japanese

Japanese pan-roasted and marinated duck breast (Kamo ro-su)

kamorosu1.jpg

I had to make this beautifully easy duck breast dish three times over within a span of two weeks. The first two attempts disppeared before I could take a photo. continue reading...

filed under

Oden, a Japanese stew or hotpot

oden1.jpg

Happy New Year! If you live in Japan, you are probably still in holiday mode. Elsewhere though, chances are you’re back to your normal routine. That’s where I am now - back to work!

I often get requests for various popular Japanese recipes. I keep on thinking I’ve written up so many of them already, until someone asks for one and I think “why didn’t I put that up already?”. One such recipe is for oden, a very popular Japanese stew dish that is especially suited to winter. Traditionaly it’s made in a donabe or pottery pot, but it’s not a requirement to use one. It’s simmered slowly, so is perfect for a crockpot or my favorite for stewing anything, a Le Creuset-type of cast iron enamelled pot.

[adsense:468x60:1:4] continue reading...

filed under

Plastic fantastic New Years feasts

seibu-osechi1.jpg

A look at preorder New Year’s feasts in Japan. continue reading...

filed under

Answering some rice cooker questions

ricecookers.jpg

A few readers have emailed me recently about rice cookers by coincidence. So I thought I would put my answers here for everyone’s benefit. continue reading...

filed under

Christmas in Japan, Switzerland, elsewhere

Confiserie Sprüngli Zürich Christmas Chocolates

A reader emailed me asking, how people celebrate Christmas in Japan.

My answer to that is … “Not very well.” But I get to pick and choose. continue reading...

filed under

Hayashi raisu (rice): Japanese beef stew

hayashi_raisu2.jpg

Hayashi raisu or hayashi rice is a Japanese version of a rich beef stew. It’s a classic yohshoku (Japanese-adapted Western food) dish. continue reading...

filed under

Reader question: Canadian mailorder sources for Japanese food?

I’m still not officially back :) but a reader from Canada had a question in the comments here, which I cannot answer. So, I ask any Canadian residents out there. Do you know of any Canadian sources (or places that will ship food items to Canada) for Japanese food, specifically umeboshi?

I am going to try to compile a worldwide Japanese shopping source list soon, since this type of question does come up all the time.

(For umeboshi specifically, if you can’t find it locally at an Asian or Japanese grocery, I’d also try health stores since umeboshi is a highly revered food amongst the macrobiotic set.)

OK, let me shuffle back to the inert/letting the antibiotics do their job state now….

filed under

Japanese-style vegan mushroom rice: Kinoko no takikomi gohan revisited

mushroom_rice_vegan.jpg

The very first full recipe I posted on Just Hungry almost 4 years ago was Mushroom Rice (kinoko no takikomi gohan), and it still gets a lot of visits and comments, even though there’s no photo to whet the reader’s appetite or anything.

The original recipe called for traditional dashi stock made from bonito (fish) flakes, and suggested adding chicken and other things.

This version is a lot simpler to assemble and it’s all vegan, but it’s just as tasty. And it comes with a photo! (My early photos on the site are pretty awful. I like to think I’ve learned a little since then.) I am using this in an upcoming bento, but it’s good for regular dinner too, so it’s posted here. It’s actually the best when it’s freshly made - the aroma of the mushrooms fills the kitchen, quite irresistible if you love mushrooms as I do. It is a very autumn (fall) kind of dish.

I think that this dish reflects my changing tastes and eating habits too, not to mention how I approach writing for Just Hungry, too. 4 years ago, I wasn’t that worried about health issues or anything of that nature in regards to food. Now, I am rather proud that I have a tasty dish that is sugar-free, gluten-free (if you use a gluten-free soy sauce), and vegan! I feel a bit trendy. continue reading...

filed under

Buta no kakuni: Japanese Braised Pork Belly

buta_kakuni1.jpg

Today is my mother’s birthday. In her honor, here is one of the few meat dishes that she still allows in her diet: braised pork belly, or buta no kakuni. It’s amazing that she will still eat this, because basically pork belly is bacon without the smoke or salt cure. And in buta no kakuni the bacon, I mean belly, comes in big chunks of layers of meat and unctuous pork fat.

Pork belly recipes exist in other cuisines, especially around northern Europe, but I can’t really stand most of them, even if people in Germany and Britain rave about roasted pork belly with crackling. (The crackling part is ok, but the meat part…I don’t know.) I like fat in moderation as much as anyone, but that amount of gelatinous pork fat is rather hard to bear. That is unless it’s been slowly braised in a salty-sweet liquid for hours and hours, until both the fat and the meat melt in your mouth.

Very similar recipes exist in Chinese (from Peking-style especially) cuisine, and a great Okinawa speciality is rafute. This is a bit like rafute but has a bit more spice and things in it, so it’s closer to the Peking style I think. Either way it’s a great treat once in a great while. It’s definitely a cold weather dish. continue reading...

filed under

Wafuu Pasuta (wafuu pasta): Japanese style pasta

wafuu_pasta_fork.jpg

The word wafuu may sound like someone trying to say yahoo and not quite succeeding, but it actually means “Japanese-style” in Japanese.

