Learn how to make Authentic Vegan Japanese Curry with this easy recipe. Chunks of carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and soy curls stewed in a rich, thick and sweet sauce – it's the perfect weeknight comfort dinner! (Gluten free option)
If I had to choose one comfort dish for the rest of my life, it would be Japanese curry. Ready for the best vegan Japanese curry recipe? This is the real-deal, friends!
What is Japanese curry?
Curry rice, or kare rice (カレ-ライス) is a dish that was introduced to Japan around the late 1800's by the British, when India was under the colonial rule. It was originally a stew-style dish mixed with curry powder served to the Japanese Imperial Navy. It started to gain popularity and then the Japanese adapted the dish to suit their tastes, which is now known are kare rice. By the 1950s, more and more restaurants served curry and commercial curry roux cubes were easily accessible in supermarkets for home cooks.
Curry rice is now considered a staple, national dish that everyone across Japan is familiar with and enjoyed by both adults and children. Nowadays, you'll also find it served in other ways such as soups, with udon, soba, ramen, buns, tempura, fried rice, yaki curry and more!
What does Japanese curry taste like? (Japanese vs. Indian or Thai Curry)
Japanese curry is much thicker and stew-like in consistency– kind of like hayashi rice. It's also distinctively sweeter, much less spicy than Indian or Thai curry. There is also a lot of other seasonings added that you typically would not find in Indian or Thai curry such as apples or pickles. Originally, curry was always only served with rice.
What is Japanese Curry Roux?
Japanese curry roux is a mixture of flour, butter and curry powder. In Japan, it's sold in cubes that look like a chocolate bar for convenience.
Japanese curry is highly popular for two reasons: 1) it tastes SO GOOD and 2) it's very (VERY) easy to make. What makes it so easy? The curry roux cubes. Instead of using a bunch of spices, Japanese people rely on store bought curry roux.
99% of the time, I'd say homemade is better but honestly you can't beat the boxed stuff. Maybe I'm a little bias because I grew up eating it and its nostalgic but I think many people can agree on this one with me. If you've never tried Japanese curry using the roux cubes, I highly suggest trying it first before making a homemade.
If you can't find curry roux or want a healthier version, I have a homemade curry cube recipe as well as instructions to make it with just curry powder down below.
Levels of spiciness
Each brand of curry roux blocks comes with 3 levels of spiciness: mild, medium, and hot. However, because these are made with Japanese taste in mind– the hot is not really that spicy. To make your curry spicy without affecting the flavour, add a touch of cayenne pepper and black pepper.
Is Japanese curry roux vegan?
Before, there was never such thing as 'vegan' curry cubes. However, in recent years S&B has come out with a meat-free curry roux. Torokersu curry cubes are also vegan.
- Onions: lots and lots of onion, in all forms.
- Potatoes: Yukon gold potatoes are best because they won't melt into the curry.
- Soy curls: or any vegan meat substitute of your choice
- Vegetable broth
- Curry roux: store bought (S&B Golden Vegetarian or Torokeru brand) or homemade.
How to cut the vegetables
I grew up with large chunks of vegetables in my curry and its something I definitely do prefer. Some people will cut them pretty small for faster cooking but I find that the vegetables then melt into the actual curry (which is fine if you don't mind that). I recommend cutting the onions into wedges, potatoes into 1 inch chunks, carrots into 1 inch chunks or diagonally chopped and mushrooms sliced in half.
Customize your curry + Kakushi Aji
Straight out of the box, you have a good curry but adding other condiments and flavourings is the key for really delicious Japanese curry.
