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Sushi just right for making at home

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)





Noone really makes nigiri sushi at home - we leave that to the sushi chefs.  But almost every home cook makes chirashi-sushi. It's a scattered sushi - a Japanese version of a paella or pilaf.   This particular chirashi sushi is vegetarian; the toppings can be almost anything you want them to be - but seasonal is preferred.  The strips of egg, greens and the pink ginger bring the message of spring.  (Here is the story about chirashi sushi I wrote for Zester Daily. )


Fresh bamboo - Soba Umami Workshop

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)


 


I got my first order of bamboo shoots from Penryn Farms. Last year, I wrote a story about their bamboo shoots in Zester Daily (here is the link). This year's shoots are particularly tender and delicious.  I got so excited, I contacted Penryn Farms' Laurence Hauben and asked her if she would be interested in hosting a soba workshop, using Penryn's spring produce like this bamboo.  She loved the idea.  We are doing the workshop at Laurence's house on April 27 from 11-2pm.  Here are the details. (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/laurence/1454e395f7434d23" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Market Forways).  Penryn farms is up in the foothill of the Sierras. It is a small farm, about 5 acres - but he has a treasure full of citrus trees, pears, persimmons and a bamboo forest. I have never been there but their persimmons and bamboo shoots are superb.  Penryn's bamboo makes me think of my girlhood days in Kamakura - spring bamboo digging with my grandmother.  

Onigiri with Daikon radish leaves and sesame

Posted on March 8, 2014 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (0)



When it comes to daikon radish, there is no part to throw away.  Even the leaves and stems can turn into a delicious kinpira dish when sauteed with sesame oil, soy,  mirin and red chili pepper.  I served the sauted chopped daikon leaves with rice the night before with koji marinated cod and some koji pickled napa cabbage.  Then with the left over sauteed daikon radish leaves, I made onigiri the next day. It was a delightful afternoon snack.  A sprinkle of sesame and gray salt are the additional seasonings that give this rice ball good flavor.


Fresh ingredients

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)




Freshness is delicious. Japanese cooking is about sourcing fresh ingredients and not fussing with them too much. Because Japanese foods are largely saucless, spiceless, and oil-less, the ingredients themselves must be beaituful, flavorful, and fresh.  This usually means foods in season.  Kabocha squash and pumpkins must feel heavy.  Eggplants mush be shinny and unbruised. Fish fresh from the market don't need the disguise of a heavy sauce.  Visit the farmers markets and the Asian markets frequently.  Talk to farmers.  Do grow your own vegetables.  Don't hesistate to improvise with non-Japanase foods like chard, artichokes, and zuchinni.  



Kinpira

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 10:30 PM Comments comments (0)


I like to include a dish during the coming American holidays that remind me of home.  This year, I am going to have Kinpira gobo - stir fried burdock and carrots seasoned with soy, mirin and a little sugar.  There is a chopped chili pepper in there to give it some heat.  I love this dish cold and warm.  Here is the story about Kinpira gobo that I wrote for Zester Daily. 

Bar Tartine Koji Dinner

Posted on June 1, 2013 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (1)

I am in San Francisco doing several food events. One that we just finished on May 28 is a dinner at Tartine, themed around Koji - fermented rice. We "kojiied" so many foods - we used it to marinate beef, veggies, fish, even the daikon garnish of my soba. 

I made 120 servings of soba - a record. I had Lori, one of the bakers from Bar Tartine, help me knead the dough so I managed to produce stable noodles. Pretty happy with the result and it was a sell out night. Several reviews came out of SF Chronicle.   Here is the first one.



Fresh bamboo - locally grown and delcious

Posted on May 26, 2013 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Here is a story I wrote about locally grown bamboo shoots from Penryn Orchard Specialities.

Common Grains - Soba Salad

Posted on March 17, 2012 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (1)


I don't know who invented the soba salad but it's not the Japanese. Go to Wholefoods, Tavern, Real Food Daily,  M Cafe in LA - Soba salad is on their regular menu.   I can't get used to the idea of pre-seasoned soba noodles though.The Japanees tradition is to eat fresh soba plain and quickly with a dipping sauce before they go limp or eat soba in a hot soup.  The first time someone served me a soba salad, I was horrified.  But I have become more open to fusion. If pasta works, why not soba?  

