Just Enough: Vegan Recipes and Stories from Japan's Buddhist Temples

Just Enough: Vegan Recipes and Stories from Japan's Buddhist Temples


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Fresh out of college, Gesshin Claire Greenwood found her way to a Buddhist monastery in Japan and was ordained as a Buddhist nun. Zen appealed to Greenwood because of its all-encompassing approach to life and how to live it, its willingness to face life’s big questions, and its radically simple yet profound emphasis on presence, reality, the now. At the monastery, she also discovered an affinity for working in the kitchen, especially the practice of creating delicious, satisfying meals using whatever was at hand — even when what was at hand was bamboo. Based on the philosophy of oryoki, or “just enough,” this book combines stories with recipes. From perfect rice, potatoes, and broths to hearty stews, colorful stir-fries, hot and cold noodles, and delicate sorbet, Greenwood shows food to be a direct, daily way to understand Zen practice. With eloquent prose, she takes readers into monasteries and markets, messy kitchens and predawn meditation rooms, and offers food for thought that nourishes and delights body, mind, and spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685820
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 06/11/2019
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 512,977
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Gesshin Claire Greenwood is the author of Bow First, Ask Questions Later and the popular blog That’s So Zen. She trained in Japanese Zen monasteries, including in the kitchen, for several years before returning to the United States to obtain a master’s degree in East Asian Studies. She lives in San Francisco, where she cooks, teaches meditation, and works in the mental-health field.

Read an Excerpt


ORYOKI The Practice of "Just Enough"

What does it mean to have "just enough" — just enough taste, just enough flavor, just enough love? Zen monks throughout Japan learn an eating style known as oryoki. This word combines the Chinese characters for "receive," "amount," and "bowl," but overall it connotes a sense of "just enough" or the "right amount." The Zen ritual of oryoki has much to teach us about eating economically and well.

Dogen Zenji, the thirteenth-century founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, in which I trained, wrote a cooking manual called the Tenzo Kyokun, or Instructions for the Cook. The Tenzo Kyokun lays out in detail what should be done during each hour of the day in the kitchen. Contrary to what you might expect, the instructions begin not in the morning, but the day before. To this day, monastery cooking begins the day before the meal with the preparation of vegetables and the washing of rice.

In the kitchen work group, one nun designs the next day's meal and sees that the more difficult and time-consuming vegetables are prepped — boiling bamboo, for example, or peeling potatoes — and placed in bins neatly labeled "Breakfast," "Lunch," and "Dinner." In the evening the assigned tenzo (or "cook") for the next day comes to the kitchen. This nun kneels on the ground and bows, asking politely to be informed about the menu. The nun in charge of the menu bows back and then explains what will be cooked. The cook is then given three meals' worth of vegetables and rice soaking in water for the next morning's breakfast porridge.

In the morning, the cook awakens with everyone else. She attends the first period of zazen, or Zen meditation, at 4:00 AM in the meditation hall with the community. She leaves after the first bell and changes out of her robes and into work clothes. In the predawn quiet she moves quickly to the kitchen and turns on the heat under the rice porridge. She fills a large pot with water and places this on the stove as well. As she begins cooking the breakfast vegetables, from the main Buddha hall she hears the familiar swell of women chanting to the rhythmic beat of a wooden mallet interspersed with the gonging of a giant bell. With the first boiled water of the day, she makes a small pot of green tea and places a cup of this on an altar for the god of the kitchen, Idaten.

Eventually the chanting in the Buddha hall ends and the relative quiet is broken by dozens of nuns rushing off to begin their morning cleaning tasks. The convent is alive with sound and activity. In the midst of it all, the cook cannot afford to be distracted, because, without her, there will be no food for the community. Thirty minutes before breakfast begins, she sounds a flat gong called the umpan to signify that the meal will begin soon. She busies herself with the finishing touches of breakfast, making sure there are enough pickles and that the table is set properly, and then darts out to hit the umpan again at ten-minute intervals.

The very last thing to do is scoop the rice porridge from the pressure cooker into a handai (or sushi oke), a bamboo basket for serving. While she does this, a younger nun sticks her head in to ask if she should assume her position at the drum across the monastery, for they will soon engage in a call-and-response bell routine to signify the beginning of the meal. The cook instructs her to go to the drum and then continues spooning the steaming porridge into the basket.

