recipe

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Minimalist tomato sauce, made from a single variety of heirloom tomatoes.

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A low-carb, low-key tofu dish that serves as a background element to a meal, serving the role that rice usually plays.

Heirloom tomatoes for lunch

Ahh, tomatoes. What temperature is right for them?

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A low-carb, vegan lunch experiment.

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(From the archives - something cool and easy, perfect for the summer. Originally published in July 2008.)

Previously, I explained how some dishes that are not tofu are called -tofu, because of the shape, texture or both. This is the case with tamago dofu, a smooth savory egg custard that's served cold.

You can make it in a square mold, to make it look tofu-like. But I prefer to keep it a lot simpler by cooking the tamago dofu in the serving container it will be served in. This can be anything as long as it's heat-proof. Here I have used some sturdy glass cups made of pressed glass, but I've also used little pudding molds, tiny glass bowls made for holding ingredients while you're cooking, and even coffee cups.

There are very few ingredients in a tamago dofu: dashi or soup stock, eggs, and a few flavorings. Because of this, each component should be of top quality, because you'll taste each one quite clearly. Traditionally the soup component is dashi, but I don't really like the fish flavor of dashi when it's cold. So I prefer to make a simple vegetable stock instead.

Tamago dofu should be served ice cold. It's a great appetizer for a summer meal, or an interesting and soothing snack. I have been guilty of making 4 cups and 'hiding' them so I can eat them all by myself.

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A quickie, deconstructed version of gyoza dumplings.

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Keep reading Gyoza Quesadilla →

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One thing I'm really enjoying here in Japan is cooking simple things at home with my mother. To me, quintessential Japanese home cooking is a dish like this. Sardines, which happen to be quite inexpensive (and sustainable too), are slowly cooked until they are well flavored, meltingly soft, and glossy with a typically Japanese sweet-salty sauce. (The 'kanroni' (甘露煮) in the name refers to the method of simmering something in this sweet-salty sauce.) It uses just a few basic ingredients, so please give it a try if you can get a hold of very fresh sardines or similar oily fish. (The fish do have to be very fresh for this to be really good and not-fishy.)

I had a bit of a job working out this recipe, which comes from my mother, since she really doesn't measure anything when she makes this! After some trial and error, I think these ingredient amounts work well.

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(From the archives. A perfect leave-to-cook, warming dish for a cold evening! Originally published December 2008.)

Some dishes dazzle you with their prettiness. Others may look plain, but are just plainly delicious. This simple, filling yet healthy winter dish of cabbage layered with a meat and tofu stuffing and then poached in a flavorful liquid belongs to the latter group.

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The more I study old Japanese customs, the more I am impressed by the logical thinking behind many of them, even when examined with modern eyes. One of these the custom of partaking of a bowl of nanakusagayu on the seventh day of the New Year, which supposedly started in the Heian Period (around the 12th century), in the refined court of Kyoto. Nanakusa means seven greens, and kayu (or to use the honorific term, okayu (お粥)), is rice porridge. The Imperial Court, now in Tokyo, still has a nanakusagayu ceremony on the morning of January 7th.

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It's been a cold and snowy winter so far around these parts, which usually means soups and stews for dinner. This classic Japanese soup is hearty yet low in calories, full of fiber, and just all around good for you. It helps to counteract all the cookies and sweets you might be indulging in at this time of year.

The name kenchinjiru (けんちん汁)derives from the Zen Buddhist temple where it was first made (or so it's claimed), Kencho-ji (建長寺)in Kamakura. (Kamakura (鎌倉) was, for a brief while, the capital of Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nowadays it's a major historical tourist attraction, and a fairly easy day trip from central Tokyo.) Since kenchinjiru is a shojin ryouri or temple cuisine dish, the basic version given here is vegan. It's still very filling because of all the high fiber vegetables used. You could make a very satisfying vegan meal just from this soup and some brown rice.

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