You’ve probably seen a vegan katsu curry on the menu of Wagamamas, but I first encountered this delicious meal at a Coco Ichibanya (a chain of curry houses) in Japan.
I remember always walking past these curry houses feeling amazed at just how steamy the windows were from all the curry that was being cooked up and served inside. I imagined it was like the McDonalds of Japan because of how popular it was.
So I was particularly happy when I realised they had a vegan version I could try, and I soon found out that it tasted just as comforting as it looked! I’ve been obsessed with katsu curry ever since.
My one big takeaway from the katsu curries that I ate whilst in Japan was that they are simple but very comforting. So I always avoid overcomplicating the dish. It really doesn’t need lots of stuff in it! But many vegan recipes do have a tendency of overcomplicating something. With my vegan katsu curry recipe here, I have taken the fundamentals of a katsu curry and then just veganised it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
What is katsu curry?
Katsu curry (Katsu Karē カツカレー) is a Japanese dish consisting of curry sauce, a panko-breaded meat cutlet, and steamed rice. It is considered one of the national dishes of Japan, up there with ramen.
The curry sauce is typically made using onions, carrots, and curry powder. It is served with Tonkatsu, a Japanese dish of pork cutlet that has been coated in panko breadcrumbs and then deep fried. The cutlet is then sliced up and served next to a bed of steamed rice, with the curry sauce poured over the top. There are now many variations of this, using different meats & vegan alternatives – like my recipe here!
Right now you are probably thinking, but isn’t curry powder Indian? How did this end up being the main component of a traditional Japanese dish? Well, let me tell you…
What are the origins of katsu curry?
In the late 1800s, when India was under British colonial rule, the Anglo-Indian British navy officers introduced curry powder into Japan. It was used to create a staple meal of curry sauce, served with steamed rice, and was given the Japanese name of Karē. This soon became very popular throughout Japan.
So this very Indian dish did indeed come from India itself and was experimented with to include variations like the katsu curry, which is merged with the Japanese dish of Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet). It is thought this particular variation was invented by Ginza Swiss, a restaurant in Toyko, where you can still go today and enjoy this dish – it isn’t vegan-friendly though unfortunately!
Is katsu curry vegan-friendly?
Katsu curry is often served with breaded meat, which obviously isn’t vegan. You may be thinking that the katsu curry sauce itself is vegan though, but it is often cooked using animal-based stocks. So the traditional katsu curry itself isn’t vegan, no.
That being said, it is very easy to veganise katsu curry by cooking the curry sauce without the stock and using a vegan meat alternative for the cutlet. You can quite easily find vegan versions in both Japan and across the world, in both vegan restaurants and non-vegan restaurants, like the Coco Ichibanya curry house chain.
There are many vegan katsu curry recipes online, like my one here! I have followed the traditional make-up of this recipe but veganised it.
How do you make vegan katsu curry?
Making vegan katsu curry is really simple. You need to first pick your vegan protein source that will be coated in panko breadcrumbs. I have picked tempeh because I like its texture and how nutritious it is! Then you make your katsu curry sauce, which is first cooked and then blended (although blending isn’t that traditional, it is quite common to see it this way now). This is all then served up with a bed of steamed rice.
I’ll go into more detail about each stage of making my vegan katsu curry recipe below:
1. Marinate the tempeh
Tempeh isn’t like tofu, so you won’t find that the marinade fully seeps inside of it. But you will get a good sticky coating around the outside of it that will help to flavour it because just like tofu, it doesn’t taste of much!
Because of the sticky coating, you’ll also find you can add a light coating of panko breadcrumbs to the outside of the tempeh, which will help to give it a crispy outer when cooking it. Traditionally, katsu curry uses breaded meats, so this is my take on that!
Simply add sliced tempeh to the marinade and set aside as you get on with the katsu curry sauce.
2. Make the katsu curry sauce
Chop onions, garlic, and carrots and fry off. You then add curry powder and garam masala to coat the veg before mixing in some maple syrup (apple sauce is used in more traditional recipes). Stir in the coconut milk and let it simmer away and cook for about 10 minutes.
