recipe

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!

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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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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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New potatoes with butter and soy sauce (Shinjaga shouyu bataa)

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A very easy way to treat yourself to tiny new potatoes. continue reading...

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Strawberries, tsubuan, ice cream

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn’t belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I’ve had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it’s even better. continue reading...

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Kuzumochi, a cool sweet summer dessert

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the goma dofu (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it’s a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky ‘mochi’ cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It’s traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert. continue reading...

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Goma dofu: Sesame tofu that's not tofu

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There are some dishes in Japan that look and have a texture like tofu, but are not tofu in the traditional sense; that is, they’re not made from coagulated soy milk. One of these not-tofu tofus is goma dofu (ごま豆腐)or sesame tofu. Goma dofu is made from three simple ingredients: ground sesame paste, water, and kuzu or kudzu powder. continue reading...

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How to cook bamboo shoots (takenoko)

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There are two Japanese vegetables that I can’t get fresh here that I miss very much. One is burdock root or gobo; the other is bamboo shoot or takenoko (竹の子 or 筍). Bamboo shoots are very much a spring-only vegetable, much like asparagus, so around this time of year I always get a craving for the crunch and subtle flavor. continue reading...

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How to cook taro root or satoimo

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How to prepare that hairy looking beast, the taro root or satoimo. continue reading...

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Quick take: Yogurt (yoghurt) cheese with garlic and olive oil

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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has an article about how to make yogurt (or as they spell it in the UK, yoghurt) in the Guardian. I did not want to go to the trouble of making yogurt from scratch, but I had a big pot of plain yogurt that needed to be used up so I made a sort of variation on the yogurt cheese balls further down on the page.

Yogurt cheese, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is just plain yogurt that has been drained of much of its liquid. To make it, just line a sieve with some porous cloth like cheesecloth, muslin, a coffee filter or even a couple of paper towels, spoon the yogurt in, and put the sieve with a bowl underneath in the refrigerator for at least a few hours. The more you let it sit, the drier it will become.

I strained about 2 1/2 cups of yogurt mixed with 1 teaspoon of sea salt from Friday evening to Sunday morning, by which time it had become the consistency of whipped cream cheese. I put this into a bowl, grated one garlic clove over it and drizzled on some extra virgin olive oil and mixed it up. It was the perfect spread for freshly baked hot savory scones.

I’ve never been a big fan of very sweet yogurt, so this savory yogurt spread may make more breakfast appearances.

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Cooking whole dried soybeans

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Until fairly recently I had a blind spot when it came to the humble soybean. I regularly consume soy products like soy milk, tofu and okara, not to mention fermented soybean products like natto and tempeh. And green soybeans or edamame are always a great snack.

But for some reason, I didn’t really get into eating the whole dried (and cooked) soybean. It’s not that they are that much harder to cook than other dried beans either.

In any case, I’ve rectified that situation and now I cook up a batch of soybeans quite regularly and store them in the freezer. Plain boiled soybeans are amazingly delicious, and just packed with nutrition. The cooking liquid is so rich that it can be used as a very nutritious stock or dashi for making soups and such.

There are a couple of points to watch out for when cooking whole soybeans, which are noted below in copious detail. continue reading...

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A vegan version of nikujaga (Japanese meat and potatoes), plus how to remake Japanese recipes to make them vegan

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Nikujaga, stewed potatoes with meat, is a staple of Japanese home cooking. It’s filling and comforting, and appears quite frequently for dinner at our house. Recently though I’ve been making this vegan version more frequently, which is just as tasty as the meaty version. Thick fried tofu (atsuage) is the protein replacement, but it’s not just there for it’s nutritional benefits - I love the texture in a lot of dishes.

The recipe, plus some ideas on how to reform Japanese non-vegan recipes to make them vegan, after the jump. continue reading...

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Wine, cheese and walnut whole wheat bread using the Almost No-Knead method

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Notes on the Almost No-Knead Bread method, plus a recipe for bread with wine in the dough. continue reading...

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Spaghetti Napolitan

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Continuing my yohshoku mini-marathon, here’s the infamous Japan-ized pasta dish called Napolitan or Naporitan. (Japanese doesn’t have an L or R sound, which is why Japanese people often mix them up when speaking Western languages.) As far as I know, there’s nothing remotely Neapolitan about Napolitan, except for the use of spaghetti. It is made with a creamy ketchup-based sauce, and has the salty-sweet flavors that Japanese people love. continue reading...

