Wednesday, October 05, 2005

IMBB: Enlightenment is the Vegan Way

I'm finally getting my life back together after several weeks of disease-ridden mad rush to meet an NIH-imposed grant proposal deadline. How ironic is that? The National Institute of Health drove me to illness with pressure and stress!!

One of the few things I managed to make for dinner besides boiling water for naeng myun (the brilliant Korean answer to the instant ramen) was a vegan soup. I had intended to post this in time to meet Sam's IMBB challenge to eat vegan, but alas, it is past her deadline and her round-up! But since it was tasty, I'm going to post anyway.

The Japanese have had a long history of vegan cooking, perfected by Japanese monks. Known as Shojin Ryouri, which directly translates to Enlightenment Cuisine or Salvation Cuisine, no animal products, including dairy or eggs, can be used. In addition, garlic and green onions are prohibited too, since these 'hot' foods can prevent one from achieving and maintaining a calm mind.

When I went and stayed in a temple for a night at Koya-san in Japan (along with six American Japanophiles), we enjoyed a full Shojin Cuisine in kaiseki style. One of the most memorable aspects of that meal was the dashi broth. Although the broth was made with no bonito or any other dried fish flakes, the broth was full of umami goodness and surprised me with a rich depth. I asked the Head Monk the next day what the secret was, since konbu seaweed alone couldn't possibly create that deep, nourishing complexity.

"Shiitake," he said. "Dried Shiitake."

So for this IMBB Vegan Challenge, I made two shiitake dishes to explore the richness these mushrooms can provide - Shiitake-ginger rice and shiitake soup with vegetarian dumplings.

The dumplings were purchased from my new favorite Japanese-Chinese buns and dumpling shop (Hana in San Jose - a post about them is coming soon). The soup was delicious and satisfying with a deep complexity and aromatic harmony of the shiitake and the ginger. I was afraid that soy sauce may bring unnecessary competition into the soup, so I seasoned the soup with sea salt instead of soy sauce to enhance the shiitake flavor. I was really amazed at how much flavor these dried shiitakes contain. All I did was wash a handful of mushrooms, add them into ~2 cups of water, bring to a boil, and let them boil for a while. There was so much flavor in there, I was knocked off my feet! It needed nothing else. I added some veggies and the dumplings into the broth with some salt, and it was done! A perfect meal in itself!

Since I had my shiitake mushrooms handy, I figured I'd also experiment a rice dish I've been in love with for a while - the ginger claypot rice from Vietnamese cuisine. I really love this dish, but I always have to pick out all of the Vietnamese dehydrated sausages. Those sausages are just oily and chewy with all of its life sucked out by the rice - and I guess I'm just not a fan of Vietnamese sausages!

The original version also has shiitake slivers in it, and that, I love and pick out to eat them. Since my shiitake was so full of flavor and potency, I decided I'd make an imitation claypot rice in my electric rice cooker - imitation in many ways, since 1. I have no claypot, and 2. this was going to be vegan. I mixed sweet rice (mochi gome) with regular rice in a 1:1 ratio, added shiitake slivers and grated ginger, and cooked the rice in a shiitake broth. The resulting rice was... not salty. SURPRISE! I forgot to season it! Other than that, I didn't miss the sausages at all, so I'll try this again soon...

And yes, as you can see, I broke the Shojin rule and used green onions in the soup... Enlightenment and salvation are both very, very distant concepts from where I am...

Tagged with: + .

1 comment:

Sam said...

well - looks and sounds delish - i will try & remember to edit you into the roundup for prosperity when I get a chance.

thanks for doing it - and I hope you are better.