February 11, 2010

Shojin Japanese cooking class

Hiryozi to daikon no nimono - Deep-fried tofu cake and daikon stew

On Monday night my husband and I attended a Shojin Japanese Cuisine cooking class at PCC, our local food coop. Our instructor, Kanako, told us that shojin cuisine refers to vegetarian cooking that originated in the Buddhist monasteries. The dishes she made reminded me of some of the macrobiotic dishes I used to cook. In my last post I made a humorous reference to a time when I followed a macrobiotic diet (honest fact #9), but in reality I loved the food we consumed during those years. (The modern macrobiotic diet was made popular by Michio Kushi, and was based on traditional Japanese cooking.) This class made me reflect on how much I enjoyed Japanese food, and why I should restock my pantry with such things as sea vegetables, daikon, mirin and sake!

The first thing Kanako made was dashi, a Japanese broth made from kombu and dried shiitake. (There are many versions of dashi that include fish, especially dried bonito flakes.) I used to make this all the time, and it was my standard version of "vegetable stock" before I learned to reach for the handy aseptic carton. Sheesh. The stock is rich and flavorful and Kaneko said you could make a big pot of it and store it in the fridge to use as needed. She used dashi in all the dishes she made in class. (She also said I could share her recipes on this blog.)

  • 2 cups water
  • 3" x 3" piece kombu (dried kelp) rinsed quickly or wiped with damp towel
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  1. Put water, kombu and mushrooms in a medium pot. Soak for several hours, or overnight if time permits. (In the refrigerator if overnight)
  2. Heat the pot over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat just before water starts to boil.
  3. Remove kombu and mushrooms, squeezing moisture from mushrooms into the pot.
Shiitake develops the best flavor in cool water but if you don't have time for a long soak you can place the kelp, mushrooms and water in a pot, heat to just below boiling, turn off the heat and soak for 15 minutes. That's usually what I end up doing though I mean to soak it overnight.

Kanako stemmed the shiitakes and added the sliced caps to the rice dish. She also cut the kombu into 1/2" squares and added it to one of the dishes. Using the kombu is a matter of personal taste.

Hiryozi to daikon no nimono - Deep-fried tofu cake and daikon stew

OK, I admit the deep-fried tofu cakes were ridiculously delicious. But I doubt I'll be deep-frying anything in the "easy vegan" kitchen. When Kanako described growing up in Japan where her family kept a pot of oil handy, and deep-fried foods were cooked every day, she almost convinced me that it was a good idea. But, whoa, that's not going to happen. I might make the incredibly delicious tofu balls in the oven or in a pan on the stove, and if I do and it works, I'll share the recipe with you. In the meantime, let me tell you about the daikon; I don't even like cooked daikon that much, but it was DELICIOUS — sweet and mellow. According to Kanako, this is the perfect time to buy daikon, and I believe her. You could cook the daikon, maybe add some large carrot chunks, kale or bok choy and wok-browned tofu cubes, and have a wonderful stew. I'll post a recipe soon.

Nasu dengaku - Grilled eggplant with miso topping
Gobo takikomi Gohan - Rice with burdock root

I loved the rice with burdock root, but I'm going to give you the much simpler recipe for grilled eggplant with miso topping. The topping is very versatile, and you could mix a batch and keep it for months in a sealed container in the refrigerator. You could use it on fried tofu, potatoes or whatever you want.

Grilled eggplant with miso topping
  • 2 ounces red miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 tablespoons dashi
  • 3 Japanese or 1 large globe eggplant
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (more as needed)
  • toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)
  1. Place miso, sugar, mirin, dashi in a small saucepan. Mix together well. Place over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until you get a creamy consistency, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise.
  3. Heat a large cast iron skillet to medium. Add oil.
  4. Grill the eggplant with the cut side down. After 5 minutes, flip to cook through. Continue to flip eggplant until cooked and soft, ending with cut side up. (Add more oil if necessary to prevent sticking.)
  5. Spoon miso sauce over cut side of eggplant and place under broiler for a minute or two. Garnish with sesame seeds. (If you cooked the eggplant in a pan that can't go under the broiler, carefully transfer with a large spatula onto a broiler pan before adding sauce.)
  6. Cut into sections to serve.

Wakame to serori no sumiso ae - seaweed & celery salad with miso vinegar
Namasu - Daikon & carrot salad with sweet vinegar

We actually started with the salads, above. They were both tasty but my favorite was the carrot and daikon. This salad is supposed to be good for digestion and preventing heartburn. I have no personal experience with this but you could try it and let me know!

