Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Budget Vegetarian in Japan: June Edition

I’ve wasted a lot of money on food in Japan. I spent a fortune on olives and cheese and pesto and other things I like to eat regularly that are once-a-year luxuries out here in the sticks. I am not a big fan of Japanese food. I know, I know. I don’t like sea weed or slimy textured food, and that cuts out 90% of what Japan has to offer that is vegetarian. Because we have been so very busy the past few years it was easier to just fork out for the pesto and olives. It takes ten minutes to boil the pasta and voila, delicious dinner and left-overs that taste good enough cold to pack for lunch. What could be easier? Except, of course, that it is also not particularly nutritious, cost a fortune and is full of “empty” calories. So as life is finally beginning to slow down a little, I thought I’d share some recipes for cheap vegetarian dishes to make with ingredients that are easy to source in regular Japanese supermarkets that don’t taste like fish food or take six hours to prepare.

Unless you are pretty far north, June is likely to be humid, wet, hot and generally nasty. People often get food poisoning in June because of the sudden heat and humidity. You need to store your food carefully and check everything for mould before using it. Seasonal ingredients will vary by region, but down here June is great for fresh peas, beans, bamboo shoots, shiitake, tomato and eggplant. It’s hot enough that I want to eat something cold, but too rainy for anything that invokes “soggy” like cold noodles or chilled soups. I want fresh, crisp and colourful food to counteract the grey skies and my perpetually wet socks.

Fresh Legume and Herb Salad

Vegan and mostly free... the peas and beans were a gift from a teacher's garden

This is so simple but really tasty and versatile. I get given bags of beans and peas at work all the time, and this salad/side works with anything at all. You can even use frozen edamame /peas / rehydrated white beans and make it in winter. It’s basically just blanched legumes in lemon juice/zest, vinegar and whatever herbs you have on hand. No matter how small your apartment is, you can always grow fresh herbs! But supermarkets stock them as well. 

I had mint and some slightly gone-to-seed coriander in the garden, but parsley, dill, or anything really would be tasty!
I fancied this up by replacing the lemon juice/zest with diced Moroccan-style preserved lemon (*home-made: easy to make, cheap, lasts forever and makes everything more delicious, see below for how to make them), feta cheese and some artichoke hearts from Costco. That makes it much more expensive, but really really good. The leftovers make a solid lunch just with some crusty bread.

 Spicy Eggplant Gyoza

Could be vegan depending on the wrappers used
When eggplants/aubergines are cheap I don’t feel bad treating them a little badly. These gyoza are not that healthy but really delicious, and take advantage of the cheap fresh ginger you can get at this time of year too.

These ingredients made 12 gyoza and cost barely anything

Mince and fry in sesame oil with some garlic and a little soy sauce if it dries out, then stuff the wrappers. A bit more time consuming than the other dishes and quite fatty if you fry the gyoza, but really yummy ;)

Bamboo-shoot Rice

I'm not going to make bamboo shoot rice from scratch, but it takes about two minutes to stick a packet and some rice into the rice cooker and it's tasty, locally made and this brand is actually vegan as far as I can tell.

Crispy Tofu, Tomato and Basil Salad

Usually you press the tofu, dust in flour and fry but I had leftover gyoza sheets and I thought it'd try wrapping the tofu in them instead. It worked really well.
Tomatoes are cheap right now and my garden is full of basil, so the only question is what to put them on. The answer in this case is tofu, weird though it sounds. I promise it tastes good! I like it cold but hot works too.

I would usually use balsamic vinegar not dressing and red onion, but I was out of both

*Making Moroccan preserved lemons

Day 1: The jar eventually fills up entirely with juice
I bought a bag of lemons from Costco and couldn't get through them in time so I tried to find a way to make them last and got the instructions for preserved lemons at

I used a nice cheap jar from Muji and threw in coriander seeds, chillis, cloves and a cinnamon stick then sat back and waited. They're delicious mashed into butter on asparagus and other vegetables, but I've also used them in frosting for banana muffins and mixed into vanilla ice-cream. I only use a little at a time and over a year later they're still just as tasty.
Share this article :


  1. I love gyoza (hence blog name) but have never had an eggplant version. Looks delicious, and I am going to definitely try it!

    1. Thank you! Your blog is lovely, I just had a quick scroll through and I'm already itching to make an amazon order...


Because of all the spam lately, comments on old posts will now be moderated. This means it may be some time before your comment appears. You can always email me directly, check the contact page for details.