A new week, a new (vegan!) cookbook. Let’s jump right in!
I really (really!) love this cookbook. And I really (really!) want to tell you why. But to do that, I feel like I need to explain my own experience level so you know where I’m coming from.
Before We Start
I do not typically cook Japanese food. Love it; don’t cook it. I was born, raised and am still living in the US Midwest. My ancestry is Scottish. I’ve spent most of my culinary career cooking French (and to a lesser extent) Italian food. The less said about the class I took in sushi-making, the better! And, while I love dining in Japanese restaurants, I really have a poor handle on the flavor profiles of Japanese cuisine. In other words, I’m pretty much a novice in the Japanese kitchen. Ok, so given all that – what’s so great about Vegan Japaneasy?
The first thing that really impresses me is Chef Anderson‘s approach to vegan Japanese cooking. He doesn’t try to convert traditional meat- or fish-based dishes into vegan alternatives. I know from my own cooking that it simply doesn’t work (or work well, at least). You just can’t have coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon without the coq or boeuf. In Vegan Japaneasy, Anderson focuses in on traditional Japanese dishes that are vegan to start with – and that makes all the difference in terms of the level of satisfaction when you eat the dishes.
But let me be clear: this book won’t teach you how to make joyless ‘vegan versions’ of Japanese meat and fish dishes, because they wouldn’t be good, and there’s no need to!
– Tim Anderson
The second thing that I really love about Anderson’s approach is that he assumes no real knowledge of Japanese cooking (remember – novice in the Japanese kitchen talking, er writing, here). In addition to a “confession” that gently pokes fun at our shared Midwest heritage, the intro includes a section called “The Vegan Japanese Larder: Seven Essential Items”. For each of the seven items, there’s a brief description as well as “Non-Japanese Uses” suggestions. Best of all, each of the seven items is readily available in most supermarkets. Ingredients like rice vinegar and soy sauce won’t have you trekking to an Asian food shop and might already be standing by in your kitchen.
The book includes a suggestion for “Eleven More Lovely Vegan Japanese Things You May Want to Get.” While the second list gets a bit more exotic, most of the suggestions can still be found at your local grocery – tofu, panko crumbs and sesame oil, for example.
PLUS, you’ll see that Japanese food isn’t just vegan-friendly – it’s also easy! Really, truly, embarrassingly easy.
– Tim Anderson
The book is then divided into five sections: sauces, sides, mains, rice and noddle dishes, and desserts and drinks. What’s good, you ask? Just about everything! First, there are three recipes for vegan dashi. Personally, I like the basic kombu dashi, but the mushroom and three-seaweed dashi are definitely worth trying. There’s also a recipe for ponzu that you can’t miss. I’ve often heard ponzu mentioned on those cooking gameshows, but I have not been overly clear on what it is. Turns out, it’s essentially soy sauce, lemons or limes and a bit of sugar. Go figure!
Moving further into the book, you’ll find recipes like Sweetcorn Curry Croquettes. Anderson is super respectful of the time pressures on home cooks and doesn’t insist that you bio-engineer and organically raise your own sweet corn – “from a tin is fine”. There are times to be chef-y and there are times to get dinner on the table, man! The Ramen Salad is fantastic as written, but fair warning! It may send you on creative riffs for days. At least it did for me.
Best of All
As great as the recipes are – and they really, really are! – I think the thing that I most appreciate about Vegan Japaneasy and Chef Anderson’s approach are the ingredients and flavors that I’ve been able to make my own. Mirin, for example, is a wonder and always in my pantry. Dashi adds complexity and depth to my cooking, even when I’m not making Japanese food. A good cookbook teaches you some recipes. A great cookbook changes how you think about cooking. Vegan Japaneasy is a great cookbook.