Kansha: Appreciation

Elizabeth Andoh has written an exquisite new book. It is called Kansha, a Japanese word that means “appreciation”. In the context of this cookbook, that appreciation or gratitude extends to the efforts of those who produce the plants we eat and the ingenuity of those who transform them into food for our tables. It is a warm and positive word that reaches out and embraces rather than pushes away, say, animal foods. But why does this come up at all?  Because the full title of this book is Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions.

I admit that I have not been positively moved by the overall thrust of veganism in the US. True, it’s become less militant and more gentle in recent years and that is good, but I find the approach still somewhat muscular, where the scolding finger rather than the loving warmth of appreciation rules. Is it Ray Ban outlet really necessary to identify roasted peppers or skillet-seared daikon with yuzu as vegan?  Only if you want to be sure that in eating it you’re going to be avoiding meat, dairy, honey, eggs. In contrast to avoidance, Kansha brings the abundance of possibilities plant foods offer into focus without dwelling on the absence of others, a more delicate, embracing approach. I’ve come away from this book with the feeling that Kansha, both the book and the word, embody a spirit that moves more from the heart and less from the brain. Above all it expresses grace. I was thinking of grace as in gracefulness, but it could also mean grace as in a state of grace, of gratitude, of giving thanks. This approach to vegan and vegetarian food involves a deep and subtle shift away from how we might usually approach dietary limits and choices.

Many of the dishes in Kansha use some vegetables we Americans are familiar with —leeks, kale, kobacha squash—but foods I’ve longed to know more about, or know in different ways, such as Japanese sweet potatoes, daikon, burdock, and different kinds of tofu, are addressed here too. The recipe titles sometimes evoke more of a mood than a description—Rice Friends (referring to two preparations of kelp), Green and Green on Greens, Heaven-and-Earth Tempura Pancakes, Bitter, Sweet, and Fruity Salad, Springtime in a Bowl. But even the more straightforward descriptions have a certain charm as well and the images, which are gorgeous, make visual sense out of any title.

When I first saw Kansha I was drawn to the cover for its good looks, the background so rough in texture, the big chunk of daikon with its leaves, and the three rustic Japanese dishes that caught my eye. But it wasn’t until I looked more attentively that I saw every bit of food on the cover was in fact, daikon —the big chunk with fresh leaves, a pile of dried leaves, julienned strips and the tip of the tail, thick rounds and thinner fans of the giant white radish, then three dishes of daikon http://www.gafasraybanoutletes.com/ prepared to eat. The idea of using the entire plant, something I learned from my Japanese Zen teachers many years ago, is also a quality of kansha. Gourd chips are made from kampyo used first in stock. The by-product of tofu making, okara, is turned into a dish. Kombu used in making stocks into condiments and pot liners. Nothing is wasted. The same idea is expressed today in nose to tail cooking of animals—of using all parts, wasting nothing out of respect for the life taken—and my sense is that Elizabeth Andoh is not taking a fierce stance about veganism or vegetariansm as much as she’s offering an opportunity to experience the wholeness of plants from land and sea that might well be applied to fish and fowl as well.

If you are intrigued by Japanese foods and are more or less clueless about packages of seaweed, sliver-thin noodles, soy in forms other than tofu when you find them in a Japanese grocery, there is an excellent glossary of ingredients that makes sense out of these culinary mysteries, making it entirely possible to cook these straightforward recipes. As their success does rest on having the right ingredients a good guide is necessary, and Elizabeth Andoh is an authority on her subject.

I envision two approaches to using Kansha in the kitchen. The gradual approach is to read through the book, decide on some dishes to make, look up any unfamiliar ingredients in the glossary, then make a shopping list. The alternative approach is to plunge in completely, stock your pantry with all that you can, and explore the whole book dish by dish. Either way, the photographs will tell you a lot about how your finished recipes might look when finished. Elizabeth Andoh’s intelligent writing is clear and helpful throughout. Her explanations of the names for dishes, like “sleet sauce”, or such tidbits as to why tofu is cut in triangles in Kyoto, illuminate the way each dish tells a story and connects to its culture. No recipe is ray ban baratas particularly complicated, unless you want to plunge into making tofu from scratch, which is more of an effort than most. But having done so I can tell you that you will be astounded by the results, and truly appreciative, for the tofu you make is the difference between heaven and earth. And it’s good to have a taste of heaven to remind of us of what the earth and those who work with its offerings can provide for our tables.

6 comments to Kansha: Appreciation

  • Nanette

    Thanks so much for that book review – I’m going to add it to my Christmas list for Santa! I am looking forward to finally trying more of the fun items in the Japanese aisle at Talin Market in Abq.

    For me the most encouraging thing about the vegetarian/vegan movement in this country is that it is filled with young people really passionate about cooking. It is refreshing for me to see so many vegan blogs and forums filled with others who also find an entire afternoon spent in the kitchen to be a wonderful thing.

  • Hi Nanette – I had the same impulse to go to Talin’s and make better sense out of what I find there.

    I’m glad to hear your sense that the vegetarian/vegan movement is filled with young people who are passionate about cooking. That hasn’t always been the case—the passion for cooking—but I do hope that interests are starting to shift in that direction.

  • A brilliant review and post—this stunning book has been sitting in my kitchen for weeks, and today I will start to read and cook from it. Many thanks Deborah.

  • Thank you, Elissa. Would love to know what you cook.

  • Jenny

    Thank you so much for existing! Your book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, was actually the first and remains the best vegetarian cookbook I’ve ever owned.

    I did want to comment on the vegan issue as someone who resisted moving to that level for a long time for exactly the reasons you described, and also possibly because I adore cheese. I hate feeling like I’m snubbing food, or setting myself apart from my friends, family and coworkers that I eat with on a regular basis. It’s not fun.

    At home, my own vegan cooking is filled with joy and appreciation of food. I’ve found that as a vegetarian and now vegan, my palate has actually expanded. Unfortunately, in the commercial world if you are vegan for ethical choices especially, it IS necessary to note the absence of animal products, since it is so ubiquitous in most of American food. I hate that it highlights the deprivation element so much in public, but it’s something I believe in enough that I’m willing to do it. My fingers don’t scold, but I will admit that whenever it’s brought up to non vegans, it gets uncomfortable. People want to know WHY I am vegan, which I can’t explain without in some way admitting that I don’t think it’s right for me to eat foods that they eat. I’m sure there are militant vegans out there, but I also think we get unfairly pointed out as radicals because of conversations that we aren’t really choosing to engage in. Not all of us approve of PETA’s tactics, as you kindly point out, but at the end of the day if you are engaging in an ethical diet, sometimes it means being uncomfortable. If you don’t feel a real need or calling to be vegan, I say don’t!

    That being said, at home, and increasingly in restaurants that are transparent with their cooking practices, that same joy, peace, and gratefulness is there, I promise! I love food and love your work! Can’t wait to try Kansha.

    • Jenny – what a lovely post. Your gentleness and gratitude (kansha!) are what’s most important for any of us to achieve with regard to the foods we eat or anything else we consume, from air to water to cars. Joy and appreciation of food are qualities that any eater would want to possess regardless of their chosen foods and diets, but something tells me you’re rather exceptional in this regard. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think you’ll enjoy Kansha.

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