For over a thousand years, especially after the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, due to the general Buddhist precept of ahimsa (Sanskrit, to do no harm), it was illegal to eat animal meat in Japan. With this in mind, Japanese created tasty vegan dishes. Shōjin ryōri / ’devotion cuisine’ or ‘temple food’ is probably the healthiest food there is. Kombu/kelp and mushroom dashi stocks are used for this style of cuisine.
Shōjin ryōri to this date is practiced among Japanese Zen Buddhist priests. Today, shojin cuisine is popular as a diet food. Delicious shojin flavors often appear in ryotei/high-end restaurants. Shojin cuisine focuses on eating rather austere food, but being completely aware as we eat. Consequently, chefs also put their hearts into their dishes. Frequently used items are vegetables, sesame seeds, and vinegar. However, in shojin cuisine, tofu is the most-used ingredient. Rich in plant protein, tofu is essential to shojin cuisine. Pureed tofu can be made to resemble other types of food and as ‘mock’ cuisine, can even mimic items like grilled unagi/eel. Shojin has various techniques to satisfy people’s eyes and palates. Utilizing rather bland ingredients and making it taste like other foods, makes it more enjoyable. Shojin cuisine showcases aesthetic Japanese cuisine.
This featured recipe, Ganmodki no fukumeni, simmered tofu fritter which was originally made in Zen Temples, is now a popular dish at home. It is a sponge like dumpling, with mildly sweet-savory juice, which flows in the mouth with the first bite. A fusion of flavors, texture of the vegetables and crunchy sesame seeds, further add to the delight!
Ganmodoki, Simmered Vegan Tofu Fritters / がんもどき 含め煮
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
• 400 g/ 14 oz / 1 block of ‘medium firm’ tofu
• 55 g/ 2 oz/ 5~6 medium, fresh shiitake mushrooms, diced 5mm
• 85 g/ 3 oz/ 10 cm thick piece of carrot, diced 5mm
• 30 g/ 1 oz/ 36 beans frozen edamame, thawed and skin removed and beans split in two
• 40 g/ 1.5 oz/ 2 stems green onion, thinly sliced
• 1½ tsp sesame seeds (black is better, I used white)
• 55 g/ 2 oz nagaimo yam/mountain yam (also called yamatoimo)**
• 3½ tsp potato starch
• 3 tsp mirin (Takara honteri non-alcoholic mirin)
• 1 tsp soy-sauce (usukuchi soy sauce is better to keep ganmodoki and its juice from getting dark in color)
• vegetable oil for sautéeing and deep frying
Other filling vegetables used: gingko nuts (I used edamame instead), hijiki/brown sea vegetable, gobo/burdock roots, renkon/lotus roots, black sesame seeds (I used white instead) or asanomi/dried hemp seeds
**Pick a fresh, thicker, straighter yamaimo. Avoid discolored and aged ones.
To freeze excess nagaimo: Freeze nagaimo grated and in a Ziploc. Whenever needed, break an amount needed, close the Ziploc air tight and return to the freezer. Let it thaw at room temperature.
For simmering dashi:
• 600 ml/ 2½ cups water
• 9 cm x 12 cm (2½” x 4½”) dried kombu
• 3 Tbsp mirin (Takara honteri non-alcoholic mirin)
• 1 Tbsp sugar
• 3 Tbsp soy-sauce (usukuchi soy sauce is better to keep ganmodoki and its juice from getting dark in color)
◊ Tofu must be drained very well. Cut by knife or break by hand and place it on a microwave/heatproof dish lined with paper towel. Microwave at power #6 (out of 10) for 4½ minutes. Then drain the tofu pieces in a colander and leave it to cool completely. Tofu must be mashed very finely and as smooth as possible. Food-processor may be used. The smoother the tofu, the better it will bind with the vegetables.
◊ Add 1 tsp vegetable oil to a non-stick fry-pan and place it on a medium-heat. Once the oil is heated, add carrots and sautée for 1 minute. Then add shiitake mushrooms, edamame, pinch of salt, and sautée for another 3 minutes or until hint of caramelizing. Transfer to a plate and let it cool.
◊ Nagaimo is usually grated in suribachi (which I used) to have a silky finish. Japanese grater or nagaimo/daikon grater may be used instead. Nagaimo has a viscosity texture, which works very well as a binder. If suribachi has been used, after grating, use a pestle and grind for a few minutes more to make the grated nagaimo thicker.
◊ Add tofu to the grated nagaimo and using silicone spatula, fold/combine the two well. Add mirin, soy-sauce, potato starch, a pinch of salt, and combine well. Add the fried vegetables, sliced green onions, sesame seeds and further combine. A solid structure is needed or the mixture will not hold its shape during frying.
◊ Grease a large plate with vegetable oil, and put some oil on your hands so the mixture doesn’t stick to your hand when making the balls. With a spoon, take one rounded tablespoon and roll a ball. (if you find this difficult, use two spoon technique — scoop mixture, repeatedly scraping from one spoon to the other, forming a ball.) Try not to incorporate air into the balls, otherwise they will break apart when frying. Place them on the greased plate.
◊ Add 3cm/1” deep oil to a deep, mid-sized sauce pan, bring to 165°C/330°C. Gently add the balls. Lower the heat to medium-heat. (The lower oil temperature allows the center of the balls to cook through without burning their exteriors.) Turn the balls in the oil to cook them evenly, 4 ~ 5 minutes, until golden brown. Place them on a plate lined with paper towel.
◊ To simmer the ganmodoki: To prepare a vegan dashi, place the dried kombu in a medium sized pot with 600 ml water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes and take out the kombu. Add sugar, mirin and soy-sauce and bring to a simmer.
◊ Add ganmodoki to the simmering dashi, then lower the heat to medium-heat or lower (don’t let it boil vigorously or ganmodoki may fall apart), place a drop-lid, made of parchment paper cut-to fit (drop-lid ensures that the heat is evenly distributed and reduces the tendency for liquid to boil with large bubbles) and simmer for 5 minutes (ganmodoki will absorb the liquid and enlarge and plump). Serve in a slightly deeper platter.
~ どうぞめしあがれ • Douzo Meshiagare ~
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?