Zen in the Kitchen: How to Make Cooking Simple, Sane, and Satisfying - Goodlife Zen

Zen in the Kitchen: How to Make Cooking Simple, Sane, and Satisfying


Do you enjoy cooking? Making a meal for others can be a wonderful experience if we approach it in a mindful way and use it to nurture ourselves and others. Or it can turn into a grinding chore if we just throw fast-food meals onto the table. In the following I list some points that are important in order to make cooking a full and satisfying experience.

Cooking as a spiritual act

Cooks were always highly esteemed in Zen monasteries. In ancient China the cook was revered second only to the abbot. This is because cooking can be a spiritual experience. Dogen, the great 13th century Japanese Zen master said in his Instructions for the Zen Cook that the cook must manifest “big mind, joyful mind.”


According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, the eminent psychologist who researched the phenomenon of high performance that he called ‘flow’, it is the possibility of a transcendent experience that pulls people to the kitchen.


“I’m not surprised that cooking won’t go away,” he said. “I can lose myself making a Bolognese sauce, finely chopping the onions, the carrots, three kinds of meat, and the slow, slow simmering. There is a sense of order and control and something so wholesome and tactile about cooking. Besides, how many times does modern life offer the opportunity to create something with one’s hands?”

Following the cycle of nature

When planning your mean it’s good to follow the cycle of nature by using seasonal vegetables and fruit. Not only does this help your food budget, it also keep you in touch with the natural rhythm of the season. Comforting soups in winter and cool salads in summers help us accept and even celebrate the rhythm of the year which mirrors our own life seasons.

Creative solitude

The kitchen is a good place to enjoy creative solitude. As Dr. Csikszentmihalyi says, “Cooking is one of few activities that people feel better doing alone.”


Talking of solitude, I once saw a great clip of a live broadcast where a chef called Mrs. Child was making a chicken dish. As she was transferring the cooked chicken to the serving dish, it slipped and landed – splash – on the floor. With utmost aplomb she bent down and retrieved the chicken. Then she looked into the camera and said calmly, “Remember, you are alone in the kitchen!” In honour of this clip I adhere to the “30 second rule”. This means that if something is retrieved within 30 seconds – it hasn’t really touched the floor 🙂

Sensory pleasure

Cooking is a way to enjoy the sensuality of food. Dr. Thomas Moore, a psychotherapist in western Massachusetts and author of “Care of the Soul: a Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Daily Life” (HarperCollins, 1992), said that the sensual aspect of cooking — the aroma, feel and taste of ingredients — allows people a connection to the natural world that is “invigorating, enlivening and ultimately healing.”


Using what we need – and not more – is an important aspect of the Zen kitchen. Check that you are now wasting food and that you are recyclying leftovers.

A clean kitchen

A Zen kitchen should be clean. This is not only an important part of hygiene, it’s also an necessary aspect of creativity. It’s rather like starting out writing on an empty page or painting on a blank canvas.


Sharing food is an ancient way of bonding with family members and friends. Make a point of cooking for friends regularly. It’s a wonderful practice to focus loving-kind thoughts on those who you are cooking for. When they are eating your meal, they are nourished by your kindness, as well by your food.

Tasting the food
When the times comes to eating the food you have produced, make sure that all your focus is on the taste. This means turning off the TV and putting the newspaper away. You might like to try a fun evening with friends where they are blindfolded before the meal is put in front of them!

Use food to enhance health

Health is supported by good nutrition. Make sure that your meals are well balanced with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.


There are many recipes that are cheap and tasty. Here is one from the VermontZen website.


1-11⁄2 lb. firm (not extra-firm) silken tofu, drained

Marinate tofu in a mixture of ⅛ cup tamari and ⅛ cup water. Slice tofu into sixths, place in pan, and cover with marinade. If there is not enough marinade, make enough to cover tofu. Let sit for 1 hour. Drain before proceeding with recipe. (The marinade drained from the tofu can be stored in the refrigerator and used again.)

⅓ cup tahini
1⁄2 tablespoon tamari
⅓ cup water
⅛ teaspoon mace
scant 1⁄2 teaspoon Coleman’s mustard powder
⅛ teaspoon onion powder, optional

1⁄2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Combine the tahini, tamari, water, mace, onion powder and mustard in pan. Cook over low heat until mixture thickens.

Pour sauce over drained, marinated tofu. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover and bake at 325° until warmed through, about 45 minutes.

Serve with rice and green vegetable.
Serves 2

Please contributes some of your favourite recipes in your comments! And let us know what you find important in the Zen kitchen.

Copyright: Mary Jaksch 2008

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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