Summer is here with double digit humidity and high temperatures. Japanese jellies made with agar-agar are cool and refreshing. While it is most often used for making sweet snacks and desserts, agar-agar is sometimes made with savory flavors suitable to serve with a meal. I just made an avocado sashimi, which we ate as sort of a salad.
Agar agar (“kanten” in Japan) sets and melts at higher temperatures than animal gelatin, and it sets more firmly, though acid weakens its jelling power, and some raw fruits have enzymes which will break its structure. It’s made from a seaweed derivative so it’s vegetarian friendly.
Because many Westerners believe that Japanese food is light on meat, vegetarians visiting Japan are surprised how difficult eating can be. Many traditional dishes rely on dashi which is usually made with bonito flakes (fish). Japanese temple cuisine is both traditional and vegetarian.
Temple food is called “shojin ryori” or “shojin cuisine.” Japanese Buddhist monks and nuns eat no animal products—only fruits, vegetables, seaweed, grains, and pulses. (In other countries (I think) Buddhists might eat dairy foods occasionally.) People visit/tour the temples and stay for a meal. The food is not eaten as part of a religious service; the cuisine is part of a spiritual life but is enjoyed by all.
I’ve borrowed a book about shojin ryori from our library called, the enlightened kitchen. It’s distracting me from my cookbook project, but some of the recipes look delicious. Very colorful and creative. Besides, the point of this project is for me to learn about Japanese food so I’m making a small detour.
from “the enlightened kitchen” written by Mari Fujii
first edition 1995
- 1 avocado, about 6 ounces
- 3 teaspoons agar-agar powder
- 4/5 cup kombu stock—200 ml
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teapoon wasabi paste or Japanese mustard (reconstituted)
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- Lemon wedges, optional
Scoop the avocado from its shell. Blend in a food processor with the agar agar powder, kombu stock, and salt until smooth.
Put the mixture into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Cook on low for 5 minutes. Pour into individual serving dishes or into a 6″ square dish. When the mixture has cooled, refrigerate for half an hour. If you used a square mold, cut the gelatin into cubes.
Serve with wasabi or mustard, and soy sauce and or lemon.
If you like agar-agar jells in cubes, make your own square mold.
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