Soy Bean Meditation

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

2015.01.30_daizu02Roasting soy beans with your ears and nose!

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.

2015.01.30_setsubunFresh 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!

2015.01.30_daizu01Also, 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!

2015.01.30_buddhaThere is a sutra that has come down to us, written in Pali, called the Bhaddekaratta Sutra. In this sutra, Shakamuni Buddha explains some fundamental teachings to his disciples:

“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.

2015.01.30_daizu04If 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.

Source: 『ほとけごはん』青江覚峰

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Izusen’s “Iron Bowl” cuisine

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IZUSEN restaurant, Daiji-in, Daitokuji, Kyoto

Leaving behind the frenetic busyness of the modern bustling metropolis of Kyoto, as you step over the threshold of the great gateway that marks the entrance to the vast grounds of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temple complexes of Kyoto, you enter into a sacred space that seems timeless and imbued with tranquility. Nestled within this great rambling temple complex, following one of the meandering stone pathways flanked by high earthen walls of secluded little temples and ancient twisting pine trees, you eventually arrive at a small sub-temple called Daiji-in. Within this temple is Izusen, a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) restaurant that specialises in teppachi-ryori.

Pathway to Izusen, with Daitokuji temple, Kyoto

Pathway to Izusen, with Daitokuji temple, Kyoto

Teppachi literally means “iron bowl” and it refers to the custom of Buddhist monks making daily alms rounds, carrying a bowl in which they received food offerings from people in the neighbourhood who supported the temple. Nowadays, the monks of Daitokuji temple no longer make these rounds, but the traditional bowls they once used are now a feature of this restaurant. The serving dishes are a set of lacquer bowls in which the courses of the meal are served and which fit neatly inside one another when finished.

2014.02.18_izusen04

The delicacies that are served in these special bowls vary according to the season, but what follows is typical spring menu.

This meal begins with light matcha (whisked powdered green tea) and warabi-mochi, a glutinous sweet made not from rice flour (mochi) but from bracken starch (warabi-ko), covered with kinako (toasted soy bean flour).

Macha & warabi-mochi

Macha & warabi-mochi

Next, shirazu-ae: vegetables coated in a light vinegar and sesame paste, served here with fava beans (soramame).

Shirazu-ae

Shirazu-ae

Next, broccolini with yuba (soy milk skins). Yuba is an essential ingredient in shojin cuisine because it is very high in protein.

Nanohana & yuba

Nanohana & yuba

Next, hassun, which is the main plate and has a selection of delicacies. Here, there is fried gluten, fuki (giant butterbur) wrapped in yuba, and Daitokuji-fu (a special gluten prepared with soy and mirin and deep-fried)

Hassun

Hassun

Next, goma-tofu with sliced cucumber and wasabi: goma-tofu is not the usual soy bean tofu, but instead is made from ground sesame seeds mixed with kudzu flour. It is a signature dish in shojin-ryori of Mt Koya.

Gomatofu

Gomatofu

Next, ganmodoki and fried baby eggplant: ganmodoki, which literally means “mock goose,” is made from tofu mixed with vegetables, made into a ball, boiled first and then fried. It is used as an offering on the altars of temples in Mt Koya.

Ganmodoki & eggplant

Ganmodoki & eggplant

Next, tempura vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, mitsuba trefoil leaves.

Vegetable tempura

Vegetable tempura

Next, clear wakame (seaweed) soup.

Wakame soup

Wakame soup

Finally, rice with a seasonal ingredient and pickles – this rice is served with kinome, a new sprig of the Japanese pepper tree, which is traditionally a sign of spring.

Rice with kinome

Rice with kinome

Here is a video showing the exterior and interior of Izusen in Kyoto…

Photos courtesy of Hisagon & Yokorin


Interview with Genbo Nishikawa

Shojin meal at Torin'in

Shojin meal at Torin’in

This is a translation of part of an interview with Genbo Nishikawa, shojin-ryori chef and teacher, and abbot of Torin-in temple in the Myoshinji Zen temple complex in Kyoto. Nishikawa-sensei has also written many books on shojin cuisine.
Source: Sun Chorella

2014.01.27_01Q. When someone says “shojin cooking”, the image is of the simple food that Buddhist monks eat that doesn’t contain any meat or fish, but what does it really mean?
A. Originally, “shojin” was a Buddhist word that referred to a total commitment to the ascetic practices that would lead to enlightenment. Even though human beings have continued to survive, unless something gives us life, we cannot survive. And so, in the spirit of the Buddhist proscription against taking life, not only should we be aware of taking care of all living things but we must fully value those lives upon which we depend for life. That is the essence of shojin cooking.

Q. So you mean that everything related to food is also considered as “shojin” in the sense of being a spiritual practice?
A. In Zen training, preparing food or eating food is just the same spiritual practice as sitting on a cushion and meditating. In the 13th century, Dogen Zenji, who was the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, adopted this way of practice. In recent times, we see athletes in much the same way, as being completely committed to their sports practice. When you are focussed on sport, be completely absorbed in sport, and so it should be with everything you do.

2014.01.27_02Q. In order to fully value the living things that we eat, isn’t it also taught that we should utilise everything and not waste anything?
A. Well, even though it is really important to make the best use of all the ingredients, you still have to peel the skin off some vegetables. But even so, not only do we tend to quite unconsciously and carelessly throw away the leaves and roots, but we don’t stop to think about how we might be able to fully utilise those vegetables skins as well.

Q. Well, it seems that this is all connected with the Buddhist precept of respecting life and not killing, isn’t it. So, what’s the basis upon which you choose what ingredients to use?
A. In Japan, the four seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring are really clearly defined and with each season comes a variety of ingredients that are full of nourishment and which will appear in the marketplace quite cheaply when they are in season. It is these seasonal ingredients that I use. Nowadays, everything seems to be available all year round, but I think this is very strange. That’s really not making the best use of Japan’s climate and natural local features. But recently, because of the rising popularity of “local production for local consumption” and terms such as eco-friendly are becoming more widely used, the preciousness and importance of life seems to be talked about more often. But actually, Dogen Zenji was saying the same thing 850 years ago!

2014.01.27_03Q. Being aware of “local production for local consumption” and being eco-friendly is really important for the environment too, isn’t it?
A. Yes. Paying attention to the seasons, buying locally grown produce, making less rubbish, saving petrol by not driving too far – being aware of these kinds of things is what “eco-friendly” really means. I think that if we simply keep on preserving this traditional Japanese food culture that we already have had for centuries, such as only eating food that is in season, then we will not be contributing to the bigger issues now facing us such as global warming and the destruction of the environment.