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Menchikatsu (or Menchi katsu)

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While I make Japanese style hamburgers all the time, I rarely make menchikatsu, its breaded and deep-fried cousin. I guess it’s the breading and deep frying that deters me - it’s a messy process, and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. So I made these ones for the blog! Fortunately they were consumed very eagerly. continue reading...

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Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

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As promised, here is my recipe for making Japanese style hamburgers or hamburger steaks, one of the quintessential yohshoku or Japanese Western-style dishes. They are called hanbaagu (though they are sometimes called hambaagaa, but that variation usually refers to the kind that comes sandwiched inside a bun) in Japan, and are very popular for lunch or dinner, and are eaten as a side dish to rice (okazu) in Japanese homes. In fancier restaurants that specialize in yohshoku, they might be eaten with a knife and fork, but at home they’re eaten with chopsticks. Whenever Japanese food magazines have a poll about popular okazu, hamburgers are always in the top three, especially amongst kids.

They don’t have much in common with the American style of hamburger, except for the fact that they both start off with ground meat. A Japanese hamburger has more in common with meatloaf, and a rather similar texture. They are similar to the old TV dinner standby, Salisbury steak, but I think a lot better. continue reading...

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Bread pudding made with leftover hot cross bunny buns

I am still not up to much cooking, but I did want to share this in case anyone ends up making the hot cross bunny buns, or just regular hot cross buns, for Easter, and have leftovers. I did the trial run for the bunny buns a couple of days before I went to the hospital. Eight (!) of them were consumed almost right away, but the rest ended up getting hard and forlorn since (cough) someone forgot to put them in the freezer fast enough.

Never fear though, they made great bread pudding. It was so good that even I was able to eat a little, in my current uncomfortable-swallowing and lack of appetite state.

Sorry for the lack of photos…it got devoured before I had a chance to shoot. I’ll put some in next time I have leftover hot cross bunnies. continue reading...

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Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns

(This is the web elf. This is one of the articles Maki instructed to post while she’s on the disabled list.)

I love bunnies, and Easter is a great excuse to make something edible in a bunny shape. Last year, I made bunny bao. The year before that, I took a class in making chocolate bunnies. I’ve also made pastel colored Easter Bunny cupcakes, and given you a diagram for cutting usagi ringo (apple bunnies).

This year I have an urge for the traditional British Easter treat, hot cross buns. But, as bunnies.

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Hot Cross buns are soft and light, spicy fruity buns with a sugar glaze. They are called Hot Cross buns because they usually sport a cross on top. I prefer the bunny as my Easter motif.

These bunnies are made using the Hot Cross bun recipe on the BBC Food site, which yields a realy nice, light bun with a wonderful spicy fragrance. I did change two things: I added some orange zest in addition to lemon zest to the dough, and simply pressed some dried fruit into the dough as I’ll show below instead of mixing it into the dough. This was done in order to produce bunnies with fairly smooth faces. The drawback is that you don’t get fruit in every bite, but I think the cuteness more than makes up for that. continue reading...

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Mitarashi dango, rice dough dumplings with sweet-salty sauce

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Even if I am Japanese, I don’t like all Japanese food. And I must confess that I don’t like a lot of traditional Japanese sweets that are based on sweetened beans. For the most part they are way too sweet for me, and if I make them for myself I’m always adjusting the sweetness level, as with my ohagi or botamochi.

Mitarashi dango, however, are my absolute favorite traditional sweet. They are not really that sweet really - that shiny caramel colored sauce (which is called mitarashi sauce) is sweet and savory at the same time. It goes perfectly with the bland, slightly chewy dango or dumplings. (Dango is the name for unfilled solid dumplings.)

You may see the dango just plained boiled more often than not. But grilling the dango makes them so much better, in my opinion. continue reading...

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Lotus root mini-cakes with sweet chili sauce

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These tasty little savory cakes are made of ground lotus root. The texture is quite surprising - almost like mochi cakes. It’s a great vegan, gluten-free savory snack that’s high in fiber and packed with flavor. continue reading...

