Vegetarian Christmas Curry «Herring» Recipe
Norwegian Christmas Traditions with Japanese Ingredients
Spending Christmas in a foreign country can be trying. Setting aside your lifelong local holiday traditions is one thing. Being separated from family and friends is a challenge on a whole other level. To combat the holiday blues, I decided to maintain at least one Christmas tradition of my own. So, I decided to make one of my seasonal favorites from back home, Christmas curry herring, or as I like to call it «vegetarian curry toferring».
Last year, I spent my first Christmas in Japan, which was documented in our YouTube Christmas Special. Soon enough, I learned that Japanese Christmas traditions are mainly about magnificent lights, cake extravaganza, and Kentucky fried chicken. It was then I first got the idea to Japanify a recipe that I had already tinkered with for years. Thus, the Japanese version – of my very own vegetarian version – of the classic Scandinavian Christmas curry «herring» was born.
The vegetarian twist to the Christmas herring recipe is something I added about six or seven years ago, when I was still living in Norway, and still practicing a vegan diet. Since moving to Japan, I have decided to give up veganism, because come on, there is just too much good food to explore here. I still try to limit my meat intake, and I might return to vegetarianism if Japan ever catches up with the Scandinavian availability of vegetarian alternatives.
Anyway, I was so happy with my vegetarian Christmas curry herring recipe that I decided to keep this Christmas tradition of mine alive, even after moving to Japan. It took some experimenting and digging to find good Japanese ingredients for my recipe. Once I found the right ones, however, the Japanese Christmas curry herring recipe turned out great.
Preparations for Christmas Curry Toferring
Trying to recreate a traditional Scandinavian flavor in Japan isn’t too hard, but there are a few pitfalls to avoid. The most crucial part of your preparations is to find the best ingredients. The biggest obstacle proved to be the search for a decent sour cream.
In Japan, sour cream is not part of anyone’s diet, whilst in Norway, we eat it, if not on a daily basis, then certainly every week in some form or another. You can find sour cream in Japan, but it is extremely fatty and sourer in taste than I am used to from Norway.
In fact, Japanese sour cream closely resembles another product on Norwegian shelves called Crème Fraiche. The flavor of Japanese sour cream, on the other hand reminds me somewhat of Greek yoghurt. This probably explains why most Japanese people believe Greek yoghurt to be an acceptable substitute for sour cream. It isn’t!
The second and third pitfalls to watch out for when picking out ingredients are Tofu and Apples. To make a tasty vegetarian alternative to Christmas herring, you need to seek out the firmest tofu Japan has to offer. Most Japanese tofu is delicious, but very few have the required properties to substitute herring. Try to find one that looks similar to the pictures in this post.
As for the apples, Japan makes some of the sweetest apples I have ever tasted. They are awesome, but too sweet for our vegetarian Christmas curry herring recipe. We are looking to balance the savory base with a somewhat sour apple taste. I had to add a dash of Apple vinegar to get it right. Don’t get me wrong, though, most normal green or red apples are just fine, but try to avoid the sweetest Japanese apples. If you can find pink lady, or any apples from Australia or New Zealand, you should be good to go.
How to Make Vegetarian Christmas Curry «Herring»
250 g of Firm Tofu («SoFine Tofu» was my favorite in Norway)
90 ml Sour Cream
3 Onion Wedges
2-3 Pickled Cucumbers
2 tsp Whole Grain Dijon Mustard
1 tsp Curry Powder (season to taste)
1-2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar (season to taste)
1 tbsp Mizkan Shiro Dashi Sauce (or vegetarian alternative, season to taste)
Cut the Tofu, Apple, Onion and Cucumbers in bite-size pieces, not too large. Especially the Tofu tends to turn out best when cut to smaller bits, which makes it easier to fry to perfect consistency. My bits were roughly 1 times 1.5 cm in size, and 0.5 cm thick.
Add 1 large teaspoon of mustard and one 1 tablespoon of dashi to your frying pan.
Fri the tofu on low heat until the bits firm up nicely. Frying time varies from brands/types of tofu. It took me about 20 minutes. What you want, is tofu bits with a meat-like firmness on the outside, but not dry on the inside. Be patient, and don’t be afraid to cut some pieces open to check for juiciness while frying.
After frying, let the tofu rest in the pan for about 30 minutes, for the flavors and consistency to set.
Mix your fried toferring in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
Put your vegetarian Christmas curry herring in a suitable container and keep it in the fridge for at least one day before serving.
Bon Appétit! Meshiagare!
In Norway, this Christmas condiment is usually enjoyed cold on a piece of good bread. We are a bread-loving people, which is why I believe that whole grain or rye bread is the only way to go. I can’t even bring myself to try curry herring on white bread or Japanese shokupan. In fact, most Norwegians wouldn’t even categorize shokupan as bread, but rather some sort of pastry.
That said, there are lots of delicious breads to be found in Japan at various local bakeries, and they all taste fantastic with your freshly made Christmas curry toferring. If you can find it, which is unlikely, I recommend topping your Christmas sandwich with smoked paprika (here on Amazon, and no, we are not affiliates).
Now that’s how you make a vegetarian Christmas delight. Happy holidays!