Once this is completed, she goes again to the umpan and hits it in steady strikes, gradually increasing speed until the whole hallway reverberates with her lightning-quick rhythm. She ends with one last strike signifying the beginning of the meal — and then hears the thump of the drum across the way in response, as the younger nun begins her part. This drum beats a sequence that all the experienced nuns recognize. At the final drumbeat, the nun sitting at the head of the table strikes two wooden clackers together. At this sound, everyone puts their hands together in gasho, the prayer mudra, and begins chanting.

Monastery work reminds us that no person exists in isolation. Each sound is a signal instructing the community, and often three or four people are involved in a sequence of drums, gongs, and bells. Making a mistake at any point can throw off the whole sequence. Over the years of participating in these sequences, you learn to pay attention to your actions and understand the consequences they have on others. You begin to embody the truth that we are at all times interconnected with the world around us.

Oryoki, the eating ritual practiced in Japanese monasteries, varies slightly between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Special oryoki bowls (usually three to five black bowls nested inside each other) are kept wrapped in a gray cloth, with chopsticks and spoons in a cloth case on top. Traditionally, monks keep these bowls hanging on hooks above their beds in the meditation hall.

At Nisodo, we only ate in the meditation hall during sesshin, or weeklong intensive meditation periods. Most of the time we would eat sitting on the floor at a long wooden table in the dining room. The table was the oldest piece of equipment in the convent — over a hundred years old, and it bore scratches and nicks from generations of use. After a verse of chanting, we untied the cloth wrapping and opened our bowls. After opening the bowls and placing them on a black placemat, we chanted again.

We reflect on the effort that brought us this food and consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether we are worthy of this offering.

We regard it as essential to free ourselves of excesses such as greed.

We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.

For the sake of enlightenment, we now receive this food.

At breakfast, our largest bowl was for rice porridge, and we would pass our bowls to the center of the table, where nuns spooned hot porridge into them. The middle bowl held cooked vegetables, if they were available, or simply pickles. If we had vegetables, we would pass the serving bowls of vegetables down the table and serve the person across from us, an abbreviated version of the more complex serving procedures that took place during meals in the meditation hall. At lunch, the large bowl again held rice, the middle bowl was for soup, and the third bowl held vegetables. Custom varies between monasteries throughout Japan, but in general breakfast is rice porridge, pickles, and sesame seeds; lunch is somewhat larger, with rice, soup, one or two vegetable dishes, and pickles; and dinner consists of leftovers — often vegetables mixed with noodles or rice.

After the meal was finished, we would clean our bowls by wiping them with a tool called a setsu, a stick with a piece of cloth attached to the end like a spatula. After wiping we licked leftover food from the setsu to make sure nothing was left in the bowls. Then we washed the bowls, first with tea (to loosen sticky rice grains) and then with hot water, carefully washing the smaller bowls and chopsticks in the middle bowl. No soap or additional washing was needed, because the food was usually made without oil and all the leftover food was consumed or wiped clean. At other monasteries, monks would use a pickle to clean their bowls instead of the setsu. It is said that pickles have antiseptic properties, which also helps the cleaning process.

Oryoki means "just enough" for two reasons. The first is that, in the ceremony of oryoki, all physical movement is prescribed and ritualized. For example, there is a form for exactly how to open your bowls (not only the order, but which fingers to use), how to hold the bowls when you eat, how and when to bow, which hand to use when wiping your bowls, and so on. This means that ideally you will always be using just the right amount of physical effort. In the beginning it is quite difficult to memorize all the minute details and rules of oryoki practice, but after a few months it becomes muscle memory. This enables you to eat without thinking. However, it is not a mindless, spaced-out kind of nonthinking. It is a nonthinking that is intimately attuned to the present moment.

Learning oryoki practice is intimidating. There is a strict way to do everything, and because no one talks during the meal, it can seem as though everyone is staring at you, waiting for you to make a mistake. Even Japanese people struggle to learn the elaborate form. It is also physically unwieldy at times; the bowls are slippery and the chopsticks flimsy between your fingers. In a quiet meditation hall, dropping chopsticks on the floor makes a sound like a cannon booming.

But I loved this practice. Some of the best meals I have ever eaten have been simple meals of rice, soup, and vegetables, eaten in silence. When eating occurs this way, the flavors come alive. Despite the small bowls of food, I feel satisfied. I stand up from the meal ready to move on, not craving dessert or to keep eating.