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Some unresolved thoughts about white bean paste

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Usually when I put a recipe up here, it’s something that’s been fully resolved: that is, I’ve tried it out for myself (in most cases several times over), and I know that it works. This one is a bit different, but I thought I’d write about it in-progress, as it were, anyway. continue reading...

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Okonomiyaki, Osaka style

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Okonomiyaki is getting slowly more popular outside of Japan. It’s often described as a Japanese pizza, but it’s more like a savory pancake.

Okonomiyaki was invented, they say, in Osaka, which is a city famous for cheap and good eats. Okonomiyaki is a snack more than a full meal, though it is pretty filling. It’s a quintessential yatai or streetside food stand food, though nowadays you’re more likely to eat it indoors than sitting at an outside stall. It’s a very communal type of food, especially if you cook it on a tabletop griddle.

This is a fairly authentic recipe I think, or as authentic as a Tokyo born-and-bred girl can get. continue reading...

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Cod marinated in miso and kochujang

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I have not featured many fish recipes here on Just Hungry. This is because at the moment I live in a landlocked country, where sea fish must be shipped in, and is expensive to boot. When I do buy some fish, I savor it as a treat. (I may be preparing myself for something that all fish eating people might have to endure soon, given the problems of overfishing.)

This is a classic miso marinade with a spicy twist. Instead of using just miso, I’ve added a little bit of kochujang, spicy Korean bean paste. I’ve used cod for this, but you could use any firm, flaky white fish instead - or even an oily fish such as salmon or swordfish. The pieces of fish should have a certain thickness, so thin fish like flounder won’t do. continue reading...

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Bacon wrapped tofu

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Bacon. Tofu. Two proteins on the opposite ends of the food social scale. One is revered, serenaded, hailed as the food of the Gods. The other is reviled, sneered at, as being bland, boring, even disgusting.

When I saw this conflict depicted as bendable figurines (via Serious Eats) I had to do something to end this conflict.

The only reason why tofu is put down is because of its mishandling by well meaning but unskilled cooks who focused only on its healthy benefits. There are plenty of Westerners who hate tofu, but you’d be hard put to find many Asians who do. That is becase in eastern Asian cuisines, tofu is infused with other flavors, as it should be.

So, back to the bacon and tofu. This is actually not an uncommon dish in Japanese households. It’s called either just bacon tofu (or tofu bacon) or even bacon tofu steak. The salty bacon-ness of the bacon infuses the bland tofu, and the two marry together to become a tasty morsel that’s good hot or cold. It’s salty-crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. (Yes, it’s good for bento, and it will feature in one shortly.) continue reading...

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Vegan miso tahini walnut carrots on Just Bento

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I know that a lot more people read Just Hungry than read Just Bento (and I know a lot read both - thank you!) Most recipes are posted here, but when there is a recipe that works especially well in a bento lunch, I post it on the bento site.

These miso-tahini-walnut topped baked carrots are great for bento, but are really even nicer warm out of the oven. And I think the world needs more tasty vegan protein recipes. So in case you don’t read Just Bento, but you are vegetarian/vegan (and this is dairy free and all that, could be made gluten-free quite easily by choosing the right miso…only nut allergy people wouldn’t benefit) head on over to Just Bento and check it out. Another one that is very bento-suitable that you might like is shio kombu or kombu no tsukudani, kombu seaweed cooked in soy sauce…I know several people have asked me for a recipe…well, there it is, right there!

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Brown rice and green tea porridge (genmai chagayu)

genmai-chagayu.jpgA traditional custom in Japan is to eat nanakusa gayu, or seven greens rice porridge, after the New Year’s feasting period, to rest the stomach and bring the body back into balance. At any time of the year, kayu or okayu are eaten when the body is weakened by sickness, fatigue or overeating.

Chagayu or tea rice porridge is a speciality of the ancient city of Nara and the surrounding area. (Nara was briefly the capital of Japan in the 7th century, and is one of the most historical cities in the country). Chagayu is usually made with white rice, but I used brown rice (genmai) instead, plus a small amount of firm green puy lentils from France. The lentils are not traditional, but I like the contrasting texture.

This has been my breakfast for about a week now. It’s not in the same category as eggs and bacon or a stack of pancakes, but I find my body needs something like this sometimes to bring it back into balance. It’s filling and warming, yet feels very cleansing to the body. A cup of this has less than 100 calories, and is high in fiber. continue reading...

