The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Cooking as the Path

by Lydia Anderson
December 6, 2013
Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:23 -- landerson

December is a time for cooking and baking, but sometimes that can lead to stress. What if we could use our time in the kitchen as a way to practice mindfulness, rather than a way to cultivate anxiety? Luckily, Lama Zopa Rinpoche has much-needed advice on the matter. In June he spoke to the cooks of Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala, but even amateur chefs can use the wisdom he relayed:

Practicing bodhichitta mindfulness in the kitchen

Here are some ways to think while you are preparing and cooking the food:

When you are cutting anything, for example onions, think,
I am cutting the root of all sentient beings’ suffering which comes from ignorance and the self-cherishing thought, with the knife of the wisdom realizing emptiness (shunyata) and bodhichitta.

When you are washing pots and so on think,
I am washing away all the obscurations and negative karmas from all sentient beings’ minds.

To read more of Lama Zopa's advice, visit Mandala's blog, here.

Once you are ready to mindfully enter your kitchen, take a copy of Veggiyana: The Dharma of Cooking with you. In it, Sandra Garson shares stories and recipes from her time cooking at a monastery in Nepal. Her stories will inspire you, and her recipes will nourish you and your friends and family. Below is one of our favorites:

Piro Aloo: Spicy Potatoes
At the incredibly busy Garden Restaurant in the Boudha quarter of Kathmandu, the waiters always recognize me with a wry smile as soon as I step in, for I am “the piro aloo lady.” I truly had no idea when two Bhutanese monks first took me there and ordered their favorite “snack,” that when I accepted their entreaties to “please taste” I would end up so addicted I eat them every day I am in Boudha. But I have to confess: that’s how it is. And to make me seem even more bizarre, although piro aloo is on the snack menu, the waiters know I am going to ask the cook to make it for me for breakfast. These potatoes with scrambled eggs and a side of plain, fresh yogurt is my standard start to a Kathmandu day—along with a wave from the cook who knows it’s me when the order comes in. He knows because I actually went into the kitchen to watch him make this. I don’t think anybody, let alone a Westerner, had ever done that, and he has never forgotten. And I have his recipe!
Serves 4 as a meal, 6 as a snack.

1 lb. medium boiling potatoes
3 Tbs. corn, sunflower, mustard, or safflower oil
1 hot green chili, seeded and minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. arbol chili powder, or similar chili powder
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. salt
chopped fresh cilantro

▶ Boil potatoes in their skins in salted water until tender. Do not overcook; potatoes should not be mushy. Drain, cool, and peel. Chop into large bite-sized pieces.
▶ Heat the oil in a medium or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chili, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and turmeric and stir to blend. Lower heat to medium and fry for 1 minute.
▶ Add potatoes. (For best results, the frying pan or skillet should be big enough to hold them in 1 layer.) Add salt onto the potatoes and stir to blend them into the spicy oil.
▶ Sauté for 3–4 minutes, until potatoes are lightly crisp, shaking the pan so nothing sticks and potatoes stay coated. Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro.
▶ Serve as a side dish or snack (offer toothpicks), with a dish of cooling yogurt.

If you have children who might be too picky for Piro Aloo, No Ordinary Apple can help teach them (and all of us) to eat mindfully, not matter what we're consuming.

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