Toshio Tanahashi is a Zen Buddhist monk, who, at the age of 27, decided to serve as an apprentice at the Gesshinji Temple in Shiga prefecture, near Kyoto. A nunnery famous for its abbess Murase Myodo’s excellent Shojin cooking, he trained there for three years. He had a restaurant in Tokyo for many years, but now he dedicates his time to educating people about shojin-ryori through his culinary institute Zecoow. Toshio travels widely around the world talking about shojin-ryori and has been featured in English-language newspapers such as the New York Times.
Here is a TED talk that Toshio gave in Tokyo in 2014:
Toshio has also written several books (in Japanese) on shojin cuisine.
Wakame and fresh bamboo shoot soup
This recipe highlights the delicate flavours of two seasonal ingredients: bamboo shoots which appear in the spring and wakame which is harvested fresh at this time. This is a very typical Japanese “recipe” because it doesn’t give any measurements! An important aspect of Japanese cuisine is to develop your sense of taste and be prepared to cook by taste alone. When I first learned about Japanese cooking this was something that frustrated me because I just wanted to be told “Do it like this.” But cooking is as much an art as it is a science and the challenge is to have “the courage of your convictions” – wise advice from the wonderful Julia Childs from back in the 1950s. It takes time to develop the confidence required to trust your own interpretation in using the ingredients as a kind of artist’s palette but it is so satisfying when you get it “right” – that is, when the artwork you create tastes and looks like you had imagined, or perhaps you get a nice surprise and it is better than you imagined!
Takenoko (fresh bamboo shoots)
Katsuo dashi (Japanese soup stock – this can be made vegan by using shiitake dashi instead of katsuo)
Kinome (fresh sansho leaf buds)
1) Cut the bamboo shoots into round slices about 5mm thick. The pieces that are bit too big, slice into half-moon shapes.
2) Rinse the wakame in water (if you are using salted wakame change the water 2 – 3 times) so that it just covers the seaweed in a bowl, then roughly chop the seaweed into 3cm lengths.
3) Place the wakame into the dashi stock and bring to a simmer – avoid boiling – then add the bamboo shoots
4) As soon as the wakame has softened, add a little soy sauce and mirin, tasting as you go.(Okay, for those of you who’d like a bit more guidance, try about a teaspoon of soy sauce and a half a teaspoon of mirin per 300mls of dashi)
5) When the soup has started to simmer again, remove from the heat and serve with a garnish of kinome sprinkled on the top.
Source: Kyo no Machiya Kurashi Isho Kaigi
IZUSEN restaurant, Daiji-in, Daitokuji, Kyoto
Leaving behind the frenetic busyness of the modern bustling metropolis of Kyoto, as you step over the threshold of the great gateway that marks the entrance to the vast grounds of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temple complexes of Kyoto, you enter into a sacred space that seems timeless and imbued with tranquility. Nestled within this great rambling temple complex, following one of the meandering stone pathways flanked by high earthen walls of secluded little temples and ancient twisting pine trees, you eventually arrive at a small sub-temple called Daiji-in. Within this temple is Izusen, a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) restaurant that specialises in teppachi-ryori.
Teppachi literally means “iron bowl” and it refers to the custom of Buddhist monks making daily alms rounds, carrying a bowl in which they received food offerings from people in the neighbourhood who supported the temple. Nowadays, the monks of Daitokuji temple no longer make these rounds, but the traditional bowls they once used are now a feature of this restaurant. The serving dishes are a set of lacquer bowls in which the courses of the meal are served and which fit neatly inside one another when finished.
The delicacies that are served in these special bowls vary according to the season, but what follows is typical spring menu.
This meal begins with light matcha (whisked powdered green tea) and warabi-mochi, a glutinous sweet made not from rice flour (mochi) but from bracken starch (warabi-ko), covered with kinako (toasted soy bean flour).
Next, shirazu-ae: vegetables coated in a light vinegar and sesame paste, served here with fava beans (soramame).
Next, broccolini with yuba (soy milk skins). Yuba is an essential ingredient in shojin cuisine because it is very high in protein.
Next, hassun, which is the main plate and has a selection of delicacies. Here, there is fried gluten, fuki (giant butterbur) wrapped in yuba, and Daitokuji-fu (a special gluten prepared with soy and mirin and deep-fried)
Next, goma-tofu with sliced cucumber and wasabi: goma-tofu is not the usual soy bean tofu, but instead is made from ground sesame seeds mixed with kudzu flour. It is a signature dish in shojin-ryori of Mt Koya.
