Most people have a soft spot for Japanese cuisine, whether it is the freshness of the food or the exquisite presentation of the dishes. There is no better place to learn the art of preparing Japanese dishes than at Sozai in Liverpool Street: they are London’s first dedicated cookery school which offers classes for authentic Japanese dishes. They don’t just offer classes on well-known dishes like sushi and tempura but also multi-course kaiseki, savoury okonomiyaki pancakes and ramen noodle classes. We went along to discover gems of tasty Japanese vegetarian recipes.
The school is centrally located within a short walking distance from Liverpool Street station. The space has a somewhat clinical, austere looking, but the character and personality are provided by their team of expert instructors. We had the wonderfully friendly Akemi Yokoyama, who probably doesn’t like me mentioning this, but when she came to London from Sapporo, there were only 70 Japanese restaurants or outlets in London and now there are over 700. She has worked as a private chef for Tina Turner and is also a miso sommelier, which I can attest from all the miso fermentation knowledge she passed to us during the class.
It is a tightly packed class as we learned to make 5 dishes within 2 hours. One of my favourite dishes was the umami-packed mushroom rice with ginger and sake. Whilst we did little of the physical preparation for this dish, it was fascinating to learn that without fat, sugar or umami, all dishes would be tasteless and this dish was certainly packed with umami with shiitake, shimeji and enoki mushrooms.
Tempura is one of my personal favourites, but often hard to prepare because you have to prepare so much oil for deep-frying. However, Akemi made it seem much more accessible and also not many Japanese restaurants offer kakiage which is crispy tempura using vegetable strips. Kakiage actually tasted even better than the classic tempura dishes with just one vegetable encased in the batter.
We also learned how to make aubergine with miso paste which is the trendy vegetarian dish of the moment at top Japanese restaurants. It isn’t actually a difficult dish to make as long as you source your ingredients well and remember to add mirin and shiitake stock.
The easiest dishes to prepare were the starter dishes which included spinach with sesame sauce and French beans and carrots with tofu and sesame. What would have otherwise been rather insipid vegetarian dishes were made extremely appetising with the addition of roasted and grounded sesame seeds.
The whole class also proved that vegetarian dishes can be appealing and filling for meat-lovers. She also showed how easy it was to create the dishes. You don’t even have to take any notes during the class as she sends a full recipe post-class including where you can buy the ingredients.