Monday, 12 November 2012

Kenchinjiru - Zen Buddhist Vegetable Stew

It's Day 12. I miss eggs. This wasn't truer than on Saturday; upon waking up in a fug of gin fumes from the night before, I could only think of eggs. I'd been at the launch of
Wishbone, you see. My toughest challenge yet was to go to the opening party of Brixton Market's latest addition, a fried chicken restaurant. I worriedly shovelled down vegan tacos beforehand, miserable chunks of grilled courgettes and red peppers on top of a floppy flour tortilla, watery salsa dribbling out of the sides. It was grim work but I had a horrible feeling that had I not done so I'd be found in a corner, cover in chicken grease, sobbing with guilt. That evening, platters of fried chicken subs, buffalo wings and chips drenched in delicious-looking buttery sauces wafted past me and I had to look resolutely at the floor, clutching my eggless gin sour. They open Tuesday 13th at 12pm, by the way. 

So yes, I've been mostly craving eggs. Wobbly poached ones, topped with a sunshine yellow hollandaise sauce, perched on top of perhaps some ham, definitely spinach, maybe both, drenching a toasted muffin with its yolk. I'm crying as I type this. Instead, I've been eating this.

Yup, that there is a bowl of vegetables - albeit exotic ones! - simmered in water, flavoured with a little sake and soy. Called Kenchinjiru, it is a Zen Buddhist stew, so named after the first temple it was made. Alliums and garlic are omitted as they are believed to cause anger and sexual mischief (!), so I added a little spring onion because sexual mischief doesn't sound all that bad. 

In truth, it's a comforting, clean-flavoured bowlful. The flavours are subtle; sweetness from the Chinese turnip and carrot, earthiness from the burdock root. Tofu and konnyaku, a jelly-like thing made from yams, added texture. You can get these ingredients at an Oriental supermarket, or largely interchange the vegetables with others - swede or squash might work well, a mixture of mushrooms, leafy greens too. Some miso paste stirred in would also give it some richness and oomph, should you feel it needs it. 


Serves 4

1/2 a block of firm tofu
Assorted vegetables, such as - 1 small Chinese turnip (also called mooli or daikon) or use normal white turnips
2 carrots
A couple of cabbage leaves
A handful of mushrooms (I used enoki)
A few inches of burdock root
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in 250ml boiling water. Reserve the liquid
1/2 block of konnyaku
100ml cooking sake
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
15cm piece of kombu seaweed
600ml water
2 tbsp sesame oil
greens of 1 stalk of spring onion (optional)

Add the 750ml water to a pan with the kombu for 1/2 an hour, then bring to the boil and switch off. Remove the piece of kombu.

Meanwhile, drain the konnyaku - it smells weird, this is normal - and slice into slabs, simmer for a couple of minutes and drain. Chop the vegetables appropriate to the cooking time - so turnips cook a little quicker than carrot, so they'd be in larger chunks. Peel the burdock root, then slice diagonally as thinly as possible and place in iced water so that it doesn't brown. Heat the sesame oil and stir-fry the root vegetables with the burdock. Add the kombu stock and the sake, then bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes without the lid. Add the salt, then add the shiitake mushrooms with the mushroom water, straining for any grit. 

Crumble the tofu into pieces with your hands and add this with the konnyaku. Add the soy sauce, then simmer for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. To serve, shred the green of the spring onion and garnish the dish with it.


Kavey said...

You clearly have WAY more will power than I do. No way I could have smelled all that chicken wafting past without breaking. Breaking completely.

Donald Edwards said...

surely all alcohol involves the death of yeasts, therefor all alcohol ought to be out of the question for the month?

Frank said...

Good going - that is some strong willpower. I'm doing a crazy fasting diet - on one of my fasting days one colleague bought in a tray of doughnuts, another a load of giant chocolate buttons AND another some Turkish delights from nowhere other than Turkey. Ugh. This pales in comparison to forgoing a Chicken Sub.
Amazing dedication!

Paul Hart said...

I genuinely salute your will power. If I had to eat this madness (I am sure it is delicious please don't take that the wrong way) for more than a day I would cry. Keep up the good work!

Lizzie Mabbott said...

Kavey -I won't lie, it was hard.

Donald - yeast isn't derived from an animal, nor is it considered an animal.

Frank - fasting is just something I can't do, so I salute you. Do you feel any benefits?

Paul - I have been on the brink of tears many a time.

rej said...

wow am massively impressed by your willpower - this actually looks like exactly the kind of thing I fancy just now, recovering from the headcold from hell.

Shu Han said...

I actually really like this dish, had it once before at a friend's place (devout vegans, buddhist, zen etc.) anyway, doing well lizzie! p.s. don't go TOO mad in hk.

Brighton Restaurant said...

The vegan soup looks absolutely delicious, full of veggies... om nom nom.