Japanese Soybean Salad

I seem to be on a bit of a legume kick lately! First, I made lentil curry, which was soon followed by hummus, vegan chickpea “tuna” salad, and then chana masala. Today, though, it’s all about soybeans.

In traditional Japanese cuisine, beans are used very differently from in the west. In Canada and America we probably find them most often in things like chili, burritos or canned baked beans. But in Japan, beans are commonly used in sweets or in savory side dishes meant to accompany a bowl of rice, while soybeans in particular are used for making tofu, miso paste and natto.

Beans are also much pricier in Japan and are thought of as something of a delicacy to be enjoyed in small quantities, in contrast to the cheap image of beans that we have in North America. But on the other hand, the quality of the beans produced domestically in Japan is incredible. Each bean is often large, perfectly plump and bursting with flavor. I understand why they don’t choose to cover up the taste with garlic, spices and other heavily flavored ingredients!

In Japan, it is also not at all uncommon to buy precooked pouches of beans instead of the typical canned beans that I’m used to back home. I was recently gifted two such packs of soybeans so I decided to try my hand at making a Japanese-style side salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On the package, it says “Naturally rich in calcium. Good for your bones. Non-GMO. Grown in Japan.”

For this dish, I mixed together the following ingredients and let sit for a little bit before enjoying over a bowl of fresh rice.

  • one pouch of cooked soybeans (50 grams)
  • shredded kombu
  • thinly sliced carrot
  • finely diced sweet Mayan onion
  • soy sauce
  • thinly sliced homemade pickled napa cabbage (optional, but adds a great crunch)
  • shichimi togarashi (a lightly aromatic Japanese mixture of spices, seeds and orange peel)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ridiculously Easy Tofu Tiramisu

I am so stoked about this…it’s kind of life changing. I mean, I like tofu and I’m in love with all the different ways that it can be adapted. But, so far I’ve always stuck to savory dishes and this was my first attempt at using it as a dessert. My mind is blown.

I wanted to make a vegan tiramisu, but to be honest I was expecting it to bite into and think to myself, Oh yeah…this is definitely tofu. But, it tastes so creamy and rich that it’s hard to believe it’s one hundred percent plant based. And not only that, but there’s also no added fats or oils and it only takes a few minutes to throw together!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I just put the following ingredients into a blender and mixed until everything was nice and smooth.

  • 1 block medium firm tofu (This will be about 1 pound. Try to use a good quality tofu because it’s much creamier.)
  • 4 tbsp sugar or agave (Change it up depending on how sweet you want it. This wasn’t super sweet.)
  • 1 tbsp miso (Miso is used in a lot of vegan cheeses to give it that savory taste. If you don’t have miso, I think a bit of tahini or almond butter might work, although the flavor would be different.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp tapioca starch dissolved in 2 tbsp water (You can add a bit more starch if you want it to be firmer.)

You could honestly get a spoon and eat it straight out of the blender haha. It’s like vanilla pudding! But, here’s an important tip: Let it sit in the fridge at least overnightIf you can manage to let it sit two nights, that’s even better. Fresh out of the blender, it still had a bit of a tofu flavour to it. But after letting it sit in the fridge for two nights, it was heavenly.

In a glass bowl, I crumbled up an oat cookie and a some chunks of chocolate, and then sprinkled in a few drops of brandy (if you have coffee liqueur at home, that might be more authentic). Then, I just scooped on the tofu mix. If you put it back in the fridge for a little while it will firm up. Or, you can just coat it in cocoa powder and dig in right away!

Eat Your Natto

Natto is one of those things that you learn to love. The first bite, and you immediately think…what is this?!  Two or three servings later, and you’re hooked. It’s a traditional Japanese dish of fermented soy beans. It’s popular not only for its addictive taste and texture, but there are even scientific studies published on the impressive health benefits of natto. So, my typical breakfast while in Japan looks a little something like this…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most standard way of enjoying natto is by mixing it with just a drop of mustard and soy sauce and serving it over a bowl of fresh rice. The more you mix the natto, the more gooey and sticky it gets. Some people even say that it enhances the flavour.