Both my grandma and mom would mix two different brands with different spice levels of curry roux for a more complex flavour (Torokeru & Golden Curry were our go-tos). Then they would add kakushi aji ingredients, which are 'hidden flavours' that come from all kinds of condiments. The most common you'll see Japanese people use are caramelized or fried onions, apples, ketchup and honey. In our household, we always added Worcestershire or Tonkatsu sauce! Here are more ingredients you can try adding (bolded are ones I always include):
- Worcestershire sauce
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Soy sauce
- Cocoa powder
- Caramelized onions (store bought or homemade)*
- Fried onions
- Rice vinegar
- White or red wine
I always like to make a big batch of caramelized onions (see photo above) and keep it in a jar of caramelized onions in the freezer or fridge to save time. To make caramelized onions, simply dice the onions finely and cook over medium low heat with a bit of oil until super soft and jam-like consistency.
How to make it
Japanese curry is one of the easiest meals to make, which is what makes it so popular among busy moms! Plus it's great for parties and potlucks because you can easily make a big batch too with minimal effort. Here's how it goes down:
- Add the vegetables: Cook the onions for about a minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add mushrooms, carrots and potatoes and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
- Simmer: Add the water, veggie stock powder and grated apple. Bring it up to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low, letting it simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.
- Add the roux: Turn heat to low. Chop up the curry cube (see photo above) to make it easier to dissolve it into the curry. Dissolve the curry roux in using a ladle and chopsticks. Then stir in your choice of seasonings and condiments.
- Finish it off: Let it simmer for about 5 minutes to let the curry thicken.
How to serve & side condiments
There are so many ways you can serve the curry (udon, soba, katsu... etc) but for the classic curry rice, simply serve with a bed of fresh cooked Japanese white rice.
One last ingredient I want to highlight to experience true Japanese curry is Fukujinzuke. Fukujinzuke is picked vegetables (usually daikon) in soy sauce and umeboshi (sweet plum) vinegar. You can find this at any Japanese grocery store and some Asian markets in the refrigerator section.
How to store
Once cooled, transfer to a air tight container and store in refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat or in the microwave.
How to freeze leftovers
Curry is freezer friendly and will last for 1 month, but it is important to remove the potatoes because they don't thaw well.
How to make it without roux
If you don't have curry roux or cubes on hand, you can easily make this with just the curry powder as well! We're essentially making a 'small batch' roux in which you'll need:
- 200g onions, finely diced
- 5 tablespoon oil or vegan butter
- 4 tablespoon sweet rice flour or all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoon Japanese curry powder
- 3 garlic cloves (9g // minus amount of recipe card)
- 2 tablespoon ginger (30g // minus amount of recipe card)
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a pan and cook the onions until caramelized over medium heat (takes about 10 minutes). Add garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute. Add remaining oil or vegan butter. Once melted, add the flour and curry powder and cook for another minute stirring frequently. The 'roux' is complete.
Then simply add in the remaining 300g of onions, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes and soy curls with vegetable broth. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, add grated apple and cover with a lid. Let it simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Finally, stir in any other flavours of your choice and then serve!
How to make it in an instant pot
- Select sauté option on the instant pot. Once it's hot, fry the onions, garlic and ginger for 1-2 minutes. Add in the carrots, potatoes and soy curls, and mix. Add 2 ½ cups vegetable broth.
- Add the curry cubes on top and do not mix. If using homemade cubes, add them while they are still frozen. If they are at room temperature, add it after the instant pot is finished to prevent it from burning.
- Cancel saute, cover and lock the lid and ensure steam release is set to sealing. Pressure cook on manual high for 8-10 minutes, depending on how 'firm' you want your vegetables.
- Set steam release to venting and let the steam out or let it release naturally. Unlock the lid, set to sauté (low heat) and mix in your flavourings. Taste and adjust flavour accordingly (salt, pepper, etc). Lastly, stir in the roux until melted and then serve.
More Vegan Japanese Curry Recipes
- Japanese curry powder
- Japanese kabocha curry
- Homemade curry roux cubes
- Japanese curry for one
- Vegan katsu curry
- Curry udon
- Yaki curry
- Omu rice curry
- Kare pan (deep fried Japanese curry buns)
- Curry buns (baked Japanese curry buns)
- Curry fried rice
SAVE IT FOR LATER! ↓
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