Before the Meiji era, at which time Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshogatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month, i.e. January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.
At Torin-in, a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex in Kyoto, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy visit Torin-in and receive the azuki rice porridge with a beautiful tray of shojin cuisine, as well as an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family. (Torin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, about whom I have written before. Details about how to participate in this even are given at the bottom of this post.)
At Torin-in there is a special Buddhist ritual performed on the morning of January 15th, which the public are welcome to join, where a little bit of the azuki-kayu is offered to all the trees in the garden of Torin-in, while sutras are being chanted.
Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)
Some azuki beans*
Water as needed
Rice ~ 1/5 cup per person
Round mochi ~ 1 per person
1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi
*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, that’s all well and good if you are an experienced cook! But if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento
This is Genbo Nishikawa’s recipe for tofu & vegetable stuffed mini-pumpkins.
Recipe makes one stuffed pumpkin
Mini-pumpkin about 15cms diameter
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
Small amount of kikurage mushrooms
3 runner beans
Usukuchi shoyu [light soy]
250g firm tofu
Kuzu-an [Ankake] sauce:
1 1/2 cups of water
2 Tbsp konbu dashi [see “dashi” in the glossary page for details]
2 Tbsp usukuchi shoyu [light soy sauce]
(1) Remove the top portion of the pumpkin – to be used as a lid; Scoop out the seeds; Place the pumpkin in salted water for about 30 minutes
(2) Rehydrate the mushrooms in water and cut finely, reserving the soaking liquid for stock; Cut the carrots into sliced quarters [called icho in Japanese – see glossary for a video on how to slice “icho”]; Slice the gobo down the length into two halves, then thinly slice into “half moon” shapes; Slice the beans into 1cm pieces
(3) Take the ingredients in (2) and put them in the shoyu and chill in the refrigerator; Place the tofu in a muslin cloth or paper towel and allow to drain, then wring lightly to remove the water; Mix the tofu with the chilled ingredients
(4) Boil the pumpkin in the water for about 15 minutes; Stuff the pumpkin with the tofu and vegetables; Put on the pumpkin ‘lid’ and boil for a further 10 minutes
(5) Put the ingredients for the kuzu-an in a saucepan and heat to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until it thickens
(6) Pour some of the warm kuzu-an sauce into the base of a bowl and then place the pumpkin on top.
Source: 禅寺のおばんざい四季の膳 by Genbo Nishikawa
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
Q. 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.
Q. 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!
Q. 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.