japanese

Nasu no miso dengaku: Japanese slow-roasted eggplant with dengaku sauce

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It’s still summertime, but I can feel the cooler days of fall coming, especially in the evenings when the temperature is dropping just a bit more than it did a few weeks ago. This is one of the best times of the year for food lovers, especially if you love vegetables.

Eggplants (aubergines) are in high season now and will be around for at least another month or so. While you can get them year-round, they are at their best of course in their natural season.

This is a classic Japanese way of serving eggplant, and it’s really easy. All you do is to slowly roast the eggplant until tender, either in the oven or on the stovetop in a frying pan, then serve with a glossy, salty-sweet dengaku (田楽)sauce. I could eat this every day, with a bowl of plain rice and some cold mugicha to wash it down. continue reading...

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Mackerel braised in miso sauce (Saba no miso ni)

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Here’s another classic Japanese recipe from my mother. I have to admit that I’m not very good with fish, with the exception of simple grilling or panfrying and so on, but my mom has all kinds of great fish recipes up her sleeve.

Last week we spent a rather chilly week in Brittany (Bretagne), where the highlight was definitely the abundance of cheap, really fresh fish available to us. One fish in particular that was really good and inexpensive was maquereau, or Atlantic mackerel, which we know as saba (鯖 さば)in Japanese. In Japan, mackerel is usually treated one of three ways: grilled over an open flame (amiyaki), treated with salt and vinegar (shimesaba) and turned into an old fashioned kind of sushi (sabazushi), or gently braised in a sauce with the classic Japanese combination of salty-sweet flavors. This mackerel is cooked in a ginger scented miso sauce, then allowed to cool down in the liquid overnight, which allows the flavors to penetrate the firm flesh of the fish. You barely notice the oiliness at all, and the sauce is plate-lickingly tasty. I like to eat it chilled, right out of the refrigerator, with plain rice and a simple salad on the side. It makes for a refreshing yet rich dish for a summer meal. continue reading...

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The earlobe in Japanese cooking

earlobe.jpgDuring a bout of procrastination, I came across this post on Serious Eats about making udon from an translated-to-English Japanese cookbook classic, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. You know this is a classic, since the original forward for it was written by M.F.K. Fisher! Anyway, the author of the Serious Eats post gets quite excited about the instructions in the recipe (which apparently calls for egg yolks…more about this later) saying to knead the dough until it’s the texture of an earlobe.

Actually, the earlobe (mimitabu 耳たぶ) is used quite commonly in Japanese cooking. What? you say? Well…here’s how. continue reading...

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Vegetable Tempura

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I’ve never really been good at making tempura, the quintessential Japanese deep fried dish. My mother’s tempura has always been terrific - crispy, light, and not greasy at all. So, taking advantage of her extended vacation here this year, I drilled her properly on how she makes tempura.

Her method does not rely on special tempura flour (cheap in Japan but expensive or hard to get a hold of elsewhere), or other recently touted additions like vodka or other high-alcohol liquor, so anyone should be able to do it. Just follow the key points listed below. continue reading...

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Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce

I’ve updated this very popular article a little bit and pushed it up from the archives, since it is the season for cold noodles now. I’ll also have a followup recipe soon for the perfect accompaniment to zaru soba. Originally published in May 2007.

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Most of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer. To combat the heat, a number of dishes meant to be eaten cold have been developed. One of the main cold summer dishes is cold noodles.

Soba noodles, made of soba (buckwheat), are available all year round but are really popular when the heat turns unbearable. As with other cold noodles, they are prepared in a way that may seem strange if you’re used to pasta and other Western-style noodles. Unlike pasta, most Japanese noodles, including soba, are rinsed rather vigorously in cold running water. This not only cools them down but gets rid of excess starch, which adversely affects the flavor of the noodles. Many recipes written in English omit this critical rinsing step: you don’t just plunge it in cold water, as many directions incorrectly state, but you actively wash the noodles. Once you’ve done this once, you will definitely notice the difference. I’ve given detailed instructions for this procedure below.

