How To Eat Like A Buddhist Monk, Part 4: Get Cooking!

In part 1 I introduced the philosophies of shojin ryori. Part 2 went over the ingredients you’ll need. Part 3 talked over the staples, getting you ready for the actual cooking. Can you guess what part 4 is? Yeah, we’re going to go over cooking.

The plan for this article is twofold. First, I’m going to go over a couple recipes to get you started. These are things that I think are good, solid, all-around meals that you can do at home. After that, I’ll go over the things you need to know to get started yourself (so that you can cook any number of shojin ryori dishes!).

A Few Shojin Ryori Recipes

Although this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of what you could potentially be making, these are recipes that will get you started. Although I put these together with the idea that they’d make a nice “set,” the first two can be cooked on their own as an entire dinner. When you eat shojin ryori at a temple or restaurant, usually you get a ton of different little dishes. If you want to eat shojin ryori like you’re supposed to, though, you eat a main dish, a side dish, and some rice. This keeps things simple so you can concentrate on being a Buddhist monk, in theory.

P.S. If you like these recipes, be sure to subscribe to the Tofugu newsletter. I’ll be adding another simple recipe to that in the coming weeks.

Kenchinjiru (Kenchin Soup)

Kenchin Vegetable soup comes from Kenchoji Temple and is a great dish for the colder winter months. The interesting thing about this dish is the tofu, I think. It’s crumbled into the soup instead of cut into pieces. This came to be when a temple acolyte dropped a block of tofu, shattering it to pieces. Instead of wasting it (boo boo in shojin ryori), he cooked it with some vegetables and people seemed to like it (I bet he didn’t tell them he dropped it on the ground until after). Ever since then, this soup has been known as “Kenchinjiru” or “Kenchin Soup,” named after the temple it came from.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 dried shitake Mushrooms (fresh is okay too)
  • 150g (5.5 oz) gobo (Burdock root)
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 300g (10.5 oz) daikon, peeled and cut to bite sized wedges.
  • 1 block of konyaku, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 200g (7 oz) carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3-4 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 100g lotus root (3.5 oz), peeled and cut to bite sized pieces.
  • 2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce) for sautéing
  • 2.5 cups konbu stock (see staples)
  • 4 tablespoons saké
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • 4 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce) for soup
  • 2 tablespoons red miso (or 3-4 tablespoons white miso), optional but recommended!
  • 100g of greens (i.e. baby spinach, collared greens, etc)
  • Small amount of ginger juice

There are a lot of ingredients here, but the important thing to know is that you can substitute many of them. Kenchinjiru is typically a soup you make with leftovers, meaning you can do nearly any kind of vegetable. This also means that the amount of vegetables doesn’t have to be exact, either. Experiment and play around with it, adding more of the vegetables you enjoy most!

Recipe:

  1. Soak the shitake in the water for 10 minutes. Drain. Soak for another 30 minutes in the 2.5 cups of water. Remove the mushrooms but keep the water as you will use it later. Remove the stalk and cut into thinnish bite-sized slices.
  2. Peel the gobo and cut into thin bite-sized slices. Soak them in cold water for 5 minutes to remove bitterness. Drain and put aside.
  3. Cut the daikon into bite sized pieces and soak in cold water for 10 minutes to remove bitterness.
  4. Cut the konyaku into bite sized pieces and boil for a couple of minutes. Drain and remove.
  5. Heat up the sesame oil in your soup pot (or in a separate pan) and stir fry the gobo, shitake, konyaku, daikon, carrot, lotus root, and shoyu (2 Tb) for around five minutes.
  6. Add the shitake water, konbu stock, and sake. Bring to a boil. Cook on low heat until vegetables are tender (30-45 minutes). If there’s any scum / froth forming on the top, remove it with a spoon.
  7. Crumble the tofu block into the pot and mix it in. Add the 4Tb of shoyu and 2Tb of miso. Stir gently for a while until you think the miso is dissolved.
  8. Add your greens and cook them lightly. Add a small amount of ginger juice to taste.

When you serve this, you can add a little more shoyu to individual bowls as well (to taste) depending on how addicted to salt you are. This soup is great served fresh and gathers more taste over time. Goes really well with a side of freshly cooked rice.

Vegetable Tempura

vegetable tempura

Photo by kawanet

This recipe’s a bit tougher. It’s one thing to make tempura using egg. It’s another to make it without egg, and that’s exactly what you have to do with shojin ryori. If you get it right, I think it tastes much better. In fact, you shouldn’t need any sauce to dip it in (shojin ryori isn’t too into sauces).

