One of the biggest highlights of our trip to Japan was spending our Sunday afternoon at Haru’s Cooking Class. I was a bit skeptical when I found the class online, but the excitement of a vegetarian cooking class in Japan won over my skepticism.
When booking the class, because I was the first to sign up for the day, I set the stage for a vegan meal – there could have been up to 4 more people in the class, but we were the only group that day – bonus!
We set up a time to meet Taro (the chef extraordinaire) at a local bus stop – it was super easy to find because the Shimogamo shrine is close by. When I saw Taro walking down the street to towards us (I recognized him from his website), I let out a sigh of relief – all my skepticism floated away.
We walked to his home which was about a five minute walk from the bus stop. His wife, Yoshiko, greeted us at the door and we went over to the living room area (that was set in a traditional setting with a tatami mat) where we were served tea as we discussed our plan for the afternoon. Taro and Yoshiko were both so welcoming – it felt as if we were visiting old friends.
The menu we decided on was sushi (made with pickled cucumbers), agedashi tofu, miso soup and spinach – all of this was to be made obanzai style, which means home cooked style.
The first thing we made was a vegetarian stock – most Japanese stocks are made with fish (called dashi), so it was nice to learn a good alternative. This stock was made with kombu which is an edible kelp. It was simmered at very low heat, although Taro recommended keeping some kombu in the refrigerator overnight with some water as a better option. This low heat approach produced a very subtle flavour in the stock.
Then we started up on the spinach with a roasted sesame dressing – I’ll follow up with a recipe on a later post when I actually try to recreate this on my own. The key thing with this recipe was the quick cooking time for the spinach and the placement of the spinach on the serving plate to avoid a social disaster when trying to eat it.
We made some sushi rolls with pickled cucumbers and shiso (also known as perilla, this herb tastes like it belongs in the mint or fennel family). The rolls were simple to make, but the conversation during the process inspired many ideas for future sushi adventures.
The agedashi tofu we made was not deep fried, which was fantastic. We carefully cut up pieces of soft tofu (in this case, it was Kyoto Tofu, a local brand) and lightly coated them with potato starch. We added a small amount of oil to a tempura pan and fried each side – you had to be very gentle when handling it, and it tasted just as good as the deep-fried version.
The final dish we made was the miso soup – the key was to add two types of miso, red and yellow.
One of the best parts of this whole experience was having such gracious hosts who were so welcoming. If you are ever in the Kyoto area, you should definitely put aside some time to visit Taro and his lovely family. I can’t wait to recreate all these dishes at home (along with all the other recipes Taro gave to us)!