Japan has a century-long tradition of vegetarianism. "It's the underpinning of all the cooking that exists today," says Nancy Singleton Hachisu, an expat and cookbook author living in Japan, who has become an expert on the cuisine. The roots of modern cooking come from temple food served thousands of years ago but dishes now include more fish and proteins.
In her latest collection of recipes, "Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook," Hachisu recommends you start with salt-massaged or blanched vegetable dishes, which are dressed with sesame. She suggests a dashi that should always be on hand and explains how to use hoshigaki persimmons.
DASHI SIMMERED TOMATOES
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 4 hours chilling time
Cooking time: 10 minutes
The key to the success of this understated, yet elegant, dish is preparing it at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best—and making sure not to waste any of the precious juices of the tomatoes. And as a point, avoid using overripe tomatoes in Japanese cuisine. If you cannot find sansho leaves, mitsuba can be substituted, or green shiso leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade. The mild tomatoes contrast beautifully with the shoyu-forward dashi, making an exquisitely balanced dish.
- 4 medium tomatoes (13/4 lb/800 g)
- Boiling water
- 1 2/3 cups (131⁄2 fl oz/400 ml) Konbu Dashi (page 22)
- 1⁄8 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 2 tablespoons shoyu
- 1 tablespoon hon mirin
- 4 sprigs sansho leaves, for garnish
- Place the tomatoes in a heatproof medium bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. After 1 or 2 minutes, gently scoop out with a slotted spoon and place in a medium stainless steel bowl. Core and peel the tomatoes carefully over the bowl, so as not to lose any juices, placing each tomato back in the bowl, core side down, as it is peeled. Discard the peels.
- In a small saucepan, bring the dashi, salt, shoyu, and mirin just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and pour over the tomatoes. Place the bowl over (but not in) a pan of simmering water and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, set up a large bowl of ice and water. When the tomatoes have finished cooking, remove the bowl from the pan and set the bowl in in the ice bath to cool.
- Once cooled, place the tomatoes, core side down, in a square or rectangular pan that will just hold them. Add the pooled-up juices and refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Place one tomato, core side down, on each of four pretty saucers with a spoonful of the juices. Garnish with a small sprig of sansho and serve as a refreshing course for lunch or dinner.
Preparation time: 5 minutes, plus 4 hours soaking and cooling time
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Makes: 3 ½ cups (26 ½ fl oz/800 ml)
Use the best-quality konbu you can find for the most flavorful result. No need to wipe off the white substance (mannitol) that has formed on the konbu.
- 6 × 2-inch (15 × 5 cm) piece konbu (10 g)
- Break the konbu in half and add to a medium saucepan with 1 quart (32 fl oz/1 liter) of cold water. Let soak for 3 hours.
- Slowly heat over low heat until steam rises from the water and small bubbles form on the konbu. Allow to cool to room temperature before straining out the konbu and using.
Extracted from "Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook" © 2023 by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. Photography © 2023 by Aya Brackett. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.