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

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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...

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Oden, a Japanese stew or hotpot

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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.

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Hayashi raisu (rice): Japanese beef stew

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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...

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Homemade whole wheat pita bread, no oven needed

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Even with more than 900 (and counting) posts and almost 200 recipes posted on Just Hungry, there are still lots of things that I make all the time, but haven’t got around to writing about yet. A lot of those things take more time to write up than cook, almost. This whole wheat pita bread recipe is one of them. You do have to account for the obligatory rising time for the dough, but otherwise it’s dead easy, and your kitchen working time in total is maybe 20 minutes, 30 tops. For fresh baked bread!

The key is that the pitas are not baked in the oven. No need for preheating baking stones or quarry tiles or all that stuff. They are baked, so to speak, in a plain old frying pan. You can make them any size you want as long as it fits in the bottom of the frying pan. I like to make small, palm-sized ones for easy snacking or bringing along for lunch.

This recipe also only requires 3 cups of flour in total. I sometimes get a bit frustrated by bread recipes that call for like 6 cups of flour, since we are a small household watching our collective waistlines and there’s no way we can eat that much bread in a reasonable amount of time. Sure you can freeze the excess, but then you can quickly accumulate massive amounts of frozen bread if you bake often. So anyway, this makes 12 smallish pitas, which are gone quite quickly, especially with a resident Bread Fiend in house.

I referred to many other pita bread recipes, especially this excellent one on About.com, before arriving at this version. The cooking in the frying pan concept came from watching naan bread and Chinese flat breads puff when cooked on griddles. A griddle is not necessary though - and I think most people have at least one frying pan. continue reading...

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

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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...

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Buta no kakuni: Japanese Braised Pork Belly

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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...

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Wafuu Pasuta (wafuu pasta): Japanese style pasta

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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...

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There and Back Again: My Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese

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I love pasta in many guises, but when it comes to ultimate Comfort Pasta, there is nothing that compares to a spaghetti bolognese. By spaghetti bolognese, I mean spaghetti topped with a rich, ground-meat and tomato based sauce. No fancy ragu or such. I don’t think it’s that authentically Italian, but I don’t really care. It’s one of my favorite cool-weather dinners.

Once upon a time, I had what I thought was a perfect recipe for spaghetti bolognese. Then, about a year ago I lost my way. After a year of bewilderingly off-target bolognese, I’ve found my way back.

I blame Heston Blumenthal for messing with my head. (Disclaimer: I am otherwise a big fan of Mr. Blumenthal.) Last year, he tackled spaghetti bolognese on his In Search of Perfection television series (and in the book of course), and came up with a “perfect” version. The perfect Blumenthal version of spaghetti bolognese is, naturally, extremely complicated, but compared to the other “perfect” versions of various popular dishes it seemed to be the most doable. So, we (note the plural: it required a team effort) tackled it, piece by piece. It does help in life to have an almost equally food-obsessive partner for such quests.

It took us 3 full days to accomplish, starting from the pre-ordering of the meaty oxtails at the butcher counter (it’s not a commonly used cut here), finding the perfect spaghetti, ripe tomatoes in December (yes, I know) and the final slow cooking of the sauce. And the result?

It was good, yes, but perfect? Neither of us was sure. But yet it had flashes of something great in there; the meatiness of the gelatinous oxtail, the unctuous richness. So, we embarked on a long journey of trying to tweak that recipe. We tried different meat combinations. (Turkey is a definite no.) We experimented with bacon, chorizo, various sausages, salami. We tried less or more of the vegetables, canned tomatoes alone or fresh alone.

All were interesting, but I still felt off kilter. Then, the other day I made bolognese more or the way I had made it for years until the Blumenthal experiments - and, it was just about perfect.

Mind you, it’s probably because my criteria for a perfect bolognese are different from the great chef’s, as I explain below. And some of the ideas gleaned from the Blumenthal version and the ensuing experiments did creep in, making the sauce even better. In any case, I’m now happy that this is my Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese. I can now move on to perfecting other things. continue reading...

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Sweet and spicy roasted kabocha squash

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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...

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Preserving shiso, basil, lemon verbena, and other herbs

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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...

