Vegan cooking class with Emi Hirayama, a Kyoto local 0

Emi Hirayama, who runs Uzuki, met us outside of the Kyoto Art & Design University on a Friday afternoon.  We walked back to her home through the quiet, residential streets of Northern Kyoto with the mountains providing a beautiful backdrop behind her neighborhood.  Emi’s warmth and vibrant energy is contagious.  She is incredibly friendly and welcomed us into her home as if we were old friends visiting from out of town.

Upon arrival, we made our way into Emi’s kitchen where she had all of the ingredients carefully laid out for our 6-course vegan dinner. Emi kindly accommodated our request for an entirely vegan cooking class versus her standard vegetarian class that incorporates eggs into some of the dishes.

Emi provided us with print-outs of all of the recipes we would be using as well as a detailed glossary of Japanese cooking terms.  She recommended A Dictionary of Japanese Food for more extensive information on Japanese cooking terms, ingredients and cooking methods.

The dishes that we prepared are known as shōjin ryōri, or Japanese Buddhist monk food.  This type of vegetarian Japanese food can be found throughout Japan, but due to the particularly high concentration of Buddhist temples in Kyoto, visitors have the opportunity to sample actual Budhist monk food in temples in the Kyoto area. However, be aware that a traditional multi-course meal at a temple usually starts around $30 USD per person.

Shōjin ryōri is light, nutrient-rich food that focuses on using quality ingredients and bringing out the flavors of fresh vegetables, beans, and grains.  Like most traditional Japanese food, the portions are small, yet filling, allowing one to achieve “hara hachi bu” or “eating until you’re 80% full.”

Here are a few Japanese cooking terms that Emi reviewed with us before the cooking commenced:

  • aemono: dressed or marinated salad
  • shirumono: clear soup
  • yakimono: grilled or pan-fried foods
  • nimono: boiled/simmered dish
  • agemono: deep-fried dish
  • mushimono: steamed dish
  • dashi (Japanese broth): dashi is traditionally comprised of kombu and fish flakes, however vegan/vegetarian dashi can be made by boiling kombu and dried shitake mushrooms in two separate pots of water until both reach a boil.  Strain the kombu and shiitake mushrooms and then combine the two broths in a ratio of 7 parts kombu broth to 3 parts shiitake broth.

We were excited to have the opportunity to cook with a number of in-season Japanese ingredients that were new to us.  Here are a few that were especially unique and delicious.  

Nanohana (rapeshoots): This edible blossom is used to make canola oil but can also be enjoyed in Japanese salads. Most vegetables that are incorporated into Japanese salads tend to be lightly cooked (stir-fried, boiled or blanched).  

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Karashi: Japanese mustard that is made from Brassica juncea, a species of the mustard plant. Like wasabi, a little goes a long way. We incorporated karashi into the dressing that we used for a spring salad of nanohana, green asparagus and snow peas.

Fuki: Also known as Japanese butterbur, fuki has the look of celery and the texture of cucumber when boiled (bottom right).  We added fuki to a traditional vegan nimono.

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Yuzu: this grapefruit shaped citrus fruit is believed to be a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda.  Yuzu is often used as a garnish or to season sauces or dressings. Although it’s available year round, it’s technically in season during the winter months as it can withstand harsh winter climates unlike other citrus fruits.  Ponzu sauce get its citrus flavor from yuzu.


Lotus: This root vegetable has a very distinct appearance when cut along its cross section.  It has a crunchy white flesh with holes that run along the length of the tuber. We incorporated lotus into renkon-oyaki (grated lotus root pancake) as well as the vegan nimono.


Emi was great about getting us fully involved in every step of each of the dishes below. After about two hours of cooking, we sat down to enjoy our 6-course feast along with hojicha and plum-infused sake.

The nanohana, green asparagus and snow peas salad (bottom left) was dressed with an oil-free dressing that consisted of white miso, mirin, rice vinegar, karashi (Japanese mustard) and kombu stock.  We also made horenso no goma-ae, sesame dressed spinach salad (back center), which unfortunately is difficult to see in this photo.

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For the horenso no goma-ae, we toasted sesame seeds over an open flame in the contraption shown below.

Toasted sesame seeds

We then used a Japanese mortar and pestle, a suribachi and surikogito, to grind the sesame seeds.  The earthenware bowl  (the suribachi) has a ribbed pattern that facilitates grinding when used with a wooden pestle (a surikogito).

grinding sesame seeds 80% of the way

The renkon-oyaki (grated lotus root pancake) consisted of grated lotus root, chopped carrots and negi (green onions).

Renkon-oyaki / grated lotus root pancake

We shaped the mixture into patties and lightly pan-fried them using sesame oil as shown below.

Renkon-oyaki / grated lotus root pancake

The renkon-oyaki were garnished with lotus root and served alongside a ponzu dipping sauce.

Renkon-oyaki: grated lotus root pancake with carrot and green onion

The raw salad below combined dikon, dandelion greens, orange slices and black sesame seeds in a ginger-tahini dressing.

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The traditional vegan nimono was comprised of lotus root, boiled yuba (soy milk skin), shiitake mushrooms and fuki (butterbur) in a shiitake and kombu dashi.

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We concluded our dinner with mame-gohan which consists of short-grain white rice with fresh peas, kombu, a touch of mirin, sake and salt.

Making rice with fresh peas, kombu and a touch of mirin, sake and salt

In celebration of the sakura (cherry blossom) season, Emi insisted on using a sakura-shaped rice mold along with a fermented sakura blossom as an edible garnish.  

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