During the Common Grains event, we decided to put soba salad on the menu, and people went for it.  But we did something slightly different with the dressing to maintain the quality of our fresh, handcut soba.

Fresh hand cut tartary soba noodles.
Flour: Anson Mills Tartary Soba blended with Kitawase Soba
Water ration: 48%
We went light on the salad dressing and used two instead on one dressing.  The oil based dressing was used with the leafy vegetables and the oil-less Dowari- sauce for the noodles.  This way, you can taste the noodles before they get masked with the salad dressing.


It's simple to make this salad.  Pour the Dowari dipping sauce over the cold noodles.  In a separate bowl,  toss the leafy greans with the oil based dressing, and serve the salad right on top of the noodles.  This presentation allows you to taste the texture and flavor of the soba before it gets tosed up with the seasoned leafy greens.  I sprinkled some deep fried buckwheat grouts on top on this salad.

Soba salad with leafy greens, avocado, kiwi, red radishes, cilantro
                                               and buckwheat groats.  

Here is a simple sesame dressing that I used for the leafy greens.
Creamy sesame dressing for Soba Salad 
(Makes 2 cups) 
1 cup grape seed oil or canola oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup Mori tsuyu dipping sauce or more to taste or use 1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbls sesame oil 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
3-4 Tbls Atari Goma (Japanese sesame paste)
1 tsp grated ginger juice
1Tsp sugar to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until creamy.

Dowari dressing
Dilute Hongaeshi with 25% Dashi. Bring to a boil in a pot and
simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and
let cool.  Keeps in the fridge for a week.


Common Grains - The Disappearing Kabocha

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)


One of my soba students, Liisa Margosian, came to almost every single Common Grains event. She always saved up her appetite for soba and ordered two or three serving in one sitting. It is a pleasure to watch her eat. Sometimes she brought friends, and a couple times she brought food. Good food. There were the half a dozen fresh eggs from Dr. Stefan Magopian's biodynamic organic farm. The yolks were sunny and full. I almost cried, they were so delicious.   Then there was this pumpkin that Liisa grew herself.  She showed me pictures of her garden on her I-phone and promised she would give me one. But it took a long time to get the pumpkin because she had to "cure" it for a couple of months. I waited and waited, and finally in February, she brought the pumpkin to me to the event  that took place at Atwater. The pumpkin was  big and heavy.  She apologized for the delay but it was well worth the wait.  I took the pumpkin from her and put it away.  I was so busy that night.  I completely  forgot about it.

When that ATX event was over, I realized a few days later that I had left the pumpkin at the Atwater Crossing.  My staff was back there to collect our stuff, so I asked them to look for the pumpkin. Luckily, someone had put the pumpkin on the bar counter to be admired. Thank goodness noone thought of eating it.

Yesterday, I got myself in the mood of finally cooking  the pumpkin. Kabocha pumpkins can be hard to split and cut, and if you are not careful, you can loose a finger.  I gave my pumpkin undivided attention as I sliced and beveled each piece. The meat was orange and firm. It was a jewel of a pumpkin.

I simmered the pumpkin with a little sugar for about 10 minutes, just until I can get a toothpick through the meat.
I turned off the heat and let the pumpkin soak in the syrup overnight.  This dish is called Kabocha-no-Amani.  Here are various recipes of the Kabocha pumpkin dishes (1), (2) (3), (4), (5) By the way, Kabocha goes very well with soba and compliments nutritiously.  Kabocha is loaded with Vitamin A.  I tooked the left over Kabocha no Amani  to our ranch in Tehachapi.  From Malibu - Atwater - Pasadena - Tehachapi - the pumpkin has come along way. And now, it's gone! 