Ingredients:

The great thing about vegetable tempura is that you can tempura just about anything, so long as it’s fairly solid. What you use is really up to you. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Kabocha, cut into thin slices
  • Carrots, cut into thin slices
  • Fresh shitake caps
  • Brocolli
  • Sweet potatoes, thinly sliced
  • Wherever your imagination takes you!

No matter what you choose, though, you’re going to need some stock ingredients to actually cook these vegetables with:

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 1 pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1 cup ice water

Recipe:

You’re going to want to take the three above ingredients and mix them together. Don’t overmix it – some lumps are okay. This concoction shouldn’t be too thick, otherwise there will be too much batter on your vegetables (should be thin and see-through when you apply it).

Heat up some oil to 170-180 degrees. Oil should cover the bottom of the pan (or, if you have a deep fryer you can probably use that). Dip the vegetables in the batter, lightly covering. You should be able to see through the batter easily. If you want to be fancy, green colored things look good with only partial batter, leaving some green showing. Fry both sides until it looks cooked (lightish brown), remove, and put on some paper towels. Pat the oil off.

Tempura is best served right after it’s finished, so serve right away!

Ringo Umeboshi Ae

Mmmm. Time for dessert! If you’re lucky enough to have picked up some umeboshi off the shojin ryori ingredients list, then lucky you! You can probably make this. Feel free to double the recipe if you want more. You’ll need:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium apple (how about Fuji?)
  • 4 large umeboshi
  • 2-3Tbs of sugar
  • 1 tsp Mirin

The tricky part about this recipe is the umeboshi, though. Umeboshi vary in terms of how sour they are. If you have a very sour umeboshi, poke some holes in them and let them soak in water for a few hours. Alternatively, you can add some more sugar. It may take some playing around and experimentation to get this recipe right depending on your personal taste preferences and the umeboshi you have gotten. Here’s the standard recipe, though.

Recipe:

  1. Cut and peel the apple, then cut into bite sized pieces.
  2. Rinse the apple in lightly salted water. This will help the apples keep looking youthful and fresh. Blot dry with a paper towel (we don’t really want to add extra saltiness, here).
  3. Remove the umeboshi pits and turn the rest of the umeboshi inside out. Add sugar and mirin, then heat on low until things are nicely blended together. Let it cool a bit.
  4. Mix the umeboshi sauce with the apple slices to serve. Yum!

This is a pretty standard style shojin ryori dessert experience. You won’t see any cake (it’s a lie, after all) or anything overly sweet. Desserts usually consist of something fairly mild, or even sour (like umeboshi!). Fruits are great for this, and you’ll see apples served as dessert quite often.

Bonus: Take some hot water (180 degrees Fahrenheit) and squeeze some ginger juice into it to make ginger tea. It’s a nice compliment to this dessert. You can also use ginger shavings from the ginger you used with the Kenchinjiru.

So How Was A Month Of Shojin Ryori?

I gotta say. Cooking shojin ryori style is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of ingredients and they take a lot of tender loving care. You’ll be spending a lot of time running back and forth from pantry to cutting board to stove to recipe book, frantically putting things together while everyone patiently waits for dinner. In fact, the term “gochisou sama deshita,” which you say after a meal in Japan to express your thanks for it, literally means “running around.” Why? Because this is exactly what you have to do when you are making a shojin meal. Experience goes a long way, here. I found that as I was able to manage more tasks and focus my care on the food, the food got better as well. I’m sure I still have a long ways to go. Just be sure to not give up after the first try. It takes a while.

Besides the actual experience of cooking, eating nothing but shojin ryori food for breakfast and dinner (I just ate vegetarian regular food for lunch) had its health benefits as well. Although I didn’t keep track of weight or anything, I’m definitely a little less chubs, all while ignoring calories, because numbers, eugh. I don’t have any experience with dieting, but this seems like a really healthy and steady way to shed some pounds. Do this for a year and you’ll be feeling pretty damn good, I think.

I definitely found that after two or three weeks Ifelt better as well. Things like miso, seaweed, and root vegetables are just so great for you. I have more energy and I feel more concentrated. Oh, and did I mention my hipster jeans fit better? So good for squatting down to take pictures with a Holga Polaroid.

All that being said, do I recommend it? It’s definitely not an easy lifestyle choice to carry through with. It’s a lot of work and the food isn’t going to taste good for a while (until you get better at this kind of cooking). It’s just hard work, and although I’m a huge fan of this type of food I also wish I could chain a Buddhist monk to my kitchen to cook all this for me. That being said, you get faster with time and it’s not all that bad. If I had to go back and do it again I definitely would. Also, going forward I’m going to keep making shojin ryori food and stay vegetarian 6 days a week, or so. It just comes down to how much healthier I feel now that this month is over.

