweetness.
Fresh soy beans come into season in autumn, but because of the festival of Setsubun, you’ll find dried soy beans in the shops early in February. But once the festival is over, don’t waste those beans! Try and make dashi with them instead.
It’s easy to prepare. First of all, simply roast the beans in a frypan. Then put the roasted beans in boiling water and just leave them there for 24 hours. Then the soy bean dashi is ready to use – just sieve the beans and use the soaking liquid. Although that’s all there is to making this dashi, in fact if you pay careful attention with your eyes, with your ears, and with your nose, this can become quite a profound experience.
When you are roasting the soy beans, first you’ll hear a light dry sound. After a little while, this changes to a more substantial somewhat weightier sound as you hear the beans rolling around; then, before long, it changes back to a rather pleasing parching sound.
However, it’s not quite as simple as just “frying up a few soy beans”, so to speak: it depends on the room temperature, as well as the temperature of the pan; also, the age and quality of the beans will affect the result. But most of all, you need to use your ears! Looking at the clock won’t help: it’s crucial to listen for that subtle change in sound. It’s difficult to explain, but when you try it for yourself, you’ll understand what I mean. But if you pause too long to think about whether or not there was that slight shift in sound, before you know it the beans are burnt!
Also, between the start and finish of roasting, the smell of beans changes. The beans have a characteristic subtle scent that becomes very fragrant as they are roasted; however, if you relax your attention, the smell can become harsh and bitter instead, which is another sign that the beans are getting burnt. So, to create a rich and sweet dashi, it’s essential to concentrate on roasting the beans.
In order to listen fully with your ears and utilise your nose to track the smell of the beans, you need to pay close and constant attention to that frypan for about 30 minutes. To make soybean dashi, you’re literally going to use the whole of your body in an ongoing dialogue with the beans.
However, regardless of how much you pay attention and commit yourself heart and soul to the task, you won’t always end up with the same flavour. But that’s what makes the challenge of making this dashi is so interesting!
“You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future… do what needs to be done today with your full attention.”
If you think about how good something was yesterday, then that is nothing more than fixating on the past, and likewise, if today you hold onto the idea that it’s going to get better in the future, then you’re deluding yourself by being fixated on a future that hasn’t yet arrived.
And so it is when you first encounter the soy beans: be fully aware and with a clear mind simply observe carefull and work in silence. In doing this you will draw out the best flavour.
Now then, after you’ve made dashi with the soy beans, there are ways to further use them because there is still plenty of flavour left in the beans. I recommend “sweet and salty beans”. If you simmer the beans with sugar, soy sauce and mirin it makes a nice snack for the kids or to have with a drink or as an appetizer.
If you haven’t soaked or roasted the beans long enough, then they will remain hard in the middle and when you boil them like this they won’t soften. On the other hand, if you roasted them too much, then the burnt taste will permeate the dish and make it smell unpleasant as well, so that’s no good either. But if you have been fully attentive to the roasting the beans, then not only will the dashi be delicious but anything else you make will be delicious as well.
Kakuho Aoe is a Jodo Shin-shu Buddhist priest, who is revitalising Buddhism with his techno-savvy and his passion for food, both of which he is using as tools for awakening. Aoe has helped to create a virtual Buddhist temple that utilises social media techniques to bring Buddhism into the digital age. But it is his interesting approach to food as meditation that interests us here: once a month he holds a special meal event at his temple in Asakusa (Tokyo), Ryokusenji, in which the guests eat a beautifully prepared shojin-ryori meal, but which they cannot see because they are wearing blindfolds (sleep masks). This event is called “kurayami-gohan” 暗闇ごはん, “meal in the dark.”
Taking away your sense of sight, says Aoe, forces you pay more attention to your other senses of taste, smell, hearing and touch, and so you experience eating a meal in a completely different way. While sitting in the unusual setting of a temple room surrounded by people you don’t know, your level of awareness of everything involved in the act of eating a meal is significantly raised. Rather than just eating in perfunctory way, you become completely focussed on every moment of eating: the feel of the different textures of the ingredients, the different sounds of the food as you bite into it, trying to imagine what it is you are eating, etc, all contribute to experiencing the meal on a completely new level of appreciation. Eating becomes a meditation.
Rev Aoe has also published several cookbooks about shojin-ryori.