When I was checking out the Sankō-in website while writing up my visit there, I noticed a reference to a cookbook written by the current abbess Kōei Hoshino: 精進豆料理 (Vegetarian Bean Dishes). A shopping accident quickly followed, and the book arrived from Japan a few hours before a package from London containing something ordered on the same day. The recipes in the book are divided up into months, with others in chapters for each season. I noticed quite quickly that Hoshino is not as concerned with precise measures for each dish, or timings, or any of the other stuff that we are presumably supposed to know! What follows is, therefore, not a precise translation of a recipe from the book, but my attempts to recreate it with what information I was given.
2 sheets aburaage
3 small taro
1 large half boiled bamboo shoot
¼ tsp shōyu
2 tbl sake
sugar to taste
a small amount of water
You will also need a drop lid, or some foil.
As you can see from the photo, I chose to omit the sugar and replace the sake with a medium-quality mirin. You could easily use rice syrup or any other sweetener. The bamboo shoots are the sort described as “winter bamboo shoots”. You can get smaller ones than the one shown in Chinese supermarkets. They come sealed in plastic bags with saltwater. They tend to be smaller, so use two of these and adjust the cutting accordingly. There are several types of taro available in both Chinese supermarkets, and Indian/Pakistani grocers. The ones used in Japan are hairy, so I opted for the hairiest variety.
In Japan, the three main ingredients are at their peak in the spring, but this recipe could easily be used with all sorts of roots and tubers, including potatoes. I think small white turnips would be particularly nice.
Putting it together
Peel the taro and cut into bite-size cubes. Parboil the taro for around 5-10 minutes. Drain and then wash the pieces thoroughly. Cut bamboo shoot in half, then into quarters, vertically.
Remove oil from aburaage by holding it under a hot running tap then squeezing. Cut each piece lengthways into three strips and tie in simple knots, keeping the strips flat (click on the images to enlarge):
Put the taro, bamboo shoots and aburaage knots in a medium-sized saucepan, with the knots on top. Add water to the pan to a level about halfway up the vegetables and bring to the boil very slowly. Spend this time wondering where your partner/cleaner/cats hid the drop lids, or fashioning one from foil. When the water boils, add the other ingredients, stir very gently to mix, and drop in your drop lid (or insert your piece of foil). The idea is to hold down the veg so they do not break up – if you have a set of saucepans, the lid from the size below the one you are using will do. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the taro is cooked through.
This quantity will serve two as a main dish with rice, or up to six is used as part of a larger meal. I had it with asparagus and broccoli tempura, konnyaku in miso, brown rice and a clear soup with hana fu and green soya beans.