Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

kenchinjiru1-500.jpg

It’s been a cold and snowy winter so far around these parts, which usually means soups and stews for dinner. This classic Japanese soup is hearty yet low in calories, full of fiber, and just all around good for you. It helps to counteract all the cookies and sweets you might be indulging in at this time of year.

The name kenchinjiru (けんちん汁)derives from the Zen Buddhist temple where it was first made (or so it’s claimed), Kencho-ji (建長寺)in the historical feudal town of Kamakura. Since kenchinjiru is a shojin ryouri or temple cuisine dish, the basic version given here is vegan. It’s still very filling because of all the high fiber vegetables used. You could make a very satisfying vegan meal just from this soup and some brown rice.

While you could vary the root vegetables, one vegetable that is key to this soup is burdock root or gobo. Without its earthy flavor, the soup just isn’t kenchinjiru to me. Burdock root is sold at most Asian supermarkets. Here’s a photo of how they look, packaged:

gobo.jpg

I got the ones in the photo some time ago from Nara Foods in Port Washington, NY, but I spotted three huge roots sold at H Mart for a mere 3 dollars (it may be called “u-eong”, which is its name in Korean). Burdock root is supposed to make your body warm according to macrobiotic principles. I am not sure about the science of that, but who knows - it may account for why this low-calorie soup is as warming to me on a cold winter’s day as a hearty beef bourgignon.

Recipe: Kenchinjiru

6 to 8 hearty servings

  • 8 cups (2l) vegan dashi stock, or 8 cups of water with vegan (konbu seaweed based) dashi granules
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 12 inch/ 30 cm length of burdock root or gobo
  • 8 inch / 25 cm piece of daikon radish
  • 6 to 8 raw shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 large or 4 medium taro root (satoimo) or 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 block (10 oz / 250g) firm tofu
  • 1 small block konnyaku (optional)
  • 1 tbs. dark sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce
  • sansho or black pepper

Put the dashi stock in a large pot and heat it up as you prep the vegetables and so on.

Peel the burdock root (a peeler is the most handy thing for this) and slice on the diagonal as thinly as you can manage. Put into a bowl of cold water to get rid of any bitterness, and to stop it from turning black.

Peel the carrots and daikon radish, and cut lengthwise into half. Slice fairly thinly (thicker than the burdock, around 1/8 inch / 1/4 cm thickness).

Cut the stems off the shiitake mushrooms, and slice the caps into halves or quarters. Alternatively, leave them whole and make a crisscross decorative cut on the top of the caps, as shown in the photo.

Take the konnyaku out of the packaging and drain off the smelly water, Cut in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, then drain into a colander.

Peel the taro root or potatoes, and cut into chunks. Note that taro root is slimy, so leave this task until you’ve cut everything else up, since your cutting board will have to be washed afterwards anyway!

Drain the tofu well in a colander, then put it in the middle of a clean kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towel. Gather the towel around the tofu, and squeeze gently to get rid of excess water. Open up the towel, and crumble the tofu up with your hands, so that it looks like scrambled egg.

Heat up a large frying pan or wok with the sesame oil over high heat. Add the drained burdock root and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the other vegetables, konnyaku and tofu. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes, put it all in the pot with the heated dashi stock. Add 1 tsp. salt, and lower the heat so that the soup is just very gently bubbling. simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Periodically skim off any scum that forms on top of the soup as it cooks. Top up with more dashi or water if there seems to be too little.

Add the soy sauce, and taste; it may or may not need more salt or soy sauce. Add some if you think it needs it.

Serve in large soup bowls rather than small Japanese miso soup bowls. My mother used to have a set of extra-large bowls just for kenchinjiru. Optionally sprinkle on a little sansho or black pepper.

Variations

Miso soup variation

As you can see, this is a clear soup, not a miso soup (not all Japanese soups have miso!) You can add miso if you like. Add about 3/4 cup of miso to start, and add more if you think it’s needed. Omit the salt and reduce the soy sauce to 2 tablespoons.