Next, ganmodoki and fried baby eggplant: ganmodoki, which literally means “mock goose,” is made from tofu mixed with vegetables, made into a ball, boiled first and then fried. It is used as an offering on the altars of temples in Mt Koya.
Next, tempura vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, mitsuba trefoil leaves.
Next, clear wakame (seaweed) soup.
Finally, rice with a seasonal ingredient and pickles – this rice is served with kinome, a new sprig of the Japanese pepper tree, which is traditionally a sign of spring.
Here is a video showing the exterior and interior of Izusen in Kyoto…
Photos courtesy of Hisagon & Yokorin
Tofu, it seems, isn’t just for eating…
Every year on February 8th, various temples and shrines around Japan have a memorial ceremony for worn out and broken sewing needles. People bring their old and broken needles to the temple and place them in a block of tofu or konnyaku. The soft bed is offered as the final resting place for the needles that have worked so hard. The pilgrims who bring their needles are offering their gratitude for the needles’ hard work and also praying to improve their skills in sewing. As well as being an act of gratitude, the pilgrims also pray that all the things that are broken in their lives are laid to rest in a bed of softness – taking away all the sharp pain in their lives.
The gentle soft taste of silken tofu is to be enjoyed perfectly unadorned, as it is. In Kyoto, the best tofu is prepared using the natural spring water that is so delicious in Kyoto. There are a number of famous temple restaurants in Kyoto that serve yudofu 湯豆腐, which is just plain cubes of tofu simmered in spring water, that you eat dipped into a light soy sauce and topped with spring onions and grated ginger. The texture and subtle favour is enjoyed in the meditative surroundings of an ancient garden, so that all of the senses are engaged in the simple act of eating this perfect humble food. It is a sublime culinary experience.
The key to this dish is to use only the highest quality tofu, spring water and konbu.
1 x 15cm piece of konbu
4 cups of spring or filtered water
Silken or regular tofu cut into cubes about 5cm
1 cup dashi
3 Tbsp shoyu
Sliced spring onion
Traditionally, this dish is prepared in a donabe clay pot on a small table burner, but you can use a regular saucepan and then transfer the tofu and water into a warmed casserole pot.
Place the konbu in the water and leave for about 5 hours. Put the saucepan on a low heat until the first bubbles appear, then turn off the heat and pour into a pre-warmed casserole dish with the tofu in it.
Each person takes a piece of tofu and puts it in their bowl, adding the dipping sauce and condiments to their own liking.
This is Genbo Nishikawa’s recipe for tofu & vegetable stuffed mini-pumpkins.
Recipe makes one stuffed pumpkin
Mini-pumpkin about 15cms diameter
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
Small amount of kikurage mushrooms
3 runner beans
Usukuchi shoyu [light soy]
250g firm tofu
Kuzu-an [Ankake] sauce:
1 1/2 cups of water
2 Tbsp konbu dashi [see “dashi” in the glossary page for details]
2 Tbsp usukuchi shoyu [light soy sauce]
(1) Remove the top portion of the pumpkin – to be used as a lid; Scoop out the seeds; Place the pumpkin in salted water for about 30 minutes
(2) Rehydrate the mushrooms in water and cut finely, reserving the soaking liquid for stock; Cut the carrots into sliced quarters [called icho in Japanese – see glossary for a video on how to slice “icho”]; Slice the gobo down the length into two halves, then thinly slice into “half moon” shapes; Slice the beans into 1cm pieces
(3) Take the ingredients in (2) and put them in the shoyu and chill in the refrigerator; Place the tofu in a muslin cloth or paper towel and allow to drain, then wring lightly to remove the water; Mix the tofu with the chilled ingredients
(4) Boil the pumpkin in the water for about 15 minutes; Stuff the pumpkin with the tofu and vegetables; Put on the pumpkin ‘lid’ and boil for a further 10 minutes
(5) Put the ingredients for the kuzu-an in a saucepan and heat to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until it thickens
(6) Pour some of the warm kuzu-an sauce into the base of a bowl and then place the pumpkin on top.
Source: 禅寺のおばんざい四季の膳 by Genbo Nishikawa