Kansha Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions
By Elizabeth Andoh
Ten Speed Press Copyright © 2010 Elizabeth Andoh
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781580089555
means “appreciation,” an expression evident in many aspects of Japanese society and daily living. In a culinary context, the word acknowledges both nature’s bounty and the efforts and ingenuity of people who transform that abundance into marvelous food. In the kitchen and at table, in the supermarket and out in the gardens, fields, and waterways, kansha
encourages us to prepare nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying meals that also avoid waste, conserve energy, and sustain our natural resources.
A keen appreciation of food does not require anyone to choose a plant-based diet, but it is in keeping with such a mindset. Kansha
is about abundance—of grains, legumes, roots, shoots, leafy plants (aquatic and terrestrial), shrubs, herbs, berries, seeds, tree fruits and nuts—not abstinence (doing without meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy). It is about nourishing ourselves with what nature provides, cleverly and respectfully applying human technique and technology in the process. Kansha
as both a concept and a practice is well integrated into Japanese culinary tradition. Indeed, it is one of several aspects of washoku
, the ancient and indigenous food culture of Japan. Based on the notion that balancing color, flavor, and method of food preparation enables optimal nutrition and aesthetic satisfaction at table, the principles of washoku
guide home cooks and food professionals alike to culinary harmony. As with my book Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen
, I want this volume to both stimulate your intellect and satisfy your palate. And, as is true of washoku
, I believe that kansha as a guiding principle in procuring, preparing, and partaking of food is universal in its appeal and application.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON KANSHA
Buddhism, with its inherent respect for life that eschews consumption of animals, was first introduced to Japan by way of Korea in the sixth century. Among Japan’s varied food traditions, shōjin ryōri
, most often translated as “Buddhist cuisine” or “temple cookery,” has become synonymous with vegetarian cooking. Indeed it is vegan, as no animal products are used. Shōjin ryōri
became well established during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), a tumultuous time in Japan’s history as feudal warlords vied for power. No doubt life was particularly perilous, and therefore seemed even more precious.
SHŌJIN RYŌRI The word shōjin
means “earnest commitment.” Shōjin ryōri
is not about dietary restrictions, but rather respect for nature’s bounty and for the diligence and ingenuity of those who procure it.
As you might expect, the earnest endeavor to prepare food shuns the use of shortcuts. The time and energy required to assemble a classic shōjin ryōri
dish such as goma-dōfu
, a creamy sesame pudding, is part of the reason it appears on temple vegetarian menus. It is undeniably delicious when prepared in the traditional time-consuming and physically exhausting manner, but there is a simpler way to make the pudding: using neri goma
(toasted sesame paste), rather than parching, crushing, and grinding the seeds yourself in a suribachi
(grooved mortar), a roughly two-hour workout guaranteed to tone your upper arms. In this book, I will be offering you both ways: the classic method for those who wish to experience appreciation through their own effort and labor, and the modern method for those pressed for time or with physical limitations—in which case, your appreciation can be focused on the ingenious efforts of others. Kansha
, in this example, would be gratitude for artisanally produced pure toasted sesame paste.
ICHI MOTSU ZEN SHOKU The need to use food and energy resources as fully and effectively as possible led to many frugal culinary customs in Japan. The ecologically and nutritionally sound practice of ichi motsu zen shoku
(one food, used entirely) encourages the use of all edible parts of plant foods: peels, roots, shoots, stems, seeds, and flowers. Throughout the book, I will be alerting you to opportunities for making fine food from the trimmed-away bits and pieces of produce that inevitably accumulate as you prepare a meal. You will soon discover that nothing goes to waste in the kansha
KONDATÉ-ZUKUSHI Another longstanding Japanese culinary practice, kondaté-zukushi
takes pleasure in making a meal from a single ingredient. This custom of using seasonally and regionally available foodstuffs developed in response to cyclical abundance amidst otherwise limited food resources. The well-established Japanese notion that a single ingredient, transformed in myriad ways, can become the highlight of a complete meal was the driving force behind the original (and flamboyant) Iron Chef
Ancient approaches that remain applicable and meaningful to modern society, ichi motsu zen shoku
will be evident throughout this book. At the conclusion of this introduction, in the section called Practicing Kansha
, I will walk you through the preparation of Daikon-Zukushi
, a menu celebrating the full glory of a plump, snowy white, green-tufted radish.
Since the 1970s, a number of social and dietary movements operating globally have combined to increase awareness of the benefits of adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. The modern macrobiotic movement, born in Japan and well traveled worldwide, has helped rekindle an interest in the ancient notion of food as medicine.
In Japan in the past decade, a growing consciousness of the importance of passing on Japanese culinary culture to future generations, combined with other food-related concerns, evolved into a grassroots movement known as shokuiku
. The word itself, a combination of the calligraphy for “food” and for “education,” was coined by a group of food journalists to describe wide-ranging goals. Those aspirations included defining (and encouraging the adoption of) healthful dietary practices, recognizing the need to monitor safety in food production and distribution, and the training of young people’s palates to appreciate food prepared without chemical additives. In 2005, the shokuiku
movement was formally recognized by the Japanese government’s Cabinet Office (Naikakufu), which influences policy and legislation in several key agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Kōseisho); the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Nōrinsuisansho); and the Ministry of Education (Mombusho).
