Let’s talk about Japanese food. When it comes to getting a plant-based meal when eating out, Japanese restaurants are among the easiest establishments to find vegan meals that are flavorful and filling.
From the appetizer menu, you’ll almost always find steamed edamame, goma-ae (blanched spinach in sesame sauce), and possibly vegetable dumplings (just check with your server to ensure that the dumpling dough is egg-free). For starters, you have avocado salad, seaweed salad, and the house salad. The miso soup may or may not be plant-based, as many restaurants use bonito fish flakes in their stock. For dinner, many restaurants offer tofu teriyaki and at least a few vegan options for sushi rolls. The vegetable tempura may also be plant-based — again, just check with your server to see whether or not there are eggs in the batter.
But here’s something even better — there’s a whole world of delicious Japanese food that you won’t find in most restaurants, and it’s Japanese home cooking. While Japanese home-cooked meals will often be centered around fish or meat, they may also be accompanied by several traditional side dishes, many of which are vegetable-based.
What is Nimono?
One type of veggie side dish that is perfect for the increasingly chilly weather is nimono. Nimino is a style of Japanese cooking that involves simmering a variety of ingredients. Literally translated, nimono means “simmered (ni) things (mono)”.
The stock in nimono dishes is called shiru and is made by combining dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sake. The result is a broth that is salty, sweet, and umami. Like our grandmother’s recipe for the perfect marinara, the ratio of ingredients in nimono will vary from family to family. After all, home cooking is all about creating something you love!
All nimono broth starts with a stock called dashi, a Japanese soup stock that is a staple in many dishes, like miso soup. Most dashi is made using kombu seaweed and bonito fish flakes, but you can make it plant-based by using kombu or Shiitake mushrooms instead (and you can learn how to make kombu dashi by following this simple recipe for Kake Udon). This is also known as ichiban dashi, or “first dashi,” meaning that it is dashi stock made from ingredients that have been used once. If you freeze your kombu and Shiitake in an airtight bag, you can use it to make niban dashi, or second dashi, which is not as flavorful or refined as ichiban dashi. Using niban dashi for nimono is preferable since it combines several flavorful ingredients.
Once you have dashi, you can make shiru. You can make a basic shiru by combining 2 cups kombu dashi with 2 tablespoons mirin, and 2 teaspoons soy sauce. You also have the option of adding 1 tablespoon sake (rice wine), about 1/2 a tablespoon sugar, and salt to taste. Shiru should be made when you’re ready to make a nimono dish.
Making a Nimono Dish
Making nimono is simple and takes only a matter of minutes. To make nimono, you will need a large pot, dashi, your shiru ingredients, and vegetables of your choice. Add your veggies to the pot, then cover with dashi and bring it to a boil. Add the shiru ingredients, then continue to boil until the vegetables are tender and the shiru has reduced. For most vegetables, this should take 6-8 minutes.
While cooking your vegetables, you may also use an otoshi buta, or a wooden drop lid that ensures that everything stays submerged. You may also make an otoshi buta out of tinfoil by shaping a lare piece to fit your pot, then poking a few holes in it with a chopstick. However, this is typically used to make dishes that incorporate several vegetables. If you’re making a single-vegetable nimono, an otoshi buta is not necessary.
Once your nimono is ready, dish out your veggies, then top with extra broth and serve with rice on the side. Here are some suggestions for vegetables and other ingredients that you can make nimono with:
- Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) and other winter squash
- Burdock root
- Dried Shiitake mushrooms
- Lotus root
- Bamboo shoots
Keep in mind, these are all just suggestions! As with all home cooking, we encourage you to use what you love, but also to try new ingredients. You never know, a veggie you’ve never cooked with may end up becoming your favorite! For plant-based Japanese recipe ideas, click here.
If you’re looking for plant-based recipes, cooking tips, and more, then we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: kazoka/Shutterstock