Italian style pasta has been popular in Japan since the post war period. In the beginning it was served with Italian, or at least Western European, style sauces, but some time in the ’70s or so people started to experiment with Japanese flavors. Essentially, things that are usually eaten with white rice were mixed into or put on top of spaghetti and other pastas. These are known as wafuu pasuta or wafuu supagetti (say these out loud and you’ll know what they are), and became popular on the menus of Japanese cafés (kissaten) and the like.

There is at least one restaurant in the U.S. that I know of that has a couple of wafuu pasuta dishes on their menu - Basta Pasta (warning: icky Flash-only site!), in New York. They don’t really go far enough in my opinion though. If you love Japanese flavors you’ll probably love wafuu pasuta too.

Most wafuu pasuta recipes are very quick and easy to make, so they are great for quick dinners. Incidentally, to achieve a more Japanese texture cook the pasta about a minute or so longer than you might otherwise, so it’s a bit past al dente. Japanese people generally prefer softer pasta.

Following are three of my favorite quick and easy wafuu pasuta dishes. continue reading...

filed under

Daiso is coming to Europe!

Great news for fans of things Japanese who live in Europe, the UK in particular: Daiso, the 100 yen store chain, is opening a branch in London on November 17th. They are teaming up with Japan Centre, one of my favorite sources for Japanese food and other things. (Disclaimer: Japan Centre advertises on this site, but I’m also a happy customer.) It will be at 213 Piccadilly.

If you’re not familiar with the awesomeness of 100 yen shops, you owe yourself a visit if you go to London. I am hoping that they will carry plenty of cute goods for the fans of cute. I think I need to go to London soon! I’m rather curious as to how they’ll price things at the London store…will everything be a pound? We’ll see.

Daiso also has several stores in North America.
An excerpt from the press release follows after the jump. continue reading...

filed under

Briefly: For Japanese food lovers in Switzerland

The French-language blog sooshi has pictures of Uchitomi, a Japanese grocery with stores in Genève and Lausanne. The selection looks very nice!

I have also spotted real yuzu recently at the Bürkliplatz market in Zürich. In the summer I have seen live shiso plants there, both red and green too, Japanese-style sweet potatoes at Barkat, and satoimo (taro roots) at the Indian grocery store next the Hooter’s at Helvetiaplatz. It’s really great to see more ‘exotic’ Japanese and Asian produce more easily available here. When I first came to visit Switzerland back in the mid-’90s, you had to buy fresh ginger in the exotic food department at Globus! How times have changed. .

filed under

Hoku hoku is fall (and some Japanese words for food)

satsumaimo1.jpg

My general ‘simple is better’ attitude to food has continued into the fall. At the moment I’m not cooking much per se, but I am enjoying the foods that are so good at this time of the year. A lot of these foods share a similar quality, for which I can’t think of an appropriate word in English to describe. There’s a perfect word in Japanese though - hoku hoku. Hoku hoku is the word that is used for a starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Baked white potatoes can be hoku hoku too.

My favorite hoku hoku food is sweet potato - though I do mean the kind we get in Japan (called satsuma-imo), not the kind that’s most commonly seen in the U.S. (and here in Europe too). The U.S. kind of sweet potato has an orange skin and bright orange-yellow flesh, but the Japanese kind that I grew up with has a pale cream-white flesh and pink-purple skin. It’s less fibrous and sweeter than the orange-flesh kind, which I feel needs added sweeteners most of the time (which is why it’s so great in sweet potato pie and the like). continue reading...

filed under

Sweet and spicy roasted kabocha squash

kabocha_roasted1.jpg

I hesitated to put this recipe up, because it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. But it’s so tasty, dead easy to make, and of this season - so, here it is. As a bonus it’s full of fibre and is relatively low-calorie, low-sugar etc for people who want a bit of something sweet without going on a massive guilt trip.

Most recipes out there for using winter squash seem to involve pureeing them, but I rather like them when they are in chunks or slices. This roasted squash has a sweet, spicy and salty glaze of sorts on them, which brings out the dense sweetness of the fruit. Cut into fairly thin slices like this, it makes interesting finger food. You can vary the sugar and spice to your taste, though too much of either may overwhelm it.

You do need to use kabocha-type squash for this ideally, though butternut should work too. You will need a dense, starchy and sweet squash. Don’t use regular pumpkin, which is too watery and lacks sweetness. (Rouge d’etampes pumpkin may work, but I’ve found their sweetness to vary quite a bit.) continue reading...

filed under

More Japanese wieners

Following up on my previous post, here are some more recipes that use wiener sausages on Cookpad: continue reading...

filed under

Why do Japanese people like wieners so much?

I often like to peruse the excellent Japanese cooking site Cookpad. Cookpad is a unique cooking community site. The bulk of it consists of cooking blogs, where people post recipes and pictures. People can post short responses to the recipes called tsukurepo, where they show a photo of their attempt making the recipe. A lot of recipes also note which other recipe on the site inspired the poster to come up with theirs. This is what makes the site unique - you can follow a complete genealogy of a recipe, and keep on discovering new variations on themes. continue reading...

filed under

Pondering macrobiotics

In the last few years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the interest in macrobiotics in Japan. At least it does seem so judging from the magazine articles and cookbooks devoted to the subject.

