The delegation of monks, nun and lay members from Lonquan Monastery in Beijing, China, just departed Zen River for Amsterdam after a two day visit. Although their monastery has been recently restored and active for just 10 years, they carried in them the essence of Buddhism dating back almost 2,000 years, without even being aware of it. Their practice under Master Xuecheng focuses on sutra chanting, study and an extensive programme of social action, so they were more than curious to delve into the experience of zazen under the guidance of Tenkei. One monk had an insight and they all cried with happiness. He then introduced them an old Chinese zen master they knew little about; Yongming Yanshou.
Preparing food for a zendo full of Chinese monks was an interesting experience. The plan was to make noodles for an informal evening meal in the dining room. However, as the atmosphere was so naturally silent, there was a change of schedule and the meal took place “oryoki style” in the Zendo. If you’ve eaten oryoki, you will know that long noodles and oryoki don’t mix. Try eating noodles with just a spoon and it will become obvious.
As all the noodle ingredients had already been prepared that morning by an enthusiastic crew of monks and lay members from the group (one of them being the Tenzo [head cook] of the monastery where they feed 500 people every day and 1,000’s more during festivals) we decided to turn the broccoli florets, mushrooms and soy slices into a side dish. Over the years as Tenzo, I’ve noticed that when my mind is open to the people present, regardless of where they are from, something comes through into the cooking that I don’t fully understand. So much so, that to my own surprise the dish tasted almost “Chinese” when it was ready!
Here is a sketch of what we did, and maybe you can try it too if you don’t mind not following a recipe for once. The sauce was surprisingly simple and the red chillies and ginger together with the broccoli and mushrooms looked lovely. Naturally onions and garlic were omitted on this occasion, but could easily be included. This recipe will need to be test-driven a few times before I can post it in full, so please be patient! (Me too…)
Before starting to cut the vegetables, we soaked a few handfuls of dried shitake mushrooms in one bowl, and dried soy slices in another using warm water until they were both soft (might use tofu next time though). The shitake were then diced and returned to the soak water.
To cook it, we stir-fried a couple of sliced red chillies, a few tablespoons of minced ginger and a few punnets of sliced white mushrooms, then added a little salt for the mushrooms to start releasing their juices. Poured in the shitake along with their soak water – which was a cup or two of liquid – seasoned it carefully with soy sauce, white pepper, and a dash of Chinese 5 Spice. Brought the sauce to a simmer, and thickened it with potato starch dissolved in a little cold water.
Next, we drained and pressed out the liquid from the soy slices, stir-fried them in some oil, drizzled them with soy sauce, a splash of white vinegar, and a dash of Chinese 5 Spice until they started to turn brown and delicious and stirred them into the sauce.
Finally, a few cups of broccoli florets were dropped into a pot of rapidly boiling salted water, returned it to a scant boil, and immediately drained.
Just before serving – and it really was just before so that the broccoli would stay bright green – we combined all the ingredients and sprinkled it with cashew nuts.
All done and dusted.