Summer Vegetables with Soba

Posted on September 6, 2011 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)


Soba like pasta, pairs well with a variety of vegetables.  I had leftover fresh soba from yesterday's workshop, as well as sliced avocado, cucumbers, myoga, and  grated daikon radish and ground walnuts,  I cooked the soba and piled these veggies on top, and made a nice looking summer salad. I got inspired by Yoram Ottolengi's vegetarian cookbook  Plenty, which is very colorful, straightforward,l and yes, plentifuI. I made a quick dressing of 1 tbls extra virgen olive oil,  6 tablespoon all purpose dipping sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice. I can see Ottolengi adding a teaspoon or two each of sugar, garlic, sesame oil, chiles, ginger juice, and making something much spicier than mine.  He actually has two soba recipes, which includes such ingredients to make the dressing. That could work too. With fresh soba, you cannot let the noodles sit in the dressing. They will go limp and fall apart. Cook the noodles last minute, and shock them in ice.  I was happy I used up the soba noodles before they went dry and crumbly.


Ohitashi - A Green Dish

Posted on January 15, 2011 at 12:07 AM Comments comments (0)




I am still feeling the extra inch I put on during the holidays.  Now that I am in Tokyo, my appetite for good food just won't stop.  But what's nice about eating in Japan is that there are many delicious plain dishes.  Take Ohitashi for example.  It's blanched greens that is served like a salad with plain soysauce or soy based broth. No oil is added so it's very light and refreshing, and can be put together in no time.  Most greens in the spinach family work.  I made Ohitashi with Komatsuna - which is mild like spinach. The leaves are slightly thicker.




I found the Komatsuna at a vegetable and fruit shop in my old Shibuya neighborhood where my parents live.  This shop has been here forever, and they haven't changed much since I was a child. Even the abacus and the container holding the rubber bands come from the sixties.

It's fun to go back to these familiar places.  I walked on the old concrete path that leads up to the road near my house. It was the shortcut that I used to take school.  The old bath house is gone. So are the gesha houses that played majong and shamisen music into the night but the produce shop feels like it will still keep going so long as they are people who care about these mom and pop shops.
Recipe for Ohitashi:
Serves 4 - 6

1 bunch of greens such as spinach, mizuna, komatsuna, broccoli rabe, shungiku, mitsuba, water cress
Pinch of salt
Garnish- dried bonito flakes, roasted sesame seeds
Soy sauce (Koikuchi style) or Soy sauce diluted with Dashi (to taste)
1 sushi mat



Shock the greens in cold water.

To make ohitashi, take a bunch of washed greens and blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute.  
Rinse in cold water and trim the root ends.

Gather half the bunch by the root ends and set them down on the mat so they are straight. Take the other half and put the root end on the other side.  Wrap and shape the greens into a tube, using the mat.  Gently squeeze out any excess water. Let stand for a few minutes.

Unwrap the sudare and cut crosswise into 2.5-3inch pieces.  Serve with soysauce on the side

Spread the greens on the sushi mat. 


Roll the mat to shape the greens.  Then unroll and cut the
greens like sushi rolls.


Option: You can dilute the soysauce with dashi to make a more liquidy broth.   Pour the broth on the cut greens,  and let stand for 10 -30 minutes in the fridge.  Serve with sprinkles of roasted sesame seeds or bonito flakes.


Ohitashi served with bonito flakes and soy sauce


 

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Rice with Root Vegetables and Tofu - Maze Gohan

Posted on November 19, 2010 at 2:39 PM Comments comments (2)





I am on a roll with rice and vegetables.  I make one pot of this vegetable rice and I am set for the day.   I have been eating  so much rice lately, I am feeling bad I haven't made any soba in a few days.

Rice goes well with root vegetables like carrots and burdock.  I also add dried shitake mushrooms for flavor and fried tofu pouches for texture and protein.   The rice taste good even on the next day. I wrap it in nori seaweed and make rice balls.


Age tofu (deep fried tofu pouches), dried shitake mushrooms,
Burdock and carrot root - sliced thinly



Cooked in the electric rice cooker - a no brainer way to
make rice.


The burdock and shitake add an earthy flavor to the rice.