Pork version

If you add about 3 oz / 100 g of thinly sliced pork, cut into 1/2 inch / 1 cm pieces, to this dish instead of the tofu, it becomes tonjiru or butajiru (豚汁), which literally means ‘pork soup’. Tonjiru is usually a miso soup, (follow the miso variation above) but it can be clear too. Add the white part of a leek, sliced, to the vegetable mix.

Fish paste products

Many people like to add sliced chikuwa or other fish paste products. See my oden post for more about these fish paste products, called nerimono. If you do use chikuwa or similar fish product, use a traditional bonito flakes based dashi stock instead of the vegan dashi.

Other things you could add or substitute

  • You can use turnips instead of the daikon radish, and sweet potatoes instead of the potato or taro root. Sliced onions can be a sweet addition, or use finely chopped green onions as a garnish.
  • Add ground or chopped up chicken instead of or in addition to the tofu.

Another way to cut the burdock root

The traditional way of cutting burdock root for this dish is to shave it into thin slivers, rather as you would sharpen a pencil (this is called sasagaki; burdock cut like this is called sasagaki gobo). This can be a bit tricky to do unless you have a very sharp knife, so I just slice it thinly instead.

(Don’t forget to put your bid in for Menu For Hope before Christmas day!)

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Looks delicious!

I like the sound of this one! I might just have to try it out for the holidays - most of my family likes this sort of thing and it looks really tasty ^-^

Ri | 23 December, 2009 - 06:47

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Will definitely try this one out after Christmas. I always feel the need to detox from all the sweets I eat on Christmas day. Just need to find burdock root.

Ricky Alberta | 24 December, 2009 - 01:02

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

This was great. Perfect start to Christmas holiday excess. It is cold and the sidewalks are icy here in DC, but I went to 17 and U to get some gobo and stock up on non-recipe supplies. Made it Wednesday night. Fabulous. Will probably become a winter staple.

anon. | 25 December, 2009 - 20:56

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

How do you think it would be with parsnips substituted for the burdock? It sounds lovely and easy.

Spider | 29 December, 2009 - 06:05

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

We will try the pork version (Keiko says it is her favorite soup) and see how it goes.

Would be nice on one of these cold days.

greggle | 29 December, 2009 - 09:33

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

This soup is better for cold days and winter. It is always delicious to sip a bowl of hot soup in the cold season. Plus, the recipe does not require you to rent a car just to purchase the ingredients. The ingredients are quite easy to find, so there is no need to mind some renter's insurance policy. Time for a hot soup guys!

MakaylaH | 29 December, 2009 - 09:47

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

I wish i could get burdock root here..can not find it anywhere.

Also i would find buddhas delight very interesting,all the different strange vegetables like the algae which looks like human hair ...or daylilly buds.

I have discovered that the daylillies we have in our garden can be eaten..i will defenitely try them..and also the fern which grows here like weed.

The fern is always growing beyond the place where it should be, so i will harvest the ones that would be taken away anyway and cook them.

This autumn i saw the fertile leaves on them and could pinpoint the species as an eadable one.

Maybe fiddle heads would be good as an tempura? Have you ever tried it?

cyrell | 29 December, 2009 - 19:13

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Oh, yum! Definitely have to make this one.

Melanie | 30 December, 2009 - 06:59

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

I'm a huge fan of burdock so another amazing stew recipe incorporating it is just the thing right now... Going to try changing it up a bit by adding some seitan instead of the konnyaku! Lucky for me burdock is only $3 a bag on the west coast of Canada.

christopher | 4 January, 2010 - 11:32

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

This soup recipe looks like a great way to warm up in this chilly weather. It does not look all that difficult to create as well. I am grateful for the new and excited recipes that you bring us. casino online

Gemma | 5 January, 2010 - 20:49

Bugs in my soup...

Hi Maki,
I just made this soup, followed your directions exactly and am now struck with an unusual (and nasty) problem that I was hoping you could help me with. I have bugs in my soup. Little, winged bugs that almost look like fruit flies all throughout my soup... EWWWW!!!

Where did they come from and how do I avoid them when I make this again? I peeled and soaked the burdock, peeled all the other veggies and washed the mushrooms...I just have no idea where they came from...

Help?

anon. | 16 January, 2010 - 01:36

Re: Bugs in my soup...

