Review: Vegan JapanEasy

When Vegan JapanEasy came out last March I’d been weighing up which of Tim Anderson’s other cookbooks to buy. JapanEasy was tempting but I really wanted Tokyo Stories. I’m already used to veganising recipes from non-vegan Japanese cookbooks (Sonoko Sakai’s Japanese Home Cooking and Luiz Hara’s The Japanese Larder are my current faves) and veganised versions of dishes from Just Hungry and Just One Cookbook. I’m not an expert, or even close to one, but I’m fairly used to veganising Japanese food.

Preparing a batch of citrus-pickled radishes

When Vegan JapanEasy came out I was half excited to own a Japanese cookbook that I wouldn’t need to convert and half worried: after all, it’s been written by a non-vegan author. Don’t get me wrong, non-vegans have a lot to add to the vegan cooking scene but when writing cookbooks they do tend to make similar mistakes. Like making weird generalisations about vegan diets, saying how vegan food is all unseasoned tofu and lentils and they’re here to save us from a life of bland. Completely ignoring any innovations vegan authors have made. Thankfully Tim Anderson avoids that one but he does express incredulity at vegan sushi and ramen in a way that a vegan author probably wouldn’t, and he’s not a fan of mock meats and alternate protein sources. Which, okay, some people aren’t fans, but when it comes to recipes like Stir-Fried Cabbage and Bean Sprouts With Ginger Sauce and Cauliflower Katsu Curry they’re just not going to fill you up as much as pork would.

Sweet Potato Ponzu Roll, before being rolled. Nori topped with rice, sweet potato and chives.

Mostly though I enjoy his writing style. On the Amazon reviews (never to be taken very seriously) someone questioned his respect for veganism and another person complained that he talked about kebabs. But – you know what – I’m still looking for something that hits all the same spot as a greasy kebab, so I have no objections in that department. I’m a big fan of the cheesy jokes and puns and that page-long rant about what Katsu means… well I’d frame it and hang it on the wall. If I didn’t live in a small flat. Enough of the general comments then, on with the food.

Yaki-onigri. A rice ball coated in miso glaze, grilled and wrapped with a small strip of nori

Years and years and years ago I bought myself some onigri moulds. I though it would be impossible to get that perfect triangle shape by hand. It’s not but I have the moulds now so I don’t even need to try. I made them to turn into Yaki-onigri. In which your plain rice ball is turned into a ball of rich, sweet caramelized perfection with a coat of sweet miso sauce and some time under the grill. Twice I’ve had these for lunch and then spent the afternoon drooling at the memory.

An assortment of dishes over short grain rice: teriyaki roasted carrots, cucumber and wakame with seasoned vinegar and jackfruit karaage

Teriyaki-Roasted Carrots was the next dish to try. Both roast carrots and teriyaki sauce are favourites of mine and the combination was exactly as good as I thought it would be. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by this version of teriyaki sauce though. Based on the sweet-soy sauce recipe earlier in the book with cornflour which makes it a bit too tacky when its baked on (we tried it on tofu as well as these carrots)

The night I made the carrots was a night where I just made whatever I had the ingredients for. Then I chucked it on some short grain rice to pretended it was a balanced meal. So there is also Cucumber And Wakame with Seasoned Vinegar (favourite!) and Jackfruit Karaage. The Jackfruit Karaage was interesting. The taste was spot-on but the jackfruit was kind of soggy. I usually make Karaage with chunks of unchicken breast from Miyoko Schinner’s Homemade Vegan Pantry and this hasn’t converted me to jackfruit.

a messy rendition of agedashi tofu with more cucumber and seaweed salad and the finished pickled radishes

Just before Christmas I got a packet of vegan tempura prawns to try and figured I’d cook up a few other small dishes to go with it. It seemed like a good opportunity to try my hand at Agedashi Tofu. It turns out that I am not skilled at keeping silken tofu together as I deep-fry it. The taste made up for it though. Fresh and subtly sweet. Not exactly what you expect when you heat the oil for deep frying but perfect to eat in the middle of all those rich festive meals. Also with a fresh taste, but by no means a subtle one, I made a batch of citrus-pickled radishes. They’re a mind- and taste-bud-blowing treat.

Sweet Potato Stuffed Sushi Rolls with a small dish of citrus-pickled radishes and some cucumber and wakame salad

I couldn’t pass the Makizushi section without trying one of the rolls. I went for the Sweet Potato Ponzu Rolls because it didn’t have crushed cornflakes on the outside; sorry, but that’s a texture too far for me. The Sweet potato is baked and marinated until it’s the best sweet potato you’ve ever had, and chives make everything better. I made a batch of this to take to my Guides’ Christmas Party. It was over Zoom so I got to eat the whole batch myself.

breaded burger, cabbage and beansprouts, and rice

Kate’s very favourite dish in the entire cookbook (and possibly her favourite thing I make at all right now) is the Mock Meat Menchi Katsu. Tim Anderson hated all vegan burger attempts before trying the Beyond Burger which he says is ‘life-changing’ (considering how much money I’ve put into the pockets of the Beyond Burger people through this pandemic I can’t argue with that) so he suggests using it here. I knew though that the serving suggestion of raw cabbage would not be met with Kate’s approval so I thought maybe Stir-Fried Cabbage and Bean Sprouts with Ginger Sauce would be better. I thought it was great. Bags of ginger flavour. But Kate hates cabbage in all forms and would, in future, prefer her fried, breaded burgers without vegetables.

Last up is today’s lunch – curry ramen – so I can remember both the brilliant taste and burn on my tongue because I couldn’t wait to eat it. So good! I like Japanese curry in all its forms so if you drown carbs in it and cover with crunchy veg I’m going to be very happy.

Should you buy this book? Well, if you’re vegan and new to cooking Japanese food this is 100% perfect for you. But it is, after all, JapanEasy so if you’ve got a bit of experience under your belt you might only find recipes for things you know. If so you still might find it worthwhile to have a collection of recipes that are already veganised and ready to go. I know I do.

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