Lemon verbena and honey granita

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The lemon verbena plant that I planted last year and almost lost to a summer storm, is now firmly established and positively thriving. Whenever I pass it I can’t resist rubbing a leaf, because it smells so wonderful.

Transferring that wonderful lemony scent to taste is quite easy - simply steeping it in some boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes does the trick. This granita is infused with the aroma of lemon verbena, soured with a little lemon juice, and sweetened with a delicate acacia honey. Any light colored honey will work here instead. It makes a wonderful light dessert or palate cleanser, or cooling summer snack. continue reading...

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Deconstructed Tomato: Tomato gelée with tomato coulis

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Have you ever made tomato water? It’s the clear liquid strained gently from a ripe tomato, and one of the best treats of summer. When made from juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, it has a sweet yet green-tomatoey taste that is so intense that a little goes a very long way.

Making tomato water is very simple. All it requires is a blender or food processor, a fine mesh sieve, paper towels, and patience. What you do with the resulting water is up to your imagination. Here I have added a little gelatin to make it into a tomato gelée (or, to be non-fancy, jelly). Served on top is a tomato coulis made from the pulp that is left over after the water is strained. The only heat-adding cooking involved is in melting the gelatin. It fits in well with my minimal-cooking mood this summer.

This would make a very interesting first course for a summer meal, or an amuse-bouche if served in tiny portions. It would be a great in-between courses palate cleanser too, if you are having an elaborate meal. continue reading...

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Zucchini and chickpea pancakes

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Continuing with my light and quick summer dishes:

This year we got a bit more serious than usual about our garden, and planted three zucchini plants. If you have a garden with zucchinis, you know that sometime around midsummer they start to produce babies like crazy. We’ve had a rather cold and rainy summer here up until now, but this week our three innocent looking zucchini plants have gone into high gear, and we’re picking them as fast as we can before they turn into seedy, tasteless baseball bat sized monsters.

Zucchini pancakes are one way to use up a lot at once. This version uses chickpea flour instead of wheat flour or eggs, with a little bit of spice in it. It’s great hot or cold, and is a perfect snack, side dish or complete vegan main dish, since the chickpea flour is such a terrific source of protein and carbs (nutritional info). Serve it with a salsa, curry, or just on its own. Here I just served them with some super-ripe tomato wedges. The shredded zucchini adds moisture and a rather creamy texture, which I love.

Chickpea flour is used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. I get mine from a local Indian grocery store, where it’s sold as gram flour; it’s also known as besan, ceci flour, and so on. continue reading...

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Tabbouleh with heirloom tomatoes and shiso

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I haven’t been posting a lot of recipes here recently. This is mainly because I haven’t actually been doing a lot of full-on cooking, as in hauling out a lot of pots and pans and having the oven full blast and so on. It’s summer after all, and I’ve been enjoying fruits and vegetables as close to their natural, fresh, ripe state as possible. So this week I’ll be posting a few such recipes - requiring minimal active cooking, full of fresh summer vegetables, and nice to have on a warm summer day or evening.

The first one is my standard recipe for tabbouleh, with a twist - instead of using mint, I use shiso (perilla). Shiso has a slightly minty but wholly unique flavor which I really like in just about anything. I also make it with a lot less olive oil than most recipes call for, which I think adds to the fresh taste. We love to have a bowl of tabbouleh in the fridge for easy self-service lunch and snacks throughout the day - it tastes so healthy and is quite filling. It’s also a great side dish for a barbeque.

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Fresh tomatoes are the key to a great tabbouleh in my opinion. You need ones that are ripe and full of flavor, yet firm. One of my favorite tomatoes at the moment are an heirloom Swiss variety called Berner Rosen - they are a rosy pink when ripe, and full of juice and flavor. (If you’re in Switzerland, Berner Rosen are all over the place at the markets right now.) If you can’t get hold of a good heirloom variety like this, use cherry tomatoes, which are usually reliably firm yet flavorful. continue reading...

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Vegetarian / Vegan dashi (Japanese stock)

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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...

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

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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...

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Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

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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...

