Meditative Minestrone - A Recipe for Mindful Cooking
I don’t know if it is the same for you, but sometimes I feel like I have to claw myself into the kitchen at the end of a long day. The temptation to buy something made by someone else and zone out in front of Netflix is so strong, even though I know these things are not the best choices for my health or happiness. After spending the day running around, sometimes finding the last drop of energy to take care of ourselves is the hardest.
And yet, it is the most important thing. This is exactly the time when we need to reconnect to our inner calm and nourish ourselves with a healthy meal. I realised recently that each night I had a choice – either I could let cooking and cleaning up after dinner be a stress, or I could let the process be the path to rediscover joy and balance inside myself. It was up to me to shift my mindset - from seeing this as a chore, to seeing it as a chance to meditate.
Mindful in the kitchen
This is by no means a brilliant idea of my own, it is something Buddhists and proponents of mindfulness have done for a long time. If you want to see the most beautiful and touching example of this, just check out the Chef’s Table Season 3 Episode 1 with Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk and chef in South Korea. (Oh no, we are back on the couch in front of Netflix again! If you would rather read all about it, you will find some articles here: "Jeong Kwan on Good Food and How to be Happy" // "Zen and the Art of Korean Vegan Cooking").
Meditate on the mundane
So what does mindful cooking actually look like? Let me take this meditative minestrone soup as an example. All you actually have to do is chop a few vegetables, throw things into one pot and then clean up a few dishes afterwards, over a total of about 30 mins. Nothing dramatic about it. But after a long day my mind somehow makes it into a chore and tells me I can’t really be bothered with it all. So, I started to use this approach of mindfulness in the kitchen to take on my mind.
First of all, before I chop a single vegetable I remind myself what a privilege it is to prepare healthy and delicious food to nourish myself and those I love, and offer gratitude to all the people who made that possible. Next, I take out all the ingredients and start preparing them. When I am chopping the vegetables, I am simply chopping the vegetables. Keeping my awareness completely in the moment. Feeling the knife in my hand, appreciating the colour and beauty of the produce. Noticing my breath and my posture, and if I am holding any tension from the day letting it go with each exhalation. Standing tall and comfortable as I work with as much ease as possible. Importantly, I don’t focus too much on the outcome of the process, or what is still to be done, but try to find joy and ease in each step along the way.
When it comes to cleaning up, the thing I enjoy the least (just ask my husband ;), instead of feeling frustrated by the mess, I just clean one thing at a time. Focusing my mind on one task and being fully present with it. Of course, the mind wanders, but whenever I notice that I remember that is the golden moment to gently bring my awareness back to the present. One dish at a time.
The food tastes better when the cook is joyful
Through this whole process, I am not only nourishing my body with healthy food but creating a meditative space that helps me reconnect to what is important after a busy day. What I have learned in the process are things that can help me in the rest of my life:
Having patience with myself and the process
Focussing on one task at a time
Being in the present
Working with ease for the joy of creating, without attachment to the outcome
Watching my habits with posture and breath
Letting the simple joys in life satisfy me
Being aware of what I am doing, without judgement
Realising that when I don’t rush, it is easier to keep a clear and calm mind
This retake on the classic minestrone soup has been a staple for me all through winter. Not only because it is nourishing and delicious, but because it is the ideal simple and wholesome dish to pair with mindful cooking. I hope that you enjoy it as well, and that it helps you find a new way to approach cooking, bringing joy into the process and not only the result!
Recipe Type: Soup | Author: Michelle - The Great Full
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 30 mins
This meditative minestrone is simple, delicious and wholesome. It is also the perfect way to start cooking mindfully, allowing your time in the kitchen to help you find joy and calm.
150g Onion (or Leek)
150g Kale, Chard or Spinach
250g Mushrooms, sliced
400g Sweet Potato, cut into cubes (approx. 2 small ones, otherwise can use pumpkin)
300g Red Cabbage, sliced (any other type will also work, this just has a nice colour and flavor)
1 Can Borlotti Beans (or any red/black bean)
1 cup Pasta (fussili, penne, rigati, macaroni or shells work best. I use spelt or gluten free but any will work)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Ghee (if you are vegan, replace with olive oil)
1 Tbsp Dried Italian Herb Mix
1 tsp Finely Ground Black Pepper
4 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
10 sprigs Fresh Thyme
2 L Vegetable Stock (buy, make yourself or use stock powder – find one that is good as it will have a big impact on the taste of the soup!)
Juice ½ a Lemon
Fresh Parmesan (optional, for serving)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Stock pot, soup pot or dutch oven with minimum 5.5 L capacity
String or yarn
Prepare all the vegetables – slice mushrooms, dice sweet potatoes, slice cabbage, shred kale, dice onions.
If using a Dutch oven, slowly warm on the hotplate according to instructions.
Place olive oil, ghee and chopped onion in the pot. Turn heat to medium. Sauté onions until soft.
Add dried Italian herb mix and stir.
Add sweet potato and mushroom. Mix well, place lid on and cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
Meanwhile, make a posy from the fresh herbs by tying rosemary and thyme sprigs together in a bunch with string. This keeps the herb stalks together and saves you/your guests picking them out of their soup (full disclaimer, this was a genius idea from my husband, who was indeed sick of picking them out of his soup!)
Add in 2L of stock, cabbage, fresh herb posy, black pepper. Put lid on, increase heat and simmer for 15 mins.
Add pasta. Place lid on and continue to simmer for the cooking time indicated on the pasta packet (the one I use needs only 5 mins, if it needs longer you may want to add it a little earlier)
Open can of beans, drain and rinse.
Remove lid of soup pot when the pasta is cooked. Add in the beans and mix through. Add kale/chard/spinach on the top, place the lid on and leave for around 2 mins while the greens wilt (this will take longer for kale, less for spinach).
Remove from heat. Squeeze in juice of half a lemon and mix through.
Serve with some grated parmesan on top and season with salt and pepper to taste.