Current societal concerns with ecology (environmental pollution) and economics (pinched household budgets) have also led to a renewed interest in no-waste vegetarian cooking. In particular, a marketing concept known as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), which includes valuing organic farming over conventional methods, has become important in Japan’s contemporary food supply and distribution networks. Combined with the recent advent of the Slow Food movement and its respect for old-fashioned ways that encourage artisanal production, even urban dwellers have access to excellent processed foods that support a healthful, plant-focused diet.
The Japanese have also recently embraced induction heat (IH) cooking, a flameless way to prepare food in which heat is produced by magnetic fields. IH cooking is thought to be safer, less costly (after the initial investment for the special countertop cooker), and kinder to the environment. It does, however, place special requirements on cookware: the outer surface of pots, pans, and skillets must be ferrous—no glass, ceramic, aluminum, or copper, for example—and must come in direct, flat contact with the IH cooktop. But these requisites have not slowed the spread of this new cooking medium.
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
My goal in writing Kansha
is to empower you to create wholesome, nutritionally balanced, plant-based dishes, easily integrating preparation of these dishes into your busy and, most likely, urban daily routine.
Being able to consider the relative merits of one foodstuff or technique compared to another requires a comfortable familiarity with a wide range of products and kitchen skills. I will help you build that knowledge base, expanding your culinary horizons and repertoire by introducing you to an array of possibly unfamiliar foods and techniques that were developed in tandem with Japan’s vegetarian traditions. To help you become a practitioner-cook of kansha
, I have included a detailed reference section, A Guide to the Kansha Kitchen, at the back of this book. It is divided into two parts, A Catalog of Tools and Techniques and A Catalog of Ingredients.
As a teacher of the Japanese culinary arts, I believe that the best recipes demonstrate how the culture as a whole approaches food preparation. My recipes will guide you to an understanding of why
certain procedures are performed in the Japanese kitchen, then teach you when
to do what needs to be done by advising you on timing, techniques, and relative proportion of ingredients to use. I will be encouraging you to adopt a mindful, considered approach to food preparation beginning with menu planning that eliminates unnecessary time and energy or superfluous foodstuffs.
Nothing goes to waste in the kansha
kitchen. Putting this ideal into practice means fully using the food that nature provides, minimizing waste while maximizing eating pleasure.
Many fruits and vegetables come to market oddly shaped, slightly bruised, or a bit past prime, though still full of flavor and brimming with nutrients. What often ends up in the trash bin—seeds, fruit peels, vegetable trimmings, and misshapen or overripe produce—can be transformed into tasty side dishes. One approach is to mash, crush, grate, and/or blend the pulp of less-than-perfect produce to make soups, sauces, and aspics. Another approach is to finely shred or mince these usual castoffs, and make crispy fritters or crunchy pickles from them. You will find dozens of recipes throughout the book for using these usual kitchen scraps creatively, deliciously.
Packaged pantry goods such as soy sauce and miso do not spoil easily, though they do lose their aroma within a few weeks of opening. Refrigerating opened packages helps slow the loss, but after a month or so you’ll find such products lack verve. That’s when revitalizing them, changing them into flavor-enhancing condiments, makes sense. Having a jar of homemade vegan Seasoned Soy Concentrate (page 131) at the back of your refrigerator will be a boon on busy days, and Robust Miso (page 132) will perk up rice or dress up sticks of raw vegetables in a pinch. Once you get the hang of it, you will be surprised at how much you can do to reduce waste and improve flavor and nutrition. Think of the resulting dishes as a bonus for your resourcefulness.
One way to experience kansha
in your own kitchen is to build an entire meal around a single vegetable, using it fully. Consider constructing a menu to celebrate a glorious daikon you find at your local farmers’ market. Title your meal Daikon-Zukushi
: daikon in its entirety!
Different sections of daikon have different flavor and texture profiles. I suggest you use the leafy tops for making a confetti-like condiment to toss into cooked rice (Rice Tossed with Radish Greens, page 23). Then, divide the root portion into three segments: the neck (nearest the leafy tuft; this is often green), the midsection (usually bulbous and snowy white), and the tapered tip. Peel each segment and use the peels in various dishes, such as soup (Red and White Miso Soup, page 82) and a spicy sauté (Spicy Stir-Fry, page 122). Any leftover peels can be stored in a resealable bag and refrigerated for several days. To make a hearty main course, sear thick wheels of daikon from the neck portion in a skillet, glazing them lightly with a sweetened soy sauce before topping with citrus peel slivers or zest (Skillet-Seared Daikon with Yuzu, page 98). The midsection is perhaps the most versatile segment of the entire daikon. It can be seared, simmered, steamed, grated, shredded or thinly sliced and eaten raw or lightly pickled (Quick-Fix Pickles: Fruity, Sweet-and-Sour Daikon, page 196). The tip of the root is best when it is grated and used as a condiment or garnish with fried foods. One of my favorites is Crispy-Creamy Tōfu, Southern Barbarian Style (page 178), which would be a fine addition to our Daikon-Zukushi
feast. Bruised or misshapen daikon roots are often shredded and dried (if you have a dehydrator, you can make your own shreds—any segment of the root, and peels, can be made into kiriboshi daikon—or you can buy shelf-stable bags of them at Asian grocery stores). For our Daikon-Zukushi
menu, I suggest a sweet, spicy, and tart pickle (page 204) made from kiriboshi daikon (sun-dried radish shreds).