If you’re unfamiliar with macrobiotics, it’s a form of almost-veganism (macrobiotics does allow for some fish) with quite idiosyncratic theories. It originated in Japan, was exported to the West, and gained popularity in some circles, especially the ones devoted to alternative lifestyles (like hippies and such). There’s a tendency in Japan to get overly impressed by anything (or anyone) in Japanese culture that gets popular in other countries, which I think accounts for at least part of the renewed popularity of macrobiotics - or makurobi as it’s abbreviated to - there. The macrobiotic diet has a lot of similarities to the traditional, or pre-WWII, diet, but isn’t quite the same. It’s also not the same as sho-jin cooking - elegant vegan cuisine that was originated by Zen Buddhist monks.

I’ve been generally trying to increase my repertoire of vegetable and grain based dishes this year (though I’m not a vegetarian), so I’ve done quite a lot of research into makurobi these past few months. There are plenty of very appetizing looking cookbooks coming out regularly, and I’ve collected quite a stack of them.

Yet it’s quite unlikely that I’ll be turning into a full-fledged macrobiotic convert any time soon. The main reason is that I can’t fully buy into one of the central philosophies of the religion - I mean, theory - that of yin and yang foods. Basically the theory is that all foods have yin (dark or cold) and yang (light or warm) energies, and we are better off eating close to the center of the yin and yang scale. Foods that are at the center are generally things like whole grains, beans and other pulses, root vegetables (but not potatoes), and so on. Since macrobiotics did originate in Japan, brown rice is the king of grains. continue reading...

filed under

Preserving shiso, basil, lemon verbena, and other herbs

shisoleaves300.jpg

Around here it’s already cool enough to declare that summer is over and fall is here. (Actually we had a very cold, wet summer anyway, but nevertheless.) So the summer vegetable plants in my garden are dying off, and I’m in the process of salvaging the remaining tomatoes and eggplants, picking the last zucchini, and eyeing the winter squash to see when they will be ready.

Tender herbs like basil are on their last legs, so I’m picking and preserving those flavors of summer so that they can brighten the dark winter months. Last year I took the lazy option and froze everything, packing the picked leaves in plastic bags and throwing them in our big locker-type freezer. Freezing is okay if you’re too busy to do anything else with your herbs, but not really the optimal way all the time to keep tender herbs in the long run. So this year I’m thinking things through a bit more and considering how I want to use each herb, and preserving them accordingly. Each method is quite easy and really doesn’t take that much time. continue reading...

Dashi powder? Use sparingly, if at all

I was recently sent a book about Japanese cooking for review. I wasn’t too impressed by the book for a variety of reasons, but one thing that really bothered me was that it used dashi stock powder for practically every recipe. (What made it worse is that the book’s title proclaimed the recipes therein to be “Healthy”.)

Dashi stock powder is akin to soup stock cubes in Western cooking. Like soup stock cubes, they are a very convenient way to add a concentrated dose of umami to a dish. I do have a box of the stuff in my kitchen which I use on occasion.

But keep in mind that dashi stock powder contains quite a lot of MSG. The good or bad of MSG may be a debatable subject, but when it comes to food additives I always like to be on the cautious side. Besides, with the right ingredients making dashi stock from real ingredients, even a vegan version, doesn’t take that much time - and tastes a whole lot better too. This is different from the time and effort, not to mention the mess, needed to make a good chicken stock, for example. On my list of Japanese pantry essentials, I have put MSG or Ajinomoto as something that’s optional, and I regard dashi powder in the same light.

In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder for health reasons, especially in families with small children. I don’t see any reason for people new to Japanese cooking to start out on the wrong leg by relying on an iffy convenience product. continue reading...

filed under

Maybe some day I will tackle ramen

Periodically I get emails and comments asking me to post a recipe for one thing or another, usually something Japanese. I try to do so (eventually) with most things, though it may take a while between request and actual writeup since I try to make sure that if I do write it up, it will actually work. One of the things I’ve been asked about a lot is ramen, probably because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan, and so tasty. Since it’s usually served as a sort of fast food, and because the instant and cup-noodle varieties are well, so instant, people may assume that it’s not hard to make. continue reading...

filed under

Fear of Sushi

There were not one but two Op-Ed articles in the New York Times yesterday about sushi. Two! It always amazes me how fast sushi has become mainstream in the U.S. in particular and ‘the West’ in general, but I guess this is some sort of proof.

The two articles are Chicken of the Sea by Stephen Shaw (the author of a dining guide to restaurants in Asia) and Sushi for Two by Trevor Corson (author of a book about sushi). While I agree in the spirit of their arguments (Americans or eh, ‘Westerners’ should be more adventurous with their selection of fish at a sushi place, and that some people are overly scared of the raw fish used for sushi), I sort of wonder what planet they are living on. continue reading...

filed under

Making your own sushi? Proceed with caution.