Daikon and carrot salad with sweet vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1/2 medium daikon radish, washed well (peeled, if not organic)
  • 1 medium carrot, washed well (peeled, if not organic)
  • salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  1. Mix the rice vinegar and mirin in a small saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium heat and cook until the alcohol in the mirin evaporates. (The cooking is just a minute or two, and whether or not alcohol evaporates during cooking is questionable. Alcohol content can vary among brands of mirin from 0 to 14%.)
  3. Add lime juice to the dressing.
  4. Cut the daikon and carrot into matchsticks or grate on a course grater.
  5. Sprinkle salt over the vegetables and leave for 5 minutes.
  6. Rinse the radish and carrots under running water to remove salt, and squeeze out excess water.
  7. Toss the vegetables with the dressing and garnish with the chili flakes.

Tonyunabe - Vegetable one-pot dish in vegetable broth

Above you see a hotpot that was cooked in a traditional Japanese cooking pot. It was filled with wonderful vegetables that were cooked in a broth of dashi and soy milk. I'd give you the recipe but my arms are tired from all this typing. Go make dashi!


  1. Whoa, that all looks amazingly delicious! It reminds me of eating at Senae, a macrobiotic restaurant in Boston. I wonder if it is even still there? We haven't eaten there in years, but the food you're showcasing looks a lot like what we used to order there. We'd be so anxious to go there when we visited Boston, and then we'd sit around and complain that Madison didn't have a vegetarian restaurant.... well, now we do and I have yet to visit it! I guess I should go out and get some kombu (that's something I always had in the house, but not lately; why not?) and make some dashi!!!

  2. Looks gorgeous, especially that wonderful eggplant dish. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Everything looks great! Shojin ryori is a wonderful blend of simplicity, elegance, and flavor. If you can find it, Good Food from a Japanese Temple by Soei Yoneda is an excellent resource for shojin-style cooking, as is Mari Fujii's The Enlightened Kitchen.

  4. Claire,
    It was amazingly delicious. Can you believe I used to buy 2.2 pounds of kombu at a time. It lasted forever but still, that's a hell of a lot!

    I recommend trying the eggplant. It was so easy and so good. I'll be making it next weekend for company.

    Thanks for the cookbook tips. I found them on Amazon and added the second one to my cart for consideration. The first was a bit expensive but I'll keep looking.

  5. I love that you go to so many cooking classes--they all sound so interesting! I am excited to try the dashi...I have always wanted to make my own. Thanks for sharing the recipes!


  6. Those tofu cakes look AMAZING. Reminds me a little of inari. I am trying to finish my honest scrap answers... i'm so much better at talking about food than talking about myself! ;)

  7. What a great class! Thanks for sharing, I love Japanese food. I actually prefer cooked daikon. I usually use it in soups - it really does add sweetness. :-)

  8. I've never tried Japanese food, but this is making me think I SHOULD try it! I have a friend here in Scotland who's lived in Japan and is very fond of it, so I'll be asking her advice, too...

  9. Courtney,
    Cooking classes are really fun, and I love to study the techniques great cooks use when preparing food.

    Dashi is so easy to make, and so flavorful it transforms ordinary dishes into something special.

    It does look kind of like inari in the photo. I know what you mean about those answers - it was hard and took me forever.

    Chow vegan,
    I didn't include the recipe for the daikon in this post, but it was much better than I ever remember daikon tasting when my husband cooked it. I never cook it but am going to start by using the recipe from class.

    I agree with you - you should try Japanese food. The flavors are subtle but wonderful, and the food is very beautiful.

  10. I love this post - all the food looks so delicious. I really love daikon in stirfrys and I've been trying to eat more of a carrot and daikon soup to help my digestion. I guess I don't eat it often enough to notice any improvement, but I do enjoy it eating it.

    I'm definitely going to make dashi. It sounds like the perfect broth. Thanks for sharing the recipes.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing those awesome recipes, Andrea! The deep fried tofu cakes look so delicious.

  12. This looks so amazingly delicious! Thanks for sharing this to me! I want to try this one! I really like Asian food! Thumbs up!

  13. Diann,
    Thanks! Maybe you should try eating the daikon and carrot as a raw salad. Dashi is a great broth - couldn't be easier and it's so delicious.

    You're welcome! I'm definitely going to try those tofu balls in the oven. I just got some hiziki and kombu!

    Hardwood Furniture,
    Thanks for your comments. I hope you like the recipes.


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