Kenchinjiru is a hearty vegan stew packed with miso, veggies, mushrooms, and ginger.

Image: Mike Novak

Don’t get it twisted: kenchinjiru is a miso soup, but it’s not the same as the miso soup you’ll get alongside your bento box. This is a full-on meal, a hearty stew made with a miso and dashi base and overflowing with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, root vegetables, greens, and cooked and raw ginger.

Kenchinjiru is a dish traditionally made by monks in Japan, but you’ll also find it in home kitchens. Humiko Hozumi ate it growing up in a mountainous area of the Saitama prefecture of Japan, where she and her family made their own red miso. Hozumi and her husband, Jason Duffany, now own Obon, an all-vegan Japanese catering company that got its start selling at farmers markets in 2014. The couple also opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Obon Shokudo, inside the Morrison Market (722 SE 10th Ave) in February 2020. Obon serves fairly traditional Japanese food, says Hozumi, but with a few twists.

“The baseline of our items [is] traditional Japanese food,” says Hozumi. “We do use local and seasonal produce ... such as celeriac or European winter squash,” she adds, rather than traditional Japanese veggies like taro. You’ll also find some nontraditional misos on the menu, made with ingredients like sunflower seeds or nixtamalized corn rather than the typical soybean.

Apart from the obvious benefit of being packed full of veggies, this dish has hidden health perks. It’s topped with raw ginger, said to aid with digestion, and miso is brimming with probiotics, which can help keep your gut happy. Just be sure to take the dashi off the heat before stirring in the miso so you don’t accidentally kill all the good bacteria.

Another benefit: you can use pretty much whatever veggies you’d like. Even those wilted ones you found at the back of the fridge will work just fine. You can leave the skins of the root veggies on for added nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants (and less work). Add a side of rice or throw in some cooked udon.

Kenchinjiru

Serves 4
  • Refined coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • Splash of sake
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced fresh ginger, divided in half
  • Dashi*
  • 1/4 lbs root vegetables or squash, such as carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, sweet potatoes, or winter squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (optional: roast them**)
  • 1/4 lbs green cabbage, napa cabbage, or seasonal greens, such as kale, bok choy, mustard greens, or chard, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup white miso (milder) or 1/2 cup red miso (saltier and bolder)
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 block Ota tofu (firm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Grease a pot with coconut oil. Sauté the onions and shiitakes until brown. Deglaze with a splash of sake, then add half of the minced ginger. Cook a few minutes, then add the dashi and roasted root vegetables. All veggies take different times to cook, so add the ones that take longer (such as carrots) first. Once root vegetables are cooked, add leafy greens. Simmer until tender, then remove pot from heat. In a small bowl, mix the miso with a ladle of warm dashi. Pour this mixture in the pot. Stir well to make sure you’ve broken up any remaining chunks of miso. Finish with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, tofu, and the remaining raw minced ginger before serving.

*Dashi

(Can be prepared a day in advance.) In a pot filled with 6 cups of water, add 2–3 dried shiitake mushrooms and a 3-inch sheet of dried kombu. Let them rehydrate for an hour, then bring to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, turn stove off and let dashi steep with the lid on until it reaches room temperature. Strain into another container. Optional: chop up the remaining kombu and mushrooms, and add to soup for extra flavor.

**Roasted vegetables

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking tray with foil and lightly grease with coconut oil. Place cut veggies on tray and bake approximately 30 minutes.

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