Originally from Kenchoji Temple, the first Zen Buddhist temple in Japan, this warming soup is a typical temple dish, made from root vegetables stif-fried in sesame oil then simmered in konbu-flavored broth. Crumbling a block of tofu into the soup for all to share is an example of the Zen belief that food should be divided equally between the residents of a temple, regardless of their status. This recipe uses soy sauce, but there is also a miso version. For a stronger flavor, add a little more soy sauce, miso or sake.
1. Scrub the burdock root thoroughly and scrape off the skin with the back of a clean knife. Cut the burdock into bite-sized pieces, place immediately in cold water, soak for 5 minutes, then drain.
2. Soak the shiitake in the water for about 30 minutes until soft. Drain, and reserve the water. Remove the stalks, and then cut the caps into 1/4-inch (5mm) slices.
3. Boil the konnyaku for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.
4. Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan, then add the burdock root, shiitake, konnyaku, daikon, carrot, lotus root, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
5. Add the shiitake water, konbu stock and sake to the saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove any froth from the surface, and cook on low heat until the vegetables are tender.
6. Without draining the tofu, crumble into lumps and add to the saucepan along with 4 tablespoons of soy sauce.
7. Add the baby spinach to the saucepan, and cook until wilted.
1. The white powder on the surface of dried konbu adds to the flavor, so do not wash the konbu before use, simply lightly wipe with a damp cloth.
2. Place the water and the konbu in a saucepan, and leave to soak for 2 or 3 hours.
3. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Just before the water boils, remove the konbu. Use the konbu-flavored water as stock.
Reprinted with permission from the book:
The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan
by Mari Fujii
While Japanese cuisine has become popular in the West, far less is known about the traditional fare originating from Japan's Buddhist temples. Natural and healthy, temple food is based on fresh seasonal vegetables, and staples such as grains and tofu. For centuries, these dishes have been a way of life - and a refreshing change of pace - for monks whose days are spent in rigorous self-discipline.
Mari Fujii delivers simple, seasonal foods with love and care. She teaches the importance of drawing out the natural flavors of ingredients rather than smothering with heavy sauces or spices. Any way you look at it, The Enlightened Kitchen is a nourishing experience for both body and soul.
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