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Rhubarb berry trifle

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On rhubarb, stewed fruit and England

I first saw this curious plant called rhubarb during the time we lived for 5 years in Berkshire, England. I was 5 when we moved there. The rhubarb grew like a small jungle in a corner of the vegetable patch of the house we were renting, alongside some equally puzzling gooseberry bushes. Neither existed at all in Japan at the time, and my mother was at a loss as to what to do with them, until our next door neighbor lady told her how to stew them. The neighbor lady believed in stewing most fruit - she told my mother to stew or jam all of the raspberries too, since eating them raw may lead to upset small tummies. Thankfully my mother didn’t take her advice for all of the raspberries, and I still have memories of stickily enjoying bowls and bowls of red, ripe raspberries with clouds of whipped cream. One of the first things I did when I got my own garden was to plant several raspberry canes.

Stewed and cooked fruit figures quite prominently in my memories of English food at the time. This was in the ’70s. Whenever I was invited to tea at a friend’s house, there was usually always some sort of cooked fruit dish, be it a compote of peaches in the summer or apple and blackberry pie later on in the year. I think we only ate fresh, raw fruit at home, except for bananas and strawberries. I didn’t even know that gooseberries could be anything other than sour, green and only edible stewed with sugar, until I came to Switzerland and saw them left to ripen on a bush, turning a bright reddish-purple.

That penchant for cooking fruit does mean that there are many terrific fruity desserts (aka puddings) in British cookbooks. One of them is trifle. I’m in the midst of my annual rhubarb orgy period, and it’s one ‘fruit’ (though it’s botanically a vegetable) that needs to be cooked. Hence, the rhubarb trifle.

The slightly modernized trifle

A trifle is small pieces of sponge cake soaked in a sweet, fruity liquid, and topped with custard or cream. Some versions of trifle are quite alcoholic, but this one has no alcohol in it since I imagine my 8 year old self tucking into it. The components are simple: the fruit-liquidy mix, the cake, and the creamy topping. The key part that makes this trifle different is the rhubarb soaking liquid part, which is quite sour and not too sweet. I’ve added a few frozen berries (raspberries from last summer’s crop in fact) to make the red color more intense - if you have fresh strawberries by all means use those instead.

Trifle is traditionally topped with custard, cream or both. Here I have combined the two so to speak and topped it with vanilla ice cream instead - this is the slightly modernized part. It’s homemade but you can use a good store bought ice cream if you don’t want to bother, or don’t have an ice cream maker.

I think that the key to a good trifle is to not overload it with sponge cake, which makes it go rather stodgy. Add just a few pieces for the interesting texture. Note that I’ve used pieces of store bought roll cake here (called Swiss roll in England, but not really Swiss as far as I know) which adds some extra flavor. You can assemble it all in a big bowl, or in individual glasses as I’ve done here.

This is my pre-planned entry for Sam’s Fish and Quips event celebrating British food. See also my other two British-theme posts this week, Tasting Guinness Marmite and The Edwardians and their food. continue reading...

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Rhubarb, ginger and berry smoothie to chase away a cold

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I have a raging cold at the moment. Stuffed head, fever, ringing ears, streaming eyes, the lot. What makes it worse is that the weather is glorious outside, and here I am stuck inside, groaning a lot and feeling sorry for myself.

In times like this the only things I can even think about eating and drinking are fruity yogurt, juices, and tea. This smoothie, which is an adaptation from a recipe in the adorable Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book, combines two of those elements and is tart yet spicy in a nice chest-clearing sort of way. It also tastes wonderful. Although, I’m pretty sure it would taste even better if my mouth didn’t feel like cotton wool.

It’s a good thing I took this picture against the clear blue spring skies before the cold took over at full steam. continue reading...

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Banana coconut cake

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Some recipes come about from long experimentation and several tries to try to perfect them (like those darned bunnies, or my ongoing attempts to make natto at home). Others just seem to happen. We had a bunch of bananas that were rapidly turning very brown and spotty on the kitchen table. I froze some (nothing like frozen bananas as treats), and turned some into a cake.

It’s nothing fancy at all - it’s basically a pound-cake like base (but with a bit less sugar), with added cut-up bananas. The coconut part was added on a whim also. The cake doesn’t rise much, probably because of the bananas, but it’s moist, not too sweet, and very comforting. It’s perfect with a cup of tea.

So far in my life I’ve not had the opportunity to go to Hawaii (unless you count a short layover en route from LA to Tokyo) but I sort of imagine that this cake would not be too out of place there. continue reading...

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Corn cream soup with intentional lumps

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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...

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