What's Zen?

I thought I was quite certain of what the word Zen means. When I was renovating my little apartment, my contractor peppered her sales pitch with Zen looking, Zen feel, Zen touch, etc. Okay, so I gathered that Zen living must be the oriental version of spartan (ie simple and severe with no comfort) living. Well, I stand corrected.

Recently, I picked up a book entitled Zen Vegetarian Cooking. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Zen is actually a form of Buddhism which developed in Japan and Zen cooking is actually temple cooking (shojin ryori) practiced by the Buddhist monks. Thank you very much, I just checked the dictionary.

The book doesn't have an attractive colour for its cover, please excuse my shallowness, and even the picture on the cover was so passe. But since reading about temple cooking from Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, I just had to take a glimpse in it.

I think my copy is rather old as the pages are turning a tinge of yellow at the corners. The book only comes with the few obligatory glossy coloured full-page photos of some of the dishes it covers. Years ago I would immediately have shoved the book right back to the shelf with disgust. But after working with Joy of Cooking, I can confidently say that I'm okay to cookbooks with little or no picture now.

As the first foray into the book, I made Simmered Eggplants. I am shocked! So simple to prepare, so few ingredients, and so wonderfully delicious! Just bring the simmering ingredients of soy sauce, sake, water and sugar to boil and dump in the eggplants to simmer until tender. However, there is one lesson I learnt from this simmering exercise: use good quality soy sauce! Cos while simmering all I can smell is the soy sauce, and I know that there has to be better quality ones than the one I am using. Soy sauce plays a pivotal role in the whole dish.

Sorry about the lack of photo in this post, we globbled the eggplants once it was done at the stove.

Here's an interesting article on Zen Buddhist cooking.

~ Simmered Eggplants ~

8 sections of 10cm long eggplants
1 2/3 cups water
5 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp sake
1 generous tbsp of sugar

1. Cut small slits on the eggplant sections. Submerge eggplants in a bowl of water to prevent discolouration.

2. Combine water, soy sauce and sake in saucepan and bring to boil. Add sugar and stir to dissolve completely. Reduce flame to low.

3. Drain the eggplants and add to the saucepan. Turn the eggplants every 5 minutes. Simmer until tender.

PS: And in case you are wondering if that contractor clinched her deal, well, she had to take her business elsewhere.


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