Buddhism being a religion of reincarnation, one of the precepts of cloistered monks is to harm "nothing that flees when chased." After all, that might just be your brother or wife from a past life sizzling in your cookpot. However, even those pursuing enlightenment must eat, and even monks like their food to be varied and tasty, so the spiritually pure tradition of "Shojin Ryori" was born.
Shojin Ryori is a vegan cuisine still served today in the temples of Japan, based on seasonal vegetables that can be grown by the monks. Eating food that follows the flow of nature is considered best for the body and soul, and seasoning is kept light so that the natural flavor of the fresh vegetables can be preserved.
Author Mari Fujii learned the arts of shojin ryori from her husband Sotetsu, who was the Tenzo, or temple cook, during his ten years as a monk. Now a priest at a temple in Kamakura, Sotetsu and Fujii teach shojin ryori to all who wish to learn. With "The Enlightened Kitchen," they have brought this wisdom to a wider audience, allowing all to partake of the healthy, natural and delicious style of cooking.
In seven section, including soups, salads, tofu/beans, vegetables, potatoes/rice/grains, and deserts, Fujii has selected easy-to-make dishes using seasonal vegetables that should be easy to find in any grocery store. The recipes are delightfully simple, and you will be amazed that such great food can come from such little effort. She stays with traditional Japanese vegetables, as well as occasionally incorporating rarities such as avocado and celery to mix things up. The base for most of the sauces is sake, miso paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar and lemon. She has substituted maple syrup for mirin, thinking that mirin might be hard to find in the US, but it is easy enough to swap it back. Not all of the recipes are strictly vegan, as Fujii points out that Chinese and Tibetan Shojin Ryori allow for dairy products, although authentic Japanese does not.
Of the dishes I have made, the "Chestnut Tea Rice" was excellent, as were the "Fried Pumpkin with Peanut Sauce," "Tofu Fried with Almonds," "Sweet Potato and Soybeans with Miso/Lemon Sauce" and "Koyadofu Teriyaki." I am looking forward to exploring all of the recipes, and I have no doubt that they will be equally satisfying.
It is said that those who eat Shojin Ryori fell as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. In the modern world where so much processed garbage gets shoveled into our bodies, it is a very pleasant feeling to sit down to a meal that is so completely natural.