Dipped into a properly made sauce or soba tsuyu, with plenty of spicy condiments or yakumi, there’s nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeshu (plum wine) and Ume Hachimitsu Sour (ume honey-vinegar drink)

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Since so many people liked my mom’s umeboshi recipe, here are two more recipes using ume plums from her. She doesn’t have photos for these, so I’ve taken a picture of her notes, with a little illustration she did of how to layer the ume and sugar for the umeshu (plum wine). continue reading...

Konnyaku and shirataki FAQ: The almost zero-calorie, weird wobbly food from Japan

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From the archives. For some reason I've been getting several email questions about konnyaku recently, so here is my definitive (I hope) guide to preparing konnyaku and konnyaku noodles, or shirataki. Originally published in January 2007.

The quintessential Japanese foods that (may) help you lose weight, are konnyaku and shirataki. Both are made from the same substance, the corm of the konnyaku or konjac plant. Shirataki is also known as konnyaku noodles, to further confuse things, but I prefer the original name which means "white waterfall". It's basically konnyaku shaped like long thin noodles. continue reading...

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Book review: The Enlightened Kitchen, shōjin ryōri (shoujin ryouri) for the home

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A review of The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan by Mari Fujii, a beautifully presented, easy introduction to the world of shojin ryori (or shoujin ryouri 精進料理), the highly refined vegan cuisine developed by Buddhist monks in Japan. One copy of this great book is up for grabs! continue reading...

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Sweet onion and soba salad with fat-free umeboshi dressing

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We still haven’t found a house to buy (though we may getting close), and due to the way things work in France, we are probably going to be nomads for at least 4 more months even if we put in an offer for a place tomorrow. I’ve gotten more used to cooking in tiny holiday home kitchens, but I’m still not up to anything too complicated - or in other words anything that requires the use of more than 2 burners at a time.

Fortunately it’s now summer, which means lighter, less complicated meals anyway. This salad, which can be a meal on its own, a starter or a light side dish, features sweet salad onions (spring is the season for them, at least around these parts), sliced paper-thin and refreshed in ice cold water. The tart dressing features umeboshi (pickled plums) and uses no oil, so this is an almost fat-free, fairly low calorie dish, that’s vegan to boot. continue reading...

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Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian stores as sources for Japanese food

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This is a continuation of my series on Japanese food shopping, and frugal eating, in Europe. Previously I visited Paris and Düsseldorf’s Japantown.

Lyon, the third largest city in France and arguably the second most important one after Paris, does not have a large Japanese expat or immigrant population. However, there are some Japanese corporations that have factories or offices in the area, not to mention a large university population. So in terms of the availability of Japanese groceries in France, it ranks second to Paris, although it trails behind by a large margin.

It also gives me a chance to talk a bit about where exactly you can find Japanese ingredients, regardless of the town you’re in. continue reading...

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Survey: What Japanese ingredients can you get where you live?

(The survey is now closed. Thank you for everyone who took the time to comment/answer!)

In connection with a project I’m working on at the moment, I’d like to take a short 5-question survey of Just Bento and Just Hungry readers.

I assume you are here because you have at least some interest in Japanese food and cooking. My questions are as follows. continue reading...

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A Frugal Eats blitz through Düsseldorf's Japantown

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I’ve long been intrigued by the famed Japantown or Japan Quarter area of Düsseldorf, Germany, but haven’t had a chance to go there. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Zürich, and there was no work-related excuse to go there - until last week that is. So, following up on my mostly Japanese frugal eats blitz through Paris, here is my 2-day all-Japanese blitz through Düsseldorf. continue reading...

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Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food and sake in the heart of Paris

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From the outside, Workshop Issé looks like just another unassuming little Japanese grocery and gift store. There are quite a few stores of this nature scattered about Europe these days. But inside this little boutique in the heart of the Japanese quarter in Paris, you can experience something quite special: A crash course on top quality artisanal Japanese food and drink. continue reading...

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A Frugal Eats (mostly Japanese) blitz through Paris

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Pursuing cheap Japanese (and other) eats in Paris. continue reading...

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Savings Techniques for Women Who Can't Save

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This article about my favorite Japanese personal finance book is part of Frugal Food Month. While it’s not directly about food, I hope it’s of interest to Just Hungry readers anyway! continue reading...

