If you live on the east coast of the US and currently experiencing bone-chilling weather, I thought a nice hot bowl of hearty vegetable soup will warm you up. This soup is called Kenchinjiru (けんちん汁) and it’s a clear soup made with root vegetables and tofu.
What is Kenchinjiru?
Kenjinjiru or sometimes spelled as Kenchin-jiru (“jiru” means soup in Japanese) derived its name “Kenchin” from “Kencho” – the Zen Buddhist temple, Kencho-ji (建長寺) in Kamakura.
The original Kenchinjiru was considered as a shōjin ryōri (精進料理) or traditional Buddhist temple cuisine, which consists of a vegetarian or vegan diet. While most Japanese cooking requires fish-base stock “dashi“, this soup uses just kombu and shiitake mushrooms to flavor the soup.
Key Ingredients in Kenchinjiru
Although you can use any vegetables, the typical ingredients include different kinds of root vegetables. Among them, I feel gobo and daikon are important ingredients to add flavors and textures to the soup. Both ingredients are easily accessible in Asian supermarkets, if there aren’t any Japanese grocery stores around you. Both Chinese and Korean cuisines use them so try those grocery stores as well.
When you watch the video or see my step by step pictures, you might wonder why I cut konnyaku with a spoon and tear tofu with my fingers instead of using a knife. I learned these techniques from my mom. When you cut konnyaku with a spoon, it increase more surface area which creates a higher rate of absorption. Same thing goes for tofu. By creating more surface areas for tofu, it absorbs more flavors as well. Using the same logic, I stir fry tofu a little bit in sesame oil to get a nice coating on them.
Other Variations of Kenchinjiru
Originally, the soup is a clear soup made with soy sauce; however, you can also make it with miso, especially if you prefer bolder flavor with your soup.
Of course, you can add chicken or pork as well. Although I love Tonjiru, a miso soup with pork and vegetable and it’s my favorite kind of miso soup, I like my Kenchinjiru to be very simple with just vegetables without the meat. Despite being a vegetarian soup, it is full of flavors from all the vegetables and dashi. There are crunchy root vegetables like gobo, daikon, and carrot, and soft and tender satoimo (taro). Lastly, shiitake mushrooms and tofu suck up all the flavors from the soup and you get to enjoy the delicate flavors as you bite into them.
This hearty soup has plenty of flavors going on, just like a stew. I hope you enjoy this soup!
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- 1 kombu (4” x 4” (10 x 10 cm))
- 5 cups (1200 ml) water for kombu
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup (240 ml) water for shiitake
- 7 oz. (200 g) firm tofu
- ½ package konnyaku (130 g, 4.6 oz.)
- 2 inch daikon (200 g, 7 oz.)
- 1 carrot (100 g, 3.5 oz.)
- 3 satoimo (taro roots)
- ½ gobo (burdock root) (100 g, 3.5 oz.)
- 2 scallions/green onions
- Shichimi Togarashi (optional)
- Sansho Pepper (optional)
- Previous Night: Clean kombu with damp towel (paper towel). NEVER wash kombu and do not remove the white powder (that’s where the umami flavor comes from!). Soak kombu in 5 cups of water overnight. If you don’t have time, skip soaking.
- Slowly bring the kombu water to a boil. Right before the water boils, remove and discard the kombu. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Put dried shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with water. Place a smaller bowl on top to make sure mushrooms are submerged.
- Wrap the tofu with paper towel and place it on a plate. Put another plate on top of tofu to press the tofu, drain for 30 minutes.
- Cut konnyaku into bite size pieces. You can use a spoon to cut konnyaku. By giving konnyaku uneven texture, the surface will absorb more flavor. Then boil for 2-3 minutes to get rid of odor. Drain the water and set aside.
- Peel and cut daikon, carrot, and satoimo (taro) into slices. For daikon and carrot, I slice them thinly so it will take less time to cook. For satoimo, I cut into about ¼” (6 mm) slices and soak in water to get rid of slimy texture.
- Scrape the gobo skin with the back of a knife under running water. Cut in half lengthwise and slice thinly. Soak in water for 5 minutes and rain.
- When shiitake mushrooms are soft and hydrated, squeeze the liquid out and set the mushrooms aside. Strain the shiitake dashi into finely meshed sieve to get rid of particles and set aside.
- Remove and discard the stem of shiitake mushrooms and cut into quarters.
- Heat a large pot and add sesame oil. Sauté daikon, carrot, satoimo (taro), and konnyaku until the oil coats the ingredients.
- Then add shiitake mushrooms. Tear tofu with your fingers and add into the pot (If you are using silken tofu, use a knife to cut and add it right before serving). Tofu will absorb more flavor when it is torn by hands. Saute until all the ingredients are coated with the oil.
- Add the shiitake dashi and kombu dashi and bring it to a boil.
- Turn down the heat to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, skimming occasionally. Use a fine strainer/skimmer to skim off the foam on the surface. I fill water in a measuring cup and clean the strainer in it. Exchange the water if it’s gets too dirty.
- After 10 minutes, add sake and salt and continue to cook until the vegetables are all tender. Finally add the soy sauce.
- Right before serving, cut the scallion. Serve the soup and garnish with scallion. Sprinkle Shichimi Togarashi and Sansho Pepper, if you like it spicy.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.