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.
I have been cooking since a very young age and have been reading cookbooks since a very young age. They represent to me something familiar from my childhood and also experimentation. I used to experiment, and still do experiment, in the kitchen. Particularly in the sweet side of cooking. Desserts that is.
Cooking desserts was something that was not done in my family, except for special occasions, like birthdays, christmas, and the likes. My parents were much more into savory stuff. I on the other hand had a sweet tooth. So much so, that I began going through cookbooks looking for desserts to make. There are a few books out there that I have at least tried to make all the the dessert recipes out of. If I never attempted to make some recipe, it was because I did not have the ingredients.
I made tarts, cakes, buns, home made sweets, cinnamon rolls, you name it. And very often I was very successful with the recipes. That is because I learnt to read recipes carefully and to follow them. If I did not read and follow the carefully, I realized, the outcome would not be that awesome. I liked awesome. There was one time though, when things did not go as planned. It was the time I burnt down the kitchen.
Yes, I burnt down the kitchen. I was making this Finnish delicacy called kookospallot. It translates to coconut balls. I was home alone, with nothing to do. What would I do? What could I do? Should I go out and hang out there, maybe a friend of mine is out there? No, I know I will make a dessert that involves melting hot coconut fat. What could happen? I probably thought to myself. I do not remember anymore. Actually I do not think I thought of anything except getting some sweet things to eat.
So, onto the pan I measured coconut fat. Not the stuff you can find in health department these days, but the stuff you use for deep frying. Switch on the heat and then wait for it to melt. The thing is waiting is something I have never been that good at. I waited a while and then my thoughts drifted and went to watch some tv. Not the only mistake I made that day.
The second mistake, which is the one that lead to kitchen burning down came next. A friend of mine came to ring the doorbell, to ask me to come to his house to play. I said ofcourse. I did not even have to take a jacket with me, because he lived in the same building, one floor down. Did the kookospallot even cross my mind? The answer is no.
There I am playing in his room. Having a great time. The doorbell rings. I hear some noises in the hallway. My mother comes in the room, eyes wide open. She sees me and starts asking me what have I done? Why are you not at home? I am completely surprised. On the way upstairs, I remember the coconut balls. I can still feel the feeling in my stomach. Is this smoke coming from my house?
The pan had gotten very hot. So hot it had melted the rice cooker onto the stove. Plastic had caught fire and black smoke fill the kitchen. Me, frozen in my place, not being able to do anything. My mother had gotten home in time for not the whole building to burn down. She was not very happy. Let us just leave it at that.
After that experience, I am glad to say one thing. Even though I burnt down my kitchen. I still have a thing for cookbooks and my sweet tooth is alive and kicking. Except nowadays it has some fixed up cavities.
Here is the infamous recipe of the Coconut Balls that burnt down my Kitchen. Now that I read it, it not something I would go for these days, but exactly what I imagine me as a child going for. That is why I decided to update it a little bit. Instead of coconut fat, I chose coconut oil. The powdered sugar that was in the old recipe, was replaced by vegan sugar. The vanilla sugar, which is usually not real vanilla at all, was replaced by actual vanilla.
The Coconut Balls that Burnt down my Kitchen
100 g coconut oil
3 dl oat flakes
1 dl coconut flakes
1 dl vegan sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon powder
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp water
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