Steamed Mushrooms with Yams

Steamed Mushrooms with YamThis simple dish is unimaginably good, and I can imagine some pretty good things.  It’s origins are in Japanese temple cuisine and it is just one example that showcases how incredibly satisfying and flavorful vegetarian food can be. The Japanese monks and nuns that originated this type of cooking, called shojin ryori, did not eat anything that could consciously try to avoid being eaten, such as animals.  As a result of this restriction, they developed a cuisine that is highly dependent on wild plants, seasonal vegetables, and of course, soy products.

To those skeptics out there, this type of cooking is very different from the type of food that is typically associated with western vegetarian or vegan cooking.  There is no attempt in this cuisine to recreate a meat-like effect using plant products.  No veggie burgers or Tofurkey to be found here. Instead, these are direct formulations that are devoid of some of the forced, strained, or desperate feeling that I get when I look at recipes from a lot of the western vegetarian/vegan movement.  I admit that I have a strong bias against a bunch of the crap food that has come out of folks trying to be vegetarians in America.  I am sympathetic to the desire for people to do as their conscience (or health) dictates, but a lot of it seems forced.  If you don’t like eating meat, stop trying to recreate it in soy and gluten…. 

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Sateh Pork Steamed with Vegetables and Tofu

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I really, really like this dish.  Stylistically, it falls in the category of marinaded meat steamed together with other stuff; in this case, vegetables and tofu.  It is, essentially, a steamed hot-pot.  Steaming the ingredients together allows the lemongrass and coriander flavors of the sateh pork marinade to subtly flavor the rest of the ingredients.  A drizzle of lime right before serving adds a clean fresh accent to both the pork and the vegetables.  The result is a light, fresh-tasting lunch that is satisfying but not heavy.  One of the things that I love about this dish is that it appears to come together out of thin air; what little prep work there is to do can be done by whoever gets up first to make coffee for the day.  Cleanup is similarly easy.  Just wash whatever bowl you eat out of and rinse the steamer.

It is also very much a social dish and fun to eat.  With each diner armed with a small bowl of rice, an eating bowl, and a pair of chopsticks, there is definitely a competitive element to “sharing” this sort of lunch with someone, as everyone scrabbles to grab the best stuff out of the steamer.  I think that the light, aromatic flavors of the marinade meat and the steamed vegetables, combined with the way you serve it (as a free-for all) conspire to create a relaxed, open and sort of care-free lunch experience that is just plain fun…. 

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