Shojin Ryori - The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine
Shojin Ryori, The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine by Danny Chu is a very beautiful book from cover to cover. As I am writing this review about it, it kind of feels like the review should be in Haiku form. There is a sort of a Zen calmness just flipping through it. This is fitting, as Shojin Ryori is Japanese Temple food.
The name Shojin Ryori comes Shojin meaning vigour and energy, and Ryori meaning cuisine. Making Shojin Ryori food is a practice of spirituality in the Zen Buddhist tradition in Japan. The key aspects are mindful presence in making the food. Starting from the preparation, all the way to the presentation and eating.
Danny Chu studied traditional temple cooking in Japan and took what he learned from Japan to Singapore, where he opened a Shojin Ryori restaurant. His backstory is quite interesting, as before, he was a foreign currency trader. He left the corporate world to learn more about Shojin Ryori.
Buddhism teaches that you should not take a life, so Shojin Ryori is completely vegetarian. Actually you could call it vegan, as eggs or milk are not allowed. The idea is to minimize any wastage of ingredients and to draw out the natural flavour of each ingredient. To have a balance and a harmony in life. To create simple, delicious, healthy food with always seasonal ingredients, without using artificial ingredients. But, it is not all about those things, Shojin Ryori is also about enjoyment and light heartedness.
Recipes range from very simple ones, like Shiso Rice, with only a few ingredients, to Ganmodoki (tofu fritters), which have more ingredients. None of them are super complicated and the focus is on simplicity. The techniques might need to be done more than once, as they can be a little intricate at times. That is, if you want the result to be as beautiful as in the book.
Some ingredients are hard to find where I am at, and some ingredients are seasonal, so you might have to wait for a while to get your hands on them.
The book starts with an introduction and some basic preparations, like how to make a dashi and how to make proper Japanese rice (more on that below). Then, menus for each season. As said before, Shojin Ryori is very much seasonal. Not just with when to get ingredients, but also what should be eaten during a season.
For me the best recipe in the book to describe what Shojin Ryori is all about is the rice cooking instructions. You’ve done many times I sure, I’ve done many, many times. But Shojin Ryori way shows you all the steps in order to make the perfect rice. It is nothing too complicated, but the instructions show you the mindset that goes into cooking the Shojin Ryori way.
How to cook japanese rice the right way
220g Japanese short-grain rice
The water from washing rice can be used to boil vegetables or water plants in your garden. This is Shojin philosophy of minimising wastage.
We have been doing menu planning at our household for a while now. It seems to be working on many levels. We try out different recipes and save money. We save money by going to the bigger shop and buying more at a time than we used to.
This time on the list was a Thai Curry Soup from one of our favorite blogs budgetbytes.com. The original is not all vegan, so we had to change it up a little bit. It turned out really good! I'm already thinking of improvements for the next time. Next time we will be putting in some mushroom soy sauce to have some umami in there and adding those coriander leaves that were missing. They do bring a great flavor to Thai dishes.
Veganized Thai Curry Soup
Neutral cooking oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste (we tried it with Indian too and it turned out good too)
1 sweet potato
Small Chinese cabbage
1 can of coconut milk
1 Tsp vegan sugar
A while a go I had an intense pickling phase. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. I bought radish pieces from work. They were leftovers, because the chefs only wanted cubes made out of the radishes and the rest were going to be thrown out. I thought, no that is pickle gold! I was learning to pickle from the book Fermented Vegetables - Creative recipes for fermenting 64 vegetables & herbs in.
More recently, my pickling phase has moved on a bit, but I still make my own kimchi and krauts following the recipes in the book. In fact, I have some kimchi on its way right now. So, the phase has not died, but there is a limit to how much pickled stuff you can eat, or how much you can give your friends, until you start getting labeled as that pickle guy.
The book Fermented Vegetables is the best resource about pickling I could find. When I want to buy a book online, I research a lot. Amazon ratings, forums, flickr pages, quora, etc, etc. It is a bit weird how much I research, but I don’t want to be left with a book I don’t use, but the cover is nice.
There are detailed instructions on the techniques used to make krauts, kimchi, brined pickles, chutneys, the works. Then the book goes on to show what can be done with different kinds of vegetables and herbs. In the end, there are recipes, like for example brine crackers and coleslaw.
Throughout the book there are stories about people that probably are called pickle guys, pickle gals, or pickle couples. They are people who have gotten heavily into pickling. I think they are there to make you feel okay about getting so excited about pickling.