My Vegan Kitchen Staples
Trying to change your diet towards more vegan-friendly meals can seem like a daunting task, especially if you are attempting to do so in a place such as Japan. Many of my friends confide in me saying they want to become more conscious of their meat intake, but they simply just don’t know where to begin. I completely understand this sentiment, and without immense research and help from other resources, it can seem near impossible. To help aspiring vegan and vegetarians out, I decided to gather some of my favorite grocery staples that I buy every week and give some examples of how I use these products in my cooking. I hope even one of these products will spark ideas on how you can swap out some animal products!
Tahini is pretty much an angel ingredient from above. I didn’t know how to find tahini in Japan for my first year here, but once I figured out what it looked like in Japanese supermarkets, it quite literally changed everything. One of the ways I use tahini is to make hummus in my blender. Moving from the US, it was such a stab in the heart to not have hummus readily available at all grocery stores. By using another one of my staples, chickpeas, and a few other ingredients like lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, I now have hummus always ready-made in my fridge! You can also play around with the ingredients a lot like adding beets or peppers to change up the flavor.
My other favorite use for tahini is as dressing. No joke I add tahini dressing to everything: sandwiches, fruit, salad, and grilled veggies. It’s so simple, just pour some tahini in a jar and add a bit of water, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic granules, and mix. You can put as much or as little water in that you would like to have either a thick or runny consistency. Personally I prefer a bit on the runnier side if I am using it on a salad.
Where to buy tahini: You can find tahini at almost every supermarket, usually in the section by the dried beans. It is actually just sesame paste, so it is quite normal to have it here in Japan.
Nutritional yeast is not the vegan hero we asked for, but the hero we were given. And if it isn’t the tastiest hero ever. Nutritional yeast is technically a type of yeast, but it has a cheesy taste so I add it to tons of sauces and food to give it that smokey cheese flavor. An easy way to use it is just to sprinkle it on top of popcorn or fries. It is also a great source of B vitamins! I also put in nutritional yeast when I am making a cheesy cashew sauce in the blender (perfect for nachos or mac and cheese) or I pour it on top of pizza before I pop it into the oven. It really is so versatile and easy to add to anything.
Where to buy nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast I usually buy online from Alishan, the Vegan Store, or iHerb. You can also get it from Rakuten, Amazon, or most health food stores in Tokyo carry it as well as National Azabu in Hiroo.
Soy Meat Chunks
Soy meat chunks are a great alternative if you are looking to have some comfort foods such as fried chicken (karaage). Personally, I love a good fried chicken night with some beer. I am definitely not one to shy away from fried foods! I make the fried chicken just to have by itself, or it’s also a great addition to add to curries or sandwiches. The key to making them super tasty is to soak them first in water for a bit (can be anything from 20 minutes to an hour) and then marinating them before you coat them. I like to marinate my soy meat in soy sauce and garlic paste for a bit. Then I simply coat them in cornstarch and fry them in oil in my pan and ta-dah! Crunchy and juicy karaage ready to be eaten.
Where to buy them: I usually buy them from my neighborhood shop Ozeki or Shinanoya. A lot of vegan restaurants will sell them like Nagi Shokudo or even better, you can get them online at Alishan or the Vegan Store!
I love to use vegan mayo in homemade dressing or in my chickpea “tuna” salad. Usually, I will make a vegan caesar salad using Cheap Lazy Vegan’s recipe. (https://www.thecheaplazyvegan.com/try-my-bok-choy-caesar-salad-its-healthy-delicious-refreshing/) The dressing includes vegan mayo, dijon mustard, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, maple syrup, and white vinegar. It tastes just like caesar dressing and it’s so easy to make! The chickpea “tuna” salad just requires you to mash some chickpeas with a fork, fold in some vegan mayo, add some garlic, salt, and onions, and you are finished. I add this salad to some bread with lettuce and tomato and it’s a perfect quick, easy lunch.
Where to buy vegan mayo: It actually can be found at some of the bigger supermarkets like Life. I buy mine at Shinanoya, Natural House, or online from the Vegan Store.
Vegetable stock is a great switch to use in soups, curries, and sauces. You can buy vegetable stock as either cubes or as a loose powder. I prefer the powder which then I mix with warm water. Some different types of dishes I have made using veggie stock include hashbrown casserole, vegetable noodle soup, and curry.
Where to buy vegetable stock: I buy my vegetable stock from my neighborhood Ozeki store and it is pretty widely available at supermarkets in Japan. You can also find it at import shops like Kaldi or health food stores like Natural House. The brand I use is plastic-free when you buy the cubes.
These are just a few of the items on my weekly shopping list, and I am always looking for plastic-free options for those listed above. I hope these swaps are useful for you to continue on your veggie-friendly journey. Do you have vegan kitchen staples that are useful? Let us know what you buy in your grocery trips in the comments!
Happy eating! Xoxo Jackie