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.