A followup report on being vegan in Japan

Asha, the reader who sent me the question that inspired me to write Japan: A Survival Guide for Vegans has sent in a great follow-up comment. I’ve posted it here so you won’t miss it. She found it a lot easier to follow her vegan regime in Tokyo than in Nagasaki, where she has been living. That makes sense I thin: any major metropolitan area these days is likely to have many people who are vegan or at least interested in a vegan way of eating, while the same might not hold true for more regional towns (Nagasaki has a long history of being a very international city, but is much smaller than Tokyo of course.)

What follows are Asha’s words. continue reading...

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The Kakeibo and Japanese household budgeting tools

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A few kakeibos, and Japanese womens’ magazines with budgeting-oriented articles. Look for these words: 家計 (household finances), 貯める (save money), 家計簿 (household finance ledger).

To kick off Frugal Food month, here is an article from the archives about Japanese household budgeting tools, which was supposed to be the start of a series - but then All Hell Broke Loose around Chez Maki, and the series sort of got forgotten. Well, the series will be revived this month, so in case you missed this one, here it is!

(Original intro: So why is there a money management article on a food site? Well, I think that the subject of our money is on a lot of people’s minds these days, and food spending is a major part of that. An it’s about Japan, and I know a lot of you read this site because it brings you bits of interest about my homeland. So, I hope you’ll enjoy this little derail.)

Many people worldwide are concerned these days about the economy. While it’s difficult for us as individuals to influence factors like what our financial institutions do, we can control where our money goes. While this topic is not directly about food, I thought it might be interesting to see how Japanese people handle household budgeting.

Why look at what Japanese people do? For one thing, Japan went through a severe economic correction (aka the “bubble economy”) in the late ’80s, largely in part due to overvalued real estate and resulting defaults on loans, which lasted well into the ’90s and even fundamentally changed the way Japanese society works. While the current Japanese stock market, yen, and banks are on a wild and bumpy ride just like the rest of the world, individuals (except for those who invested in stocks, currencies and such) on a whole seem to be a tiny bit less worried than people in North America or Europe. This may be because saving rates in Japan are amongst the highest in the developed world, estimated to be around 25% of income (though that has fallen from previous savings rates of 30 to 35%; in contrast, the saving rates in the U.S. average around negative 0.5%), or simply because household budgeting skills have been talked about for quite a long time. continue reading...

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Inarizushi (sushi in a bean bag) Redux: Cooking your own inarizushi skins

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Four years ago I posted a very basic recipe for inarizushi, homely sushi that is stuffed into a fried tofu skin or aburaage. It’s been one of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry ever since. That only gave instructions for stuffing pre-made (canned or vacuum packed) skins, so I thought I’d update it with instructions for making your own inarizushi skins from scratch. These instructions will be particularly useful to vegetarians and vegans, since most if not all premade skins are cooked in a fish-based traditional dashi stock. And, for all of you who have had problems making Eggs in Treasure Bags with those small, thin canned skins: You’ll find that making the eggs from your own, sturdy skins is so much easier. continue reading...

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Japan: A Survival Guide For Vegans

At the moment I’m sitting in a cottage in France (recovering from a cold, but that’s another story), a land notorious for not being so vegan friendly except in the larger cities. The native cuisine is generally not vegan - even vegetable dishes often use things like dairy products or animal fats or stock in the cooking process, which can make things difficult. But if you are a vegan you probably know about this, and come prepared accordingly. (I think it’s a lot easier for lacto-ovo vegetarians in France; you could live on the delicious bread and cheese.)

If you are going to Japan, you might think that being vegan would be a lot easier. Japanese cuisine has a reputation for using lots of vegetables, seaweed and other vegan-friendly products. There is even a particular kind of cuisine in Japan called sho-jin ryouri (精進料理), a mostly vegan temple cuisine, with a long and highly regarded tradition.

But as a reader who emailed me recently found out, being a vegan in Japan is just as hard as it is in Europe. continue reading...

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Shell-shaped sushi (Hamaguri-zushi) for Girls' Festival

From the archives, originally posted March 2, 2007. These delicately colored sushi are a great way to use usuyaki tamago. I know I’ve been re-posting things from the archives a lot lately, but I hope you’ll forgive me - I’m moving tomorrow! In any case, I hope you’ll give these delicate sushi a try, especially if you have daughters or granddaughters.

