Japanese people today definitely love their meat, but it hasn’t always been the case. In 675 CE, the consumption of meat was even banned by the Emperor due to the influence of Buddhism, and Japan was pretty much vegan with the exception of some fish.
Staple foods used to be rice, beans, and vegetables. Much later, when Japan started opening to the Western world, the Emperor lifted the ban on red meat.
Today, shojin ryori–Buddhist cuisine in Japan–remains fully vegetarian, often vegan, and it’s definitely your best bet to feed yourself when you are travelling through the country. I particularly enjoyed my dinner at a Buddhist restaurant in Tokyo called Shojin Sougo, which I strongly recommend! But most of us can’t just travel to Japan on a whim, so I would like to suggest some plant-based recipes you can make at home to nourish body and soul, as they’re delicious and healthy.
Vegan Japanese Recipes
Miso soup with tofu and scallions
Ingredients for the stock
3 x 4 inch piece konbu
5 large or 10 small dried shiitake mushrooms
1 quart water
Soak the shiitakes and konbu in the water for at least 2 hours. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the shiitake and konbu.
Ingredients for the miso soup
1/4 to 1/2 lb tofu
2 to 3 scallions
1 quart Konbu to Shiitake no Dashi stock (see below)
1/3 to 2/3 cup light miso
- Cut the tofu carefully into little 1/2 inch cubes. Sliver the scallions as thinly as possible.
- Heat the stock until it comes to a simmer. Add the tofu and allow to heat for a minute.
- Turn off the heat. Dissolve the miso into it, adjusting the amount to taste. Add scallions and serve immediately.
Eggplant with miso sauce
4 Japanese eggplants
Oil for frying or grilling
1 cup white miso
2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons sugar
- Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise.
- Heat the oil to 375°F, or until the eggplants dropped in the hot oil first sink but fairly rapidly float to the surface. Fry until golden brown, then drain on absorbent paper.
- Or, if you want to avoid frying, the cut-side of the eggplants can be brushed lightly with oil and grilled until tender.
- Mix the remaining ingredients to make the miso sauce, and spread on top of each eggplant. Serve immediately.
Okonomiyaki (Savory vegetable pancakes)
2 cups water
¼ pound regular tofu
2½ cups whole wheat pastry or unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 to 5 cups thinly sliced vegetables: onions, carrot matchsticks, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, etc.
- Purée the water and tofu in a blender until smooth. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl, and mix well.
- Pour in the liquid mixture, and mix lightly. Add the vegetables and mix well to combine.
- Cook large pancakes on a lightly oiled skillet or griddle over medium-low heat until browned on both sides. Serve while hot with soy sauce.
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