Surprisingly vegan-able recipe: A savory Japanese meat and potato dish

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This post originally appeared on Hipster Housewife on March 10, 2011.

This winter I found an amazing recipe for Nikujaga, a Japanese meaty stew. It looked so good and hearty, I had to give it a vegetarianizing go.

The basic recipe is simple enough:

  • one large onion
  • a half pound of beef
  • one large carrot
  • two large potatoes
  • 14 ounces of shirataki noodles (I used about six ounces of udon)
  • two cups of dashi
  • one T vegetable oil
  • three T sugar
  • five T soy sauce
  • five T sake (Rice wine vinegar is a better option for vegans. There isn’t a ton of info on vegan sake, though most sake contains neither gelatin nor bone charcoal.)


In the orginal post Tara says the meat can “probably” be swapped out for mushrooms, so I set my sights on replacing dashi, which is a fish-based soup stock.

A little research and I found that I could boil my half pound of portabella mushrooms in two cups of water for 45 minutes to start a dashi-replacement base.

At the end I tossed in five sheets of shredded kelp, strained everything out and BAM. Super savory, yumful dashi replacement. Nori is one of my favorite tastes in the WORLD, so I go heavy on the kelp. 

From there, it was as simple as simmering the veggies in the dashi for an hour. Pick the mushrooms out of the strainer and add them in as well. Everything should be super tender and soak up some broth, so I let them err on the overcooked side.

I balked at the amount of sugar in the recipe the first time, but since Tara has chef credentials, I figured her proportions were right. Good bet! The combination of sweet-ish Yukon Gold potatoes, salty broth and sweet, sweet sugar makes a very umami dish. It’s such a delicious, warm, savory meal that nikujaga is my new favorite recipe.

Recipes from other cultures often take the ingredients we’re used to — like potatoes, onions, carrots and mushrooms — and combine them in new and delicious ways. Post your favorite international dish in the comments, and share the tasties.

Comments on Surprisingly vegan-able recipe: A savory Japanese meat and potato dish

  1. I love food! One of my favorite things about our place is that it usually reeks of garlic, onions, and other delicious things. It makes the space feel cozy and well-loved.

    Anyway, I’ve been messing around with spices over the past few months, especially cumin and curry powder. I made an Indian-inspired lentil stew that was super yummy, but totally stunk up my apartment. It could prob be easily veganized.

    I also did a seared rare tuna with a soy/sesame oil sauce. Mega umami explosion.

    Someday, I will make my own drunken noodle. It’s my most favorite thing to eat in the world, but remains something I only eat as take-out.

    I have a (very young) food blog, so instead of linking to the dishes I made, just click-o my name-o if you fancy to do so.

    • Oh god, drunken noodles! That’s my all time favorite Thai dish and I have yet to recreate it successfully. I’m dying for a good recipe for it since I can’t get it where I live (no good Thai to be had here).

      • I think I’ve yet to have drunken noodles! But now I’m totally craving Thai.

    • Saying that your place reeks of garlic reminds me of the time we got so much garlic from our co-op, so we decided to dry some to grind into powder. Our house had such an overpowering smell of garlic that it last about 3 wks!

  2. I love to make Thai style red curry at home, and it’s really easy to veganize. However, I measure very little and make a huge wok of curry. It usually ends up with chickpeas, mushrooms, onion, broccoli, chicken, red chilis, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic in it. Sometimes I swap the chickpeas for eggplant or potatoes. The basic recipe is to make a curry base (fry some curry paste in a bit of sesame oil in a wok, then reduce the heat to low and add coconut milk- I use two cups to make a big batch), then add your “soaking veggie” (a strained can of rinsed chickpeas, a chopped up eggplant, or a few cut up and partially pre-boiled potatoes). Then you pan fry some more curry paste in oil, add more oil and fry the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and chili (if you like it hot) for a few seconds. Add veggies to the pan and cook halfway. Throw them in the curry base. Then repeat the process with chicken, only searing it. I like adding a bit of lime juice to the chicken. Veganize by using tofu instead. Add meat or tofu to curry and cook on medium until the chicken is cooked through or the veggies are to your liking. I serve it over jasmine rice or rice noodles.

    I’m not sure I can make this more specific, but if someone has questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. It’s not a traditional Thai curry, but it is pretty tasty and filling. It serves four pretty easily when I make it. It could be made more restaurant-traditional by using potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers instead of the eggplant or chickpeas. Curry is really versatile, which is why I love it so much 🙂

    • You can easily make your own curry pastes as well, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, garlic, peppers etc. google for the exact combination you’re after, or experiment. Just process to combine. Yummo!