The second reason oryoki means "just enough" is because meals and portions are designed to be just enough to sustain life, yet also satisfying and delicious. One line monks chant before a meal is, "The five colors and six tastes of this meal are offered to dharma and sangha" (dharma means "truth," and sangha is the community of monks and nuns). The monastery cook is trained to pay attention to the five colors (white, yellow, green, red or orange, and brown/black or purple) and six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy, and delicate). In contemporary Japanese kaiseki cooking (traditional high-end multicourse meals), most chefs will design meals with five flavors — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (a special savory taste; see chapter 3) — not six. But whether five flavors or six, a Japanese meal is tastefully balanced, not emphasizing one taste, such as sweet, at the expense of others. This balance of flavors makes people feel more satisfied after eating.

Observers of Japanese and Western culture often note that in the West we usually eat a lot of food piled on one plate, whereas in Japan people eat from several bowls during a meal. This has its roots in oryoki practice and also results in increased satisfaction after eating. Because in oryoki food is served in three to five small bowls, you must pick up each dish and give it your full attention while eating. When you want to try another dish, you have to set the first bowl down and then use two hands to pick up the second bowl. This takes time and attention, so you focus more on the sensations of eating rather than eating as much and as quickly as possible from one plate.

Recent scientific research has shown that because of the Delboeuf illusion, people feel more satisfied when eating from smaller plates and bowls. The Delboeuf illusion is an optical illusion in which, when two circles of equal size are placed next to each other, the one inside a larger circle appears bigger.

In oryoki, then, small amounts of food are placed in many bowls rather than on one large plate. Because of the ratio of food to bowl, this relatively small amount of food seems like a lot. Many factors, such as variety of flavors and colors, the use of multiple bowls, and plating strategies, contribute to the satisfaction gained from the oryoki style of eating.

I don't think the Buddhist monks in China who first started doing oryoki practice knew about the Delboeuf illusion, at least not by that name. They probably didn't care about portion control the same way dieters do. But I do think that they cared very deeply about the nature of desire and contentment — after all, this is the focus of Buddhist practice — and so oryoki naturally arose out of an understanding of the importance of "just enough." Outside of the monastery, it is very difficult to eat in the oryoki style; it is highly ritualized and relies on the communal nature of the practice, in which participants have assigned cooking and serving functions. However, I believe that we can carry the spirit of "just enough" into our meals and our lives.

In oryoki, we use many small bowls with small amounts of delicious food, and this makes us, paradoxically, feel more full. Quite literally, then, we can design our meals to reflect these principles by using more plates and smaller amounts of food with a wide variety of flavors and colors. In other words, we can change the container of our food to feel more satisfied. Broadly and metaphorically, this strategy can be brought into the larger frame of our lives. We can shift the "container" of our lives, so that no matter how much we have or do not have, it is enough.

Usually, the container for our lives is one big plate. The container is an expectation that we will make a great deal of money, have a lot of sex with the right people, and consume the right cultural products. We pile things onto this big plate, but because of the size of the plate, we overeat — we work more, buy more things, have more sex. And yet we don't feel satisfied. If we were to change bowls, if we were to reframe our value system, then we could see our lives through a different perspective. If we bring awareness to the present moment, if we value wisdom and compassion more than material acquisition, then our lives will always feel full. They will feel full, because all that we need is awareness and the cultivation of wisdom. Within this container of awareness, wisdom, and compassion, even an empty cup seems full.

A famous poem by the eleventh-century Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu speaks to this. She wrote:

Although the wind blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks between the roof planks of this ruined house.

This is the voice of a woman who has reshaped the container of her life. Most people would choose a house over a view of the moon, but she values the moon more than the house. Because of this, in the absence of material comfort the presence of the moon is enough. She has reshaped the container of her life, and so everything is just enough.

Before kale and quinoa, before blueberries and acai, there was okara. Okara — the pulp of soybeans that remains after tofu is made — is a real superfood, or at least it is for monks, nuns, and budget-conscious homemakers. Since it is technically waste or residue, it sells for only $2 or $3 per pound (or is even free) in Asian grocery stores, but it is full of protein and incredibly versatile. It acts as a good meat substitute, or, as in the recipe below, it is gently simmered with vegetables for a soothing and filling side dish. As soon as you buy okara, make sure to dry-fry the whole bag until the consistency is like hot sand. This removes unhealthy enzymes and makes it easier to cook with.

At Nisodo, okara was part of the go-to breakfast the first day of sesshin, or meditation intensive. We would serve it alongside brown-rice porridge. Sesshin is silent, and there is very little sensory stimulation, so meals are a big highlight. I still remember the warm, comforting taste of okara in the quiet meditation hall.