While I’ve posted recipes for several different kinds of sushi on this site, I have never published a recipe for making nigiri zushi, the kind of sushi most people think of is the sushi, in spite of several requests to do so. There are a couple reasons for this, which you may want to consider before embarking on your own nigiri sushi making experiments. One reason, as I’ve written about before, is that it’s quite difficult to get the nigiri part (the forming of the rice ball and placing of the neta or topping) right. Of course you can practice this, or use a sushi former, or even - if you get fanatical about it - a sushi robot. But the more serious reason is that raw fish is something to be very, very wary of at all times. continue reading...

filed under

Vegetarian / Vegan dashi (Japanese stock)

mizudashi.jpg

As I’ve stated many times here over the years, the basis of most Japanese savory foods is a good dashi, or stock. Dashi is not just used for soups, it’s used for stewing, in sauces, batters, and many, many other things.

The regular way to make dashi was one of my first entries on Just Hungry. It uses kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Some people use niboshi, small dried fish, in addition to or instead of bonito flakes.

Katsuobushi and niboshi are both fish-based, so not vegetarian. So how do you make a good vegetarian, even vegan, dashi? continue reading...

filed under

Japanese Basics: Kaeshi, soba and udon noodle soup or sauce base

kaeshi.jpg

When the weather gets warmer, we eat a lot of cold Japanese noodles: soba (buckwheat noodles), hiyamugi (thin wheat noodles), so-men (even thinner wheat noodles), Sanuki udon (thick wheat noodles- Sanuki is the name of a region famous for udon) and harusame (bean or ‘glass’ noodles). For most cold noodle dishes a salty sweet soy sauce based soup or dipping sauce called mentsuyu is used. You can buy pre-made mentsuyu concentrate, but to me most of them taste too sweet or are overwhelmed by a too-strong MSG or similar artificial tasting umami flavor. Making mentsuyu at home from scratch is not so difficult, and the difference in taste is quite worth the little extra effort.

The base of mentsuyu is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin called kaeshi (or hon-gaeshi: hon means “real” or “authentic”). It can also be used as a flavoring base for many other things. You just need good quality dark soy sauce, white sugar, and good quality mirin. It keeps for months in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer (where it will stay liquid) so I like to make as big a batch as I can afford to price-wise and fridge-space-wise.

This is similar to the Japanese essence mix, but doesn’t include the kombu seaweed or bonito. If you are a vegetarian you can use kaeshi safe in the knowledge that it’s totally vegan, and combine it with a vegetarian stock. Kaeshi also lasts a lot longer since the basic ingredients are indefinite keepers.

I’ll be talking about cold noodles and such in upcoming posts, so if you’d like to follow along, you may want to make some kaeshi to be ready.

This is a very traditional basic recipe. continue reading...

filed under

Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

nibuta1_300.jpg

With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It’s very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It’s a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There’s one unusual ‘secret ingredient’ in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way. continue reading...

filed under

Okonomiyaki ingredients sale (UK/Europe only)

Update: Want to make okonomiyaki from scratch? Try this detailed recipe! continue reading...

filed under

Corn cream soup with intentional lumps

corncreamsoup1.sidebar.jpg

What’s the soup of your childhood? The one that your mother made for you when you had a cold, needed cheering up, or just as a treat? For me, there’s no question: it’s corn cream soup.

Corn cream soup (and yes, it’s called like that, not ‘cream of corn soup’ or ‘creamed corn soup’) belongs to the yohshoku category of Japanese home cooking. It’s an old fashioned, milk based potage, with creamed corn in it. It smells milky, and tastes sweet and savory. It’s loved by Japanese kids.

Now, while my mother was a pretty good cook generally, she did have trouble getting some things right. Her curry for instance was always rather watery. And her corn cream soup, instead of being silky smooth, always had little lumps of undissolved roux. I loved those little lumps though - they tasted like tiny dumplings. Later on when I started to make my own corn cream soup I followed recipes, so my corn cream came out smooth and lumpless. That was fine, but I missed the lumps from my childhood memories. So, I incorporated them back.

Everyone uses canned corn to make a corn cream soup. You can be fancy and use fresh, but that lifts this humble soup into the realm of gourmet special-occasion big deal cooking, which is not what my memories are about at all. I have adjusted the usual way of making this soup by using whole corn rather than creamed, since whole corn cans have more actual corn in them and I suspect less added sugar, and I like the mixture of crushed/creamed and whole corn kernels. Besides, creamed corn cans are unheard of here in Switzerland. continue reading...

filed under

5-a-day lemon honey mustard salad pickles

mixedveg_pickles1.sidebar.jpg

To finish out the week of instant tsukemono or pickles, here is a mixed vegetable pickle with the rather non-Japanese flavors of lemon juice and honey. Despite these flavors it does go pretty well with a Japanese meal, though you can drizzle a bit of soy sauce on top to make it more Japanese-y. It can be made in a batch, stored in the refrigerator, and eaten like salad until it’s gone (though you should try to finish it within 3 or so days.) Using lemon as the acid is a nice change from the usual vinegar, as is the honey as the sweetener.

I’ve called it 5-a-day pickles because that’s the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings you’re supposed to eat every day, according to the UK National Health Service, but I often hear people complain that it’s hard to eat that many servings. A good sized serving of these mild, salad-like pickles would do the trick in one go.