Getting Started With Shojin Ryori

So now you’re convinced. You want to put yourself through the trials and tribulations that are shojin ryori. Okay! I can help you get started. These are the books that I used (especially the first two). They’ll keep you busy for a long time and get you easily through your first month of cooking.

The Enlightened Kitchen

This was actually the book that got me interested in this idea. I came across it in the bookstore and leafed through it. It made me remember all the awesome shojin ryori food I had had in the past and made me realize that I could make some of this food myself! It’s written by a lady who’s married to a shojin chef in Japan and has a mix of traditional and modern. It’s a great getting-started book because it caters to the Western reader without jumping the shark. If you only buy one book I’d recommend this one, though after a month or two you’ll be craving for more, I think.  [Amazon]

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Shojin Cooking

This book is a bit old and was written by Keizo Kobayashi, someone who went around gathering recipes from various Buddhist monks and temples. I like this book a lot because it’s no frills and very simple. Sometimes it’s too simple, though, not giving enough information for a newb like me to cook the dish properly the first time. That being said, I’ve always been able to figure things out though, and the things I learn during that process have been invaluable. This book is full of traditional recipes. If you’re planning to be very diligent about this point, “Shojin Cooking” is your kind of book. Still, I’d recommend learning the basics from Fujii’s book (above) before diving into this one for a better overall experience. [Amazon]

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Kansha

Kansha is written by Elizabeth Andoh, who also wrote Washoku (a similar Japanese cookbook that includes meat-things). Kansha is all vegetarian though it doesn’t necessarily focus on shojin ryori, though it never claims to do so. It does, however, have plenty of shojin ryori recipes, not to mention many other vegetarian recipes as well (almost as good, right?). What I like about Kansha is that it doesn’t get too fancy. It stays pretty simple and traditional most of the time, the food is good, and it has a lot of pictures and recipes. I haven’t had time to go through this book as thoroughly as the first two, though I’m excited to try out many of the recipes in here. I’d recommend this as your third book should you exhaust the first two, though it is very good. [Amazon]

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Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook

Last is Nobu’s Vegetarian cookbook. Nobu’s sort of a big-time chef, and I think that shows in the cookbook. Many of the recipes are too fancy for my taste, though there are plenty of gems in here as well. I learned a lot about the science behind Japanese vegetarian cooking which gained me a deeper understanding of how everything goes together (which has helped tremendously). I’ve also done a couple recipes out of this book and they’ve turned out nicely. Although I’m not really into the fancy “modern” vegetarian cuisine in this book I have found it useful. I’d recommend it as the fourth book in your collection of Japanese vegetarian cook books. [Amazon]

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So there you have it! A month (plus a little) of shojin ryori experience down on paper for you all to read. I’m not particularly good at this whole shojin ryori thing yet, but I do hope to get better. If I can’t live in a temple on Mt. Koya, this is the second best thing, though it’s a very, very far second.

So, are you going to give it a try as well? Let me know in the comments what you think, and I’m happy to try to answer any questions as well, if I can.

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    Ah, I was waiting for this, but I was really hoping for more recipes! :P

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Sorry! Even though I was altering the above recipes based on my experiences a bit, I’m pulling the general recipes from the books so I didn’t want to post too many of their recipes.

  • http://twitter.com/cibeleanjo Robin Birdwell

    TOTALLY TRYING THE SOUP! Especially with all the trouble I went through to find konbu. It’s happening.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Mmmm, delicious!

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    No, it totally makes sense! It’s just that I was hoping to get started sooner rather than later, but that’s why Amazon offers express shipping. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.hurd Joshua Hurd

    I’m having leftover kenchinjiru for lunch :p

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    A food often made from leftovers as leftovers?? D: Lefoverception

  • http://www.facebook.com/AveryGoodgame Nick Hattan

    I wish my household would eat healthier.

  • Yas

    About how many servings does the recipe for kenchinjiru make? As someone who lives alone and gets sick of leftovers rather easily, I like knowing how much a recipe makes so I know if I should make the full amount or not.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I’m definitely going to try vegetable tempura! It’s right up my alley and seems pretty easy.
    I wonder how well it works on squash… I mean, I already pan fry it, all I’d have to do is change the batter to tempura.
    As for the oil, would any oil work (specifically olive oil)? I don’t remember you mentioning anything about oil, but I could be wrong.

