Culinary Zen

I love food—I love eating it, preparing it and thinking about it. The most direct and intimate contact we have with our environment is eating, especially when we eat fruits and veggies that are grown locally or even in our own backyards.

As some of you may know, Yoga Nook is a pick-up destination for the Underwood Family Farms CSA program (community-supported agriculture), so my husband and I enjoy local produce picked fresh from the farm and delivered the next day. I don’t look at what we’re going to get in the box ahead of time, as I like the surprise of opening it and making the best of whatever arrives.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been finding peppers and chilis of every shape, color and variety in our weekly box; and I must say that I was challenged to think of something that would use such a large quantity to its best advantage.

Then I remembered my recipe for Panang, a spicy Thai dish that we first ate in Hawaii over 20 years ago. Not only is the dish fragrant and spicy, it’s also easy to make and allows me to take advantage of some culinary Zen.

We should nourish our mind and body with the food we eat. More often we eat on the run—doughnuts and coffee in the car serve as breakfast, and a trip to the drive-through is lunch. Who has time to cook anymore? If preparing or even eating food has become a chore, then perhaps we could learn something from the Zen approach to cooking.

Culinary Zen focuses on moment-to-moment awareness, balance and wholeness. This mindfulness in everything you do begins with the food gathering and preparation. Even the cleaning of the workspace is carried out with diligence and attention to detail. The freshest ingredients, organic if possible, are chopped and diced with focus, love and harmony.

As I slow down and enter a state of moment-to-moment awareness, cooking becomes a meditation. Chopping the veggies for the Panang, I enjoy the bright primary colors of the peppers and the rhythmic sound of the knife on the chopping board. I linger for a moment to savor the fresh lemony scent of cilantro, the aroma of an onion as it sizzles in the frying pan. The pungent mix sends a spicy hotness into the very air that I breathe, and I douse its heat with a cooling coat of coconut milk. The result is a creamy, spicy and somewhat soupy dish served with rice.

Granted, with our busy lifestyles, we may not have time to prepare a meal like this every day—so why not try some mindfulness as you peel and eat an orange, or bite into a juicy peach? Think of the cycle of seasons that has brought the food to your plate, the sun and rain and the energy that the food contains. As you change how you think about food, you’ll be more likely to choose foods that truly nourish your mind and body.

For more on Zen cooking, check out “Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings” by Edward Espe Brown.


Related article:
Food for Thought

Image credit: Young Sok Yun via Flickr (CC) 

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One thought on “Culinary Zen”

  1. Loved your Culinary Zen Blog. It made my mouth water plus I could see all those colors. You have quite the gift for writing along with everything else. I have recently started reading your blogs. They are truly enjoyable. Thank you,

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