Shojin (Take 2)

I returned to vegan restaurant Shojin last week to give it another try. The last time I went, they were still green from being newly opened so I wasn’t blown away by anything.  I also thought that the prices were too high for what we got. This time, we took a different approach and ordered different dishes. I don’t remember if it’s because they just weren’t on the menu before, or if we just didn’t order it, but I enjoyed my food more this time than the last.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

I ordered a caterpillar roll as my main course. While I was bummed that they didn’t have regular white rice for their rolls, I really wanted to try what a vegan caterpillar roll tasted like, so I ordered it anyway.  The seitan inside was cooked to a good softness, the sauce was a little sweet, a little salty, but most importantly, the rice was pretty good as far as brown-rice sushi goes.  It was soft and sticky and didn’t taste too health-foodish. The roll isn’t even on the same level as a regular caterpillar roll with real fish, but it was good for a vegan roll.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

Next, I had a bite of the pumpkin croquette, which was just mediocre.  It’s a bit disappointing when something battered and fried isn’t delicious.  It just didn’t taste that good, so I suggest skipping this dish.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

In contrast, the avocado tempura with mixed greens salad was much better. The avocado was still warm and crispy from the fryer.  The texture of the crunchy batter outside and the warm, soft, rich avocado inside was perfect.  The salad wasn’t too bad either.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

The BF ordered the cold sesame seitan soba, which he was pleased with.  The cold broth was certainly flavorful and strong with a sesame taste.  The seitan was also cooked well and soaked up the flavors from the broth.  The soba isn’t anything to write home about, but at least it wasn’t overcooked.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

For dessert, we ordered the crepe with strawberries and tofu chocolate cream and a scoop of rum raisin ice cream.  The crepe was soft and soggy, but the chocolate cream was decent because it wasn’t too sweet.  The raisin ice cream was also a hit even though I don’t like raisin.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

We also ordered the peach parfait which comes with fresh peaches, peach jelly, peach ice-cream, and granola.  The peach ice-cream was a little too icy, even for my tastes.  The peach jelly was okay, but a strange addition to the parfait.  The fresh peaches were too hard and kind of flavorless especially compared to the jelly.

It seemed like this time, we had the opposite experience as last time. I was much more pleased with my entree than I was with dessert.  Maybe it’s just me, but I still think the restaurant is expensive for what it serves. The soba dish was $11 and it wasn’t even that big of a serving.  Even though I enjoyed this visit more, Shojin is still delegated to a place to dine at only when we get a serious hankering for vegan Japanese food that I can’t make at home.

Shojin
333 S. Alameda St. Suite 310
(Little Tokyo Shopping Center 3F)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: 213-617-0305

Dinner: Donabe w/ Chawanmushi

Donabe: Before

Last night, I made donabe, also known as Japanese claypot rice. I’ve never cooked rice in a claypot before, so I was wary of doing it, but it was pretty easy and came out well. Claypot rice is such a good one-meal dish because you get your carbs, protein, and veggies all in one go without having a ton of dishes to do.

For the claypot rice (for either 4 people, or 2 people plus leftovers for lunch for both people), I used:

  • 1/2 cup of mixed grains/beans from some package I got at the Japanese market
  • 2 1/2 cups of white rice.
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 strip of kombu
  • 1 tbs Chinese cooking wine (or sake)
  • a cup of chopped up fried tofu
  • a handful of chopped up Japanese mushrooms
  • About 2 cups of chopped greens — I used some Japanese green for this.

Other than the rice, water, soy sauce, and sake, the topping is pretty up to your preference. Next time, I think I’ll use shiitake to add more savory flavor to the rice.

I rinsed and drained the rice, then soaked it with the measured amount of water, sake, soy sauce, and kombu for 30 minutes. During those 30 minutes, I roughly chopped everything else. After the soaking period, I put the claypot on the stove, put all the toppings on top, and turned the heat onto medium-low for about 10 minutes, then to medium-high until steam started coming out. Once steam started coming, I turned it to medium-low again for about 7 minutes, never opening the top (don’t want the steam to escape!). After 7 minutes, I turned the heat completely off and just left the pot there to steam for 20 minutes with the cover on.

I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to work, but at the end of 20 minutes, when I took the cover off, I was greeted with the pleasant fragrance of cooked rice! I mixed everything on top together with the rice and was thrilled to see there was even a nice brown rice crust on the bottom. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as crunchy as I had hoped.

Donabe: After

The end result was still good nonetheless. While the rice was steaming, I also made a quick chawanmushi, which is basically a savory steamed egg custard.

The ingredients for chawanmushi (feeds 2 people):

  • 4 small eggs or 3 regular sized ones
  • 1/2 the amount of veggie broth as eggs. So if you have 2 cups of eggs, you just need 1 cup of broth.
  • a couple leaves of the raw greens from the donabe above. Or you could use green onion.
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp mirin
  • 1 tsp cooking wine/sake

Beat all the ingredients together and then pour into small ramekins. The ramekins should be about 2/3 full. Place into a steamer and steam for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, poke a toothpick through the middle. It shouldn’t be too yolky in the middle.

Other than the chawanmushi, the dinner was completely vegan. But for meat-eaters, I could see Chinese bacon or sausage adding a lot of flavor for the donabe. For the next day’s lunch, I had leftover donabe with natto and bonito flakes mixed in. Delicious.

Dinner: Lucky Noodles

Dinner: handmade noodlesOn New Year’s Eve, I tried my hand at making noodles from scratch. I was inspired by a post from JustHungry.com about year-end soba. Noodles are lucky to eat around the new year in Asian culture because it brings good fortune.

I started with 3 cups of bread flour. I used this high gluten flour because I figured the gluten will give the noodles more chewiness. I mixed in about a teaspoon of salt, but in retrospect, I probably could have put in about a tablespoon. I put the flour and salt mixture in a bowl under our KitchenAid mixer and turned it on while I slowly poured in 1/2 cup of water. Then, as it mixed on medium, I kept adding water until most of the flour clumped up.

By then, I was mostly doing it by feel anyway, so I took the mixing bowl from under the mixer and kneaded the dough by hand, adding a tablespoon more of water and kneading until I got a pretty firm dough that was right past the crumbly stage and before the sticky stage. I then put that in a container and stuck it in the fridge for an hour to rest.

After resting, I put the dough on a floured surface, floured the top, and flattened it with a rolling pin until it was as thin as I could get it without my arms falling off. That was about 1/4 of an inch. I guess I could have gone thinner, but I didn’t want to risk the dough getting too sticky. I then floured it some more and folded it into thirds envelope-style so I could cut it into 1/4 inch strips. After cutting, I unfolded the noodles and separated them from each other

I put the noodles into a big pot of boiling water and it took longer than I thought for them to cook. As soon as they got to al dente, I took them out and ran them under cold water to wash off the extra starch.

I had another pot of soup broth going with just kombu, soy sauce, mirin, fried tofu pockets, and the whites of some Japanese green onion. I dumped the rinsed and strained noodles in and let it simmer for another minute or so just to warm the noodles back up.

Dinner: handmade noodlesDinner: handmade noodles

I then topped the noodles with a poached egg, some sliced green onion, and for me, some slices of naruto (fish cake). Not counting noodle resting time and water boiling time, this all took less than an hour to make, so it’s definitely do-able. The chewiness of the fresh noodles is completely worth it.