I’ve used some winter vegetables since we’re still at the tail end of winter (and it’s been snowing hard here all week), but any vegetables in season can be used. You could use cauliflower florets, chard stalks, turnips, kohlrabi, celeriac, cabbage, etc. In summer I’m thinking of fresh cucumber, still-firm de-seeded tomatoes, green beans, peppers… Always blanch the tougher vegetables for a short time. Putting it in the marinade while still warm helps the vegetables to absorb the flavors better.

I love the idea of a big bowl of this ready and waiting in the refrigerator, so at least the veggie part of dinner is done. continue reading...

filed under

All natural instant pickling (tsukemono) seasoning mix

instant_tsukemono_pdr.sidebar.jpg

If you browse the aisles of a Japanese grocery, you may run across various instant tsukemono mixes. These come either in liquid or dry form. The dry granules in particular are very handy to have around, and they can make sokuseki zuke in a hurry. However, they usually contain MSG, preservatives and such.

Scouring around the Japanese parts of the interweb, I came across several pages that had recipes for a homemade instant tsukemono mixes, such as this one. They all used MSG or dashi stock granules though, and I wanted to come up with a mixture that was made up 100% of natural ingredients.

After some tinkering around and almost ruining the motor of my food processor, here’s the mixture I came up with. To up the umami quotient it has a full 100 grams of finely chopped konbu seaweed in it. It also has some interesting very Japanese ingredients in it such as dried yuzu peel and yukari, dried powdered red shiso leaves. continue reading...

filed under

Celery with chili pepper pickles (Serori no pirikara zuke)

celery_pirikarazuke.sidebar.jpg

Celery isn’t a very Japanese vegetable, but with the addition of the right flavors it can be turned into a refreshingly crunchy pickle that goes well with white rice, which is the base criteria for determining whether a pickle fits a Japanese meal or not. Besides, I always seem to have some celery in my fridge (who doesn’t?), and this is a good excuse to use some up.

This is a nice salad-like pickle, that’s best eaten with some of the pickling liquid spooned like dressing over the top. There’s a nice bite and a color zing from the thin slivers of red chili pepper. (Pirikara means spicy-hot.) There’s a little sake and mirin in the dressing, which gives it a twist.

Since celery is more fibrous than cucumber, it needs to marinade for a bit longer. Give it at least 3 hours, or overnight. It doesn’t keep too well at room temperature, so reserve this for eating at home. It assembles as quickly as the other quick pickles in this series. continue reading...

filed under

Onigiri in the movies: Kamome Diner (Seagull Diner) and Supermarket Woman

kamome1_nigiru.jpg

Whenever I am feeling blue, one of the foods that I crave is onigiri. You could just chalk that up to the fact that it’s mostly rice = carbs and I’m just craving a carb fix. But it really goes beyond that. It’s tied to memories of my aunts making row upon row of perfectly shaped onigiri for a family gathering, and the salty tinge on my lips from the giant onigiri my mother made for me for a school outing.

Two of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry are the ones about onigiri. It’s great to see so many people from around the world enjoying this quintessential Japanese comfort food.

There are two very interesting Japanese movies where onigiri play a starring role, in quite different ways; Kamome Diner (Kamome Shokudoh) and Supermarket Woman (Suupaa no Onna). Although neither seems to be available on DVD in English speaking countries yet, I thought I’d talk about them a bit. continue reading...

filed under

Dashi stock granules, Ajinomoto, MSG and health considerations

Seamaiden, who has a lovely gluten-free blog called Book of Yum, asked in the comments here whether Ajinomoto is gluten-free. Since I know that a lot of people become interested in rice-centric Asian cuisines, including Japanese, because of the wide variety of wheat-free dishes, I thought I’d post some of my findings here about Ajinomoto and dashi stock granules rather than bury them in the comments.

Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a concentrated and manufactured form of umami. It is a flavor enhancer with a lot of controversy. I won’t get into that at the moment, since reactions to MSG really vary widely depending on the individual. The reality is that MSG is present in many manufactured food products. continue reading...

filed under

Sweet and sour cucumber and wakame pickles (kyuuri to wakame no amasuzuke)

kyuuri_wakame_amasuzuke.sidebar.jpg

This Japanese sokusekizuke method of letting vegetables marinate in a vinegar-based marinade is similar to Western pickling methods, but there’s no canning and sterilation and things involved since these are meant to be eaten within a couple of days like all quick pickles. The vinegar marinade is simply meant to enhance the flavors of the vegetables rather than preserve it for long keeping.

These cucumber pickles are sweet, sour and a bit salty all at the same time. The flavor is quite mild and fresh, so I can eat these several days in a row and not get tired of them. The wakame seaweed can be left out if you prefer, but makes a nice contrast to the cucumber while adding its own umami to the marinade.

The pickles can be eaten anytime from a couple of hours after putting them in the marinade to about 3 days later or so, if you keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. continue reading...

filed under

Quick and spicy Chinese cabbage tsukemono or pickle (Hakusai no sokusekizuke)

hakusai_sokusekizuke.sidebar.jpg

This has to be one of the easiest and tastiest ways of preparing Chinese or napa cabbage (hakusai) that I know of. All you taste is the fresh essence of the cabbage, with the heat of the red pepper and the slight twist of the orange zest.

