I’ve always enjoyed trying different cuisines, especially during my travels. Since my diet has evolved, I’m pleasantly surprised to find dishes in many cultures that are vegetarian or vegan. The plethora of options ensures that one’s taste buds do not get bored. Plant-based eating is certainly not a new concept, as there always have been cooks who celebrate the bountiful, seasonal produce of their land. I’ll start with Japanese and Korean cuisine.
I have a longstanding relationship with Japanese food, as I studied the language and was fortunate enough to visit the country twice. I have nothing but fond memories of my time there, including the exquisite cuisine. Many people associate Japan with sushi but Japanese food is actually incredibly diverse. It ranges from casual or ‘street’ food, found in izakayas, ramen bars, yakitori joints, the stalls of Osaka etc., to refined multi-course dining offered by kaiseki places or Michelin-starred sushi restaurants. Even the word ‘noodles’ alone evokes an array of possibilities, from ramen to earthy-tasting soba and chewy udon.
Shojin Ryori originated as food for Buddhist monks, whose practice forbade them from consuming meat. The ingredients for dishes seem simple but the flavors created are wholesome and complex. It is usually seasonal, so this means plenty of sprouts in spring and root vegetables in winter.
I made this dish in a cooking class at a Japanese high school- it’s strips of carrot and burdock root plus some seasoning stir-fried together. The crunchy mix of sweet and savoury is so addictive.
A simple dish of deep-fried tofu served in a hot savory broth. Utterly delectable.
Who can forget the ubiquitous miso paste, essential in so many soup broths? Made from fermented soybeans, miso can also be used as seasoning for grilled vegetables or mixed into salad dressing. My favourite way of using miso is in a sort of rice porridge with nappa cabbage, carrots, tofu, bean sprouts, wakame and egg.
Whether it’s wakame, nori, hijiki or kombu, seaweed/ kelp forms the base of many broths and can be found in numerous dishes. I like to sprinkle wakame in my soups and stew hijiki with tofu and carrots.
I really fell into Korean cuisine when I moved to LA, with its famed Koreatown. Korean food has certain distinctive flavors derived from ingredients and condiments like kimchi (pickled vegetables, usually nappa cabbage) and gochujang (chilli pepper paste). I enjoy all the banchan that arrives on my table at a Korean restaurant, particularly the pickled vegetables.
A hot and spicy stew of silken tofu, often with vegetables, mushrooms, meat or seafood. Traditionally, an egg is cracked into it before serving. Scooped over steamed white rice, this really hits the spot.
White rice mixed with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang, often served sizzling in a hot stone pot (dolsot bibimbap) so that a layer of crusty rice forms at the bottom. It is commonly topped with an egg. This is the ultimate bowl of comfort food.
A type of savory pancakes containing fresh scallions, served with a yummy dipping sauce. Other vegetables like carrots, onions or zucchini are sometimes included.