Dashi forms the flavor base for many Japanese dishes, including miso soup, noodle dishes such as udon and soba, Japanese hot pots (nabe), and various simmered or braised dishes. It is valued in Japanese cuisine for its ability to enhance and harmonize flavors.
Traditional Japanese dashi is typically made with bonito flakes (dried fish flakes) and kombu (dried kelp). The bonito is obviously not vegan-friendly. However, you can make a delicious vegan version of dashi using kombu alone or by combining it with other plant-based ingredients, the most common of which being shiitake mushrooms.
Here's a recipe for vegan Japanese dashi with great depth of flavor:
- 4 cups water
- 1 piece of kombu (about 4x4 inches)
- 1 dried shiitake mushroom (optional, for added flavor)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari (optional, for additional depth of flavor)
- Gently wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or residue. Avoid washing it with water to preserve its flavor.
- In a pot, combine the water and kombu. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes, but preferably for 1-2 hours. This allows the kombu to release its flavors into the water.
- After soaking, place the pot with the kombu and water over medium heat. Slowly bring it to a simmer, avoiding boiling as it can make the dashi taste bitter.
- Just before the water reaches a boil, remove the kombu from the pot. Boiling the kombu for an extended period can lead to a slimy texture and an undesirable taste.
- At this point, you can add a dried shiitake mushroom to the pot for additional flavor. Let the mushroom simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and strain the dashi through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any impurities or small pieces of kombu or mushroom.
- If desired, stir in soy sauce or tamari to enhance the flavor of the dashi. Taste and adjust the seasoning according to your preference.
The vegan Japanese dashi is now ready to use in various Japanese recipes, such as miso soup, noodle dishes, or sauces. It can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Note: The kombu and mushroom used in dashi can be reserved and reused for a second round of dashi. You can add them to a new batch of water and simmer again to extract more flavor. However, the resulting dashi will be slightly weaker than the first batch.