I’m a feminist author, Buddhist priest, and mental health worker. I believe the human condition is messy and infinitely interesting, and that the particular is universal. This is why I write about my own struggles-- to help readers feel connected and less alone.
Zen Cooking Basics, from "Just Enough"
Here are some things to remember as you prepare the dishes in this book or any other meals you are making.
1. Treat vegetables as though they were your own eyes — be careful with them, take care of them, and don’t touch them without washing your hands first.
2. Treat pots and pans like your own head. Same idea.
3. Understand the different cooking times of vegetables. Carrots cook slower than cabbage, so they need to be added to the pan first. Also, the larger the cut of vegetable (for example, with potatoes), the longer it will take to cook it. Green onions shrink and darken with heat, so if they are sliced thinly, they don’t need to be cooked at all. If making soup, greens such as spinach or komatsuna don’t need to be cooked either; they will wilt sufficiently in the scalding broth. Plan your cooking according to the cooking times of your ingredients.
4. Slice things with care. It’s nice to have all the vegetables cut the same size or at least the same shape, for example, all in slices or all in rounds.
5. Prepare all your ingredients beforehand. It is tempting to start cooking before all the things are chopped, but this will just make you feel rushed.
6. Be brave with salt! My rule of thumb is to add salt until, when you taste the food, your brain tells you, “Yum. I want to eat more!” It’s like going to Europe or falling in love — you’ll know when you get there. At the same time, it can be scary to add enough salt. Restaurant cooks will tell you that everyone underestimates how much salt (and sugar, but that’s another story) goes into restaurant food. But salt is not bad for you. Research has shown that high salt content is only dangerous for people who already have high blood pressure or kidney disease.
7. As in love, timing is everything. Serve hot food hot and cold food dressed at the last minute. Cook vegetables just the right amount of time. This sounds basic, but it is one of the hardest parts about cooking. You need to be in tune with what you are cooking. Watch closely and smell. Look for that color as vegetables brown. Dress your salad immediately before serving, not 10 minutes before, or it will be soggy. If you are serving soup and another dish, make the soup first and then the other dish. Immediately before serving, bring the soup back to a boil, and only then add the garnish. If making several dishes, understand which foods cook fastest and make them last.
8. Store cooking tools in places that make sense. Heavy pots should be stored in low places, spoons and chopsticks in higher places. Clean up afterwards.
9. Cook to nourish people and make them happy. Bring to mind those you are cooking for before you begin. Try to bring them joy with your food.
10. Basically, pay attention, understand and respect your materials, cook things the right amount of time, add just enough salt, and cook to nourish others.