Kenchin-jiru: Buddhist vegetarian soup recipe

November’s essay for Savory Kyoto is about shiru (Japanese soup). What a welcome thought it is — during bone-chilling days like today — to cup your hands around a nice hot bowl of hearty soup and letting the fragrant steam rise to your face before the nourishing liquid warms you to the core.

Featured is this recipe for Kenchin-jiru, a hearty Buddhist vegetarian soup that  can either be made with miso, or with soy sauce and salt. My mother always made a version with pork and miso, but recently I’ve taken to this vegan version because you can really taste all the wonderful vegetables. Richness comes from the intense flavors of the gobo (burdock) and shiitake mushrooms, as well as the creamy texture of the sato-imo. This hearty soup is more like a stew, and can be considered a meal unto itself when served with rice and pickles.

6 cups vegetarian dashi
1/4 daikon, cut into cubes
1 carrot, cut into rangiri
3 shiitake mushrooms, soaked
1/2 gobo, peeled and sliced
4 satoimo, peeled
Soy sauce, to taste
Sea salt, to taste

Cut vegetables into a variety of pleasing shapes, as seen above. Soak the gobo in cold water to prevent discoloration and remove bitterness. Simmer the gobo and daikon in 6 cups of dashi for 15 minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until tender. Season with soy sauce and sea salt to taste, or add four tablespoons of country miso.

The soup is served in Meiji era (1868-1912) red and black lacquer bowls, available on Mizuya.