If you want to be fancy, it’s also very common to eat it with slices of raw negi (green onion). The photo on the bottom is a picture of natto with negi, and in the photo on top you can see a bunch of different finely chopped veggies together with the natto. This is a mixture of pickled daikon radish, daikon leaves, and carrots that I mixed with vinegar and salt and left for a day or two. It’s the perfect breakfast when I’m craving something savory. Have you ever tried natto? I’d love to know what you thought of it! 😀

Traditional Japanese Sweet Shop

I took a trip out to the nearby city of Hitachiota here in Ibaraki Prefecture. I spent the day visiting a number of different shrines and gardens, as well as a museum located inside a historical building that used to serve as their city hall.

Just as I was approaching the gates of my last shrine for the day, I was struck by this incredibly sweet smell wafting out of a tiny little sweet shop. The building was very conveniently located right beside the entrance to the shrine, and I couldn’t help but wander in right away. Apparently, the delicious smell was coming from a freshly steamed batch of miso manju. They were so fresh that the storekeeper hadn’t even had time to get them out yet! He actually went into the back to get one for me straight from the steamer.

Miso manju are a type of steamed bun with a light fluffy texture and a really pleasant molasses or maple like flavor. The batter has brown sugar and miso (soybean paste) in it, giving the outer layer a distinct color and taste. Inside, the bun is filled with sweet red bean jam. So simple, but absolutely delicious!

The little shop had a whole array of other freshly baked traditional sweets, as well as nostalgic snacks and candies that have apparently been sold in Japan since the mid 1900’s. Even just being inside the store itself was like travelling back in time!

After I had my fill of sweets, I finally made my way over to the shrine. Just like everywhere else I visited that day, it was so peaceful and serene. Unlike a lot of the shrines and temples in more urban areas of Japan, a lot of Hitachiota seems to be relatively undiscovered by tourists so it was almost dead silent. Such an amazing day!

Homemade Roasted Soy Butter (Nut-free!)

Roasted soy bean flour, called kinako, has for centuries been a popular topping for traditional Japanese sweets. It has a distinct flavour that is almost like a fusion between maple syrup and peanuts. Most often, the soy bean powder is sprinkled over various mochi treats, which are these traditional sweet, gooey cakes made out of pounded sticky rice.

I’ve also noticed various soy-based nut butter alternatives popping up on store shelves as a peanut butter substitute for people with nut allergies. They taste great, but they’re always loaded up with added oil, sugar and salt, plus they are slightly on the pricey side. But then I realized that you can totally make your own at home using just kinako powder!

Even if you’re like me and you’re lucky enough not to have any allergies, this is still a healthy, cheap, and delicious butter. Not to mention, it’s extremely easy to make!

Here, I just mixed together the kinako powder, with maple sugar to taste, and a pinch of cinnamon. All you do is stir it together with a bit of water and it quickly transforms into this light, fluffy soy butter! You can of course add a bit of oil or salt if you like, but there is absolutely no need for it.

Travelling Japan: Tofu Donuts and Walnut Noodles

I went on a long drive up to Fukushima and arrived in the early evening after having made a few stops to take photos. I ended up parking outside a hot spring onsen, where the hotel manager kindly let me use their private outdoor rock hot spring (for about $5) before spending the night parked out in the camper.

The next morning, I visited the town of Ōuchi-juku which used to serve as a post station for travelers passing through during the Edo period. It has been preserved and reconstructed beautifully, and is still lined with traditional thatch roof huts selling all kinds of hearty homemade foods.

For lunch, I tried a bowl of walnut soba noodles which was the typical buckwheat noodles, but with the addition of walnuts ground up into a paste. The restaurants were very rustic and old-fashioned, with straw mat floors and the traditional fire pit for cooking.

walnut soba noodles
walnut soba noodles

 

The noodles were served with tea and pickled vegetables.
The noodles were served with tea and pickled vegetables.

 

fire pit in the middle of the room
fire pit in the middle of the room

 

aizu17

 

aizu14

I also tried out their soy donuts made out of okara. I made a post a while back on okara, which is actually the soy pulp left over from making things like tofu and soy milk. (See my homemade okara burger here) Like everything else here, the donuts were freshly made just seconds before I purchased them. This was such a fantastic treat!

aizu5

Soy and Atta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

I used a combination of soy flour, atta flour and wheat flour mixed in with soy milk (exact ratios for the flour here) to make some tasty pancakes this morning. The blueberry compote was super easy — I just got a big handful of fresh blueberries, mixed them in with a few tsp of sugar, and let it sit overnight so that all the juice comes out and it turns into this rich sauce. Smother your pancake in this blueberry syrup, and  you’ve got yourself the perfect breakfast!

pancake