My friend the Very Hungry Baker bought me a vegan Japanese cookbook for my birthday last year. We invited her and her boyfriend and a couple more friends round for a New Year feast, but then had to cancel at the last minute because I was ill and another of the friends was also ill.
As we had bought the ingredients for the meal, my husband decided that we should cook at least some of it anyway, as a trial run.
The book is Japanese Cooking – Contemporary and Traditional by Miyoko Mishimoto Schinner. All of the recipes are vegan, so are shojin ryori in a way.
In restaurants in both the UK and Japan I have eaten and very much enjoyed a dish called nasu no dengaku (なすのでんがく), or aubergine in sweet miso sauce, so we had decided to make that for our friends. Alongside it we were going to serve chestnut rice (栗御飯) and tofu no isobe maki (豆腐のいそべまき), which is strips of tofu, wrapped maki-style in nori and then shallow fried in sesame oil.
Here’s the finished result:
I was pretty pleased with the results, apart from the dengaku being too sweet. I was working from a recipe that served 6 and thought that I had adjusted my quantities accordingly. The recipe quantities are all given in American measures, though, so maybe I misinterpreted the metric equivalent of a cup and then miscalculated from there.
The nasu no dengaku is really easy to make. The recipe called for the aubergine to be deep fried at a really high temperature. As we don’t have a deep fat fryer or a thermometer, I decided to follow the alternative method of brushing each strip with plenty of sesame oil on each side and then grilling. In another cookbook I read that grilled slices of aubergine should take 15 minutes, but that left our slices a little underdone. I will do them for longer next time. Mixing the dengaku was also easy and once the aubergine was cooked, all we needed to do was spread the dengaku over the top. Voila!
The tofu dish was even easier. We bought firm tofu and cut it as suggested in the recipe, then wrapped it in nori and allowed the tofu moisture to soften the nori before frying them over a medium heat in sesame oil. This took about 15 minutes. Once they were done, we plated them up and poured the soya and mirin sauce over them, then sprinkled with freshly grated ginger and finely chopped shallots (spring onions would work better). I took the picture below on my mobile phone, so I apologise for the poor quality of the image!
The chestnut rice was the longest to cook. The chestnuts had to be oven roasted for 40 minutes and then the shells removed and the chestnut flesh crumbled. This was then added to the washed rice in our rice steamer, with a pinch of salt, some mirin and enough water to cover the rice. Our steamer is a good one, so it only took half an hour for the rice to be done.
The meal was delicious, and I am looking forward to making it again this weekend, when we are having a rescheduled/belated New Year celebration. We’re also going to add a miso and bok choi soup and perhaps a third dish to go with the tofu and nasu dishes.
Until I cooked this meal, I had always wondered how Japanese women managed to cook up so many dishes for their family meals. Now I know that it is because each dish is simple yet utterly delicious. We are self-catering again while we are in Kyoto in April, and I am going to take this book with me.