by Sarah Hodge

When you think of Japanese cuisine, what comes to mind? Sushi? Wagyu beef? Pork broth ramen? Fried chicken? Until the mid-1800s, Japan had a long tradition of a nearly vegetarian diet that was strongly linked to Buddhist beliefs.

Chef Tim Anderson, winner of the MasterChef competition in 2011, owns several popular Japanese restaurants in London and is the author of JapanEasy, Nanban, and Tokyo Stories. With his newest cookbook Vegan JapanEasy, Anderson offers up vegan takes on Japanese soul food like karaage (fried chicken), here replaced with meaty jackfruit, ramen, katsu (deep-fried meat cutlets), and croquettes along with some international interpretations like pesto udon, French onion ramen, and soy sauce butterscotch brownies.

Beginning with the gold-embossed cover featuring Japanese vegetables, the book is a work of art as well, with both English and Japanese chapter headings, gorgeous food styling, and eye-catching illustrations. Ingredients are given in metric as well as US measurements and temperatures, and true to its title, each recipe is ranked by level of difficulty (or not-difficulty).

Anderson begins with the very backbone of Japanese cooking: the importance of cooking great Japanese rice, dashi (Japan’s “mother sauce”), pickles, and seasonings, including deep-roast sesame dressing, vegan Japanese mayo, tonkatsu sauce and curry roux, which interestingly uses half a banana, tomato paste, and peanut butter spiked with curry powder, garam masala, and nutritional yeast to create deep, complex flavor.

There’s an illustrated guide to making gyoza (kimchi and tofu and garlicky mushroom and bamboo shoot), several varieties of vegan sushi, vegetable tempura, katsu (cauliflower katsu curry, menchi katsu), an entire chapter devoted to ramen and rice dishes, a mushroom-based “sukiyaki” bowl, and even a veg version of niku jaga, which substitutes meaty shiitake mushrooms for the beef. You’ll also find nods to shojin ryori, or Japanese vegan temple cuisine.

I appreciated the fact that most of the recipes avoid using processed meat and dairy replacements (the one exception being the menchi katsu, which uses vegan burger patties), and ingredients should be readily available at your local grocery store.

The desserts chapter ranges from the traditional to fusion in the form of chocolate dusted with shichimi powder, white peach and sake sorbet, soy sauce butterscotch brownies, and a chocolate mousse with boozy cherries and miso-glazed pecans. Several lighthearted cocktails like the Bloody Mariko (soy sauce, mushroom ketchup, wasabi, shochu and tomato juice), watermelon sake mojito, and a nonalcoholic green tea Arnold Palmer are the perfect way to beat Japan’s summer heat.

The whimsical illustrations and lighthearted writing style make the whole book fun and approachable, while the recipes include many homestyle and beloved Japanese classics that are now healthier and guilt-free (I also appreciated that several of the fried recipes included alternative instructions for baking in the oven as I avoid fried foods).

As vegetarian (much less vegan!) Japanese cookbooks are quite rare, this is a treasure indeed!

Vegan Japaneasy: Classic & Modern Vegan Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home by Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant):