Vegan and Gluten-Free Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

When I think of Japanese food, I think of a carnivorous feast full of sashimi, nigiri, and sushi rolls; chicken or pork tonkatsu; chicken, beef, or salmon teriyaki; porky udons; and much, much more.  Everything but vegan.  Six months ago, I would have snubbed at the idea of a vegan Japanese meal.  I would have thought, “such a sad waste of calories” at that time.

Interestingly, since I’ve made the decision to eat less meat, and more veggies, my palate has become more open-minded to vegan and vegetarian fare.  I seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I’m traveling.  We recently visited the East Bay and headed to the Gourmet Ghetto (aka, Berkeley) for some vegan/vegetarian Japanese food at Cha-Ya.  I have to admit, I was still a little hesitant about vegan Japanese food because I had some doubts that it was going to be as good as your traditional Japanese meal.  We ordered miso soup; sunomono; udon with vegetable tempura; and pickled burdock and pickled melon sushi rolls, and a seaweed salad sushi roll.

The dinner was ridiculously amazing and filling!  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how much I look forward to going back.  What stood out the most was the simple but savory miso soup that oozed with umami.  Oh.  My.  Word.  It was just delightful.  I like a good miso soup, and I order it just about every time we dine at a Japanese restaurant.  Most places are either too salty or too stingy with the tofu and wakame.  I can honestly say that Cha-Ya offers some of the best miso soup.

I left Cha-Ya feeling inspired to cook up some vegan Japanese food at home.  I started with a vegan miso soup.  It turned out pretty good… it’s definitely a close second to Cha-Ya’s :)

Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

6 cups vegan dashi (6 cups of water + 12 inch piece of kombu soaked overnight)
3-4 tablespoons gluten-free red miso paste
1-2 tablespoon gluten-free white miso paste
1 block firm tofu (fresh if possible), drained and cubed
2 tablespoons wakame, soaked in water for 5 minutes, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

When ready to make the soup, bring the vegan dashi up to a simmer (not a full boil), then take out the kombu. Bring to a full boil, and then add the wakame and simmer for one minute.

Place a small strainer over the broth. Add the miso [a little bit at a time to your preference, since miso varies in saltiness] by dissolving and pushing through the strainer. [The strainer helps to avoid a lumpy miso soup. Lastly, do not boil the miso or else you risk ruining the miso flavor.] Add the tofu and green onion.

Serve immediately.

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

Homemade spicy tuna handrolls are our go-to meals when we feel like having sushi.  We have a great fishmonger, Stan, that sets aside fresh ahi tuna for us.  He’s so convincing, too, because when we’re not there for fish, he’ll tell what he has in fresh that day, and we immediately order a pound or two.  Like last weekend when we were there specifically for ribs, and walked out with five pounds of ribs and one pound of ahi tuna.  We even told ourselves in the car on our way to the market that we were only there for ribs, and nothing more.  If only we weren’t so easily convinced…

It had been some time since we had spicy tuna sushi, and we were craving sushi that day, too.  So it really worked out in our favor.  The only problem was that I was too lazy to make rice.  I know.  What in the hell kind of Asian am I?!  I’m questioning myself, too, as I type this sentence.  I know it’s not hard, but I was too lazy to pick myself off the couch to make rice, and by the time I looked up at the clock, it was already nearing 1 p.m.  And I didn’t want to eat too late because we had plans to eat yummy things for dinner.  So, I had to forego the rice :(

However, on the flip side of this, I got to eat more of the spicy tuna “handrolls” because it was guilt-free eating without all the carbs! :)

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

1 pound sushi grade fresh ahi tuna, cut into 1/2 inch dices
1/4 cup flying fish roe
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce, plus more to adjust level of spiciness
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt, to taste

Nori seaweed sheets, cut into 4″x 3″ strips

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salt and mix well. Add more Sriracha sauce if you prefer it to be more spicy, or add less to begin with if you like it less spicy. Mix well again. Adjust seasoning with salt to your liking.

