Spectacular Japanese Vegetarian Feast!
December 17, 2009 12:21 PM   Subscribe

My family isn't doing presents this year. Instead, each of us will cook a spectacular feast for the others during the upcoming holiday break. I want to cook a Japanese feast!! Difficulty: must be vegetarian.

I'm really really excited about this. I have some experience attempting traditional Japanese food - I've done pickled cabbage, carrots and plums, onigiri, vegetarian soba broth (with kombu), sushi, and hand-made udon noodles. I'm looking for more suggestions of awesome vegetarian Japanese food that will be totally delicious and beautiful to look at.

I'd enjoy trying to make my feast as traditional as possible (I know it's impossible to make it 100% authentic). What makes for a complete Japanese meal? Should I serve green tea with dinner, and if so, what kind? Table decorations? Any other suggestions?

I will have lots of free time to prepare the food, so, short of recipes that take days to ferment or pickle or whatever, I'm up for anything. I have access to a great co-op that sells some Asian vegetables and condiments, but I may not be able to purchase something that's really only grown in Asia - I don't know of any Asian markets in rural VT where my family lives!

Lastly, I know that dashi containing bonito flakes is much-used in Japanese cooking, and no, I will not be using it, or any other product containing fish (or any other meat). Sorry!
posted by Cygnet to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Goma Ae
Okonomiyaki and/or Yaki Soba
posted by rhizome at 12:27 PM on December 17, 2009

Can't help with tradition, but here are some ideas to make it look pretty

Kimpira gobo (burdock root and carrot)

agedashi tofu makes a brilliant, refreshing starter for the non-traditional meals I've had. Instead of the 4 cubes of tofu I've usually seen, you could serve one cube per person in an espresso cup.

For used kombu, perhaps making homemade furikake, which might be a nice garnish (omitting the bonito, of course).

Speaking of garnish, this blog post describes how to make onishime vegetables. The photos aren't great, but they (especially the lotus root) would look pretty.
posted by tavegyl at 12:37 PM on December 17, 2009

While I can't speak to what makes up a traditional feast, I DO know that JustBento has a ton of vegetarian recipes. A lot of them are more lunch-y, but I'm sure you can find some recipes that will work for you. Also, the author of that blog has some good articles about Japanese nutrition.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:38 PM on December 17, 2009

You could try doing a kaiseki meal, which is some sort of traditional multi-course, small plate meal (I am showing my ignorance here, I have eaten but not prepared one!). I vaguely remember there being some vegetarian dishes served. I really enjoyed the mountain potato, which you may be able to find at your co-op?

I found a thread discussing preparation of the mountain potato, because I really enjoyed it:
posted by Joh at 12:41 PM on December 17, 2009

How about tempura? My favorites (besides non-vegetarian shrimp) are Japanese sweet potato and onions, but you could also do broccoli, carrots, cauliflower...
posted by estherbester at 12:45 PM on December 17, 2009

For dessert, Ichigo Daifuku!
posted by lizbunny at 12:51 PM on December 17, 2009

I believe that hojicha, a roasted green tea, is usually served after dinner. It's one of the most delicious things I've ever had.
posted by NoraReed at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2009

Ohitashi. We made a great one using broccoli rabe instead of spinach. Traditionally it used bonito flakes but it would be just as good without them.
posted by fixedgear at 1:14 PM on December 17, 2009

See if you can track down a copy of Japanese Vegetarian Cooking: From Simple Soups to Sushi by Patricia Richfield. I hate recommending a book to you that's out of print, but your library may have it. The recipes are simple and wonderful. I'll flip through my copy for you when I get home.
posted by darksong at 1:17 PM on December 17, 2009

The book darksong recommended is on Google Books.
posted by Constant Reader at 2:13 PM on December 17, 2009

I take back. SOME of the book is on Google Books.
posted by Constant Reader at 2:23 PM on December 17, 2009

hot sake! unscrew the cap a bit, and gently warm the bottle in a saucepan full of water. The water shouldn't boil. it's a great way to greet people coming in from the cold. and edamame as an appetizer - you can get bags of it frozen.

what a great way to celebrate without presents - you're going to have a lovely time.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:39 PM on December 17, 2009

Chawanmushi can be made vegetarian. I have a vegan recipe for it from a Vegetarian Times cookbook using tofu (found it on p.46 of this issue on Google Books), but the traditional egg version is all over the internet. Substitute vegetable or mushroom stock for dashi, and use tofu, more vegetables, gingko, shiitakes, etc for the more customary chicken/seafood.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2009

I have a book called The Heart of Zen Cuisine (aka Good Food from a Japanese Temple)by Soei Yoneda which is full of seasonal vegetarian food. Here is on of there winter recipes. This is a festive dish (on account of it being red and white.

Turnip and Apricot Salad

Pour 1 Tbsp Sake over 4 large dried Apricots cut into fine julienne strips.

Cut 2 peeled turnips (remove tops) in to long julienne strips and put in bowl with 1/2 tsp salt and let sit for 5 minutes.

Rinse well and return to bowl.

Mix 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp sugar pinch salt and 1 Tbsp water.

press liquid from apricots with fingers and add to turnip. Pour over sweet vinger and toss well.

