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HELP! There's a VEGAN Coming For Dinner!


HELP! There Are OMNIVORES Coming For Dinner!

Posted 4/1/2014

As some of you know, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing what can be politely referred to as “food experiments.” Some are highly successful, resulting in dinner (hurray!), while some cannot be described as successful no matter what form of analysis is used. A good journalist might use phrases such as “creatively presented,” “a brave approach to flavour” or “an interesting adventure in texture,” which can easily be rephrased as “Honey, we’re eating out tonight.”dofu

Since returning from a long-awaited trip to Japan, I’ve been working on a vegan cookbook which showcases Japanese food. After months of putting lumpy, soggy, squidgy and/or strangely grey creations into the compost, I’m finally in a position to test-drive the recipes. So, on Sunday night I gathered my largest team of taste-testers (thank you, Home Depot) together for a preview dinner. Most of these intrepid souls had never eaten Japanese food before arriving, shiitakeand others had only had typical all-you-can-eat-sushi menu items. The taste-testing dinner needed to be gluten-free (thankfully I have gluten-free soy sauce!) and, as an extra challenge, all my guests were omnivores who were sitting down at a vegan’s table. I don’t know which side of the table was braver—them for turning up for a dinner of tofu and beans, or me for inviting a large pack of them all at the same time. We had a fabulous evening full of laughter, questions, repeated use of the word “tofu,” cautious poking of unfamiliar food offers, and I got great feedback on the dishes. Those unfamiliar with Japanese food quickly learned the meaning of “use a small amount of wasabi” after snorting the green horseradish down their noses following a larger-than-optimal portion.cabbage

So what did my foodies manage to assess for me? If you’re not familiar with Japanese food, amuse yourself by trying to match the menu items with the photos as you go along. We started with red miso soup with soft tofu and spinach, which quickly weeded out the tofuphiles from the tofuphobes. This was accompanied by napa-spinach rolls (ah- somebody doesn’t like cabbage!), fresh tofu skins (a bit of an acquired taste), home-made pickles (the cabbage was too salty), and chilled sesame / black sesame / green tea dofu (those not used to Japanese food found the texture unusual). Next came marinated shiitake mushrooms (people who liked mushrooms liked these a lot), grated daikon, potatoes in white miso (the favourite dish of the evening for one person), and soybeans with carrots (needs less soy beanssauce and more mirin, but the Italian parsley worked well in this dish). Red-bean stuffed rice balls (onigiri) followed, which are great bento-box items. There was a pause for breath before the arrival of gluten-free Osaka-style okonomiyaki (I hated the texture of this pancake. Give me wheat flour!!!), green tea dango-on-a-stick (too chewy for some) and fried ginger faux lamb. This meat-like dish was very popular, but I personally didn’t like it. It was just too damn meaty!!! We then rounded up the main courses with vegan sushi rolls, which were filled with combinations of peppers, asparagus, green onions, home-made tofu, avocado, pickled daikon and carrots. Phew!!!


But wait... there’s more!

Desserts don’t feature highly in bars and restaurants in Japan, but we did encounter the odd one or two. When I served the taste-testers chilled silken tofu in soy milk, topped with a sweet soy sauce dressing, the team spilt firmly into two halves. Those who liked tofu used words like “creamy,” “subtle” and “refreshing,” while the tofuphobes cried “This would be better with caramel!” and “tofu is too bland” and “Awww- it’s tofu!” The following dish of black beans in caramelised sugar syrup was more favourably met, but the favourites were definitely the mochi and green tea cake.











When the dinning was finished and the final cup of green tea imbibed, my fearless diners were full to overflowing and the house looked like a major disaster zone. It’s amazing how much mess a multiple-course dinner eaten over a 2 hour period can create!!!!

So what have we all learnt from this culinary adventure? My tasters learned that if you don’t like tofu at the beginning of a meal, you probably still won’t like it by the time dessert arrives. I learned that my gluten-free soy sauce has a stronger taste than my regular soy sauce, that I prefer my cabbage pancakes to be made with wheat flour, and that a pack of meat-eaters can leave a dinner table stuffed and happy after a vegan meal.

Karen :)

onigiri faux meat yuba