Spoon spicy tuna mixture into the middle of each Nori strip, and enjoy! :)

Ahi Poke Tartare

I don’t have very much time to experiment in the kitchen because I work every other weekend, and work very, very long shifts where I’m home anywhere between 9:00-10:00 p.m.  And when I get home from work, I’m usually preparing a sandwich wrap, salad, or something quick for my next day’s lunch and dinner for work.

So when I finally do have some time off, it’s usually a race in the kitchen to cook anything and everything that I have been pondering for some time.  I eat, dream, and think food every moment I can.  Some say it’s an obsession.  I call it a favorite past-time.  I digress.  I will spend most of my day at various grocery stores or farmers markets looking for the perfect ingredients that I need, or that might inspire me to create or recreate something new.  Grocery stores are what art stores are to artists.  Liquor stores to alcoholics.  You’re probably thinking “wow, I can’t believe she just went there.”  Yes.  Yes, I did.  I think you get the point.    Again, I digress.

Well, I finally had a chance to stock up on some supplies that I’ve needed for my kitchen at Sur La Table.  One item in particular was a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter.  You would think that this was standard in any kitchen.  But cookie making was never something my Mom did while I was growing up.  And if she did make cookies, fancy cookie cutters and such were not necessary.  Her style was rustic.  So it never occurred to me to keep a cookie cutter around.  Well, I had been wanting to make ahi tuna tartare and a few other ingredients, and finally found the perfect opportunity to buy a cookie cutter.  I know.  It’s silly.  You’re probably thinking, “who needs a reason to buy kitchen supplies?”  It’s the Asian in me.  Is that a reason?  Okay, maybe I’m stereotyping.  It’s the way I was brought up in my family, where saving every little penny and spending very little was hammered into us.  So I like to justify the reason for such a purchase :)

Speaking of justifying costs, I couldn’t bring myself to spend about $200 on Lowel Ego lights.  I have been scoping out Lowel Ego lights for months now.  Reading user reviews, perusing through foodie blogs that utilize the lighting system, and basic information on the product.  The lights are an ingenious idea to use in a home studio.  Albeit, natural light is always the best; I, unfortunately, do not have the best natural lighting through our home to utilize.  So, I needed a home set-up.  I had a hard time bringing myself to buy the lights, because there were other items at the top of my list that I needed.  So, one glorious night after work, I was unwinding by looking at do-it-yourself light set-ups, and came across a website for do-it-yourself Lowel Ego lights!  Low and behold, my project after my first day off, I made my way to four different hardware stores to gather the supplies, and constructed two look-a-like Lowel Ego lights for $40.  Yep.  Read and weep.  Heehee :)  I was extremely excited to photo my first subject… ahi poke tartare!

Ahi Poke Tartare

1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, diced into small cubes
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 (0.4 ounce) package of NOH Hawaiian Poke Mix
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tobiko
Sriracha sauce or La-Yu Chili Oil
1 medium avocado, cut into thin slices
1 sheet of Nori seaweed, cut into thin strips

2.5 inch round cookie cutter

Rehydrate the ogo (seaweed) in a bowl of water, and allow to steep for about 2-3 minutes.  Squeeze the water out of the ogo, roughly chop it, and place it into a bowl with the ahi tuna.

Add two teaspoons of sesame oil, green onions, tobiko and the rest of the NOH Hawaiian (Hawaiian salt and red chili flakes) package to the bowl of tuna.  Mix well.  I didn’t find the red chili flakes to be spicy, and we like our poke spicy, so we added a tablespoon or two of Sriracha to spice things up a little bit.

Place cookie cutter onto small plate.  Spoon poke mixture into cookie cutter and pack it down with the back of the spoon.  Gently lift cutter up and away from stack.  Place a few slices of avocado on top of the poke, and top with a few strips of Nori.  Make 5 more servings in the same manner.  Enjoy immediately.

If time is of the essence, or you just don’t want to have to mess around with cookie cutters and such, simply enjoy the poke out of the bowl.  We made some poke handrolls with rice, Nori, thin strips of cucumbers, and thinly sliced avocados.  It was yummy.

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