Recipe:
Serves 4
2 cups rice
2 cups water
1 Age-tofu (deep fried tofu pouch)
4 dried shitake mushrooms, hydrated
1/2 carrot, peeled and slice into thin rectangles, 1/8 inch thick
1/2 burdock, scrubbed and shaved into thin slices
1 Tbls rice vinegar (for soaking the shaved burdock and carrots)
6-8 Mitsuba leaves - garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds and Maldon salt - for the table  (optional)

Seasoning for the rice:
2 Tbls sake
1/4 Tsp salt
2 Tbls salt
1/3 Tsp sugar

One hour before cooking the rice:  Wash the rice 3-4 times.  Drain water.  Add the measured water and let stand.

Blanch the Age-tofu for 2-3 mintues.  Drain water. Slice thinly into 1/4 inch wide pieces, about 1 inch long. 
Wash the hydrated shitake mushrooms.  Remove the stems and discard.  Slice the caps into thin slices.

Slice the carrots into thin rectangles, about 1 inch in width, 1/8 inch thick.
Wash the burdock. Take a clean brush and wash the skin without peeling it off.
With a sharp knife, shave the burdock, as if you were shaving a pencil.  Drop the shavings into a bowl of water with the tablespoon of vinegar.  The water will turn brown. Drain water.  Change the water once more and then drain.

Put the sliced carrots, shitake mushrooms and burdock on a plate.  

Add the seasoning and vegetables into the rice.  Mix the ingredients and then cook the rice as you would normal rice.  

Serve the rice with Mitsuba leaves.  You can mix them into the rice or garnish the top.
You can also sprinkle roasted sesame seeds and salt.










BESs


Japanese Comfort foods - Kabocha and Burdock

Posted on September 12, 2010 at 1:52 AM Comments comments (0)


It's been nearly a month since I lasted posted something on the blog.  August was one crazy month of traveling, cooking, cooking and more cooking.  I went back to Tokyo, visited the island of Sado (which I will blog about later), did a weeklong pop up soba event at the Breadbar in West Hollywood (which I will also blog about later) and eight soba workshops.  Akila left for Tokyo two days ago, and what is left is still some pots to scrub and left over vegetables from the event to clear out of the fridge. Surprisingly enough, I am not as exhausted as I thought I would be.  I still have lots of loose ends to tie, maybe that's why.  Good news was we had no left over soba or meat.  Just a lot of pumpkins, six in all, and a few burdock and carrots.  So I made my two favorite comfort  foods - Sweetened Kabocha squash and Kimpira Gobo, Sauteed burdock and carrots.  I feel at home again.

I put enough water in the saucepan to submerge the cut kabocha pieces.  I then added 1 cup of beet sugar.  Beet sugar is milder and rounder in flavor than cane sugar.  I cooked the kabocha for about 10 minutes, just enough for a chopstick to go through the kabocha but still firm in the inside.   I drained the kabocha pieces in a strainer and let them dry until they reached a floury surface texture. The sweet liquid is discarded.  The kabocha squash teastes delicious a hot or at room temperature. 

The other comfort dish I put together with left over root vegetables was kimpira gobo. I used a whole burdock, a couple of carrots and a quarter of left over red pepper.  They were all shaved, about 2 inches long and soaked in vinegared water.  I heated some sesame oil in a medium saucepan and sauteed the burdock, carrot and red pepper
until they were evenly fried.  I added sake, mirin and finally soysauce and continued frying them until some of the burdock looked slightly toasted and caramelized.  I finished the kimpira with a couple of teaspoons of sugar.  Crushed red chili peppers were added at the end. This makes a nice salad either hot or cold. 

When I cook these dishes, there are never any leftovers.  

Vegetable Tempura - Give it a Fry

Posted on July 8, 2010 at 1:33 PM Comments comments (1)

When it comes to tempura, everyone loves it but some people don't want to bother making it at home because it looks too complicated.  But it really isn't it.  I wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times Food Section today that will give you further insight into the art of making Tempura. Enjoy! (here is the link to the LA Times story and recipes) 



Shishito peppers have pockets full of seeds. Make a slit and

remove the seeds before frying to keep them from popping

in the oil and creating unpleasant oil spills.


