I adore Japanese food. The flavors are light and simple, the ingredients wholesome and fresh, and the presentation at restaurants quite lovely.
The Japanese have made cooking an artistic and even spiritual pursuit, and I feel deeply nourished by the aesthetics of a Japanese meal as well as by the food itself.
Sadly, I know many vegetarians who steer clear of this particular ethnic cuisine, thinking it is all about fish or meat. In fact, there are lots of vegetarian options on Japanese menus, and I've found restaurants that will happily make substitutions or honor special requests.
In the home kitchen, many traditional Japanese dishes can be adapted to the meatless diet. Sukiyaki is one example. The vegetarian version might not pass muster with a Samurai chef, but it's delicious just the same.
Sukiyaki is traditionally made with thin slices of beef, but tofu makes a great substitute. The only other ingredients are veggies, broth, and a few Asian seasonings. Oh, and brown rice as accompaniment, so be sure to cook up a batch.
I'm lucky to have a huge Asian grocery store in my neighborhood, where I frequently shop for shiitake mushrooms, tofu in an amazing array of forms, Asian vegetables like choy sum and diakon radish, and all manner of condiments. For this recipe, the specialty ingredients you'll need are mirin, a sweetish rice wine, soy sauce, and dark (roasted) sesame oil. Fresh ginger is a nice addition, but not essential.
The preparation couldn't be simpler.
1. Begin by heating a little dark sesame oil in a saute pan, than add thinly sliced vegetables of your choice. For this version I used onion, carrot, and yellow bell pepper. Add a pinch of salt and saute for a few moments, just to start sweating the vegetables.
2. Add a couple of cups of vegetable stock and freshly grated ginger to taste, plus a slosh of soy sauce and mirin. (The traditional recipe calls rice wine and sugar, so if you can find sake but not mirin, you're in business. Go very light on the sugar though, for best results.)
3. Add slabs of tofu, which should be submerged in the broth, and add a layer of coarsely chopped or sliced shiitake or oyster mushrooms, cover, and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.
4. Pile on your favorite leafy greens. I like spinach or the aforementioned choy sum. Bok choy and mustard greens are other good choices. Cover and simmer another few minutes.
5. Ladel over brown rice in a bowl, garnishing with chopped cilantro and/or togarashi, if you wish. (Togarashi is a combination of sesame seeds, chile flakes, sometimes seaweed, and other seasonings served as a table condiment with soups and other dishes. Highly recommended if you can find it.)
That's it, a quick and simple and light and lovely ode to Japan.
Blessings and bon appetit!vegetarian food cooking sukiyaki tofu togarashi