My newer readers may not be aware that I have spent over a decade as a cookbook reviewer and food writer; I have a collection of over 500 cookbooks and my collection has been featured on Eat Your Books and I was also asked to contribute a list of my favorites to 1000Cookbooks.
Since moving to Japan, much of my time has been devoted to travel and publishing newspaper and magazine articles. I am no longer actively reviewing cookbooks, although I still occasionally purchase new titles from the UK and enjoy cooking when I have the time.
One of the recent cookbooks that landed on my doorstep was Meera Sodha’s “East”; I have both of her other titles and absolutely adore her style, so when I saw that she was coming out with a vegetarian and vegan cookbook devoted to Asian cuisines, I had to purchase it.
I run a number of Japanese cooking groups on Facebook, so was interested to see how authentic her Japanese-inspired recipes were (including soy-marinated eggs, katsu curry, ramen, okonomiyaki and matcha roll cake).
The first recipe I attempted was the eggplant katsu curry. Here in Japan, curry rice is a national tradition and the ultimate comfort food (The Japanese Navy always serves curry on Fridays!). Traditionally it is topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu).
In Meera’s version, the pork is replaced by tender, juicy oven-roasted eggplant with a panko crust. I baked the battered eggplant on a rack so air could circulate underneath and it got wonderfully crispy, as much so as deep frying with a fraction of the oil.
For the curry, I made mine more like traditional Japanese curry, in which you sautée the vegetables first, cook in a small amount of water, and then add the curry powder/roux (her recipe calls for blending into a purée, but that is not how we serve in Japan).
For a whimsical touch, I cut my carrots using special metal cutters from Aritsugu (in Japan, presentation is everything and restaurants use cutters like these to make beautiful garnishes out of vegetables and gluten).
I used traditional Japanese short grain rice and sprinkled with black sesame seeds as recommended.
It was absolutely delicious! The flavor explosion of the curry, the freshly cooked rice, and the crunchy tender eggplant was outstanding, I look forward to making this again soon!! As it is very difficult to find vegan and vegetarian food in Japanese restaurants, this is a great dish you can quickly cook at home that everyone can enjoy.
Recipe: Meera Sodha’s recipe for katsu curry with panko aubergines and pickled radishes
The second dish I made from her book was a white miso ramen made with soymilk.
This one involved a significant amount of prep time, including making a base out of ginger, garlic, onions, dried shiitake, miso, soy sauce, sesame paste, and water and then cooking it down over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Once the paste is thickened, slowly stir in soymilk until heated through (you don’t want it to boil or it will curdle).
Next, you grill asparagus and edamame with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, garlic slices, and chili flakes. Remove from the heat and now add a little oil and brown your tofu on all sides. Pour over a little light soy sauce.
I also used fresh ramen noodles yes I like the taste and texture better, I cooked them for about two minutes (30 seconds under what the package recommended) until al dente as they continue to soak up the broth.
To serve, place noodles in the bottom of your ramen bowl, pour over the soy milk broth, add some asparagus and soy beans to one side, and your cubed tofu on the other. I sprinkled with a few additional chili flakes.
Again, this dish was absolutely amazing that was true to authentic Japanese flavor and was 100% vegan; this was far more delicious than vegan ramen options I have seen offered in my area. To make this speedier for weeknights, I cooked the base in advance, portioned it, and froze.
Recipe: Meera Sodha's recipe for vegan white miso and tofu ramen
More sample recipes from "East" here