Buddhism has flourished in Korea for more than 1,600 years. Korean Buddhist temple cuisine, a fusion of Buddhist dharma to North Asian culture, is distinct from foods eaten by other Buddhist sects.
Buddhist food generally doesn’t contain animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and fish roe. But traditional Korean Buddhist cuisine also excludes certain vegetables, including onions, green onions (scallions), baby garlic, leeks and chives. It is believed these whet the sexual appetite, which is forbidden for celibate monks.
Some of the hallmarks of Korean temple food are simplicity in the use of seasonal herbs and vegetables and judicious seasoning. The 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.
Because 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 shittake 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 side dishes) such as Buddhist temple-style watercress.