Eww indeed! I have no idea where they came from...I have never seen insects like this in burdock, though I've seen them sometimes in rice and other grains. Maybe check all of your dry goods!

maki | 16 January, 2010 - 03:31

Re: Bugs in my soup...

anon. wrote:

Hi Maki,
I just made this soup, followed your directions exactly and am now struck with an unusual (and nasty) problem that I was hoping you could help me with. I have bugs in my soup. Little, winged bugs that almost look like fruit flies all throughout my soup... EWWWW!!!

Where did they come from and how do I avoid them when I make this again? I peeled and soaked the burdock, peeled all the other veggies and washed the mushrooms...I just have no idea where they came from...

Help?

Its the dashi. I just opened mine to boil some packets, and it was infested with little bugs.

Kaminazi | 27 January, 2010 - 01:20

Re: Bugs in my soup...

Yuck...maybe complain to the store you bought it from...? (unless it's been stored a long time...)

maki | 27 January, 2010 - 09:51

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Thanks for the wonderful recipe! I made this last night and it came out very well. I started reading this blog so I could learn about new ingredients to try. Both the burdock and tofu were new to me. (I've eaten tofu before, just never actually prepared it.) I had to use frozen burdock because it's all I could find. It worked nicely and I have a bunch leftover to try other ways. I wanted to try konnyaku too, but it wasn't available here. I subbed sweet potatoes for the taro and turnip for the daikon, and used homemade broth. The soup was filling and delicious. Thanks and I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

Hillarybug | 17 January, 2010 - 19:02

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

maki wrote:

kenchinjiru1-500.jpg

It's been a cold and snowy winter so far around these parts, which usually means soups and stews for dinner. This classic Japanese soup is hearty yet low in calories, full of fiber, and just all around good for you. It helps to counteract all the cookies and sweets you might be indulging in at this time of year.

The name _kenchinjiru_ (けんちん汁)derives from the Zen Buddhist temple where it was first made (or so it's claimed), Kencho-ji (建長寺)in the historical feudal town of Kamakura. Since kenchinjiru is a shojin ryouri or temple cuisine dish, the basic version given here is vegan. It's still very filling because of all the high fiber vegetables used. You could make a very satisfying vegan meal just from this soup and some brown rice.

While you could vary the root vegetables, one vegetable that is key to this soup is burdock root or gobo. Without its earthy flavor, the soup just isn't kenchinjiru to me. Burdock root is sold at most Asian supermarkets. Here's a photo of how they look, packaged:

gobo.jpg

I got the ones in the photo some time ago from Nara Foods in Port Washington, NY, but I spotted three huge roots sold at H Mart for a mere 3 dollars (it may be called "u-eong", which is its name in Korean). Burdock root is supposed to make your body warm according to macrobiotic principles. I am not sure about the science of that, but who knows - it may account for why this low-calorie soup is as warming to me on a cold winter's day as a hearty beef bourgignon.

###Recipe: Kenchinjiru

6 to 8 hearty servings

* 8 cups (2l) vegan dashi stock, or 8 cups of water with vegan (konbu seaweed based) dashi granules
* 3 medium carrots
* 12 inch/ 30 cm length of burdock root or gobo
* 8 inch / 25 cm piece of daikon radish
* 6 to 8 raw shiitake mushrooms
* 3 large or 4 medium taro root (satoimo) or 3 medium potatoes
* 1 block (10 oz / 250g) firm tofu
* 1 small block konnyaku (optional)
* 1 tbs. dark sesame oil
* 2 tsp. sea salt
* 2 tbs. soy sauce
* sansho or black pepper

Put the dashi stock in a large pot and heat it up as you prep the vegetables and so on.

Peel the burdock root (a peeler is the most handy thing for this) and slice on the diagonal as thinly as you can manage. Put into a bowl of cold water to get rid of any bitterness, and to stop it from turning black.

Peel the carrots and daikon radish, and cut lengthwise into half. Slice fairly thinly (thicker than the burdock, around 1/8 inch / 1/4 cm thickness).

Cut the stems off the shiitake mushrooms, and slice the caps into halves or quarters. Alternatively, leave them whole and make a crisscross decorative cut on the top of the caps, as shown in the photo.