Did I say easy? Wash and chop up the leaves, mix together the flavoring ingredients, dump all in a plastic bag, shake then massage. That’s it. It’s ready to eat right away, though the flavors to meld a bit better if you can manage to keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.

I’ve used ingredients that anyone should have, even if you aren’t stocked up on typical Japanese ingredients. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes up or down to your taste. continue reading...

Introduction to quick Japanese tsukemono (pickles)

In Japan, tsukemono or pickles are used as hashi-yasume, literally “chopstick resters”, side dishes that have a totally different texture and flavor. So for instance if you had some grilled meat with a sweet-savory sauce as the main course, you might have some simple, crunchy pickled cucumber slices to go with it.

This week I’ll be posting some quick Japanese vegetable pickle recipes. Japanese pickles can be very loosely divided into three kinds: the kind that take some time to ‘ripen’, but then last indefinitely, rather like Western style pickles; the kind that is ready in a few days, but which require a pickling bed that takes time to make and to maintain; and finally, the quick and easy kind that can be made and eaten within a day. The last two kinds do not keep well - just like fresh vegetables, they must be eaten within a short time.

Quick pickles, called sokusekizuke (instant pickles) or ichiya-zuke (overnight pickles) depending on how long they take to come to full flavor, are very easy to make as their names suggest. They are a great way to prepare vegetables without having to add any additional fat, though a few recipes do call for some oil. continue reading...

Coming up next week: a week of sokuseki zuke (quick Japanese pickles)

I am going to take the weekend off from the computer because I have a Mountain Of Things to Do away from it. Next week, I’ll have a series of posts about quick Japanese pickles, or sokuseki zuke. Sokuseki zuke pickles are the busy cook’s alternative to ‘real’ pickles like nukazuke (rice brain pickles), of the kind that require nursing a pickling bed, long resting periods, and such complicated procedures. The word sokuseki means instant, and these pickles are usually ready to eat in a short period, anywhere from overnight to about an hour. continue reading...

A dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow

shisoleaves300.jpg

I am finally getting around to sowing some seeds for the vegetable garden. I really should have sown some things earlier, but I figure it’s not too late yet.

If you are planning a vegetable garden, or even a few pots on your windowsill, and want to introduce some Japanese flavors, here’s a list of some herbs and vegetables to consider growing, in order of importance and ease of growing in a temperate climate. (That’s one with real winters…at least, before global warming.) The ones marked with an *asterisk can be grown in pots. A couple of my favorite seed sources are listed at the bottom. continue reading...

filed under

Asparagus with black sesame sauce (asparagasu no gomayogoshi)

asparagus_gomayogoshi1.sidebar.jpg

We’re starting to see asparagus at reasonable prices again in the stores, which I’m really happy about. The ones available now come from California and Mexico, so they aren’t very food-miles-correct, but I still can’t resist buying a bunch or two. In a few weeks we’ll start seeing asparagus from a a bit closer places like Spain and France, not to mention fat white asparagus from Germany.

This is aspagarus with a ground sesame sauce, which would be called aemono (as explained in the broccoli ae recipe) if made with white sesame seeds, but since this version is made with black sesame seeds it’s called gomayogoshi, or “dirtied with sesame”. I don’t think it looks dirty - I really like the contrast of the bright green asparagus with the black sesame sauce. You can, of course, use regular white (brown) sesame seeds instead, in which case it would be called asparagasu no goma ae. The sweet nutty sauce compliments the asparagus quite well.

I’ve included step by step instructions for grinding sesame seeds in a suribachi. You can grind up the sesame seeds in a plain mortar and pestle instead. You may be able to buy pre-ground sesame (surigoma), though that isn’t nearly as fragrant as freshly ground sesame.

It makes a great side dish, as well as being great for your bento box. continue reading...

filed under

Suribachi, Japanese grinding bowl or mortar

suribachi1.sidebar.jpg

When I wrote about essential Japanese cooking equipment a while back, I forgot to mention one item that I use quite often, a suribachi. A suribachi is a sturdy ceramic bowl that’s used with a grinding stick called a surikogi like a mortar and pestle. While I’m a big fan of handy electric equipment like food processors for many tasks, sometimes the results you get by doing things by hand are well worth the elbow grease needed. continue reading...

filed under

Broccoli with wasabi sauce (wasabi-ae)

broccoli_wasabi.sidebar.jpg

All hail the mighty broccoli. While it’s always available in the produce section, it’s one of the few fresh vegetables that haven’t been shipped halfway around the world to reach people who live in many parts of the northern hemisphere during the colder months. In the spring we even get very locally grown broccoli and its relatives like romanesco.

