Sunday, December 11, 2005

Japanese Vegetarian Entertaining Ideas

I visited Medicine New-Shojin Eatstation with my co-workers for lunch this Thursday, and I was impressed by the differing flavor and texture combinations of dishes that I had. My taste of Medicine inspired me to create my own "combinations" in cooking and in holiday entertaining.

Medicine is for the "hip, younger crowd" kind of place. A huge plasma screen was brandished on the farthest wall, and it played calming images of a sunny beachfront view like a relaxing screensaver. The images reminded me that cooking should not be stressful, but a fun time to experiment and learn from others.

For me, cooking can be overwhelming at times, especially when I am trying to create innovative dishes or when I am entertaining a group of 3+ guests. That's when I turn into a perfectionist, and the result is disasterous.

Given my "stress-case" propensities, I paid particular attention to the simple, no-frills dishes that were still daring and adventureous.

My first course consisted of a chilled cube of silken tofu, topped with a light sprinkling of crispy (and perfectly symettrical) seaweed flakes and a tiny dollop of microplane grated ginger. Eating plain tofu is not something I generally enjoy, but the lightness and simplicity of dish helped me to appreciate the distinct contributions of each of the ingredients. The tofu helped to detoxify and cleanse my palate, and the small portions of the ginger and seaweed gave me a heightened awareness of the subtle flavors of each component of the dish.

This dish inspired me to serve something similar when entertaining, as a hor d' oeuvre, but served in a shot glass, with a light drizzling of soy sauce.

Also with our first course, was a small dish of pickled daikon and lettuce. I don't really like the bitter aftertones of certain Japanese pickles, but I love using the colorful radishes and artistically sliced daikon as garnishes for my party platters.

My main dish was udon in curry. Atop the fresh pile of noodles was a crispy-fried nest of shredded and tempura-battered sweet potatoes. The crispy fritter was the prize of the dish. The crunchy golden exterior was immensely satisfying--much more so than any meat (Medicine is a vegetarian restaurant). I also enjoyed the thick, chewy udon noodles coated in smooth curry sauce.

I learned several things from the udon dish: 1) do not serve curry in udon to guests, because the curry vigorously splatters everywhere when one slurps up the wriggling noodles, but 2) sweet potatoes and curry make a fantastic coupling. I would definitely serve sweet potato fritters with a curry dipping sauce as an appetizer for guests.

Most memorable was their signature sushi, which was stuffed with verdant green sprouts, pickled carrots, leaves of fresh shiso, and sliced avocado. The sushi was made with a colorful 9-grain rice and boasted a decorative sprinkling of flax seeds.

The vibrant colors of the sushi was awe-inspiring. Generally, when I make sushi, I use the "plain vanilla" ingredients, but after my Medicine experience, I will definitely try using other types of rice, especially when entertaining. I may have to master my "sushi rolling" skills first, since it is difficult to make wild rice or brown rice "sticky" enough to be rolled as sushi. It definitely makes for a majestic looking dish though.

New flavor combinations from Medicine seared their way into my memory and helped me gain a better understanding of how to make enjoyable non-meat meals when entertaining vegetarian friends.


  1. Very interesting. I'd like to see what you come up with for your Vegetarian Japanese dinner!

  2. Thank you Kirk! I'll be sure to write a detailed post when I make the dinner. (Hopefully, that will be soon!) Take care Kirk!

  3. I'm sure they taste as good as they look!

    Some restaurants here serve what they call "California Maki", with nori, mango, cucumber, and crabsticks as filling. You may want to experiment with fruit in your sushi: perhaps an substituting the Calfornia Maki's crabstick with shitake or maritake mushrooms.

    What are you planning for dessert? I had the opportunity to taste Wasabi Ice Cream with Ginger Sorbet in one of the Japanese restaurants in Manila. It was surprisingly lovely--it's as if you're hot and cold at the same time. If you're not the on the adventurous side you might want to try the fried ice cream recipe from this site.

  4. Hi there Katimugambalon! I've never had fruit in sushi before--I've tried "tomato," but never anything like mango. I would certainly like to taste that interesting combination! I wonder if you could even put coconut rice in sushi!

    Once, when I was watching Food Network, I saw Cat Cora making sushi with curried chicken and walnuts, but it didn't look that appealing.

    And thank you so much for those innovative dessert ideas! I'll definitely incorporate your wonderful suggestions in my party!

  5. how's the party moving?

    coconut rice in southeast asian cuisine is usually paired with something a bit spicy like water spinach leaves with crushed peppers, or even a curry-laced filling. however since coconut is not endemic to japan it might not just taste japanese, but it sure would make a good asian fusion dish.

    another dessert suggestion: here's something that doesnt involve an ice cream maker. i found this recipe in a blog that featureed chai panna cotta. i have always loved green tea ice cream and i suppose you may want to experiment with a japanese green tea panna cotta, and perhaps instead of rosewater-cardamom, use a mild peppermint syrup or a chrysanthemum syrup.

  6. You are a savior Katimugambalon! All those suggestions sound fabulous!

    I actually haven't started preparing for the party yet, because this Christmas season has turned out to be a lot more busy that I ever imagined! (For instance, I haven't updated with any new posts in over a week! I promise though that I'll update soon.)

    I have several parties in the works: a housewarming party, a Super Bowl party, and a mini-family get together for a friend. I was planning on making the sushi and tempura-battered sweet potatoes for the "mini-family get together." Originally, my idea for dessert was very simple. I was just going to make cubed almond-flavored gelatin and put it in martini glasses with sliced kiwi and asian pears, and use coconut shavings as a garnish. However, that idea pales in comparison with your delicious suggestions. I'd like to try that chai panna cotta. (I'll have to make sure that I make it correctly though, before I serve it to others!) Thank you again Katimugambalon, and have a wonderful Christmas!

  7. if i were your next door neighbor i would come to your house and invade your kitchen! you really have a real talent for cooking!

  8. Aww, thank you Noel, you are really too kind. It sounds like Katimugambalon kitchen is bustling with delicious gourmet meals--which are much tastier than mine. Thank you for your sweet message. Merry Christmas!

    (I will be posting tonight! Promise!)

  9. =( When I hear "trendy Japanese vegetarian place" I immediately think:

    1. expensive/overpriced
    2. not filling
    3. snobbish

    Still not my cup of tea, but I'm fairly open to trying out recipes based on some of the ideas from those restaurants. =)

    Thanks for posting the pictures and ideas. I agree with you on the curry with noodles, too--and curry is one of the tougher stains to get out.

  10. Hi JeffL! Preach it! I was never an avid sushi eater before I moved to San Francisco, and since then, I have become a convert. The sushi I grew up eating was "poor man's Arizona sushi," which essentially consisted of scrambled eggs, pickled carrots, and canned eel. But the benefits of living in Arizona, was that our family had to make sushi on our own--thus, I learned how to roll sushi from a very small age. However, there is a critical limitation to my sushi-rolling-abilities, I don't know how to make an inside-out roll!

    Hopefully, we can experiment with making sushi together!


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