"Five Seasons in the Kitchen: Zen-Inspired Vegan Cooking"
Avital Sebbag is an N.D.LI.ac certified natural therapist, specializing in nutrition and ancient Chinese medicine. A practitioner of the Kwan Um school of Zen, Avital’s stunning cookbook “Five Seasons in the Kitchen: Zen-Inspired Vegan Cooking” exudes exquisite harmony and utter simplicity that engages all the senses.
Opened with several insightful forewords explaining the essence of Zen and the connection between mind, body, and healthy food, you’ll also find a guide to the five seasons (spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter) and their respective organs, colors, flavors, and foods. The 75 seasonal, organic recipes highlight the best that each season has to offer, from tender asparagus, snow peas, artichokes, squash flowers, and zucchini to hearty root vegetables in winter. The dishes are sugar-free, cholesterol-free, and gluten-free, with many additionally being raw (many recipes give instructions on how to dehydrate fruits and vegetables as well as oven-based alternatives).
In addition to Korean and Japanese staples (Japanese pickles, kimchi, gimbap, miso soup, soba), you’ll also find nods to Israeli cuisine (tabbouleh, mesabaha, falafel, hummus) given the same attention to detail and a lighter, healthier makeover without losing the essence of the original. The baked falafel makes use of sprouted lentils, almonds, cashews and flaxseed and can either be baked or prepared in a food dehydrator, making them much lighter than their traditional deep-fried counterparts. And European favorites like paella and gnocchi are given a similar treatment. In Zen, it is believed that lighter foods heighten awareness, and that the act of preparing and serving food is a form of meditation in itself that nurtures and nourishes the giver as well as receiver; our relationship to the preparation of food reveals our relationship to all being.
The book’s visual design is gorgeous, with each season introduced in Chinese/Japanese brush calligraphy on matte pages. Every recipe includes beautifully plated food photography, and many also feature useful step-by-step photos. “Good to Know” sidebars provide additional hints, tips and background on ingredients and techniques. Each season offers a self-contained menu including a drink, appetizers, main dishes, sides and desserts, making it perfect for entertaining as well.
As a follower of Japanese Zen Buddhism, I have eaten and prepared Japanese Buddhist shojin ryori (精進料理) for the last several years, including at temples and restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto, Kamakura, and Koyasan, but this was my first introduction to Korean temple cuisine and dishes. It was fascinating to see how Avital uses the same ingredients used in shojin ryori in different ways, and has given me a greater appreciation for the richness of Zen as practiced around the world (when I was living in Taiwan in 2015, I also visited several Chan (Zen) monasteries and dined at Taiwanese temples).
I made several of the recipes from “Five Seasons in the Kitchen” from various seasons, including the fresh tabbouleh salad, vegetable-stuffed persimmon fruit leather in Asian sauce (spring), endive boats with macadamia nut feta and asparagus wrapped in seaweed with tofu and lemon crumbs (summer), roasted eggplant in tahini paste (summer), and king oyster St. Jacques in Lemon Sauce (winter). All were delicious, easy to prepare, and made use of ingredients that should be readily available (I live in Japan, and am lucky to have access to many kinds of miso, tofu, mushrooms and fresh and dried seaweeds).
The beauty of Avital’s recipes is in their simplicity and vibrancy; Japanese shojin ryori is based upon including five colors, flavors, and cooking methods, and the recipes in “Five Seasons in the Kitchen” are similarly colorful, delicious, and nourishing. The wide range of international influences was also a pleasant surprise. “Five Seasons in the Kitchen: Zen-inspired Vegan Cuisine” teaches appreciation for nature’s gifts and Avital’s delicious, vibrant food embodies the joy of Zen. You don’t need to be Buddhist or even vegetarian to appreciate the richness of Zen cuisine; we could all use a moment to rest in the moment and recharge in today’s hectic, fast-paced world. As성향 Soeng Hyang, Head Teacher of Kwan Um School of Zen states in the foreword, “We meditate to see our original mind. We eat healthy food in order to return to our original balanced and healthy self.” Wishing my readers inner peace and good health on your journey!
(My deepest gratitude to Avital Sebbag and Tammy Hahn for providing a review copy of “Five Seasons in the Kitchen”; 本当に感謝しています!)
For more information or to order a copy of "Five Seasons in the Kitchen," visit www.avitalsebbag.com.