Asparagus is a good vegetable to practice making tempura.


For more, please read my story in the LA Times.

Eggplant, Age tofu and Mitsuba Miso Soup

Posted on July 2, 2010 at 5:23 PM Comments comments (0)



While Akila was staying with us to do the soba workshops for three weeks,  we ate most of the meals at home, except for the three times we went out - to eat a hamburger at Apple Pie, Mexican food at La Parilla in East LA, and the final thank you dinner at Italian at Piccolo in Venice.  No matter how busy we were, we always made a sumptuous Japanese breakfast that consisted of miso soup, rice, fish or meat (usually some leftover from the previous day), natto, pickles, and sometimes fruit.  Akila said it was no different from being in Japan.  Akila prefers rice over bread so during his visit, I hardly ate bread.  He likes bread emergency food. He only eats it when the rice in the rice cooker is empty. I went to Huckleberry once to get a scone, otherwise, I stuck to rice for breakfast.

One of the essential breakfast food is miso soup.  Akila's miso soups were exceptionally good. He even brought his home made miso from Tokyo.  He often used leftover ingredients from the cooking classes to make the soup.  This miso soup was one of the soups he made that became my favorite: eggplant, age-tofu with Mitsuba or Myoga.  The dashi stock was made with dried sardines.  It's a fragrant miso soup with lots of umami.

Niboshi- dried sardines

Remove the head and guts


The sardines are soaked in water overnight and simmered for
5 minutes to make the stock.


Recipe: 

 

Eggplant, Age and Mitsuba Miso Soup

 


Serves 4

3 1/2 cups Dashi or Vegan Dashi or Sardine Dashi

3 Tbls or more of Miso to taste

2 eggplant, peeled and sliced vertically into 1/2 inch pieces

1 age tofu, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces, crosswise

4 mitsuba leaves, chopped



 

Bring the Dashi to a boil in a medium saucepan, and add the eggplant.

Cook for three minutes over medium heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.


Put the age and cook for another minute. In a small bowl, dissolve 3 1/2 tablespoons of the miso paste in a few tablespoons of the warm Dashi. Add the mixture to the saucepan. Taste and add more miso paste, Dashi or water, depending on how strong the soup tastes. Turn off heat. 


Pour the soup into individual bowls. Ganish with mitsuba leaves.

 

Serve immerdiately. Do not boil the soup.

 

 



Dried sardines stock:
7-10 large dried sardines, head and guts removed and discard.
4 cups of water

Soak the cleaned sardines in water overnight.
Put the sardines and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Turn heat to low and simmer for five minutes.  Strain the dashi and discard the sardines. The stock is ready.  This stock keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Braised Kabocha Squash

Posted on July 1, 2010 at 1:56 AM Comments comments (0)




If I get to choose one vegetable to have in the fridge to munch on, it is not a carrot or celery but kabocha squash.  I cook the cut pieces of Kabocha in a light syrup, just long enough to give them a hint of sweetness.  The syrup is drained so the kabocha is never sugary sweet or mushy.  I often serve this dish with soba to supplement the Vitamin A.  Soba offers the rest of the good stuff.


Recipe:

1/4 of small to medium size Kabocha squash

2 cups water

3/4 cup sugar


Cut the kabocha squash in bite size pieces.  Bevel the corners.


Bring the water and sugar in a medium size saucepan.  Add the Kabocha

and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Then lower heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the meat is cooked.  Test with toothpick.


Drain the syrup.  Serve in a bowl.  


Keeps for a week in the fridge.





Quick Nappa Cabbage Pickles - Hakusai no Asazuke

Posted on May 31, 2010 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Second day - you can eat it like an oil--free salad.

