Karē Raisu (Japanese Curry), veganized
As long as I’ve loved food (and eating!) I have loved learning about regional cuisines and traditional dishes. Being from the Netherlands, I often heard (Dutch) people say that Dutch cuisine doesn’t agree – I think they’re wrong. But that’s worth its own post.
Since I went vegan (and before that, as a vegetarian) however, it is often not possible to eat dishes as they are usually made: many traditional dishes from all over the world contain animal foods in some or multiple forms. This can feel limiting if, like me, you feel that food is such a fundamental part of cultural exchange. However, I try to overcome this by veganizing as many dishes as I can, such as this Japanese curry!
I would say that for me, traditional recipes fall into one of three categories:
1) Foods that absolutely cannot be made vegan, and therefore I have made peace with the fact that I will never eat them. Examples include all dishes that center on the flavor of a specific animal-based product, such as sashimi, or spaghetti con la bottarga (pasta with fish roe).
2) Foods that are traditionally made vegan. Because many animal products are quite expensive, most cuisines have recipes that were always vegan, or in which animal products were omitted when not available. Good examples include vegetable and legume dishes, such as ribollita (Tuscan vegetable and bread soup) or ful (Middle-Eastern spiced fava beans).
3) Foods that can easily be veganized, although they were not made this way in the past. With many close substitutes available, more and more dishes can be veganized. Sometimes it’s as simple as replacing butter or milk with margarine/oil or plantbased milk, sometimes it’s adding faux meat instead of animal flesh. Depending on how close the substitutions are to the original recipe, a vegan version can be almost indistinguishable, or not even close. For example, a vegan bolognese with vegan minced meat works pretty well because the meat is not the only flavorful ingredient and the other flavors (wine, tomato, rosemary) are quite strong. A vegan paella on the other hand can be quite tasty, but does not taste the same as a paella with seafood. Depending on the dish, differences may affect the overall taste so much that it doesn’t taste quite like the dish it refers to.
Of course, food is continuously evolving, and what we call ‘vegetable soup’ now might be different from what our great grandparents would have described as ‘vegetable soup’. Availability of products as well as preferences have always affected the way dishes were prepared. This is why fusion cuisine can be fascinating. Japanese Curry, to me, is a perfect example of how food develops over time. I knew this dish from Japanese kid cartoons and cooking games on my Nintendo DS, and I’ve seen it referred to as the national dish of Japan.
Reading up on it, I was fascinated. If I understand it correctly the British Empire adopted curry from India during their colonial rule, and from there, the Brits brought the basics of curry to Japan around 1870. Of course, this was an adapted curry already, which underwent even more changes when it gained popularity in Japan. This leads to a curry dish based on a roux, using bay leaf and apple much like an English stew might, in addition to ginger and garam masala, which read quite Indian to me.
Japanese curry roux is sold readymade in many versions in Japan, but they’re not widely available here, and as far as I know they are not vegan. I therefore made my own curry roux based on a recipe by Nami from Just One Cookbook, converting the units to metric and substituting margarine for butter. I also used her chicken curry recipe as inspiration, but I didn’t follow it closely at all. From her I learned that a Japanese curry is supposed to be quite sweet and not too spicy, making it a favorite among kids. Not just kids though – I made it 4 times already since I first tried the recipe a few months ago, and I’m hooked!
I did not substitute the honey that’s usually included, as the apple and carrots make it quite sweet to me already. Feel free to add some maple or agave syrup or a spoon of sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Enjoy!
Karē Raisu (Japanese Curry Rice)
- 45 g margarine coconut oil works well too
- 30 g all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp curry powder use your favorite curry powder
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper optional
- 1 large onion
- 1 large carrot
- 1 large potato
- 150 g mushrooms
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger grated or finely diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 apple grated. I like using Fuji. You can also use unsweetened apple sauce instead
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- cooked white rice or (udon) noodles
- vegan breaded meat substitute, such as nuggets optional, to make it katsu kare style.
- In a small saucepan, melt the margarine/coconut oil.
- Add the flour, and stir it with a wooden spoon. Heat the mixture for up to 15 minutes on low heat, stirring often, until the roux smells toasty and has turned a chocolate-like color. Make sure it doesn't burn though!
- When this is done, stir in the spices. You now have your curry roux, which you could also keep in the fridge for a while to make the curry at a later point.
- Roughly chop the onion, carrot and potato. Chop the mushrooms.
- In a larger pot, heat some oil and sweat the onion. Add the bay leaf and ginger.
- Add the potato and carrot, stirfry briefly, then add some water (just a little bit) and the stock cube and cover the pan with a lid.
- Cook the vegetables until softened, but not falling apart. This should take around 15 minutes, more or less depending on the size of the pieces.
- In a seperate pan, fry the mushrooms until nicely browned, then add them to the pot with the cooked veggies. You could also add them together with the potato and carrot right away, but they will be softer, which I personally dislike.
- Collect some of the liquid from the large pot, and add it to the curry roux, mixing well, in order to 'loosen' it and prevent clumps. If your vegetables seem too soupy, drain some of the water first, then add all the roux to the larger pot to make the curry.
- Add the apple, and stir to incorporate it. This will also thicken the curry a bit.
- Add some apple cider vinegar, and optionally some salt / maple syrup (to taste).
- Serve with rice or udon noodles. Enjoy!