Once the sauce has cooked you can blend it until smooth. Pour the blended mix back into your pan and keep it on low heat so that it stays warm.
3. Cook the tempeh
Next up you’ll need to get your vegan protein breadcrumbed.
I like my tempeh lightly breadcrumbed and I find I can achieve that just fine with the sticky marinade that we have had the tempeh sitting in. But if you like to go for a full breaded mix then you’ll need to make up a water flour mix to bind it to the tempeh before adding breadcrumbs. If you do this, you’ll be better off deep frying them to achieve an even crispness.
Unlike the traditional katsu curry recipe, I am baking my breadcrumbed protein source to make this into a healthy dinner that can be enjoyed more regularly.
The breadcrumbed tempeh cutlets need to be baked for about 10 minutes before serving.
Layer your breadcrumbed tempeh cutlets on the plate and cover them in the blended katsu curry sauce. Serve with steamed rice.
You could also top yours with cucumber slices like I do to add freshness to the dish. I also like how the cucumber balances out the beige look of this dish.
Get yourself a fork or spoon and enjoy scooping this comforting dish into your mouth!
Vegan katsu curry with crispy tempeh
Katsu curry sauce
- 240 g Jasmine rice
- 1/2 Cucumber
- 1 tsp Brown rice vinegar
- 1/2 Lime - the juice from
Prep the tempeh
- Heat up your oven to 180° (fan)
- Mix all of the tempeh ingredients together except for the tempeh and the panko breadcrumbs. Pour it into a large shallow dish3 tbsp Tamari soy sauce, 2 tbsp Maple syrup, 1 tbsp Toasted sesame oil
- Cut the tempeh into thin slices and coat them in the marinade and leave them in there whilst you carry on with the rest of the dish400 g Tempeh
Prep the cucumber
- Put the brown rice vinegar and lime juice into a bowl1 tsp Brown rice vinegar, 1/2 Lime
- Using a peeler, peel the cucumber lengthways into loads of thin slices1/2 Cucumber
- Mix the cucumber slices into the vinegar lime juice mix and leave it in the bowl until serving
Make the katsu curry sauce
- Roughly chop your onion, carrot and garlic1 Brown onion, 4 cloves Garlic, 1 Carrot
- Heat up the rapeseed oil in a casserole pot on a medium high heat and add the chopped onion, carrot and garlic1 tbsp Rapeseed oil
- Fry off the veg until it starts to soften, making sure to stir regularly. This should take about 10-12 minutes on a medium-high heat
- Stir in the curry powder and garam masala until the veg is well coated, and fry off for a few minutes1 tbsp Curry powder, 2 tsp Garam Masala
- Stir in the maple syrup with the tamari soy sauce, and then slowly start pouring in the coconut milk, making sure to mix it all together as you do2 tbsp Maple syrup, 1 can Coconut milk, 1 tbsp Tamari soy sauce
- Bring the sauce up to the boil and then leave it on a medium heat simmering away for about 10 minutes
Start cooking the rice
- Whilst your sauce is cooking away rinse your rise and start cooking according to packet instructions. You can get started with cooking the tempeh whilst this is cooking240 g Jasmine rice
- Once your rice has cooked drain it and put it back into the saucepan. Cover it with a lid that has been wrapped up in a tea towel. Leave the rice to steam on the counter as you finish cooking the meal
Cook the tempeh
- Drain the tempeh, making sure to save the marinade for future dishes (I like using it for tofu). Coat the tempeh in the panko breadcrumbs, making sure to really massage it in to the tempeh so that it sticks. I only like a light coating so don't worry too much about it all sticking30 g Panko breadcrumbs
- Place the coated tempeh on to a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes
Blend the katsu curry sauce
- Meanwhile, pour the katsu curry sauce into a blender and blend until smooth
- Pour it back into the casserole pot that you cooked it in and place it on a really low heat on the stove to keep it warm whilst you finish cooking the tempeh
- Serve up your steamed rice on the plate and place your baked tempeh next to it. Pour the katsu sauce over the top of the tempeh and top with some of the cucumber slices