    I don’t think I could eat like this all the time (especially since I’ve yet to find an Asian grocery and all my local grocery has is dried shitake and possibly some poor shoyu), but I think I could take some of the simpler dishes and incorporate them into my diet. It helps that I really like fruits and vegetables and like pretty much any food I try.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Quite a few… I’d say it would serve 4 with leftovers remaining. So maybe 4-6? I eat leftovers of this for a few days – makes for nice breakfast.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I don’t really know much about frying, but I think it’s grape oil or vegetable oil that you want to use because they do better at higher temperatures (maybe olive oil does too, I don’t know). Also, you use quite a bit of oil, so vegetable oil is going to be more economical.

    Key is to make sure you use a clean, clear oil, though. Will keep the taste light and easy! Good luck!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Amen to Amazon express shipping!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    :(

  • http://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/ Ricardo Caicedo

    About the ginger juice, how is it made? Just by grating ginger?

  • DAVIDPD

    I don’t know why people think tempura always requires an egg. It does not. Maybe it’s just the Westerner’s approach to breading things fore frying. Tempura should always be done similar to how Koichi does it here. No eggs are necessary. FIY: Tempura is not Japanese, it is actually from Portugal and was brought to Japan by missionaries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakiage#Origins). P.S. Try using a little matcha in the batter next time. It will help boost the vegetables UMAMI factor.

  • DAVIDPD

    Grate ginger then squeeze out the juice into a cup, discard the pulp.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Matcha? My mind is blown. That sounds awesome.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    What david says!

  • DAVIDPD

    Soy bean oil is great for frying, but grape seed and canola work well too. Just do not use something like olive oil or Zenu-forbid sesame oil, they will burn before they are hot enough to fry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AveryGoodgame Nick Hattan

    Oh, just realized how much of a downer comment that was XD
    Sorry, at least we have bananas.

  • http://www.teachingengrish.blogspot.com/ Judith

    Oh some of these recipes look great! In the past year that I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve eaten way more meat than I normally ate in the States. Nice to find some veg recipes with ingredients I can find here. Thanks!

  • Vivian Morelli

    Great recipes Koichi!!! I’ll try the vegetable tempura soon. I loved reading about your diet, I want to do the same but I have absolutely no self-control. Great job!!
    http://www.vivianlostinseoul.blogspot.jp/

  • nagz

    oh man, wish i had all the ingredients at an available price here in Hungary, but with some substitutes, it can work I assume. let’s make it fusion! :D

    about 1 year ago i went veg and didn’t look back. not losing much weight (gotta watch out for carbohídrates, uh-oh) but definitely feeling better AND i can cope with summer heat much easier. few of the positives :)

    kudos! great articles!

  • gladdis

    They use palm oil in most restaurants (french fires and so on) and a lot of crisps claim to be made with sunflower oil. But they have special vacuum deep friers for those, to prvent them from going brown too quickly. You should be able to find some oil/solid fat that sais “good for deep frying”.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    naners are great!

  • Cailin

    Soybean and canola(rapeseed) oils are also commonly used for frying because of their neutral flavor which won’t affect the dish. This is not true of olive or sesame oil. Also, palm oil has some intense environmental and ethical criticisms these days that might specificallydeter the all-living-things-appreciatin’ aspect of the Buddhist monk lifestyle. Just a thought in case you’re trying to get into the full shojin ryori spirit of things.

  • lonewolfsinger

    Thanks for all the hard work Koichi. At least you know where your towel is at, not many do and even fewer will understand our reply. hehe. btw, Happy Hitchhiking and tell Marvin i said hi.

  • Jo Somebody

    Isn’t that red palm oil?

  • James

    This post is really amazing and the article is huge…thank you very much for all the hard work…must have been many hours of hard work to complete it….but it was really worth it….I’ll definitely try some of the things myself…especially the soup. If you need this article or any other document to be translated use a professional translator.

    .

  • http://twitter.com/Kamijou_Toumad Tony

    I really want to try and make Kenchinjiru, but I have no clue where to find the ingredients in my area sob. It looks so damn good too…

  • tzalo

    I am sure olive oil is one of the best at high temperature.

  • DAVIDPD

    Pomace Olive Oil is okay for deep frying, but something like Extra Virgin Olive Oil is too delicate for deep frying for sure.

  • Yuri

    I’m a bit late to the post, but would using instant dashi be acceptable? It’s the only available type where I live.

  • http://twitter.com/kayrodriques kay rodriques

    Do you have any recipes for pickles? I know that the monks ate pickled foods a lot. Thanks.

  • anonymous

    Pretty cruel to put up a staple cookbook that’s out of print and costs $400 used.