Napa cabbage is a typical winter vegetable but in California, it is still available.  It's not as sweet like the winter napa but it's fine for making asazuke, quick pickles.  I found a nice size Napa at Wholefoods.  The pickle I make only takes a few days.You can start eating it like a salad from the second day forward, and reaches its peak on the  5th or 6th day. Before pickling, I prep it by letting the cut napa cabbage leaves dry in the open air for about a day. This brings out their  sweetness. You can just let them sit on your kitchen counter top.


Drying the Napa Cabbage 


Pouring the brine over the cut napa cabbage.


Putting the 3kg weight on the napa cabbage. I have had this pickling
device for nearly 20 years.  It still works like new.


Recipe:
1 Napa cabbage
2 cups of water
Salt to equal 2% of the Napa cabbage weight
3 inches - konbu seaweed
3 dried red chili peppers, seeded 

Put a cross incision at the bottom of the cabbage, about 4 inches deep.  Using your hands, tear the cabbage apart.  Slice each quarter again vertically.  

Prepare the brine with the measured water and salt.   Slice the konbu seaweed into thin strip.  Seed the chili peppers. Cut in halves.

Set the napa leaves in the pickling box. The leaves should face the center.  Add some chili peppers and konbu. Then make the next layer of napa cabbage. Repeat until you use up all the cabbage.  Pour the brine.  Put the lid on and refrigerate.

Turn the pickle everyday, rotating the bottom napa cabbage with the top napa cabbage. The bottom ones will be more pickled than the top ones.  They will get slightly gooey from the konbu seaweed. Don't wash it off, it is what gives the napa cabbage good flavor. So do the chilis.  

Keep refrigerated. Lasts for about a week.  I like to sprinkle the cut napa with dried bonito flakes, and serve the pickles with soy sauce. With a bowl of brown rice, I was in heaven today.

To serve, squeeze excess water, using your hands.  Cut into bite size pieces and serve.
Bonito flakes and soysauce make a nice accompaniment.

Hands Making Tempura

Posted on April 19, 2010 at 12:53 PM Comments comments (0)
We usually do a pot luck when we have a large family reunion.  This year however, everyone was too busy to cook. Someone suggested we order sushi. That would have been an easy solution but my sister Fuyuko and I wanted to cook something for my father's birthday.  It was his 88th, a particularly festive age in Japan.  I told everyone to just show up, that Fuyuko and I will cook. Of course, no one in our family ever comes empty handed.  My brother Hiroshi and his wife Kanako made red azuki bean rice. My brother Takashi and his wife, Yoshie, brought a beautiful melon. In the end, everyone pitched in, as always.

I did most of the shopping at the Tsukiji Market the day before, including the tuna and bonito for sashimi, the wild mountain vegetables and burdock root for the tempura.  I had fun getting these unusual wild vegetables.  I can only name a few of them.  I love them for their young bitter taste. They bring spring to the table. 

One the festive day, everyone arrived punctually.  The women gathered in the kitchen. The men in the patio.  The women cooked and chatted. The men swept, smoked,  drank beer.  My father stayed upstairs to watch the news. He told us to call him when lunch was ready.

The tempura and sashimi were prepped ahead of time but needed to be assembled last minute.  As we floured the vegetables and dipped them in batter, we took turns talking about life, as we always do when we see each other.  First, about our children. Then our spouses.  And finally about ourselves.  Somehow, our hands became the subject of our discussion. Yoshie was complaining that sometimes her finger tips hurt.  She is the youngest of our group, and her fingers look fine to me. Kanako thought her finger joints were getting fat. I  don't have such symptoms but my hands are getting wrinkly.  Fuyuko showed her chapped hands.  She has typical hardworking pastry chef's hands. These imperfecitons told stories. We admired them for a minute, just long enough for the wild mountain vegetables to cook. They came out of the oil nice and crispy,  as they should.  I asked my nephew Hayato, to call Grandpa. It was time for him to come downstairs and begin the birthday celebration.

Kanako mixes the vegetables with the batter.


She deep fries the wild vegetables at 160 centigrade.


Yoshie arranges the tempura on the platters.


Yoshie and Kanako look at each other's hands.


Yoshie arranges the tempura on the platter.

The branken fiddlehead  tempura came out crisp.

