Walk as if you’re kissing the Earth with your feet.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk

Last month I read an article, The Zen of Cooking, in Eating Well magazine that resonated with me. The author, an overworked public interest lawyer, wrote about her experience at a five-day cooking and meditation retreat at a Zen Center in California. At first she thought she was going there to relax and learn to cook, instead she learned that cooking was simply a way into Zen—a way to practice mindfulness. Although I’m far from finding my Zen with every meal that I cook, I understood.

Tofu with Honey and Spices

Many of you know I recently traveled to Australia and Hawaii. I had a fantastic time in both places, but after being away from home almost a month, I eventually missed more than just my own bed. I also missed homemade meals. More specifically, I missed cooking. It’s funny because cooking is not something one would expect to miss, but I did.

For me, cooking has turned into more than just creating or following recipes, it’s also about how I cook—the practice and process of connecting with my body, my senses and thoughts as I prepare food. For me, it’s another way to practice mindfulness and hence, a way into Zen.

This might sound a bit whacky, but please stay with me. Think of the many times you have taken a moment to mindfully pay attention to what you are eating—the tastes, the smells and the textures of your food. Hmm, is that a hint of ginger I taste? Is there cinnamon, perhaps even fennel? I’ve recently found that its equally rewarding to do the same thing while cooking. Its now not only about noticing what happens to the food as I prepare it, but also an opportunity for me to observe my own thoughts, which can often be rushed as I’m trying to prepare food for friends and family and get lunch or dinner at the table on time. I’ve learned that taking the time to slow down and notice the way I cook is an opportunity to find and apply greater life lessons in patience, gratitude, generosity, love and compassion.

Sometimes I so quickly peel, chop, mince, etc., ingredients to get dishes ready in time that I barely have time to appreciate anything. But the practice of mindfulness in cooking is really the opposite; more importance is placed in the steps along the way. In cooking, that can translate to seemingly simple things like peeling potatoes and chopping garlic and onions, mindfully. It can mean taking the time to enjoy the sweet and citrusy aromatic flavor of dill, or knowing the sweet difference in carrots that were either boiled, steamed, baked or broiled—there is a difference—and it can be the process of slowly washing greens and tearing leaves mindfully when preparing a salad. It’s about learning to be present, even while cooking, because cooking in the moment can be as nourishing as the food.

I can’t say that I am always in the moment while cooking—I’m still a work in progress—but when I am, it not only feeds my loved ones, it also feeds my soul. I hope to find my Zen more often, especially while cooking, because how one cooks is often more important than what one cooks.

Tofu with Spices

Tofu with Honey and Herbs
1, 12-14 ounce, package tofu
1 2-inch piece of ginger
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons honey
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
, chopped
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1-2 cups vegetable stock
1-2 lemons, cut in wedges (save a few wedges for garnish)

Cut the tofu into rectangles, and set on a few paper towels or dish towel to drain. When dry, place in a dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a small food processor, combine and ginger and peeled garlic cloves until mixture becomes a paste. Set aside.
 In a small bowl, mix the honey with thyme leaves, chopped rosemary leaves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
 Season the tofu generously with salt and pepper, and allow tofu to marinate in the honey mixture for 20 minutes.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium to high heat. Add fennel seeds, ground coriander, and the mixture of ginger and garlic. Continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add marinated tofu and allow each rectangular block to brown on both sides. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add a couple of lemon wedges and continue to cook a few minutes. Serve with sauce from the tofu drizzled on top of your grain of choice. Some possibilities include brown rice, barley, farro, couscous, etc. Feel free to have fun with this dish, putting your own spin to it, and enjoy!

Have you ever found your Zen while cooking? I’d love to know.

19 thoughts on “The Zen of Cooking

  1. Althought I love cooking it’s very rare from me to experience “Zen” when I do it, as I am always under pressure with all the responsibilities I have. I am usually rushing to get the kids out in the morning and while making dinner I am also helping with homework. On the weekend I avoid cooking to spend time with family or I try new recipes which requires concentration and a different set of mind. I do feel Zen when I go to the outdoor market by myself. I usually have to be alone to be Zen Lol which I rarely am when in the kitchen. Maybe when the kids are older, let’s hope 🙂

    1. Hi Asmae, I totally know what you mean. As I mentioned, I’m often quite rushed in the kitchen, especially when trying multiple new recipes at the same time! The outdoor market sounds like a lovely place to feel Zen.

    1. Love the idea of slowing down in the kitchen with how being present to all the aromas and textures can open up all the senses…and maybe lead to Zen! A little more heart in the art of cooking. Will definitely try the recipe too!

      1. Thanks Libby. It seems more and more challenging to find ways to slow down and be present in the many things, like cooking, that most of us do often. Yes, a little more heart in the art of cooking is definitely part of the art of living a balanced life. If you try the recipe, I’d love to hear your thoughts or variations!

    1. Frantz, I completely understand how you can draw the parallel between the two. There most definitely is a parallel between cooking and painting. For one, they are both forms of art, thank you!

  2. Thank you Martine for sharing. I thought–my goodness it is possible to know a sense of peace with cooking! My heart gave a sigh. I say this with complete honesty that reading your posts always takes me to that state of mindfulness–I didn’t know it was called Zen. When I read your posts, I drink in slowly the artful pictures you provide (I especially enjoy the ones with little fingers), then I slowly chew on your words of inspiration, and finally I swallow and feel my mind relax and my lips turn up into a smile. Perhaps it is Zen but what I come away with from your posts is more akin to Loving. Thank you always for your loving words. In all honesty, your posts are very much a retreat–they are a re[peated]-treat each and every time!

    1. Josephine, you’re too kind! I’m so humbled and honored by your beautiful words. I sincerely thank you for sharing such a lovely comment. As I post, sharing my thoughts about life, my cooking, my photography and aspirations to become a better person–a better wife, mother and friend–I can only hope that my words meaningfully touch the lives of others who visit and read. Thank you for letting me know there are times that this, my labor of love, actually does. So much love to you!

    1. Many thanks Shanna, very kind of you to say. I’m so happy to know you’re enjoying my food and the photos with my little one! He loves to come by to touch and taste everything I make. I love it!

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