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The 3rd of March is Momo no sekku or Peach Day in Japan. Peach blossoms usually start blooming around this time, signifying the coming of spring. It’s also the day for hina matsuri, the Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival. Households with daughters display hina ningyou-, traditional dolls that represent a princess’s wedding procession. This is because the ultimate happiness expected for a girl was for her to make a fruitful and comfortable marriage. Nowadays girls may be expected to do other things besides become happy wives, but on this day at least traditions still hold strong.

In Japan there is a long standing stereotype that girls and women like very sweet things, while manly men like less sweet and bitter things. So, for Hina Matsuri the guests are served sweet things like amazake (a very thick non-alcoholic hot drink made from the lees of sake, rather like eggnog in color and cloying sweetness), hishimochi (tri-colored mochi cake) and okoshi (colored sweetened puffed rice). Although there were three girls in our house, none of us liked amazake at all. However, my mother often made some kind of sushi for Hina Matsuri, which we really loved.

Here are two kinds of very pretty, girlie sushi in feminine pink, yellow and white with a touch of green. These colors fit the theme of Hina Matsuri perfectly: the traditional hishimochi is colored white, pink (or light red) and green. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan. continue reading...

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Moffles

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How to make moffles or mochi waffles, a relatively new but very popular snack in Japan, in a regular waffle maker. continue reading...

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Ehoumaki (ehou maki): Lucky long sushi roll for Setsubun no hi

ehouzushi-eating.jpgThis year, setsubun no hi (節分の日) falls on the 3rd of February (some years it’s on the 4th). It marks the start of the spring season or risshun (立春) in Japan according to the old lunar calendar. It’s not an official national holiday, but it is celebrated in ways all meant to drive away bad luck and bring in new, good luck. Most of the traditional rituals revolve around beans, because beans are considered to be very lucky. But there is another way of celebrating setsubun no hi, and that’s with a big, long, uncut sushi roll called ehou-maki.

I grew up in and around the Kanto region, which is the area around Tokyo, so I didn’t know about ehou-maki ((恵方巻き)growing up, because it’s a Kansai region (the area around Osaka and Kyoto) custom for setsubun no hi. Nowadays though the ehou-maki tradition has become popular nationwide. They are sold everywhere, especially at convenience stores, who take this as an opportunity to get people to celebrate, buy and eat in that awkward gap in between New Year’s feasting and Valentine’s Day chocolate gorging.

[Edit: ehou is pronounced eh-hoe by the way, not ee-h aw.]

So, what makes an ehou-maki different from a regular sushi roll? There are basically three rules:

  • It must contain seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
  • It must not be cut, because it might cut (off) your luck.
  • You have to eat it while facing the lucky direction, which changes every year! This year’s lucky directly is hinoe (丙 (ひのえ)), which is a little bit to the south of south-south-east on a regular compass. If you can read kanji, this page has a good chart.
  • Finally, you must eat the whole roll in total silence.

A seven-ingredient sushi roll is basically a futomaki, or fat sushi roll, and that is what the directions are for. I’ve suggested several filling variations.

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Last year, the Superbowl fell right on Setsubun no hi, so there’s a New York-Boston filling combo below. This year, I guess the Cardinals were out of luck, ehou-maki wise. (What would have been a good Pittsburgh-themed sushi roll filling?)

You can of course order a regular futomaki from your favorite sushi takeout, and ask them to put in seven ingredients and to not cut it. Then on Sunday, face the right away, and solemnly eat your roll in total silence. continue reading...

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How to cook lotus root (renkon)

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Lotus root (renkon in Japanese) is actually the rhizome of the lotus plant. It’s a popular vegetable throughout southern and eastern Asia, but it’s still not that well known in the west. Lotus root is full of fiber and various vitamins and other nutrients. In Asia it’s believed to have various medicinal qualities, but in macro-nutrient terms it’s best to think of it as a starchy vegetable, like potato. Visually of course, it’s very appealing with all those little holes. Here I’ll explain how it’s prepared and eaten in Japan. continue reading...

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Kouya Dofu or Kohya Dofu, Freeze Dried Tofu

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I’ve talked a little about kohya dofu or kouya dofu (高野豆腐)in the past, but I thought I’d describe it in detail so that I can refer back to it when I use this very versatile Japanese pantry staple in recipes.