Broccoli can be rather boring if it’s just served steamed, boiled or, god forbid , raw. (I’m sorry, I don’t really get raw broccoli. Raw cauliflower yes, but not raw broccoli.) A way to perk up broccoli without relying on those yummy yet caloric additions like mayonnaise, cheese sauce or garlic-and-olive-oil, is to make aemono or ohitashi with them. Ohitashi is basically vegetables that have been steamed or blanched/boiled served with a sauce that contains soy sauce, often but not always a little dashi stock, and sometimes a bit of sake or mirin and sugar. Aemono uses a similar sauce, with added ingredients like ground up sesame seeds. In this recipe, the sauce contains wasabi, so it’s aemono.

As long as you have all the ingredients on hand it’s very quick to make, and very tasty. The sinus-clearing qualities of the wasabi are softened by the other ingredients in the sauce, while still giving the broccoli a nice, bright flavor.

It makes a great side dish as part of a Japanese meal, or even a salad. It’s also a very nice bento item (you may want to contain the sauce in a paper cup or its own container). continue reading...

Chef Morimoto disses the "authentic" Japanse certification plan

On the New York Tiimes Diners Journal blog, which is no longer just written by Frank Bruni, Julia Moskin writes about a Japanese food symposium held at the Japan Society. She reports that “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto called the Japanese government’s plans to certify “authentic” Japanese restaurants “nonsense”. Now, fans of the original (and best) Japanese version of Iron Chef may remember Chef Morimoto’s ongoing “battles” with chefs who cooked “authentic Japanese”; while a lot of it seemed like fake drama for the cameras, perhaps there was some truth in it after all. He did make some pretty outrageous, not to mention downright odd, things under the guise of “nouvelle Japanese” on occasion, which seemed to get some more “authentic” Japanese chefs rather upset. If we assume that the standards of ‘authenticity’ might be dictated by such chefs, people like Chef Morimoto, not to mention Nobu Matsuhisa, may not pass muster. Not to say they don’t produce good, even great, food. (Though I must admit I’m not a big Nobu fan. To be fair I’ve only been there once, years ago, and had a ‘server problem’ which clouded things. And I’ve never been to a Morimoto restaurant.)

filed under

Tiny kaiten sushi-ya

rement_j14rev.sidebar.jpg

I normally stay away from kaiten-zushi (kaiten sushi) or conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, since the quality can be iffy. But I could really go for this adorable miniature kaiten-zushi miniature set! (I’m not sure why the itamae-san (sushi chef) has Angelina Jolie lips though….) It’s a new themed set from Re-Ment (US site) (Japanese site), a Japanese company that makes amazingly detailed die-cast miniatures called Puchi Petites, mostly of food and related items like cooking equipment, but of other things too. The miniatures started out as omake, or free gifts that came with the purchase of candy, but the miniatures have become so popular that the candy, while it’s still included, is now a mere afterthought. continue reading...

filed under

Authentically Japanese?

Recently there was an article in the Washington Post about some attempts by the Japanese government to set up some kind of authenticity certification for Japanese cuisine served abroad. continue reading...

filed under

Basics: Tamagoyaki or Atsuyaki Tamago, Japanese sweet omelette

tamagoyaki2.sidebar.jpg

Tamagoyaki is such a integral part of Japanese food that I am rather kicking myself for not having posted a recipe for it before here. The name tamagoyaki means “fried egg”, and the alternate name, atsuyaki tamago, means “thick fried egg”. (Some books or restaurants erroneously called it just tamago, which just means “egg”.) A slightly sweet, moist square-shaped egg concoction, tamagoyaki is a bento box staple, as well as being a popular sushi neta (topping). It’s also great as a side dish for any meal.

You don’t really need a special tamagoyaki pan for making this. A regular small non-stick frying pan will do. The one advantage of having a small tamagoyaki pan like this one is that the size is good for making small, thick tamagoyaki without using extra eggs. Conversely, a big square tamagoyaki/atsuyaki tamago pan is used for making those thick tamagoyaki served at better sushi restaurants. (Cheap sushi places use manufactured tamagoyaki, which is an abomination.) However, I’m assuming most people are likely to own a small frying pan, so that’s what I’ve used for the photos here. The one I have is an ordinary (pretty cheap) Tefal model that I got at a sale somewhere.

Once you get the hang of making the multilayers of egg, it’s very easy to do. A 2-egg tamagoyaki takes less than 5 minutes to cook, and a 4-egg one just a bit more. 4 eggs is the maximum that’s practical to cook in a 20cm / 8 inch standard frying pan.

I prefer my tamagoyaki to not be too sweet so there isn’t much sugar in this - I’ve seen recipes that add up to 3 tablespoons for 4 eggs. You can add more or less to your taste. continue reading...

filed under

Yakitate!! Japan

yakitatejapanbig.sidebar.jpgYakitate!! Japan is a popular manga series. So popular in fact that it’s one of the few manga that’s available (legitimately) in English. There was also an anime series, which so far is only (legally) available in Japan. It sort of belongs to a genre of manga called Gourmet (gurume) Manga, manga whose main theme is food-related. The Wikipedia Japan page for Gourmet Manga lists more than 100 titles in this genre, though as far as I know only Yakitate!! is available in English at the moment. (I’ll be talking about other gourmet manga eventually.)

