Have I ever told you all about my obsession with Japan? I don’t think I have… but it’s about time. I think my love of Japan started with my uncle, who will be the first person to admit that he’s a huge nerd. He, like my father, went to a prestigious university for post-grad (Yale and Stanford, respectively), and has always possessed a love of learning. I don’t know where his interest in Japan started, but when I was growing up, he would always talk about his love of kudo and teach me how to properly hold my bowl of rice the Japanese way. We’d seek out restaurants that had tatami dining rooms, where we’d remove our shoes (in true Japanese tradition) and eat at a low zataku table, sitting on pillows. So when it came time to choose my summer camp when I was 8, I obviously chose Japanese camp!
There is something about the Japanese culture that is so mystical and beautiful to me. It speaks of ancient tradition and modern innovation; precision and order, sinuous design and exacting beauty. And then, of course, there’s the food.
Japanese cuisine lends itself very well to vegetarianism, and even veganism. As a relatively small yet populous island, the country simply does not have the land to devote to livestock. Traditionally, the Japanese diet consisted mainly of rice and sea food (including fish, shellfish, and seaweed). With the introduction of Buddhism, the consumption of meat was considered “taboo”, although its presence in Japanese cuisine did not disappear entirely. However, ingredients that are considered to be such staples in Western cuisine, like dairy, are not prevalent in Japanese dishes.
I loved Japanese food even before I went vegan, but now I find myself turning to those flavors more and more. Something unique about ubiquitous Japanese ingredients is that they often contain umami, which usually translates to “savory” but technically refers to the taste of glutamates on the palate. Unfortunately, these glutamates are usually found in meat and dairy products. However, many plant-based Japanese ingredients contain umami, such as miso, tamari, shiitake mushrooms, umeboshi plums, and certain types of seaweed, like nori or kombu.
Growing up, though, I just hated mushrooms. Does any kid like mushrooms?? Even now, I wouldn’t really say I “like” mushrooms. But I may just be coming around with this recipe – I must say, I did kind of surprise myself with the way these mushrooms turned out. I’m having a hard time finding the words to describe them… they were sautéed in sesame oil, giving just a hint of nutty flavor; and cooked until they were just browned, served over steaming rice, donburi style. The texture was not slimy like the mushrooms of my past, but slightly crispy on the edges and a little chewy on the inside. The flavor was full and mouthwatering and – dare I say it – meaty, but in a very plant-based way that was not off-putting at all. (I generally dislike meat substitutes, so I say this fairly objectively). I ate them all immediately after shooting the photos. And I may not be a full mushroom convert, but shiitakes certainly have a well-deserved place in my kitchen now.
- 2 Cups Shiitake Mushrooms
- 1 Tsp Sesame Oil
- ¼ Cup Tamari
- ¼ Cup Mirin
- ¼ Cup Maple Syrup
- At least 2 Cups Sushi Rice, cooked
- At least 2 Avocados
- Bean Sprouts
- Sesame Seeds
- In a saucepan on medium heat, combine all glaze ingredients and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Stick in the refrigerator to let cool.
- To cook the mushrooms, bring a pan to medium-high heat on the stovetop. When pan is hot, carefully add 1 tsp of sesame oil. Add mushrooms and stir in sesame oil. Cook until shiitakes are slightly browned.
- To serve, put at least a cup of cooked rice in each of the bowls. I used short-grain sushi rice but you can use any rice you have on hand.
- Put the mushrooms on top of the rice, straight out of the pan, and drizzle with glaze.
- Top bowls with bean sprouts, avocado slices, and sesame seeds (as much as desired).
- Enjoy with a cup of hot green tea.