Moving into a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle does require a certain level of discipline, yet one place to get inspiration is from Buddhist monks that practice shojin ryori. The main idea of shojin ryori is to harvest only seasonal fruits and vegetables — local seasonal foods are part of the flow with nature. According to shojin ryori, the foods that grow in different seasons are also the kind of foods that nourish your body best:
“The slight bitterness of spring buds and shoots […] is said to remove the fat the body accumulates during the winter. Summer vegetables from the melon family, such as tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers, have a cooling effect on the body. Fall provides and abundant harvest of sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins and fruit, which revive tired bodies after the heat of summer. In winter, a variety of root vegetables, such as daikon radish, turnip and lotus root, provide warmth and sustenance…” Mari Fujii ,“The Enlightened Kitchen”.
Buddha (563-483 BC) – “To become vegetarian is to step into the stream which leads to nirvana”.
Although the shojin ryori ingredients for many of the dishes can be tricky to find, living on the Shore, surrounded by local fresh goodness from places like Shockley’s and Copper River Farms, the theory is easy enough to put into practice.
For fun, here are some shojin ryori recipes from www.tofugu.com:
Kenchinjiru or Kenchin Soup
4-6 dried shitake Mushrooms (fresh is okay too)
150g (5.5 oz) gobo (Burdock root)
2.5 cups water
300g (10.5 oz) daikon, peeled and cut to bite sized wedges.
1 block of konyaku, cut into bite sized pieces
200g (7 oz) carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
3-4 tablespoons sesame oil
100g lotus root (3.5 oz), peeled and cut to bite sized pieces.
2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce) for sautéing
2.5 cups konbu stock (see staples)
4 tablespoons saké
1 block firm tofu
4 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce) for soup
2 tablespoons red miso (or 3-4 tablespoons white miso), optional but recommended!
100g of greens (i.e. baby spinach, collared greens, etc)
Small amount of ginger juice
Substitute many of above ingredients. Since Kenchinjiru is typically a soup you make with leftovers, the type and amount of vegetables doesn’t have to be exact, either. Can be a fun experiment:
Soak the shitake in the water for 10 minutes. Drain. Soak for another 30 minutes in the 2.5 cups of water. Remove the mushrooms but keep the water as you will use it later. Remove the stalk and cut into thinnish bite-sized slices.
Peel the gobo and cut into thin bite-sized slices. Soak them in cold water for 5 minutes to remove bitterness. Drain and put aside.
Cut the daikon into bite sized pieces and soak in cold water for 10 minutes to remove bitterness.
Cut the konyaku into bite sized pieces and boil for a couple of minutes. Drain and remove.
Heat up the sesame oil in your soup pot (or in a separate pan) and stir fry the gobo, shitake, konyaku, daikon, carrot, lotus root, and shoyu (2 Tb) for around five minutes.
Add the shitake water, konbu stock, and sake. Bring to a boil. Cook on low heat until vegetables are tender (30-45 minutes). If there’s any scum / froth forming on the top, remove it with a spoon.
Crumble the tofu block into the pot and mix it in. Add the 4Tb of shoyu and 2Tb of miso. Stir gently for a while until you think the miso is dissolved.
Add your greens and cook them lightly. Add a small amount of ginger juice to taste.
When you serve this, you can add a little more shoyu to individual bowls as well (to taste) depending on how addicted to salt you are. This soup is great served fresh and gathers more taste over time. Goes really well with a side of freshly cooked rice.
Vegetable Tempura (no eggs)
Again, you can tempura using most anything:
Kabocha, cut into thin slices
Carrots, cut into thin slices
Fresh shitake caps
Sweet potatoes, thinly sliced
Wherever your imagination takes you!
No matter what you choose, though, you’re going to need some stock ingredients to actually cook these vegetables with:
1 cup cake flour
1 pinch baking soda
1 pinch of salt (optional)
1 cup ice water
You’re going to want to take the three above ingredients and mix them together. Don’t overmix it – some lumps are okay. This concoction shouldn’t be too thick, otherwise there will be too much batter on your vegetables (should be thin and see-through when you apply it).
Heat up some oil to 170-180 degrees. Oil should cover the bottom of the pan (or, if you have a deep fryer you can probably use that). Dip the vegetables in the batter, lightly covering. You should be able to see through the batter easily. If you want to be fancy, green colored things look good with only partial batter, leaving some green showing. Fry both sides until it looks cooked (lightish brown), remove, and put on some paper towels. Pat the oil off.