Shojin Ryori – Zen Buddhist Vegetarian Cooking Class with Naoko Moller

February 11, 2020

Adzuki Bean Paste with Tapioca Pearls and Roasted Tea

Zen Buddhist Vegetarian Cooking Class

“Shojin-Ryori” is a traditional Japanese Cuisine that originated in Zen Buddhist temples. This devotional cuisine is more than its fresh vegetarian ingredients, it is a spiritual practice, a way to “discipline the mind and open the spirit.”

Interested in learning more about this philosophy, I signed up for a Zen Buddhist Cooking Class. The instructor, Naoko Moller, was born in a Zen Buddhist temple in Niigata, Japan and grew up helping her mom cook traditional Zen Buddhist food for Japanese monks. As an adult, Naoko became an ESL Educator, operating an English School in Japan for over 20 years. She continued her teaching career in Hawaii, teaching Japanese language and culture at the Honolulu Waldorf School. Today, Naoko combines her love for teaching with her childhood knowledge of Zen Buddhist cooking to create Zen Buddhist vegetarian cooking workshops that she offers in England, America and Japan.

Naoko is a spunky woman with a gift for teaching, infusing humor throughout her informative and interactive cooking class. Naoko explained that one of the fundamental principles in Buddhism is the respect for all life and to avoid killing, which is why this cuisine does not include meat, dairy, eggs or insects. This also means no fish, which is certainly considered part of a traditional Japanese diet. The primary source of protein in a Zen Buddhist diet comes from soy and nuts. Eating seasonal is also an important aspect of this cuisine and an important way to maintain balance in the body.

Contrary to Western cooking, Zen Buddhist cooking also minimizes the use of oil, and instead primarily focuses on cooking with water. During the workshop, Naoko explained the significance of the number five in the Buddhist tradition, and how these numbers should also be considered in meal preparation.

Rules of 5:

  • 5 ways to prepare: raw, boil, broil, fry, and steam
  • 5 different flavors: spicy/hot, sour, bitter, salty, sweet
  • 5 different colors: blue/green, yellow, red, white, black


Naoko emphasized that there should be a subtleness in preparation, preserving the taste and quality of each ingredient. Each of the above food preparations, flavors and colors should be considered with each meal. In order to preserve the color and flavor of each ingredient, preparations and processes that overcook or over season should be avoided. This means no deep battered and frying, microwaving, excessive seasonings like sugar and salt, or processed or prepackaged foods; the convenience-driven food preparations of the modern world. Pickled food and tea are also included with each meal.

Thoroughly enjoying my time with Naoko, I attempted to incorporate some of the Zen Buddhist principles I learned from her cooking class; I made a Miso Tofu Bowl with Goji Berry Kale and Cauliflower Rice. While this is in no form or fashion a perfect example of a Zen Buddhist meal, I am happy with the first attempt. The thoughtfulness required to incorporate all five food preparations, flavors and colors heightened my mindfulness and attention in the kitchen, giving an insight into this wonderful practice of preparation.


For recipe ideas, workshop dates, and to learn more about this cuisine, check out Naoko Moller’s blog at One Plate ZEN Recipes.

The Adventure Prescription:

Try creating your own Zen Buddhist inspired vegetarian meal and experience this traditional practice of being present while you cook and eat!
The simplicity of Zen Buddhist cooking is often a difficult choice when you have a busy schedule and enjoy the convenience of modern-day society. As with any new venture, the more you practice the easier it gets. Remember this is a devotional cuisine that is intended to “discipline the mind” and bring awareness to what you are putting into your body. Incorporating aspects of Shojin Ryori into your cooking can help you:

  1. Support local farmers by choosing seasonal produce
  2. Change your taste buds and reduce cravings for artificial sugar and overly seasoned, oiled, and processed foods.
  3. Learn how to enjoy creating and eating foods that nourish and balance your body and mind.