Kouya dofu is freeze dried tofu. It’s a long lasting pantry staple of most Japanese households. continue reading...

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Your guide to better chopstick etiquette (mostly Japanese)

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The other day I was having lunch at one of the Asian-fusion restaurants in Zürich with a (non-Asian) friend. At one point, he speared a piece of chicken with one chopstick, brought it to his mouth and pried it off with his teeth. I must have a strange expression on my face, because he looked at me and asked me what was wrong.

Of course he did not know that in Japan, what he just did would be considered to be terribly rude, in the same way that someone who didn’t grow up in Europe might not know about not putting your elbows on the table. I explained this to him, and he sort of snorted and said “well why don’t you write a guide to chopstick manners on your site then!”

So, here it is: A guide to chopstick etiquette, Japanese style. continue reading...

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Classic Sukiyaki, The Quintessential Japanese Beef Hot Pot

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Sukiyaki (すき焼き)is a Japanese word that is widely known outside of Japan, but very few people have actually had the real thing unless they’ve been invited to a Japanese person’s home for dinner - or gone to a traditional inn or ryoutei (high end traditional Japanese restaurant) where it is cooked for you at the table. This is because, like tori nabe, this is really another nabe that is cooked at the table, at home, rather than eaten at a restaurant. You may encounter ‘sukiyaki’ on some restaurant menus, but if it’s been cooked in advance in the kitchen, it really isn’t sukiyaki. (I’m not sure why there are dedicated shabu-shabu restaurants but no sukiyaki restaurants, but I think it’s because sukiyaki is so strongly associated with home cooking.)

Unlike tori nabe, sukiyaki is not inexpensive, since you need top grade steak-quality meat. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store or a butcher that is familiar with the ‘sukiyaki’ cut, you can buy ready-cut meat there. (In New York, I used to get sukiyaki meat from Schaller and Weber on the Upper East Side). If you can’t get sukiyaki meat, get a piece of sirloin with a good amount of marbling and a thick piece of fat attached. Allow for about 100 grams / 3 1/2 ounces of meat per person. You do not need to use wagyuu or Kobe beef - that would be overkill. In Japan, sukiyaki is the quintessential gochisou (御馳走) - feast or treat, because good beef is the most expensive kind of meat. It’s what you have for a special occasion, or just after payday.

Sukiyaki can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but any kind of nabe seems to be best suited to the winter, when the family can gather around the dining table helping themselves from a fragant, steaming pan of food.

There are two basic methods of making sukiyaki: Kanto, or Tokyo-area style, and Kansai, or Kyoto/Osaka area style. Since I’m from the Tokyo area I’ll show you how to do the Tokyo style, with a recipe for the Kyoto method below. continue reading...

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Tori Nabe: Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Tabletop Hot Pot

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Nabe (鍋, pronounced NA-beh) is the Japanese word for a pot or pan. But it also means a one-pot dish where several ingredients are cooked together in a broth. While nabe can be cooked in the regular way on the stovetop, the most popular kind of nabe are cooked at the table on a portable burner. The quintessential image of a Japanese happy family is one that gathered around the dining table eating a nabe. (Nabe cooked at the table is also called yosenabe (寄せ鍋), which just means a nabe where the ingredients are gathered together (寄せる、yoseru). Because a nabe is piping hot, it’s a great winter meal, with very little preparation.

A lot of Japanese nabe recipes call for ingredients that are only widely available in Japan, but this is a recipe for a nabe that you can recreate wherever you are. It uses chicken and a lot of vegetables, so it’s very healthy and frugal - perfect recession cooking! The only special equipment you need is a tabletop cooker of come kind, that can sustain a boiling heat. See more about tabletop cookers in the Notes at bottom. continue reading...

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Ozouni or ozohni or ozoni: Mochi soup for the New Year

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Happy New Year! I wanted to post this a little earlier, but better late than never I hope!

During the New Year holiday period, traditionally rice is not cooked, to give a rest to the cook. Instead, dried mochi cakes were used as the carbohydrate. Ozouni (お雑煮 おぞうに), which literally means ‘mixed stew’, is a soup with mochi cakes in it. There is no one set recipe, and there are lots of regional variations. This one is a simple Kanto (Tokyo area) style ozouni, the way my mother makes it. It’s very simple, not to mention economical - just clear soup, greens, chicken and mochi. Garnish is optional. continue reading...