When planning a meal, you need not choose between kansha
as menu-organizing principles: each complements and enhances the other. For those of you who have cooked from Washoku
, rest assured that the Daikon-Zukushi
meal I have just described meets the guidelines for balancing color, flavor, and preparation method: white (daikon and rice), black (sesame seeds mixed with the daikon leaves and the soy glaze), red (carrots in the soup and the stir-fry), yellow (pickles and yuzu
zest), and green (leafy daikon tops); sweet (sugar in the soy-glazed daikon and in the pickling brine), sour (pickles), and salty (soy sauce and miso), with accents of spice (7-blend spice, red chile) and bitterness (yuzu
zest); raw (grated condiment), simmered and seared (soy-glazed daikon wheels), fried (crispy-creamy tōfu), and steamed (rice). Kansha
—appreciating good food and the efforts of those who make it—can be experienced and practiced at any age. If you have an opportunity to cook with, or for, young children, I encourage you to try your hand at making nutritionally balanced, aesthetically appealing, kid-friendly boxed lunches-to-go. The lunch pictured on page 168 features soy-glazed tōfu burgers (page 169) that youngsters adore. These protein-packed sliders could be served on small buns, with the salad greens tucked inside, American-sandwich style. But in Japan, where seasonal sensitivity is an important part of menu planning, cherry blossom–studded rice (page 25) would be enjoyed instead, obentō
style, while flower-viewing in the company of friends and family. Serving fresh fruit is a great way to provide nutritional balance to a lunch menu, though whole fruit can be messy to peel and eat. Sliced citrus typically bruises, and the juice oozes, but these wedges of jellied grapefruit (page 232) are easy to make, pack, and eat.
Japanese meals are organized around a core of three foods: rice (or noodles), soup (clear, miso enriched, or puréed), and pickles. Greater volume and complexity are usually achieved by adding small dishes to this trio to round out the menu. Classic meal planning follows guidelines associated with Japan’s native culinary culture, washoku
. Such meals achieve culinary harmony by balancing colors, flavors, and preparation methods. Without having to stop and do cumbersome nutritional arithmetic, you are assured of getting essential vitamins and minerals in your daily diet when you choose colorful ingredients (red, green, yellow, black, and white) at every meal. Using different cooking techniques (simmering, searing, keeping raw, steaming, and frying) provides textural interest that contributes to a sense of satisfied fullness while actually consuming less food. Serving a range of flavors (sweet, sour, and salty, with accents of spice and bitterness) curbs food cravings that could lead to overeating.
I have arranged recipes into chapters that I hope will help you plan well-rounded menus. For those of you not yet used to balancing the nutritional requirements of a vegan diet, I suggest you first choose a rice or noodle dish (nearly all of them in this book include produce), and then add one dish from each of the following three chapters: Fresh from the Market, The Well-Stocked Pantry, and Mostly Soy. By including one dish that features fresh produce from the market or farm, another that relies on kambutsu
(dried foods) from the pantry, and a third that contains significant quantities of plant-sourced protein (mostly tōfu in its many forms), you will have assembled a nutritionally balanced meal without complicated calculations. If you have chosen a substantial rice or noodle dish, then the other dishes can be sides or toppings to the rice or noodles. Your meal can be expanded by the addition of a soup, pickles (think of them as fully dressed “salads”), and dessert, each of which has its own collection of recipes in separate chapters.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
You do not
need to convert to eating only Japanese food to practice kansha
. Nor do you have to assemble your meals from Japanese foodstuffs alone. Many of the dishes in this book can be happily incorporated into—or adapted to—American, Mediterranean, northern European, or other Asian menus.
Some people elect not to consume any animal flesh, dairy products, or eggs for metabolic reasons. Food allergies and other health-compromising issues such as elevated cholesterol seem to head the list. Others might follow a vegetarian or vegan regimen as an ethical choice—their way of demonstrating respect for animal life. Still others have a concern for the ecology of the planet that compels them to eat plant-based foods exclusively.
If you are just embarking on a plant-based diet, or combining vegetarian dishes with small quantities of meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry to feed yourself or others, you will find lots of dishes and menu suggestions in Kansha
to help you transition to a primarily vegetarian diet. If you have already chosen a vegetarian lifestyle but are unfamiliar with Japanese food, you will discover exciting new dishes and ideas to expand and enliven your repertoire. Dōzo, meshiagaré
—Go ahead, eat up! Continues...
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