This Buddhist monastery sits at the convergence of two streams, amid twisting leafy trees and soaring peaks. It’s one of many temples in the countryside outside of South Korea’s capital. Each temple has its own specialty. Jinkwansa is famous for two reasons.
First, it’s run entirely by women. The day before our visit, Jill Biden, the wife of the U.S. vice president, was at the temple learning about Korean women’s education.
But we came here to learn about Jinkwansa’s second claim to fame. The place is renowned for preserving the ancient art of Korean temple cuisine.
My interpreter and I are escorted to a small room with sliding doors. Inside, at least 25 different dishes are arrayed on the table. That variety is typical of a Korean lunch. Sun Woo, who directs the temple visit program, explains what makes monastic food different.
“There is no meat and no fish and no MSG,” she says. “And no garlic, no onion, no green onion, no spring onion, or leek.”
As we speak with head nun Gye Ho about the philosophy of the temple, we sit on mats, drinking iced tea made from local berries. The drink is served with melon and squares of sweet, sticky rice topped with fruits and nuts. The nuns eat these sweets on head-shaving day, to replenish their energy.
Gye Ho explains that for the nuns, cooking and eating are spiritual as well as physical practices. “We prepare our food with a clear mind,” she says. “We recognize that the best sauce in the world is the heart that we put into our cooking.”
At the risk of sounding impolite, I finally ask this aged nun, “Do you ever just crave french fries or chocolate?”
Here’s the temple’s recipe for making Kongguksu, or soybean noodles.
2 cups of dried soy beans
1/2 cup of crushed sesame seeds
2 cups of flour
For garnish: Thin cucumber strips, black sesame seeds, red chili pepper
1) Soak soybeans in water for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
2) Boil the beans until tender, an hour or so.
3) Grind the cooked beans with sesame seeds.
4) Squeeze the mixture in a cotton cloth. Discard the pulp, and chill the juice.
5) Mix the flour and a pinch of salt with enough water to make a sticky dough. Store the dough in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours.
6) Roll out the dough and slice into thin noodle strips.
7) Boil the noodles for 3-5 minutes, then rinse under cold water.
8) Serve the noodles with cold soybean juice, cucumber strips, black sesame seeds and sliced red chili pepper
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