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Mochitsuki in your neighborhood?

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Mochitsuki photo by Ivva continue reading...

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Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year

img: a hot and steamy bowl of soba noodles to end the year

Revised and updated: This recipe for Toshikoshi Soba, or Year-End Soba, traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year's Eve, is one of the earliest recipes posted on Just Hungry. I've expanded the directions so that you can use various methods for making the soup. Originally posted December 30, 2003. continue reading...

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The Japanese Food and Cooking Lexicon

This handbook leads to articles about Japanese food and cooking terminology. I think that it may be even more necessary now that Japanese food has become popular outside of Japan.

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Drunken Tangy Chicken Wings with Carrots (an everyday favorite)

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This is another everyday go-to dish around here. Chicken wings are not nearly as cheap as I remember them being during my frugal student days, due to the popularity of things like Buffalo wings. They’re still a pretty good deal though. While we love crispy oven-fried wings and such, these deeply flavored braised wings are a great leave-to-cook favorite, especially when the weather gets cold.

This is a dish that is very easy to throw together. continue reading...

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Daigaku Imo - Japanese University Sweet Potatoes

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In the fall, many universities throughout Japan have big festivals called 大学祭 daigaku-sai, meaning university festival, or 文化祭 bunnkasai, Culture Festival. They are basically street fairs held on campus, with lots of food and fun stalls, concerts, even ghost houses and amusement rides. Many of the big ones also hold concerts in which top Japanese singers and bands appear. Daigaku Imo, which means University Potato, are candies sweet potatoes, a sweet and slightly savory snack that is often served at university festivals in Tokyo.

The snack itself probably originated as a cheap, calorie-rich, affordable snack sold to cash-poor students around universities in Tokyo around the turn of the 20th century. The idea for deep frying and then sugar coating potatoes most likely came from similar snacks in Chinese cuisine.

Daigaku imo is simple to make, yet a bit tricky. You ideally want to coat the sweet potato slices completely with a hard caramel sugar coating, but too often the sugar gets crystallized. It doesn’t taste bad when it does, but it looks far better with a shiny, smooth coating. I’ve found the best way to accomplish this is to make a fresh batch of the sugar coating for each batch of potatoes cooked. This is not diet food by any means, but regardless, to me they are one of the main treats of fall. continue reading...

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Sustainable sushi guides and the National Sushi Party

Today, three ocean conservation groups in the United States - the Blue Ocean Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium - will each be releasing sushi fish selection guides. They all seem to be printed guides that you have to order (small quibbles: Why not a downloadable PDF so people can start using it immediately? Also, why 3 separate guides?) but if you are a sushi afficionado and are concerned about the sustainability of safety of the fish used as sushi neta, you may want to give one of them a look. See the press release here. continue reading...

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Konnyaku no Tosani and Konnyaku Kinpira

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I have talked about konnyaku before, the almost zero calorie, rubbery-jellylike food that makes me really wonder at the ingenuity of people of the past. Why would they think that an almost flavorless, almost nutrient free substance would be edible?

Well, konnyaku is not about its innate flavor - it’s all about texture. And since it realy has so little calories, it’s a great addition to meals for the dieter, giving a feeling of fullness.

I tend to make konnyaku dishes when I want to really watch the calories, but still have a hearty appetite. continue reading...

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Oh noes, dashi is trendy now

In the past few years, the popularity of Japanese food has exploded, with sushi leading the way. You might think that as the owner of a blog that is mainly dedicated to Japanese cooking, I’d be ecstatic about that.

I am happy, sure. It’s gratifying to gradually see the cuisine of my birthplace being recognized as something special. But on the other hand, I’m more than a bit skeptical. I wonder if, in a few years, hipster ‘foodies’ are going to turn their noses up at Japanese cuisine. “That was so naughties” they might be saying sometime in 2015, as they tuck into the latest craze for - I don’t know what. continue reading...

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Slimy slimy goodness all together in a bowl

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You want slime? I’ll give you slime multiplied! continue reading...

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The Japanese 100 list finally complete, and other things

The 100 Japanese foods list is done. Plus, you know, Swiss breast milk. continue reading...