Sautéed Vegetables and Tofu Pulp works well for breakfast — it's hot and slightly mushy — but it need not be reserved only for breakfast. Okara is also sold in Japanese supermarkets in premade, packaged form.

I remember when I was in charge of making the menu at Nisodo and I wanted to serve okara. I asked around about how to obtain it. My friend Hosai-san suggested I go to the local tofu maker and ask if she would give it to us. Sure enough, the tofu maker was more than happy to get the stuff off her hands. Tofu makers produce far more tofu pulp than they can use themselves.

Konnyaku is a gray gelatinous cake made from the corm of a taro-like Asian potato called konjak, or devil's tongue. Widely touted as a health food, it is often thinly sliced in stews and soups. Mirin and sake are two types of rice wine used in Japanese cooking. For shiitake mushrooms, see chapter 3.

For sautéing or pan-frying, peanut and canola oils are fine, but olive oil may muddle the flavors.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

2 dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in 1½ cups water at least 4
hours or overnight
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¾ cup minced carrot (or cut into thin quarter-moons)
3 ounces konnyaku (konjak cake), thinly sliced into ¾ × ½-inch strips, about ½ cup
2½ cups okara (tofu pulp)
1 piece (2 × 2 inches) abura age (fried tofu), thinly sliced into ¾
× ½-inch strips
3 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoons sugar Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the shiitakes from the soaking liquid and thinly slice them. Reserve the liquid.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the carrot, konnyaku, and sliced shiitakes for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the carrot softens. Add the okara, abura age, and white parts of the green onions. Continue to sauté on medium-low for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the okara begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the reserved shiitake liquid, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. Stir and continue to simmer the okara and vegetables until the liquid has mostly evaporated, but the ingredients are not dry. If they begin to dry out, add some more water, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir in the green onion tops and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Excerpted from "Just Enough"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Gesshin Claire Greenwood.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Oryoki—the practice of “Just Enough”

Unohana— sautéed vegetables and okara

Meat n’ Potatoes for Zen Monks: Niku jyaga fu

Crushed Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Fried Pumpkin with Sweet Vinegar

Tofu and Walnut Stuffed Mushrooms

Chapter 2: Rice

Colorful “sushi” rice

Daikon “Steak”

Shira-e—mixed vegetables in tofu dressing

Chapter 3: Broth

Miso combinations

Kenchinjiru—hearty country stew

Fried tofu in sauce

Chapter 4: Bamboo

Bamboo rice

Chapter 5: Balance

Five color takiawase (assorted stewed vegetables)

Cucumber salad

Quick Chinese cabbage pickles

Eight treasures stir-fry

Chapter 6: Just Enough Lust

Marinated fried eggplant


Chapter 7: California

Green Gulch’s Oven Baked Tofu

Tempeh hash

Cashew tomato soup

Chapter 8: Just Enough Bridezilla

Tony’s Lemon Sorbet

Pumpkin Salad

Curry Flavored Asparagus and Carrot Fries

Tofu Stuffed Peppers

Chapter 9: Ramen

Hiyashi Chuka- Cold Noodles

Vegan Spicy Miso Ramen

Chapter 10: Bento

Fried koyadoufu “chicken”

Green bean goma-e

Five color soybeans

Simmered root vegetables

Sukiyaki nabe

Winter festival candied yams

Chapter 11: Just Enough Dogs

Chapter 12: End Means Beginning: Leftovers

Carrot peel kinpira

Yaki udon


Chapter 13: How to Cook Well 101

About the Author


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This book is refreshing . . . a welcome reassurance that we may yet find a way to save what is precious.”
— from the foreword by Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal

Just Enough brings some Zen into your life with monastery-inspired vegan recipes, Buddhist sensibility, and a little sass too. Gesshin Claire Greenwood serves up just enough.”
— Ellen Kanner, author of the award-winning book Feeding the Hungry Ghost and SoulfulVegan.com

“Some years ago, I found myself astonished by the blog postings in That’s So Zen. They were written by a young American woman living and training as a Zen priest in Japan. Then she wrote her first book, Bow First, Ask Questions Later, part memoir, part pointer to the Zen way, and I knew I was witnessing something rare. Gesshin Claire Greenwood brings her whole being to the project, leaving nothing out. Now, with her second book, Just Enough, she shows her continuing depth. And she invites us along. Here we get a taste of ancient Japan, monastic Buddhist Japan, Zen Japan, as embodied by a young twenty-first-century woman. East meets West. With nothing left out. Want a peek at the great way? Look at this book. Oh, and you get some very good recipes along the way.”
— James Ishmael Ford, author of Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons

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