Take the konnyaku out of the packaging and drain off the smelly water, Cut in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, then drain into a colander.

Peel the taro root or potatoes, and cut into chunks. Note that taro root is slimy, so leave this task until you've cut everything else up, since your cutting board will have to be washed afterwards anyway!

Drain the tofu well in a colander, then put it in the middle of a clean kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towel. Gather the towel around the tofu, and squeeze gently to get rid of excess water. Open up the towel, and crumble the tofu up with your hands, so that it looks like scrambled egg.

Heat up a large frying pan or wok with the sesame oil over high heat. Add the drained burdock root and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the other vegetables, konnyaku and tofu. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes, put it all in the pot with the heated dashi stock. Add 1 tsp. salt, and lower the heat so that the soup is just very gently bubbling. simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Periodically skim off any scum that forms on top of the soup as it cooks. Top up with more dashi or water if there seems to be too little.

Add the soy sauce, and taste; it may or may not need more salt or soy sauce. Add some if you think it needs it.

Serve in large soup bowls rather than small Japanese miso soup bowls. My mother used to have a set of extra-large bowls just for kenchinjiru. Optionally sprinkle on a little sansho or black pepper.

####Variations

####Miso soup variation

As you can see, this is a clear soup, not a miso soup (not all Japanese soups have miso!) You can add miso if you like. Add about 3/4 cup of miso to start, and add more if you think it's needed. Omit the salt and reduce the soy sauce to 2 tablespoons.

####Pork version

If you add about 3 oz / 100 g of thinly sliced pork, cut into 1/2 inch / 1 cm pieces, to this dish instead of the tofu, it becomes _tonjiru_ or _butajiru_ (豚汁), which literally means 'pork soup'. Tonjiru is usually a miso soup, (follow the miso variation above) but it can be clear too. Add the white part of a leek, sliced, to the vegetable mix.

####Fish paste products

Many people like to add sliced _chikuwa_ or other fish paste products. See my oden post for more about these fish paste products, called _nerimono_. If you do use chikuwa or similar fish product, use a traditional bonito flakes based dashi stock instead of the vegan dashi.

####Other things you could add or substitute

* You can use turnips instead of the daikon radish, and sweet potatoes instead of the potato or taro root. Sliced onions can be a sweet addition, or use finely chopped green onions as a garnish.
* Add ground or chopped up chicken instead of or in addition to the tofu.

####Another way to cut the burdock root

The traditional way of cutting burdock root for this dish is to shave it into thin slivers, rather as you would sharpen a pencil (this is called _sasagaki_; burdock cut like this is called _sasagaki gobo_). This can be a bit tricky to do unless you have a very sharp knife, so I just slice it thinly instead.

(Don't forget to put your bid in for Menu For Hope before Christmas day!)

はじめまして, どうぞ よろしく. I hope your website displays
Japanese characters. I'm trying to learn Japanese via self-study and you seem to be fluent in both English and Japanese. I don't know if you know anything about grammar in Japanese, but if so, I could really use your help; this is my weakest part of Japanese.

I'm also fascinated and interested in the cuisine and culture of Japan.

Amy | 8 February, 2010 - 21:14

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Can I use chinese sesame oil for the dark sesame oil? I do not have daikon radish either...

noodles | 1 April, 2010 - 17:25

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Thanks, I will definitely try this. I need some detoxing. Is it important to stick with shiitake or can I substitute a less expensive mushroom?

Ray | 1 November, 2010 - 18:02

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

For authentic flavor you would want to stick to shiitake, though of course any recipe is just a starting point for you to experiment with!

maki | 1 November, 2010 - 20:30

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Hi, I was wondering if I could substitute taro for nagaimo? I think their textures are quite similar.

Diane | 30 January, 2011 - 05:46

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

Dear Maki:

I currently live in Japan and have gone to a couple of french restaurants that have served a delicious gobou/potato soup. I haven't been able to find a recipe such like. Do you have any idea what they might have put in it?

I am becoming a fan of gobu.