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Botamochi for spring, Ohagi for fall: Sweet Japanese rice and bean cakes

[From the archives: Today (September 23rd) is the first day of the fall o-higan (お彼岸), when ohagi or botamochi are offered to ones ancestors, as well as oneself! My mother and my grandmother always made these at home around this time of year - I love their not-too-sweet stickiness. O-higan ends on the 26th, so if you like wagashi, why not give these a try? Originally published March 2007.]

botamochi1.sidebar.jpgThe seven days centered around the bi-annual days of the vernal equinox is a Buddhist festival period known as higan (or o-higan for the honorific term) in Japan. The fall (autumn) higan is aki no higan, and the spring higan is haru no higan. Since the day of the spring equinox is March 21, we’re about to enter the haru no ohigan period.

During haru no higan, a sweet confection called botamochi is eaten. The mochi part means sticky, pounded rice, and the bota part comes from botan, or the tree peony. Botamochi is supposed to ressemble a tree peony flower.

During the autumn equinox (aki no higan or simply (o)higan)) period, a very similar confection called ohagi is eaten. This is supposed to look like a hagi or bush clover flower (Latin: Lespedeza thunbergii). Botamochi and o-hagi look the same to me, even though a hagi flower looks nothing like a tree peony flower, but the good old ancestors were probably a lot more imaginative than I am.

Botamochi and o-hagi are made of sticky rice and sweet tsubuan, ‘chunky-style’ sweet azuki bean paste. They are a bit fiddly to make but not difficult, especially if you use one of my favorite cooking helpers, plastic cling film. Since these are best eaten freshly made, it’s well worth the effort to make them at home if you like bean-based Japanese sweets. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the tsubuan to your taste. Here I have made three variations: coated with black sesame seeds; coated with kinako (toasted soy bean powder); and the most traditional form with the rice cake wrapped in a layer of the tsubuan. continue reading...

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100 Japanese foods to try

Ever since I completed The Omnivore’s Hundred, I’ve been thinking about this: What 100 Japanese foods would I recommend people try at least once? I’ve been mulling over the list for days now, and I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve come up with below.

I tried to keep away from foods that are only available in certain regions, or even certain restaurants or homes (e.g. my aunt’s homemade udon) and stuck to foods that are widely available in Japan. I’ve also tried to include foods from all categories and all price ranges, from wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms to el-cheapo snacks. I also did not limit the list to ‘genuine Japanese’ foods (純和風), but include Western-style yohshoku dishes and a sprinkling of chuuka (imported Chinese) foods that are so ingrained in Japanese food culture that most people barely think of them as Chinese any more. And of course, I have eaten all of the foods listed at least once - in most cases many, many times. I like them all!

The list is not numbered in order of preference. It’s just how I happened to list them.

[Update:]

I’ve now added descriptions and links to recipes if they are on the site, as well as the food names in Japanese - now with all 100 descriptions completed! I’ve made it so the descriptions are hidden initially, so you can have fun guessing what they are or trying to remember. Just click on the ? mark after each item! And I will keep adding descriptions gradually.

And no, nigiri-zushi and the most common types of sushi are not on the list, because I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve already had sushi. (Though… are you sure you’ve had great sushi at a top notch sushi-ya? See Judging a good sushi restaurant.)

I did not intention this to be a meme, but rather as a list of quintessentially Japanese foods that you might want to try. If you would like to post the list to your blog and play along though, please do so! Actually it would be even more fun if you make your own 10, 50, or whatever list of favorite foods if you dare. (It takes a whole lot more time and thought that you might think.) continue reading...

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Japanese country style stewed eggplant or aubergine (nasu no inakani)

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It’s hard to take an appetizing picture of this eggplant (aubergine) dish. But I promise you that it’s absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s so simple to make, requiring just 6 ingredients and water.

I found it in an old Japanese cooking magazine, which had an even worse photo of the dish than the one here. I was a bit sceptical but had bought a too-big batch of eggplant at the market, and wanted a way to use some of them up. I am so glad I tried the recipe, because it’s now one of my favorite ways to have eggplant. And it’s vegan too.

