Vegans are often thought to be limited in what they can eat and to eat only tasteless food, but in fact, there are some foods and tastes that are known only to vegans. In Japan, there are many bean-based vegan foods such as tofu, natto (fermented soybeans), and abura-age (fried bean curd), but there are also many foods that are not so well known in Japan that are commonplace for vegans in other countries.
In fact, there are many “vegan foods” on the market. In recent years, the market has also been expanding as veganism has been highlighted as one of the solutions to environmental problems. Even if a recipe is not vegan-friendly, substitutions can be used to make meals with little or no change in taste or texture. Sometimes it is surprisingly easy to cook without using animal products and not notice it at all. Recently, many fried foods and hamburgers made with meat-like soy have been developed. By increasing the number of ingredients you know and trying new ones, you can broaden your cooking range and expand your meal choices. Cooking will also become more fun. Here we introduce some of the favorite ingredients of vegans from overseas that are not yet widely known in Japan. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Also called garbanzo, these beans are beige in color and slightly larger in size. They may not be familiar in Japan, where black beans and mung beans are commonly used in Japanese cuisine, but they are highly nutritious and contain various nutrients, including protein, which vegans, in particular, tend to lack. For example, one cup of chickpeas provides almost one-third of an adult’s daily protein needs. Some are sold in canned form in water, while others are sold dried. The dried ones need to be reconstituted once in hot water, but they can be shredded in a blender to make falafel (similar to croquettes) or easily made into hummus by blending them in a blender with tahini, the white kneaded sesame seeds of the Middle East. There are many ways to eat it, such as shredding, mashing, and of course, adding it directly to salads, so you will never get tired of cooking it.
This is another type of bean. Although you may not find them in Japanese supermarkets, they are a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern regions and are often used in vegan cooking. The beans are small in size and are classified by color, ranging from yellow or red to green, brown, or black. Lentils are often overlooked despite being an inexpensive source of a wide variety of nutrients. They are rich in vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. They are also composed of more than 25% protein, making them an excellent meat substitute. It is also a source of iron, which vegetarians and vegans often lack. It does not need to be rehydrated and is small and easily cooked, making it a useful shortcut ingredient. Softened similarities can be added to salads or added directly to curries and soups to make a nutritious dish in one fell swoop.
Nutritional yeast, sold in the form of yellow flakes, granules, or powder, is yeast fermented with sugar cane or other molasses. It has a flavor very similar to that of Parmigiano cheese and can be used as a seasoning. You may not have heard of it, but it is often found in supermarkets overseas and incorporated as a cheese substitute. It is high in nutrients and rich in B vitamins, which vegans tend to lack. It can be poured over salads and pasta to give it a cheesiness or added to soups and dressings to give them a creaminess.
Tempeh (Indonesian dish made from fermented soy beans)
Finally, there is tempeh, a food that looks a little like natto, or hardened tofu. It is a traditional Indonesian food made by fermenting soybeans with tempeh bacteria. Fermentation breaks down the soybeans’ phytic acid and makes the tempeh starch easier to digest. After fermentation, the soybeans become hard, blocky patties, but they do not have the strong odor and consistency of natto, making them easy to incorporate into dishes. It is commonly substituted for meat in vegan cooking. As a substitute for ground meat, it can be crushed, finely chopped, or grated and added to a variety of dishes, including soups. When cooked on the grill, the edges become crispy, and when seasoned with teriyaki sauce or other sauce, the texture and taste are almost identical to that of the meat.
In Japan, some health food stores and online stores also sell it. If you have a chance to get your hands on some, please give it a try.