When people think about Japanese soups, miso soup is about the only one that comes to mind for most. But with harsh winters and rampant poverty only a few generations ago, there’s a rich culinary history of soups and stews in Japan.
For vegans that are dismayed to find out that many Japanese soups contain fish based dashi, kenchinjiru should be a welcome addition to your kitchen repertoire. Even if the “v” word leaves a bad taste in your mouth, this humble earthy stew, packed with gut filling protein and fiber might be a welcome change to the grilled meat you’ve been eating all summer.
Kenchinjiru was originally a type of shojin ryori consumed by buddhist monks adhering to a vegan diet. The dashi is traditionally made without the use of fish, relying on mushrooms, vegetables, and kombu (kelp) for the flavor. Depending on what part of Japan you’re in, it’s seasoned with either miso or soy sauce, but personally I like using soy sauce due to its clean savory flavor. If you want a hardier stew, miso makes for a delicious addition that adds some richness and body.
Cooked with firm crumbled tofu until the vegetables have released some of their sweetness and all the flavors have had a chance to meld, it’s a soul soothing stew that leaves you feeling like you’ve done something good for your body without leaving you hungry.
As for the vegetables, it traditionally includes carrots, burdock (gobo), daikon, and edamame, but any vegetable that’s going to contribute texture, flavor, or umami makes for a good addition. You might be thinking that onions would make a tasty addition and I would tend to agree, but before you go and hack up a bulb, you should know that devout buddhists believe that members of the allium family incite anger and sexual mischief.
Since that would disturb the peacefulness of the mind that buddhists seek to attain, onions are one of the forbidden foods. Personally, I can’t say that eating onions has ever left me feeling randy, but I can say with some certainly that onion breath would put a damper on your chances for finding a parter to engage in lustful acts with!
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