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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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).

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One of the things I like to do with tofu that didn't quite come together is to turn it into a pudding. Now I do not pretend to you that this tastes like a proper pudding or mousse made with cream and such, and if anyone tries to convince you that a tofu based dish like this is 'just as good/rich as the real thing' they are either lying or have no taste buds. It's different, but still good. It's a lightly sweet, cool and creamy dish that will quiet a sudden urge for Something Sweet. Since it's quite healthy it will leave you feeling righteous, thus the name.

It's also a dish that you can whip up in no time at all. I realize that many of the recipes here take a lot of time, effort or both, and I'm going to try to rectify that. Look for recipes with the quickcook or under 10 tags.

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Here's another very easy 'dry' type curry dish that's a favorite in our house, though it's not Japanese. Kedgeree is a very British dish, that doesn't seem to be well known outside of the U.K. It was originally created by the British colonists in India, who took the spices and grain of the land they were in with the smoked haddock from their homeland. It used to be served for breakfast, but nowadays it's a supper dish.

This version of kedgeree uses quinoa as the grain (technically it's a seed but it's used as a grain in cooking, so that's what I'll call it). Quinoa has a unique bubbly texture and a neutral flavor that takes on any flavors added to it. It's also very filling, which makes it rather ideal when you're trying to watch the intake. It's very easy to cook, and never seems to go too watery and so on. I'm just a recent convert to quinoa, but I love it already and have it at least a couple of times a month.

I've used cod as the fish here but you can use any fish you like, even canned tuna or salmon. It doesn't taste 'fishy' in any way - the lemon and the curry take care of that. The key to making this kedgeree taste fresh and bright is to add tons of parsley (instead of the traditional coriander) and lemon juice. It turns into something that's like a warm, spicy dinner salad. To keep the whole healthy thing going I've used olive oil instead of butter.

Any leftovers store nicely in the fridge, and like the previous dry curry makes a great obento lunch too. It tastes fine cooled or at room temperature.

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Keep reading Quinoa kedgeree →

Anyone who has any interest in food, nutrition, where our food comes from, and most importantly, how to eat at all, should read the massive (12 pages) article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times, Unhappy Meals.

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Following up on the Great Natto Diet story:

I was not going to talk about natto as part of my Odd Japanese food that may help you lose weight(OJFTMHYLW) series this week. But coincidentally, natto as a diet aid has been in the news big time in Japan, with claims that a 'magical' substance in this sticky food helps people to effortlessly lose weight.

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