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.

Vegetarian Japanese Soup

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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  • Kenchinjiru is a delicious example of shojin ryori, or buddhist temple food. With crumbled tofu and plenty of vegetables simmered in a flavorful vegan stock, it makes for a delicious filling meal with a bowl of rice.
ServingsPrep TimeCook Time
4 15 minutes 30 minutes


  • 3 large dried shiitakemushrooms
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 450 grams vegetables
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 300 grams tofu - firm
  • 7 centimeters dashi kombu
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • mitsuba optional garnish


  1. Lightly rinse the dried shiitake mushrooms and put them in a bowl with 2 1/2 cups of boiling water. Let them soak for 30 minutes. Save the soaking liquid, squeezing out the excess water from the shiitakes and chop them up for inclusion with your other vegetables.
  2. Roughly chop your vegetables into sizes that will take just about the same amount of time to cook. For instance carrots are harder than turnips so I cut them smaller. You want a mix of vegetables that have flavor otherwise your soup will be watery. I used a combination of carrots, baby turnips, burdock, edamame, and fresh shiitake mushrooms.
  3. Add the oil to a pot and heat over high heat. Add the vegetables along with the brown sugar and stir-fry the vegetables until very fragrant (5-10 minutes).
  4. Deglaze the pot with the sake, allowing the alcohol to burn off, then pour the reserved shiitake soaking liquid into the pot, but don't pour in the sediment at the bottom of the bowl in as it will probably contain sand.
  5. Add the tofu, kombu, soy sauce and salt to the pot and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the kenchinjiru until the vegetables are tender and the soup is flavorful (about 20-30 minutes). Adjust salt to taste, garnish with mitsuba and serve.
  • vic@cakebook

    nourishing and delicious – I’m so intrigued as to how this is going to taste I’m going to have to make it when it gets a bit cooler! thank you :)

  • Christina

    Hi Marc, in this recipe you use mitsuba ( which I’ve never used….yet!); are you familiar with shiso? I’ve been seeing being used a bit in France as a garnish. If you do know of it, do you know how to get some in the US? Thanks!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Yep, shiso usually refers to Japanese Perilla. There are 2 types, red, and green. Red is usually used for pickling as it imparts a vibrant magenta color to anything acidic. The green type is used as a garnish and herb. Other asian countries such as Vietnam and Korea use Perilla as well, but theirs is a different variety with a distinct flavor. The only place I’ve found Japanese shiso in the US is at Japanese grocery stores such as Mitsuwa and Marukai, but some online specialty food stores like Marx Food, and Baldor have started selling micro shiso sprouts.

  • Natika

    I have several vegan and vegetarian friends who are always asking me to make them Japanese food and I have one friend who is allergic to onions. This will be a great idea to share with them. Thanks!

  • Lizzie Mabbott

    Having just started a 1 month long vegan diet, this is very helpful indeed!

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I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!