Mealtime is meditation time for Janet Nima Taylor, director of the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City.
She tries to be mindful during all the steps it takes to bring a meal to the table.
“It begins with an awareness when shopping for the ingredients and to have a sense of gratitude and awe for all that went into making, say, a head of cabbage: the seedling, the sunlight, the rain, the farmers that grew it, and on and on,” she says. “Food is meant to nurture us — both body and soul — and a sense of joy should extend not only to those with whom we share a meal, but even to the washing of dirty dishes.”
Residence: Kansas City
Special cooking interest: Creating mindful meals
What does it mean to practice Buddhism? In our wild and restless lives, it is a practice to find the peace that lies within. To practice Buddhism does not mean that you must forfeit your religious beliefs, it is a practice to be mindful in every moment of our lives.
Some humans perceive their bodies to be separate, solid and in a permanent state. In Buddhism, the perception is that we are all connected, living and ever-changing beings. When we begin to feel that aliveness within, the world becomes alive — and that extends to our food.
At a recent retreat, we brought our own lunches and sat in silence to eat. When you try to turn down the rushing thoughts and focus on what you’re eating, you really notice that a carrot tastes sweet or when your stomach is full.
But on the best of days, it may seem nearly impossible to accomplish everything, let alone sit down with your family or by yourself to truly relish the food you’re eating. That restlessness is the mind diverting us from the present moment, which is the only moment we find ourselves truly alive. We are not our racing minds, we just are.
That doesn’t mean we don’t stop thinking — our thoughts come and go. It’s about not becoming entangled in those thoughts. Do not be concerned about what is next, but — in this moment — be present with others and not distracted by an inner dialogue.
There is a practice called the tea ceremony, where one is called to meditate on a cup of tea’s creation and consumption. It is a simply powerful ceremony and it is not surprising that as humans, we have rituals surrounding food.
What exactly are momos and is there a food ritual that surrounds the preparation of them? The Tibetan momo is one of my favorite dishes, and has endless varieties. I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, last year, and relished eating momos at every restaurant we visited. Momos can be made with meat and/or vegetables.
Tibetan Buddhists are usually not vegetarian, since they survive in the foothills of the Himalayas on yaks, a long-haired “cow” found in the region. Tibetans eat yak meat, drink their milk, and use them as transportation and pack animals.
Momos are similar to Chinese dumplings in that they can be steamed or fried. When steamed, the outer shell has that beautiful consistency of being solid enough to hold the ingredients inside, yet soft enough to almost dissolve in your mouth as you take the first bite. Momos also include a myriad of sauces that can dramatically change the taste.
Every Tibetan family has their own special recipe, and momos are usually made together with everyone in the family helping. That is a ritual in that every one is part of not only making the food, but also eating together and cleaning up afterward.
This simple practice of involving everyone in the meal — from start to finish — is one that you can have in your own home, to whatever degree you can.
The round, happy statue of a Buddha is an image many associate with Buddhism. What does it say exactly when, as a society, we are trying to be health-conscious and lose the belly fat? Ho-Tai, or the Happy Buddha, is one of many statues in Buddhism, but is probably the most popular in the United States. He is usually depicted as a plump, bald man wearing a robe.
But, most of all, he is laughing and contented.
You don’t need to beat yourself up — in your mind — for falling short or not being “perfect.” Just be who you are and realize that we are all connected. Life is meant to be joyful. Don’t miss the joy in the food you eat today.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Events to celebrate being in the moment
Interfaith events designed to generate kindness and compassion begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. Events feature the Buddhist Relics Tour and the Drepung Gomang Monks, who will be making a sand mandala. For more information, go to TempleBuddhistCenter.org.
Tibetan Vegetarian Momos
Makes 48 (3-inch) crescent shapes
1 onion, finely minced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 (8-ounce) package shredded cabbage
1/2 pound tofu, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable stock or water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water
5 red Thai chili peppers, finely minced
1 green onion, finely sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
2 large tomatoes, grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice
For the filling: Into a large bowl, stir onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, cabbage, tofu, mushrooms, soy sauce and vegetable stock (or water) together. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well and set aside.
For the dough: Pour flour into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle of the flour and slowly pour in ½ cup water. Using a fork, slowly incorporate flour into water, adding additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until a firm dough forms, about 5 minutes. Place back in bowl and cover with a clean towel and allow dough to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 24 circles of dough (combine dough scraps, roll again and cut out more circles, if necessary).
To assemble momos: Place a teaspoonful of filling on 1 side of each dough circle. Brush the outer rim of the dough with water, fold the dough over the filling and seal by pressing the edges together firmly, using the tines of a fork or folding over to seal. Place the filled momos on baking trays. Repeat the process with the remaining 1/2 dough and filling.
Lightly oil steamer tray(s) and place uncooked momos inside, so they are close, but not touching. Add water to steamer bottom and once it boils, place steamer tray(s) filled with momos on top. Cover tightly with lid and allow to steam for 12 to 15 minutes. To test for doneness, take the lid off the steamer and carefully touch a momo with a clean fingertip. Momos should not be sticky to the touch, if they are, continue steaming.
While momos are steaming, make the dipping sauce: Into the bowl of a blender or food processor, pulse Thai chili peppers, green onion, cilantro leaves, salt and water together until a slightly chunky mixture is formed. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl and add tomatoes and lemon juice. Gently stir together and pour into a serving bowl. Place steamed momos on a platter and serve with sauce for dipping.
Per crescent: 29 calories (10 percent from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 69 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.