Sara

Sara | 1 May, 2011 - 13:55

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

That's probably a 'gobo potage', which is a thick creamy soup thickened with something - either a roux, or potato, or rice, or a combination of any of those, to which gobo slivers are added. I'll try to post a recipe sometime (I'm falling way behind on 'plan to post' stuff ^_^;)

maki | 2 May, 2011 - 02:59

MCA anti Buddhist in Malaysia

敬爱的佛教伩徒,
有关马來西亜,吉隆坡,甲洞帝沙再也 (暹寺) 三宝寺 Samnak Sambodhi Buddhist Association No.19-21 Jalan 38 Taman Desa Jaya, Kepong 52100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 所发生的纠纷, 经过阅读了,Venerable Phra Piya Thammo 和尚及叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook) 的双方书信之后, 再经实地旁听了觧,做为中间人,我要客观实事的说:

1.当一个和尚、初出道 (小学生),在修行, 若有缺点, 那是难免.他马华公会鹅唛區会主地席叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook),却心眼看不顺,就电招警万到耒佛教之圣地要扣畄和尚耒耻唇出家人, 这是绝对不许可, 除非是殺人放火之大罪悪.

2.他身为马华公会鹅唛區会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),却反其道而行, 在佛寺不依佛法而軽视佛教的精神, 以傲慢的手段,帶领一般黑社会的人耒挑衅和尚打架, 这也是不该有、更不是佛教修行者的行为.

3.佛教的圣地, 其主要的目地, 是让眾生修佛道, 不是政治争執的地方. 他马华公会鹅唛区会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 却利用佛教之圣地当政治活动的场所。如此果敢冒犯佛陀的教誨,更是大大的罪悪。

囯有囯章,彿有佛法,家有家规. 如果出家人有何不对之处, 他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 为何不向主持和尚投?让出家人自依和尚的條规处理、却强权一味要显示他是马华公会鹅唛区会及三宝寺理事会主席, 无法无天的应用霸道手段践踏佛教之圣地.为什么。。。。。为什么.

至今, 他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),不当不歉愧,还要狡辩, 这又证明了他说一套, 做的又是另一套, 囗是心非, 所谓的两舌, 相当阴险. 身为律师, 受高深教育, 却应用如此悪毒, 横蛮无礼的作风污辱和尚, 相等于是耻辱佛教伩仰者。他叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook)不向主持和尚投诉, 却自承英雄,电招外耒者.请问,身为將近20年的三宝寺主持和尚兼顾问,也是第一位 自筹建寺的大功臣,在大马南傳泒中,是闻名遐邇的高僧.其脸要放在那裡?同样的,要是台湾星雲大师的佛寺沙彌犯錯, 理事会没有礼貌自作主张,电招警方要扣畄其沙彌.我敢请问!星雲大师的自尊是怎样的感受?他叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook)是后耒者,担任理会主席也不久, 竟敢应用如此,目无尊長的方式对待住持,间接的就是告大家,强迫住持和尚必远離,雀巢鸠要佔。这种用心不良, 有老千之谋, 的确令人不敢恭维。

縱观以上几项重点,我不是盲目的護持三宝, 而是要坦白的说;他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook) 身受高深教育, 为律师者,本应通情达理才是,但遗憾的是, 却令人惊觉, 他厡耒就是彿书裡所讲的狡猾且残忍的此颣人。他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),利用他的专业知識, 懂得包裝自己的道德守則,以宗教为幌子手,到处募款,商业经营, 政治活动为重, 并没依循佛教宗教守则行事, 也没对人道作出任何貢献, 只不过借宗教之名捞取权和私利而己。

在此, 我奉劝, 他马华公会鹅唛区会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 好自为之, 免因果報应.

anon. | 18 April, 2012 - 04:41

Re: Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

I love this soup! I have made it several times now, and each time it gets better. I can find all the ingredients at my favorite Asian supermarket, which has a huge selection of Japanese products. It's the only place that I know I can find konnyaku and gobo root.

It's a bit much for one or two people, so I freeze the leftovers in individual sized containers.

By using gluten-free soy sauce, I have a new meal for my vegan, celiac friend, and she loves it too.

Rabellaka | 27 September, 2013 - 05:47

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