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Japanese Vegetarian for the Spirit

Vegetarian Japanese Recipes to Cleanse, Replenish and "Progress the Spirit"

Although most of us enjoy having a blow-out every once in a while, extended over-indulgence can be really hard on our bodies. The more we consume, the more energy our organs need to process. Foods like refined sugar, saturated fat, alcohol and processed foods are especially hard on the liver, kidneys and other organs involved with digestion.

On our vegetarian Japanese cookery course, Sachiko Saeki teaches "Shojin Ryori", which means "to progress the spirit". Shojin cooking is a special way of preparing, cooking and eating for monks at Zen temples, based on the philosophy of balance, harmony and simplicity. It’s a pure and cleansing way of cooking, dairy free with no pungent flavours from onions or garlic and using only grains, vegetables, soya products and sea vegetables. At the monasteries soup is eaten every day. Often a meal is defined by the saying "Ichi Ju San Sai": one soup and a bowl of rice with three green dishes. Sounds lovely to me!


Miso Ramen Soup with Shitake and Seaweed is one of my favourite winter meals. Miso is made with soyabeans fermented with kojii. Kojii is cooked rice, barley or soyabeans that have been inoculated with a fermentation culture. The darker the miso the stronger the flavour, and it’s already salty so there’s no need to add salt. You can also use miso to make dressings, marinades and sauces - but always add at the end of cooking to avoid damaging the healthy enzymes. Different kind of miso include:

  • Hacho Miso is made from soya beans.
  • Genmai Miso from soya beans and brown rice.
  • Mugi Miso from soya beans and barley.
  • Natto Miso is made from soya beans, barley, ginger and seaweed.

Seaweed is a good source of iodine and potassium. It grows around the coasts of the British Isles and is harvested from unpolluted shorelines. Edible seaweeds, which may be green (shallow water), brown, or red (deep water) are collected and then dried. You can buy dried seaweed from wholefood and Japanese stores. Look out for the excellent Clearspring brand. To cook with seaweed, soak beforehand and add to soups and salads or dry-roast and sprinkle over salads and rice.

Sushi Rolls ready to slice

Vegetarian Sushi

It’s really easy to make vegetarian sushi at home. Your essential kit is a sushi mat for rolling, sushi rice and sheets of ready toasted nori seaweed. My favourite filling is a simple combination of raw carrot, cucumber and mouli. Mouli is a Japanese radish, which is white and crunchy. It can be a metre long and tastes less peppery than red radish. Avocado is popular although it’s not a traditional Japanese filling, but you can experiment with any fillings you like. For a hot peppery flavour, wasabi (I like the fresh wasabi from The Wasabi Company) can be spread delicately inside the roll or mixed with shoyu for dipping. Cook the rice carefully and then spread it out in a big dish to cool. In Japan the rice is fanned to cool it. Lay the nori sheet on the sushi mat and cover with a thin layer of rice and a line of vegetables and a touch of wasabi if using. Roll up like a Swiss roll using the sushi mat to roll, pressing as you go. Slice with a really sharp knife and eat quickly as the rolls are best eaten fresh and sushi rice doesn’t like being refrigerated.

ROLL-SUSHI Filling with carrot, shitake mushroom and cucumber

Other Shojin-friendly Japanese Recipes

How to roll sushi

Do you have any other ideas for eating in the spirit of Shojin?
For more inspiration, come along to one of Sachiko's Japanese Cookery Courses.

Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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