The wild vegetable tempura was a hit with my father.



The sashimi was very good, especially the bonito,
which was seasoned in a soy-sake marinade and
served with a variety of garnishes - Myoga, Shiso,
Kaiware and daikon radish.


Vegetable Tempura Recipe
Makes 4 servings

Batter:
1 cup - Cake flour mixed with 2 tbls corn starch  
1 cup - chilled water mixed with egg yolk*
1 quart of vegetable oil (peanut or canola) for deep frying

*egg yolk is optional

1 cast iron pan, 2 inches deep
A deep fat thermometer

Vegetables
Since wild mountain vegetables are not readily available outside of Japan, use young spring vegetables of your choice. 

1 handful, Fiddle headferns, Trim brown ends
4 Asparagus, ends trimmed
1 Burdock, washed and sliced thinly into match sticks
4 Young carrots, sliced thinly into matchsticks 
A few herbs such as parsely sprigs, basil, dill, fennel, sage, shiso leaves 

Dipping sauce - use dipping sauce for soba (here is the link) 
or serve with salt, such as Fleur de sel.

Wash the vegetables and slice them thinly, if they are firm root vegetables.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a 4 quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 160C or
320 F. on thermometer.

Make the tempura batter.  Whisk the flour together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the ice water; don't overmix.  Just tap the flour. Don't worry about lumps.  The batter should be the consistency of a lumpy light cream. 

Start with the root vegetables. Then fry the other vegetables.
Working in batches of about 6-7 matchsticks, toss burdock and carrrots in batter until coated.  Lift the matchsticks out of batter in a bunch, letting excess batter drip off, and transfer to oil.  Add a couple more bunches to the oil but never crowd the pan.  Fry the matchstick roots, turning with a slotted spoon or wire mesh, until slightly golden, about one to one and a half minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.  Return oil to 160C or 320F between batches.

Fry the other vegetables. Begin with the asapargus, following the same steps as the root vegetables but fry them one stem at a time.  The asparagus should take a no more than a minute. Then fry the herbs, which also need less than a minute to fry.  Hold the herb by the stem and dip into the batter. Lift it out and hold it for a moment over the bowl to let the excess batter drip off, then fry it in the oil. Drain in paper towels. 

Serve the tempura with heated dipping sauce while warm.  Alternately, you can serve the tempura with salt on the side. 





Stir fried Hijiki Seaweed with Tofu and Vegetables

Posted on January 16, 2010 at 7:23 AM Comments comments (0)



When I am in Japan, I find myself eating some type of seaweed everyday. One in particular that i love is hjiki, a porous grassy seaweed that grows wild on the rocky coastlines of Japan. Hijiki has great texture and flavor. It is sold in the US in dried form. Hydrated, hijiki expands to about ten times its original size, so a little amount goes a long way.  I use the long Hijiki seaweed, called Naga-hijiki

The easiest and tastiest way to prepare hijiki is to simply stir fry it with other vegetables. The most popular combination is hijiki with sliced tofu pouches, age, carrots, and green beans.  The way I do it is, I look in the fridge and see what vegetables I want to use up. You can come up with your own combination. Peas, sliced burdock, peppers and celery also work well. I season this dish with dashi or chicken stock, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. You can spice it up fresh ginger. For a more savory flavor, you can add about a cup of thinly sliced pieces of meat or seafood such as shrimp or clams to this recipe. If you want to make this dish more like salad, add crispy greens like mizuna, lettuce or sprouts (daikon radish sprouts are good.), just before serving. The  other nice way to serve this dish is to mix it into steamed rice and turn it into hijiki rice. I do this quite often.

One thing to remember about hijiki is to make sure you soak it in water for at least an hour, drain, and rinse it several more times to remove any impurities. Serve this dish in small appetizer portions.  It's a great source of calcium, iron and fiber.


