Vegetarian Japanese recipes aren’t often highlighted, but today we’re going to change that! Whether you’re a vegetarian traveling to Japan or a home chef looking to cater to a vegetarian diet, these vegetarian Japanese dishes are sure to be a hit.
Vegetarian Japanese Recipes
As I’ve shared before, despite much of Japanese cuisine consisting of seafood, fish stock (dashi), and wagyu beef, there’s also a longstanding tradition of vegetarian template food known as Shojin Ryori. Shojin Ryori is a subset of Japanese cuisine that strictly forbids the consumption of any meat or fish. Going meat-free while eating Japanese food can be fairly easy – many meat-based dishes can be altered to use tofu instead. My Japanese Curry Rice and Dry Curry recipes are two that immediately come to mind. But avoiding fish in all forms (including bonito flakes and dashi) can be tricky.
So with this I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Japanese vegetarian dishes that are sure to please everyone’s palette!
Tofu is of course what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of making a Japanese dish that’s vegetarian. Many tend to give tofu a bad rap, but when prepared properly, it’s absolutely delicious! It’s a great protein to work with that absorbs whatever flavors you’re using in the dish.
Kaminari Dofu – Thunder Tofu
My Kaminari Dofu recipe is well named as the tofu makes a rumbling sound when being fried. This dish is incredibly easy to pull together and packed full of flavor. Serve this dish piping hot by making sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go ahead of time.
Gomadofu, also known as sesame tofu, is one of the most popular dishes of shojin ryori. To make authentic gomadofu, you’ll need to prepare yourself or have a kitchen helper. This dish requires serious arm power and stamina, as grinding the sesame seeds can take over 30 minutes! Store-bought sesame paste can be used, but there’s something to be said about making it the traditional way.
Vegetarian Rice Dishes
Kurigohan (chestnut rice) is typically a seasonal treat, a beloved favorite during the autumn months, and one of my favorite vegetarian dishes. There are actually two rice dishes that typify autumn in Japan. One is made using matsutake mushrooms, often called “the truffles of the East”. These are almost prohibitively expensive and virtually impossible to obtain outside of Japan. The other, of course, is chestnut rice, which uses inexpensive ingredients and can be enjoyed and savored almost everywhere.
While this dish is technically a dessert, it’s vegetarian nonetheless (and one of my favorites!) This dish is referred to as ohagi in the autumn and botamochi in the spring. Made primarily from glutinous rice, sugar, and azuki beans, it’s a truly delicious treat. With it you can make your own bean paste or buy ready-made; it’s sure to be a favorite either way!
Vegetarian Japanese Fried Food
Of course tenpura (tempura) is one of the most common dishes to come to mind when thinking about Japanese food. Who doesn’t love delicious fried food! While you of course would need to skip the shrimp or fish mentioned in my tenpura recipe, you’ve got plenty of veggie options. I love to fry up sweet potato and shiitake mushrooms. This is another dish you want to make sure you serve up immediately.
Moving beyond tenpura, there’s also Japanese potato croquettes (Korokke). My croquettes recipe use panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and have a mouth-watering crispy coating. I find the secret to making this tasty potato dish is delicious potatoes, a light hand when frying, and to serve the dish piping hot. That said, croquettes are also a popular bento favorite – meaning served cold – and a common street food.
Noodle and Ramen Dishes
My trefoil and shimeji mushroom pasta recipe is a delicious and fast dish that’s perfect to whip up for lunch or an easy dinner. If you love mushrooms, you will certainly love this vegetarian pasta dish. And if you can’t find shimeji mushrooms, most other mushrooms would work just as well.
Making vegetarian ramen allows you for a wide variety of customization, such as using tahini and plant-based milks to make a creamy broth. You can also use shoyu, a Japanese soy sauce that is made from fermented soybeans. Kick it up a notch and use smoked shoyu (such as this one from The Japanese Pantry!)
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an Osechi favorite. If you’ve visited my site before, you know I’m a huge fan of Osechi! So much so that my first cookbook is all about my top Osechi recipes. One of the dishes you can make from there that’s vegetarian is my Kohaku Namasu recipe, a New Year’s Salad. This Japanese vegetarian recipe consists of daikon radish, carrot, and a delicious homemade dressing.
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