Monday, May 20, 2024

Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine: Delights from the Land of the Rising Sun

Whenever I travel, I love exploring different flavors, whether at fancy restaurants or street vendors. In Malaysia, there's no shortage of Japanese restaurants, and you can even find Japanese food at food courts. My favorite is the raw fresh cuts, known as "Sashimi," which is best at authentic Japanese restaurants. It's pricey, but worth it - delicious slices of seafood picked up with chopsticks, dipped in Japanese soy sauce and wasabi. What a mouth-melting delight! I usually go for the seafood varieties, and they're always a treat. Are you a fan of sashimi? If you are, I bet you know exactly what I'm talking about and how delicious it is.

Even before visiting Japan, I enjoyed trying Japanese recipes from cooking shows. I like to mix things up, using whatever I have in my kitchen and adding local ingredients - authenticity isn't my main goal. I did get some mirin and dashi paste, but they contain alcohol, so you can skip them if you prefer. Soy sauce is easy to find, though.


Now, let's get into the recipes. They're all vegetarian (Vegetarian Mutton Gastronomy), but here's a thought: are mirin and dashi paste, with their alcohol content, okay for vegetarians? Something to ponder. Anyway, here are the recipes. Remember, they're my spin on Japanese cuisine, not necessarily traditional.

Crispy Tofu Katsu 
1 packet (150g) Japanese egg tofu, removed from packaging and sliced into pieces 
1 cup breadcrumbs 
2 sprigs spring onion, shredded 
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dipping sauce 
2-3 tbsp Japanese soy sauce 
1/2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds 
A pinch of sugar

In a bowl, mix breadcrumbs with shredded spring onion, salt, and pepper.   
Roll each tofu piece in the breadcrumb mixture until coated evenly. 
Heat oil in a deep fryer or skillet and fry the tofu until golden brown.
In a separate bowl, combine Japanese soy sauce, roasted sesame seeds, and a pinch of sugar to make the dipping sauce. 
Serve the crispy tofu katsu with the dipping sauce on the side. 

Kenchin Jiru (Japanese Vegetable Soup) 
300g lotus root, peeled and sliced into rings 
1 small leek, sliced 
200g dried black mushrooms, soaked to soften and sliced 
1 piece white tofu, cubed into medium-sized pieces 
Spring onion for garnishing

For the soup base 
1/2 litre water 
2 tbsp dashi paste (or as needed) 
2 tbsp mirin 
Salt and white pepper to taste

Simmer lotus root in water until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients except tofu and leeks.
Stir and heat through.
Add tofu and leeks, gently stirring to avoid breaking the tofu.
After 2-3 minutes, remove from heat.
Garnish with spring onion before serving. 

Simmered Daikon (Daikon No Nimono) 
250g (1 medium size) radish, peeled, thickly sliced, and scored in between 
1 tsp dashi paste, dissolved in 4 cups of water 
1 tsp sugar 
2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce 
3 tbsp mirin 
Spring onions for garnishing

Place radish in a saucepan with dashi paste, sugar, soy sauce, and sake.
Bring to a boil for 10 minutes and remove any impurities from the surface.
Reduce heat and simmer covered over very low heat for 1 hour until radish is tender and lightly browned.
Stir in mirin, then remove from heat.
Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Garnish with spring onion.

Easy Japanese Radish Soup 
1/2 radish, peeled and thinly sliced 
1/2 liter vegetable stock 
3 - 4 shiitake mushrooms, soaked to soften and sliced 
1/2 inch ginger, sliced 
10 garlic cloves, lightly smashed 
1/2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce 
2-3 stalks spring onion, sliced 
2 tbsp oil 
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heated pot, sauté ginger and garlic in oil.
Pour in vegetable stock.
Add radish and mushrooms, simmer until both are soft and tender.
Stir in soy sauce, then remove from heat.
Garnish with spring onion before serving. 

Japanese Eggplant Sauté 
1 small yellow capsicum, seeds removed and sliced into medium-sized pieces 
2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled with alternating strips of skin removed, then sliced into rounds 
4 tbsp oil 
4 garlic cloves, chopped 
1/2 inch ginger, chopped 
1-2 tbsp roasted white sesame seeds 
Spring onion for garnishing

For the sauce 
1-2 tbsp chili sauce 
2 tsp mirin 
1 tbsp Japanese soy sauce 
Sugar to taste 
1-2 red chilies, thinly sliced 
Salt to taste (taste before adding)

Soak eggplant and capsicum in cold water for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Heat oil in a pan, add garlic and ginger, then stir-fry until fragrant.
Add eggplant and capsicum, stir-fry for 5 minutes, adding a bit of water to soften the veggies.
(Note: It may take a while to soften unless you stir-fry over high heat.)
Add chili sauce, mirin, chilies, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Stir-fry for 1 minute. 
Remove from heat and sprinkle sesame seeds over the dish. 
Garnish with spring onion before serving. 

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