Naga-hijiki - Long hijiki

RECIPE: STIR FRIED HIJIKI, TOFU and VEGETABLES
Serves 4

1 cup dried hijiki, hydrated

3 -4  dried shiitake mushrooms, hydrated

1 large or 2 small pieces Age (deep fried tofu pouches) optional

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks, 1/8 thick

1 tsp peeled and thinly sliced ginger

2 tbls roasted sesame oil or vegetable oil

1 cup dashi, dried shitake mushrooms stock or chicken stock of your choice

2 tbs mirin

1 tbs sake

1 tsp sugar or honey (optional)

1/4 cup soy sauce, or to taste

Salt if needed

 

Garnish: 1 tsp roasted sesame seeds (optional)



Add the hijiki last.

Soak hijiki in cold water to cover for at least one hour. Drain.  Rinse a couple more times to remove impurities.


Hydrate shitakes in cold water to cover, about 20 minutes.  Slice shitakes into 1/8 inch pieces. Reserve soaking liquid for the stock if you like.


Put oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir fry the carrots, age, mushrooms and ginger first for 2-3 mintues. 


Add the hydrated and drained hijiki.  Stir a couple times; add the stock or shiitake soaking liquid, mirin, sake, sugar and soy sauce. Stir, turn heat to simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until most of the liquid is evaporated. Mixture should not be soupy or dry. Taste, and make adjustments with soy sauce, sugar and salt, if needed.


Serve as a salad or appetizer, about 1/3 cup servings per person.  Garnish with roasted sesame seeds.


Japanese Produce - Chiba

Posted on January 6, 2010 at 7:49 PM Comments comments (0)

Japanese cabbage 

Every time I go grocery shopping in the Depa-chika (the basement of a department store where they sell food) in Tokyo,  I am astounded by how expensive the produce is, especially since I am used to prices in California.  A single stalk of celery can cost $3, a stalk of broccoli $8, a mango grown in Japan can be as high as $100, and that is not for a tree but for a single fruit!  A Brazilian friend who saw what can cost for such fruit cried, "But that's what we feed the pigs!."  People in Tokyo can find the finest fruit and vegetables of every kind but they can come with a hefty price tag. You have to be a smart shopper to live in this city.  My cousin takes regular trips outside of Tokyo to buy produce directly from the farmers. You can also have farm fresh products shipped to you but that's not cheap.  

Satuma-imo and Sato-imo potatoes

A visit to the family grave gave us a chance to leave Tokyo and be in the countryside. With my son, Sakae, we went to Chiba, which is about an hour train ride from Tokyo. The famiy grave is in the middle of a pear farm near Matsudo in Chiba. This prefecture is the leading producer of vegetables in Japan. 

Red daikon radish

In the old days, the farm women from Chiba, Chiba no Obasan, would come out from Chiba to Tokyo to sell vegetables and other farm products.  They carried big handwoven baskets of produce on their backs.  I loved the Obasan that regularly came to our house in Kamakura.  What she produced out of the basket was amazing -  fresh farm eggs wrapped in newspaper, daikon radish, spinach, carrots, potatoes, fermented soybeans,natto, bean cakes, even rice. She was like a magician. You don't see these traveling farm women anymore but the farms are still around, though much less than when I was a girl.  

 
Japanese cucumbers
I left Shibuya at nine in the morning. It was past rush hour traffic but the trains were still packed with shoppers. As the train moved away from central Tokyo, we could sit and look at the view outside the window. We began to see less highrises, more single unit homes and patches of farm land.

  Tokyo Negi

We arrived in Chiba earlier than expected so we decided to explore the nearby market in Matsudo. As expected, the quality of the local produce was incredible. There were blushing pink fat daikon radishes and gigantic turnips with dirt clinging to their roots. They were probably just picked a few hours ago. I could smell the earth.  Compared to Tokyo, everything was reasonably priced.  Sakae saw many unfamiliar vegetables, including slimy mushrooms like nameko.  If we didn't have any family commitments, I would have bought the beautiful cabbage, burdock, negi, and more.  Oh well, it will have to wait till next time. At least, it was nice to get out of the city and breathe some fresh country air.  I now understand why my cousin makes the weekly trips to Chiba to buy produce.

Onions

Gobo - Budock