Being a good chef requires more than just a well-rounded palette and a mastery of flavor combinations. The best chefs in the world devote their lives to routine, meticulous menu planning, and reverence for mise en place. Cooking traditions and recipes are followed religiously, that's why it's no surprise to see that the 1,600-year-old ritual of Korean temple food is becoming more popular in culinary circles around the world.
Korean temple food is the food eaten everyday in Buddhist temples. It's vegan, delicious, and represents the idea that all people are created equal. Buddhist philosophy and practice extend throughout the meal's preparation and eating. Nuns and monks grow the vegetables and prepare the meals, while the eating is meant only to be enough for physical sustenance, leaving no leftovers for later. Buddhism teaches that compassion means embracing all living beings as oneself, so you can rest assured that temple food is cruelty-free.
The ingredients used in Korean temple food encapsulate the mountainous landscapes that surround many Korean temples. You'll find a variety of mountain herbs and wild greens, stems, leaves, fruits, wild roots, and flowers. Added to these temple staples are natural seasonings like kelp powder, perilla seeds, mushroom powder and uncooked bean powder. These ingredients are combined to make tasty soups, stocks, kimchi and seasonable vegetable dishes that emphasize peaceful coexistence.
Avoiding waste is central to Korean temple food practices, so preserved and fermented foods are most common. Nuns and monks had to find a way to save extra vegetables for winter. Preserved foods include kimchi, jangajji, red pepper and soybean paste, vegetables preserved in soy sauce, and pickled in vinegar and salt.
Examples of Korean temple foods include: chargrilled eggplant-topped multigrain rice, delightful deep-fried mushrooms in gochujang, and burdock japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and veggies.) One ingredient that you won't find, however, is onions. Temple food doesn't use any vegetables from the onion family (garlic, green onion, spring onion and leek) because onions are believed to increase lust.
Korean temple food is healthy because it's centered around seasonal vegetables--the foundation of a nutritious vegan diet. The food is organic, cooked minimally, seasoned lightly and served in modest quantities-- it's where food and deity meet.
Not sure that a vegan diet is right for you? Check out our intro to the Paleo diet here.
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