Best left if overnight for flavor to mature, and served chilled.
posted by tallus at 3:21 PM on December 17, 2009

Traditional osechi ryori for the New Year's contains some traditional dishes that don't use dashi, such as kuromame (the "rusty nail" is there to maintain the black color of the beans, so it's optional), kinton, namasu, and kinpira, also mentioned above. The recipe for kobumaki calls for salmon, but I suppose you could omit that, too. If you can use eggs, there's also nishiki tamago, which is basically just eggs, sugar and salt if I recall (I can't seem to find a decent English recipe online, maybe someone can find one in a cookbook). There are positive meanings behind each dish like health and joy and longevity, which would suit the spirit of the holidays where you are, too. Yoi otoshi-wo (Hope you have a good New Year)!
posted by misozaki at 4:16 PM on December 17, 2009

how exciting!! to be planning a japanese veggie feast :)

i was basically vegetarian when i lived in japan. let's be honest... it was because i couldn't afford to buy meat at the supermarket and blew all my cash on the perfect fruit... but it did teach me to cook vegetarian in japan.

many of the above have things covered, but here's one of my fave recipes of all time, and SO simple. friends always ask for the recipe after i make it.

wash fresh spinach. bring water to boil. pop the spinach in and just barely blanch it. remove and refresh under cold running water. using a paper towel, try to remove as much of the moisture as you can.

make a sauce from equal mixtures of the following: sugar, ground-up sesame seeds, whole toasted sesame seeds, and soy sauce. it should be thick and DELICIOUS. mix it into spinach. enjoy!

you can make vegetarian yakisoba, hiyashi chuka (basically a noodle salad with lots of chopped veggies), niku jaga (i just removed the niku/meat part of it and made it with plenty of potatoes, onions, and carrots). the possibilities are endless!! good luck and have fun!!
posted by raw sugar at 4:18 PM on December 17, 2009

Constant Reader helpfully linked to the partial Google Books version of Japanese Vegetarian Cooking and her menu ideas are probably a good starting point for you. It goes far enough for the vegetarian dashi recipe, but you may not be able to find all of those ingredients. (Personally, I think if you want to miso soup instead, you could get away with miso paste in hot water, but a vegetarian bouillon cube isn't a bad idea, either.)

One thing I'd definitely consider is adding some sort of "protein" dish, especially if you're dealing with people who are usually meat-eaters. I love deep-fried tofu (and it's easy, really) with a sauce, but omlets/egg dishes are also traditional.

I'd personally do a soup dish, a rice or noodle dish, a couple of veggie dishes (maybe one hot and one cold?), and a protein dish. And then tea and sake.
posted by darksong at 5:27 PM on December 17, 2009

Chirashizushi is a really easy thing to make, and you can put just about anything you want in it. Start with sushi rice then add vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, kampyo, carrots, lotus root, bamboo shoots, etc.
posted by armage at 9:01 PM on December 17, 2009

If you don't want to fuss with making konbu dashi from scratch (or just in case you run out), there's instant konbu dashi. The kind I buy looks like this. No fish, and it makes miso soup dead easy. I don't know if you can find any where you are, though. Here I've found it at an Asian market and at a mainstream grocery store with a large Japanese section. Either way, miso soup would be wonderful.

This is about the way I make miso soup for two people - 3 cups dashi, 3-4 tbsps miso mixed with a little bit of the dashi and added right near the end. Beyond that, you can experiment with ingredients: I usually put in green onion, tofu or abura-age (thin fried tofu) and wakame. It doesn't feel right to me without wakame, but if you get some, you might want to try a test run of the miso soup first: with the kind that's already cut and dried, just a pinch - a half teaspoon, maybe? - will be enough for three cups of soup. It looks scrawny at first, but it sure expands.

I have, and love, this book, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji - even though it's not vegetarian I use it a lot. I highly recommend the "Spinach with Sesame Dressing" on page 253, which is essentially the recipe that raw sugar recommended with more measurements. It's delicious. (Pretty, too.)

I don't know if it's strictly authentic but I do make green tea with meals (that's what my host family did, so that's my main data point). I use sencha green tea. For dessert, perhaps peel some small clementines? They're not mikan (satsuma) but they're close.
posted by shirobara at 4:47 AM on December 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the awesome suggestions, everybody!
I decided on the following menu: asazuke (quick pickles, cabbage/carrot/daikon), miso soup, yaki soba (except made with my home-made udon noodles because I can't resist), goma ae, tempura sweet potatoes and beans with a gingery dipping sauce, and daifuku. Plus green tea. I think it'll be a blast to make!
posted by Cygnet at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2009

Sounds delicious! I would suggest having some egg noodles for backup on the yaki soba just in case, though. I'm not sure udon will hold up to griddling.
posted by rhizome at 12:51 PM on December 19, 2009

Response by poster: The Outcome:

The pickles and miso soup came out great - simple and delicious. The goma ae was a big hit. I made it with black sesame seeds and it looked totally disgusting, but tasted great. Needed a LOT of spinach. The yaki udon actually turned out amazing - luckily, my home-made udon noodles held up to griddling just fine, and soaked up lots of flavor. I made the sauce from scratch, although one of the ingredients was vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, which I didn't previously know existed. The tempura was fun - I made the batter out of eggs, flour and ice water (the traditional way), and kept having to put it outside in the cold to maintain the texture. The daifuku were really tasty, but totally ugly. The recipes online are full of cute little pastel-colored spherical blogs and mine looked like internal organs (my poor guests were very gracious) but at least they tasted good.

Thanks again, everybody!!
posted by Cygnet at 1:28 PM on January 24, 2010

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