  3. Hi there,
    For your dashi, you might want to try not using the nori, and instead using the actual kelp that is used to make regular dashi (stock). It’s called “konbu”. It’s different from wakame (the seaweed they usually put in miso soup). You can buy a package of dried konbu and use a couple of leaves to make your stock (usually discarded after soaking/boiling for the stock, or you can take some strands and tie them in little knots to put in, as is done in the fish cake stew dish “oden”.). At some Japanese grocery stores you might even be able to find instant “konbu dashi” powder without any bonito fish (katsuo) in it at all — my in-laws used to send it to me from Japan.
    Best regards & good luck!

    • I was going to reply with this as well. Kombu is a much better choice and what Japanese recipes for nikujaga call for.

      Also nikujaga isn’t really a soup. I’m not sure what the word for it would be in English. When it’s served in Japan it’s mostly the stuff served with a thin sauce, like an au jus I guess? Now I’m curious to grab my Japanese language cookbooks and see what their recipes call for! 🙂

      • The nikujaga my host family down Kyoto way used to make was like a stew. But it’s the sort of dish that varies quite a lot, I believe. I haven’t had it here in Yokohama, as it isn’t really restaurant food. I should make it some time!

  4. I like this really simple comfort food from Ireland called colcannon. It’s just mashed potatoes with sauteed kale or cabbage mixed in (I always use kale.) You just remove the icky stalks from the center of the kale leaves, then chop up into bite-size pieces and saute in butter. Make some normal ol’ mashed potatoes and mix the cooked kale in. Then you can either fry it slightly in a non-stick pan, kind of letting it brown and turning it over in rough chunks or cheat like me and just smooth in into a cast-iron skillet, put a bit of butter on top and broil it for a few minutes until the top is lightly browned. It’s lovely and green and makes you feel a bit healthier about eating a big bowl of carbs for dinner. Amazing and you could totally make it vegan with earth balance and soy creamer, as I do for my sister.

    • I second this, esp. the vegan part!

      Ok, two fabulous recipes:

      The first is an old family recipe for this dish called schump noodles. It’s an Eastern European dumpling that my family always used to have for Lent on Fridays. It is my favorite food in the world and soooo soooo good.

      3 cups flour
      1 tsp salt
      3 tsp baking powder
      2 tsp sugar
      2 eggs (now that I’m vegan, I use Bob’s Red Mill egg replacer – I get it at Whole Foods. I’ve never tried it with a “homemade” egg substitute, but I know you can use 2 tablespoons of potato starch per egg or 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes per egg, and I would imagine that the flavors would work well for this)
      Milk enough for a soft dough (I replace this with soy or almond milk)

      Roll dough into snakes. Put 1 cup of water, 3/4 cup butter (I use Earth Balance sticks), 1 tablespoon onion powder (I prefer onion flakes myself, and I use two tablespoons if I’m doing flakes) in a pan. Bring to a boil and add the noodles. Bring to another boil, and cover noodles with sliced potatoes. Cover the pan with a lid wrapped in a dish towel (make sure the lid is on there tight). Cook 20 minutes, no peeking! We always serve these with maple syrup and Parmesan cheese (I don’t use the cheese anymore). I have cousins who put ketchup on theirs.

      This recipe is for a Persian rice dish called Tadik. It was a recipe our family friend from Iran showed us, and it’s now a favorite.

      Basmati rice
      1-2 tablespoons olive oil
      Pita bread (optional)
      2 tablespoons butter (optional)

      Cover bottom of a large pan with oil and heat the oil. The goal of tadik is to make the rice have a crust – kind of like you’re making a rice pie. So you can put the basmati rice right in at this point, or you can also put the pita bread down, dot the pita bread with the butter or oil or something to get it to stick, and then put the rice in. I’ve done both and both are delicious. Reduce the heat, cover the pan with a cloth, and heat for about 10 minutes. Invert onto a platter. This one might take a little bit of practice to get the crust just right.

      • I’m a little confused about your recipes – they both sound delicious, so I need clarification!

        1) What do I do with the dough snakes when I have them? Dump them in whole? I’m imagining snakes the size you’d use to make a braided bread loaf, like challah.

        2) Do I cook the rice beforehand? Or put water in the pan?

        I might experiment with my best guess and see how that goes. These sound delicious.

        • Lexi –
          1) Yes, dump the snakes in whole. They should be 3 – 4 inches in length, and about an inch or two wide – about the size of your index and middle fingers held together, if that image helps.
          2) Yes, cook the rice first. Sorry I didn’t clarify that! The versions of the recipes I have were passed through families, so they’re written a little different than they would be in a cook book.

      • Tadik with thinly sliced potato instead of bread is my favourite- even better- make bolognaise then do a tadik in the bottom with potato. Nom nomnom

  5. I’ve been on a quest to perfect some of our favorite dishes from a Lebanese restaurant nearby. So far, I do a pretty good job with lentil soup and fatoush, both of which can easily be made vegan.

    For fatoush, chop romain lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley and mint and crumbled, toasted pita and toss it all with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, pomegranate juice and sumac (if you can find it). It actually keeps in the refrigerator longer than you would expect. It’s tangy and so refreshing; we live on this in summer!

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