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Shojin Ryori (Temple Food)

Shojin Ryori is a vegetarian cuisine which was first developed in the Kyoto area of Japan.

It is based mainly on rice, tofu and fresh vegetables and is eaten by Buddhist monks (who are forbidden to include any fish, meat or eggs in their diets). Shojin Ryori is not a particularly popular way of eating in Japan, but vegetarians and vegans will find it well worth experiencing. It is frequently served in the restaurants which are located near to Zen temples and can also be purchased from many of the temples themselves, providing a reservation has been made in advance. Zen Temple addresses are often listed in guidebooks.

However, as most of us will probably not be visiting Japan, at least not in the near future, this month I would like to introduce you to some do-it-yourself Japanese cookery.

Incidentally, the Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world and although no one knows exactly why this is so, it is possible that their diet, which is high in fibre and vitamins and low in fat could have something to do with it. And, the Japanese diet, like the Mediterranean diet, also contains certain protective foods such as green tea, shiitake mushrooms and soya products (e.g. tofu). These foods have been shown to contain substances which may offer some protection against cancer and heart disease.

Japanese food does, however, tend to have a high salt content and so anybody who has to be careful about their salt intake, should avoid consuming a lot of miso, tamari or pickles.

Japanese Ingredients

The following ingredients are frequently used in Japanese cuisine. You will probably find these ingredients slightly harder to find than the Mediterranean ingredients, I wrote about in last month's issue. However, most of them can be obtained fairly easily from either a health food shop, or from an Oriental or Japanese grocery shop. And, if you do find it difficult to obtain any of these ingredients, then you will find a list of Japanese mail order suppliers in The Japanese Vegetarian Cookbook, which is listed in the further reading section of this article.

Commonly Used Japanese Ingredients

    * Aduki beans - small red beans which are used to make red rice.
    * Bamboo Shoots (takenoko) - If you can't obtain fresh ones, these can often be purchased in cans.
    * Burdock (gobo)- a long root vegetable with a crunchy texture. Prepare it by trimming off the rootlets and then scrub clean with a brush. Burdock should be immersed in cold water after slicing in order to retain its colour. If you would like to grow your own Burdock, then see this month's 'What's Happening in the Veganic Garden'.
    * Daikon - a large white radish which can weigh up to 2.2 kg. It is used in stews and soups, or raw as a garnish. It can also be grated and used in a dipping sauce.
    * Dashi - A soup stock, made from hot water and kelp. Dashi often contains bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi). These are flakes of mackeral and are definately not suitable for vegans/vegetarians! Check out anything which contains dashi (e.g miso soup) when eating in Japan as it might well contain bonito flakes.
    * Ginger - widely available in Britain. Always use fresh ginger root, not powdered ginger. Break a piece off the root and peel it before use. Japanese grocer shops also sell vinegared ginger which can be used as a garnish in some recipes.
    * Green tea - is grown on low hills in Japan. It picked from May onwards by tea pickers, who wear traditional cone-shaped, straw hats and is steamed soon after picking so that it retains its green colour. It is drunk throughout Japan (and also in China) and is believed to contain cathechins - special chemicals which are thought to have anti-cancer properties.
    * Konbu (kombu) - dried kelp. A greenish-brown sea vegetable, used in dashi.
    * Mirin - a form of sweet sake which is used for cooking.
    * Mochi - a rice cake which is used in soups. Mochi are grilled until golden brown, placed in the bottom of a soup bowl and then the soup is poured over them.
    * Noodles - Varieties which are commonly used in Japanese cookery include:
          o Udon - white noodles made from wheat flour. They come in various thicknesses and can be bought dried.
          o Soba - (buckwheat noodles) a greyish brown in colour, these noodles are also sold dried. Green ones can sometimes be purchased which are made with green tea.
          o Harusame - are very fine transparent noodles which are usually made from rice. Soak for five minutes before use.
    * Nori (laver) - a sea vegetable which is used to wrap sushi, or as a garnish. It can be toasted by passing through a gas flame several times and is also sold as flakes - ao-nori.
    * Onions - see veganic garden section if you would like to grow your own, or else substitute spring onions. This type of onion is frequently used as a garnish in Japanese cookery.
    * Rice - is eaten at most meals in Japan, even breakfast! It is grown in terraced paddy fields which have been hacked out of the mountainside. Purchase Japanese or American-Japanese rice if possible, or else use any short grain rice.
    * Sake - Japanese rice wine. Sake is frequently used in Japanese cookery. It is served in a sake bowl. As far as I can see, sake appears to be suitable for vegans. However, I am still waiting for confirmation. Unfortunately, The Vegan Society does not have any information on it either.
    * Sesame seeds - both white and black sesame seeds are used as a garnish on salads, or on bowls of rice.
    * Shiitake Mushrooms - these mushrooms are often used in Japanese cookery. They can also be purchased dried. Dried mushrooms need to be soaked for 30-60 mins before use. The soaking water should never be wasted - add it to dashi! Matsutake, Nameko and Enokitake mushrooms are also frequently used in Japanese cuisine, but they can be difficult to obtain outside Japan.
    * Soy Sauce - a rich sauce which is made from soya beans, wheat and salt. Can be dark or light. (The light sauce is saltier.) Clearspring make an organic Japanese tamari soy sauce. Price about £1.99.
    * Tofu - bean curd. Can frequently be purchased in a supermarket as well as in more specialist shops.
    * Umeboshi Plum - a pickled and salted plum, used for example to make onigiri.
    * Vinegar - only use Japanese rice vinegar when cooking Japanese meals. Use in salad dressings and for making sushi.
    * Wakame - a bright green seaweed. Use it in soups and as a salad garnish. It needs to be soaked before use. Always remove the central rib after soaking.

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