The Yakitate part of the title means “freshly baked”. The Japan part is a pun of sorts: pan is the Japanese word for bread (the word was imported from Portuguese most likely), and the goal of the main character is to find the ultimate JaPan, or Japanese bread. The title sequence of the anime says that “There’s furansu pan (French bread), igirisu pan (English bread), doitsu pan (German bread) but no bread to represent Japan”. The story unfolds in the form of several big Iron Chef style baking competitions, where the main character Kazuma Azuma and others vie with each other for fame and glory. A running gag is that the bread creations are so delicious that they make the eaters, especially main judge Kuroyanagi, have extreme reactions like dying and going to heaven, or (from another judge) sprouting a live peacock out of his head. continue reading...

filed under

Smoked salmon temari zushi: Ball-shaped sushi

salmontemarizushi1.sidebar.jpg

Following up on the previous recipe for shell shaped sushi, here is another kind of sushi that’s great for parties. Temari are small cloth balls made from leftover scraps of kimono fabric, and temari zushi are meant to look like these colorful toys.

You can make temari zushi with any number of things, such as thinly sliced sashimi grade fish, boiled and butterflied shrimp, thinly sliced and cooked or uncooked vegetables, and even thin slices of cheese. You will likely never see temari zushi at a sushi restaurant - this is homey home-style sushi.

For these, I’ve used thinly cut slices of pale pink smoked salmon, with tiny amount of cream cheese inside, rather in the same vein as a New York Roll - quite non-traditional but it’s a great combination. The key is to make the temari zushi on the small side since they are quite rich. continue reading...

filed under

Japanese Curry Bread (Kare-pan)

currybread1.sidebar.jpg

There’s a whole category of breads in Japan called okazu pan. Okazu are the savory dishes that you eat with your bowl of rice at a typical meal, and okazu pan are little breads with savory fillings.

Since curry flavored anything is a hit in Japan, curry bread or kare- pan is one of the most popular okazu pan varieties. It’s a bun made of slightly sweet dough, filled with a spoonful of curry, breaded and deep fried. I am not sure how curry bread originated, but I am guessing it was inspired by Russian piroshki (piroshiki is also a popular okazu pan, though in the Japanese version it often contains very non-Russian fillings like harusame, thin bean noodles). Curry bread is sold at bakeries and convenience stores throughout Japan.

Making curry bread is a bit tricky since it’s deep-fried. It’s easy to make an oily, soggy lump if you fry it too long or at too low a temperature, but if you don’t fry it long enough the center part where the dough meets the filling may be raw. My solution for this is to fry it until it’s puffed and crisped, then to finish it in the oven. The other trick is to roll out the dough as thinly as you can manage without making it so thin that the curry is going to burst through.

You also have to be careful about the consistency of the curry filling. It’s most convenient to start out with some leftover curry, but it has to be reduced down to a very thick, paste-like consistency, otherwise it will run over the dough and make the dough hard to seal. If the dough is not sealed properly, the bun will burst in the oil, which ends up to be quite a mess (oil seeps in, filling seeps out).

All in all, I am not sure I would bother to make curry bread at all if I lived near a Japanese bakery, but I do on occasion get a craving for this very down to earth snack. Try it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. This recipe is adapted from one in an out-of-print Japanese bread book. continue reading...

filed under

Japanese cookbooks in English by a great teacher

book image: Everyday Japanese Cooking

I don’t know how this escaped me until now, but there are actually two cookbooks available in English by one of the best teachers of traditional washoku or Japanese cooking, Tokiko Suzuki. Japanese Homestyle Cooking, published in 2000, is the more recent one, and The Essentials of Japanese Cooking is the other, published in 1995. continue reading...

filed under

Almond Poodle

Japanese people have a long standing tradition of adapting words from other languages when a Japanese word or term doesn’t exist for something. The language most often borrowed from is English, but other languages are freely raided too. Often, the original meaning of the word changes quite a bit (see this post on my personal blog about the use of one such word, “mansion”) which can be confusing for the non-Japanese speaker. continue reading...

filed under

Tips for shopping for Japanese books and magazines

Since there seems to be interest in Japanese cookbook reviews, I will be posting some here periodically!

The question is, where is the best place to shop for Japanese books, magazines, DVDs and such? If you have a Japanese bookstore near you, that’s the best place. One tip for buying magazines: the most recent issue of any magazine has been airmailed to the store, so the price you’ll be charged is for the cost of the magazine plus that airmail cost. However, if there are any issues left after a month, the stores may sell them for a discount. (Kinokuniya in New York and San Francisco both do this.) Since most food magazines are not that timely, this works out well.

If you don’t have a Japanese bookstore near you, the two biggest and most user-friendly online bookstores for Japanese language material are Yes Asia and Amazon Japan. I’ve bought stuff from both, and in terms of customer service and so on both are pretty good. continue reading...

filed under

Related sites

Share food, change lives
Play Freerice and feed the hungry

Hello!

Just Hungry is a site about Japanese food and home cooking, healthy eating, the expat food life, and more. [log in] or [register]

About this site

maki Just Hungry is a site about food. There are lots of recipes and much more. You may want to read about Just Hungry, or contact the site owner, Makiko Itoh. To dive in real deep, try the site map.

This article is from justhungry.com.