Learning how to cook vegan Japanese

If I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, I think it would be Japanese. Whenever talk turned to eating in Central America and what we couldn't wait to nosebag once we got back, it was always Japanese for me.

Tempura, gyoza, udon, sushi, tofu steaks in shiitake sauce - not only is it vegan or easily veganisable, Japanese food is just good shit.

If I was picking my last meal on death row, I'd want some miso soup, agedashi tofu and an onigiri with seaweed. I'd also want to a last-minute pardon, but that's a different matter.

My favourite place for Japanese in London is Atsuko's Kitchen. Held in the back of The Grocery deli on Kingsland Road, Atsuko's Kitchen is a Japanese cookery school run by the eponymous Atsuko. She's not only a friendly and knowledgable teacher, her food is unfailingly great.

Once a year, she runs classes on shojin ryori - the Buddhist entirely vegan culinary tradition that translates as "temple cuisine" - with Mari Fuji, the author of The Enlightened Kitchen.

More often though, as well as one-off classes on subjects like sushi making and Japanese desserts, she runs both beginners and advanced cooking courses. Over four or five weeks, you get to learn the rudiments of Japanese cooking hands on, from deceptively simple stuff like how to make the perfect Japanese rice to the more complex sort of food like platefuls of perfectly-cooked gyoza that makes you think if you could pull it off at home, you'd have a stab at winning Come Dine with Me.

And that's the best thing about it - once you get home with your recipes, you'll find you actually can make it on your own and it still tastes amazing.

While the classes do include meat, fish and eggs for those that consume them, Atsuko is always happy to veganise recipes or create entirely new dishes for herbivores.

The meal pictured at the top of the page, for example, has vegetables covered in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried known as karage. Normally, the panko would be stuck on with egg. For vegans, they're attached with ground yam potato - a technique I'd never heard of before. Pictured above is a Japanese bento - normally the inari purses are filled with eggs. For vegans, they're filled with tofu.

It's clever, tasty stuff, and highly recommended.


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