There’s a saying in Japanese, akinasu yome ni kuwasuna (秋なす 嫁に食わすな). It means “Don’t let your daughter in law eat fall eggplants”. People debate what the intent of this saying is; does it mean that fall eggplant are too delicious to feed to the daughter in law, who was traditionally the lowliest member of the family? Or perhaps it’s a thought of kindness, since eggplant is supposed to be a ‘cooling’ vegetable, which is not good for a pregnant or fertile young woman. Either way, there’s no doubt that eggplant is particularily delicious in late summer to early fall, when they usually produce a second crop after a first one early on. continue reading...

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Yatsuhashi, Cinnamon sweets from Kyoto

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Just about anyone who takes a trip to the historical city of Kyoto goes home bearing a box of yatsuhashi (八つ橋), a small delicate sweet that is flavored with nikki or cinnamon. While I am not from Kyoto, I get a fit of nostalgia for yatsuhashi on occasion. Fortunately they aren’t that hard to make at home. Added bonuses: they are more or less fat free, gluten-free, and vegan!

yatsuhasi_baked.jpg continue reading...

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About Japanese ingredients and substitutions

[Updated to add Substitution section.]

I haven’t exactly counted it up, but of the thousands of comments left on Just Hungry, not to mention Just Bento, probably at least a quarter are questions about ingredients or ingredient substitutions. So I thought I might put down what my criteria are for what kind of ingredients I choose to feature in the recipes on either site, especially when it comes to Japanese recipes. [Update added on August 15th, 2008]: I’ve also added some suggested, and acceptable, substitutions. continue reading...

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New potatoes with sweet-spicy miso

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Here is another great way to enjoy new potatoes. It’s almost as simple to make as new potatoes with soy sauce and butter, though it uses a few more ingredients. Boiled whole new potatoes are panfried in a little sesame oil, then coated in a sticky sweet-salty-spicy miso sauce. The strong flavors of the miso sauce really go well with the blandness of the potatoes. continue reading...

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Corn on the cob with butter and soy sauce

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I have to admit that I’ve been quite taken aback by how popular the new potatoes with butter and soy sauce recipe has been. Butter and soy sauce are so familiar to me as a tasty combination that I hadn’t quite realized that it would be new and exciting to a lot of people.

Anyway, here’s another extremely simple yet delicious way of using this magic combination on another summer vegetable - sweet corn. Here in Europe, eating corn on the cob is a relatively new custom imported from the U.S. - corn around here is either dried and ground up (as polenta and so on), or used as animal feed. So it’s not always possible to buy great, very fresh sweet corn. This treatment can perk up even an ordinary supermarket-bought corn on the cob, and will really shine with corn that you’ve just picked from your own garden. continue reading...

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Quick tip: Making the most of wasabi powder

Please forgive the lack of photos - in the middle of packing, I’ve somehow misplaced my camera. I’m sure it will come out soon, but in the meantime here is a handy tip for bring out the best flavor in wasabi powder. continue reading...

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Steamed eggplants (aubergines) with spicy peanut sauce

[From the archives: This eggplant/aubergine dish is really nice served cold, though it can be served warm too. It doesn’t heat up the kitchen since it’s made in the microwave (yes, the microwave, and it works great!) so it’s great to make on a steamy hot summer evening, with in-season eggplant. Originally published July 2007.]

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Here is another summer dish. I love eggplants (aubergines), but cooking them without using a lot of oil can be a bit tricky. I read about this method of steam-cooking eggplants in the microwave in a Japanese magazine some time ago, and ever since it’s one of my favorite ways of preparing these rather spongy vegetables - they’re done in just 5 minutes without heating up the kitchen, which is hard to beat on a hot summer’s day. The whole dish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Here they are served cold with a spicy peanut sauce, which makes it a very nice vegetarian/vegan main dish. Serve with rice or cold noodles. continue reading...

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Chilled wintermelon and shrimp soup

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These days, the house generally looks like a warzone because of the packing, and I am not in the mood for involved cooking. So I’m making very simple bentos, and mostly one-dish/one-pot type of things for dinner. A great one-pot meal is soup of course, but it is also summer, when we aren’t always in the mood for a steaming hot bowlful.

The answer is chilled soup that can be made ahead and just taken out at dinnertime. This one is really easy to make too, which is a big plus. Winter melon has a inherently cooling quality according to old (Chinese) medicine, so this is really nice to have on a warm evening. continue reading...

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