Friday, May 21, 2010

A meal fit for a Buddha: Posotbap (버섯밥) Mushrooms and Rice

Buddhism has flourished in Korea for more than 1,600 years. The Korean Buddhist temple cuisine born of this fusion of Buddhist dharma to North Asian culture has created a cuisine unique from other Buddhist sects yet recognizably Buddhist.

There are certain constraints, however. Meat, Fish and animal products — including eggs, fish roe, etc. — are forbidden. But many people don't know that traditional Korean Buddhist cuisine excludes certain vegetables as well.

These verboten vegetables include onions, green onions (scallions), baby garlic, leeks, and chives. Buddhists believe these particular herbs and vegetables stimulate the sexual appetite, which is forbidden for celibate monks.

Some of the hallmarks of Korean temple food its simplicity: use of seasonal herbs and vegetables and judicious seasoning. Temple food might seem bland compared with more popular Korean dishes such as samgyeopsal or dakkalbi, but experimenting with Korean temple cuisine can help you get your recommended five servings of vegetables per day.

Since Buddhist cuisine is vegan, here's a vegan recipe that features one of my favorite ingredients: mushrooms.

Since the Buddha was born in India, I'm using basmati rice in this version.
Posotbap (버섯밥, mushrooms and rice)

1-2 cups  rice (makes 2-4 cups cooked)
8 ounces shiitake mushroom or other mushrooms, finely diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
water (according to instructions on your rice cooker)

Clean off the mushrooms with a damp kitchen towel and wipe off as much dirt as possible. If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 10-20 to rehydrate. Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, squeeze as much water out of them as possible before dicing. Save the mushroom water and put it into your rice cooker to cook your rice.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the mushrooms and soy sauce and sauté for six minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the sesame oil, mix well, and set aside.

Put the rice in the rice cooker. Pour the mushroom water — if you used dried, rehydrated mushrooms — into your rice cooker and top off with regular filtered water, if necessary. Set the cooker to cook white rice.

After the rice is cooked, fluff it with a wooden spoon and then serve into bowls. Top with mushrooms and serve with vegetarian banchan, Korean for side dishes, such as Buddhist temple-style watercress.

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