Pink pickled radish on a pink dish

Posted on December 24, 2009 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)
Kabu no Asazuke

Watermelon radishes pickled Asazuke style

Christmas Eve dinner this year was a potluck.  It was my friend Annie's idea. This worked out better for me because my big oven and dishwasher were both broken.  I managed to make do with my little oven and got a new dishwasher just in time.  

Everyone asked for turkey, so that's what I made. Finding a small one to fit my litlte oven was the only challenge. Most turkeys start at 12 lbs but I found a smaller bird, about 10 lbs in size.  I also made some sides - stir fried brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, and the dessert - a tart tatin, which came out perfectly caramelized. One friend was too busy to cook so she picked up sweet potatoes, cream corn and cream spinach at Honey Baked. But she didn't want the others to know they were store bought, so we quickly hid the plastic HB containers under the sink and served everything in my good china. Noone noticed. Pot lucks can be a luck of the draw but we did alright, given the circumstances. The turkey came out nice and moist. I had no leftover turkey meat.  

As far as presents go, one present worth mentioning is the one Joe got from Edward. It was a disc shaped metal sculpture - a full moon and two waning moons welded together to look like a  gong. Can you picture that?  What was Edward, thinking? was Joe's polite question after Edward left.  Maybe Edward liked its karmic qualities. Sakai thought it was the best gift because it was unquestionably the tackiest.  Edward takes pride in finding such unique things at garage sales and discount stores. One year he gave me a furry switch light cover. I kept it for a few years and then gave it back to him as a Christmas present. We keep our presents light and humorous.

After stuffing myself with all this food, I realized I forgot to serve one plate: the pickles. Japanese and pickles. They are inseparable.  I needed them to clear my palate and help digest the heavy food. After the guests left, I ate the pickles - the whole plate.  My tummy thanked me for it.  

I made these pickles with watermelon radishes. Everything about these radishes are beautiful - their blushed outer skin.  Their inner pink hue  - the young ones are only partially pink.  Their flavor is juicy and sweet.  

I did a quick pickle - Asazuke style pickle which I blogged about last summer. There isn't much of a recipe for this one. There were four radishes in this bunch.  I washed the dirt off and sliced the root into 1/8 inch thick slices and the leaves into 1/4 -thick pieces.  I sprinkled a half a teaspoon of salt and gave the radishes a good massage. Then I put them into the pickle press with a piece of dried kombu, about 3 inches long, and let them pickle for a day.  

You can garnish the radishes with some yuzu or lemon rind but these pickles are delicious plain too.  The kombu gives the radishes a good savory flavor and a slightly slimy texture.  I served the pickles on my favorite dish by Christiane Perrochon.  The dish is pink and oval, and reminds me of the delicate seashells I used to collect with my grandmother at the beach in Kamakura when I was a little girl. I still have the shells.


Kimpira Heirloom Carrots

Posted on December 12, 2009 at 7:41 PM Comments comments (0)

Kimpira Ninjin - Kinpira gobo

I found some rare heirloom carrots at the Farmer's market. This maroon carrot in particular was a beauty.  It happened to even match what I was wearing- my hand knit sweater from Uruguay.  I wanted to wear the carrot around my neck!

I knew these carrots would be delicious cooked with a little butter but then I was thinking, how about stir-fried Kinpira-style, with a little red chili pepper to spice it up?  Usually, Kinpira is made with carrots and burdock but I wanted to try it with just carrots. 

A little too thick but what the heck.

The carrots came in odd shapes, so it wasn't easy to peel them but I did the best I could. Then came the slicing. Even worse.  With Kimpira, I should have sliced them more thinly but I relaxed and some came out rather thick. The maroon carrots had a beautiful yellow interior. I sauteed the sliced carrots in sesame oil for a few minutes until they became tender, and then seasoned them with soysauce, mirin and sugar. The maroon carrots lost their bright red color in the cooking and turned beige. The yellow carrots were nutty and the most flavorful of the three. The cracked red pepper gave the dish a nice spice, the roasted sesame seeds another layer of texture and toasty flavor.  It was a nice dish.


5 cups of carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks, 1/8 inch thick.  (mine were thicker

because the carrots had odd shapes)

2 Tbls of soysauce or more to taste

1 Tbls mirin

1 Tbls sugar or less, depending on the natural sweetness of the carrots

1 Tbls sake

3 Tbls Roasted sesame oil


Red cracked pepper 

Roasted ground sesame seeds

Over mediumm heat, saute the carrots for 3 minutes, until they are tender. Add the seasonings and cook for another 3-5 mintues, until the carrots absorb most of the liquid. Taste to see if it needs more seasoning. Adjust sparingly with soysauce, and other seasonings.   

As a garnish, the cracked red pepper will give it a zing!  It's nice too with roasted sesame seeds.

My Japanese Pantry - Kizami Kombu - Cut Kombu

Posted on December 8, 2009 at 2:21 PM Comments comments (0)

       Dried Cut Konbu - Kizami Konbu

Konbu is prepared from a variety of kelp. Most of the konbu is found in the northern islands of Hokkaido.   Kizami-konbu, is a dried sliced variety. Konbu in all forms is an excellent source for seasoning foods. It contains glutamic acid, an amino acid that is responsible for Umami -a Japanese word used to describe savoriness.  Kizami-konbu can be used in salads, pickles, sauteed with meat, seafood and vegetables. 

Suggestions for cooking Rinse the cut konbu in running water to remove any impurities.  Hydrate for 10 minutes to soften.   The texture is a little slimy.

Nutritional value:  good source for minearls such as iodine, potassium, iron, calcium.  Also vitamins B1 and B2, carotene and dietary fiber. 

Storage: Keep in a container or bag with a seal, and store in a dry cool place,

Tempura - Overcoming the Fear of Frying

Posted on December 4, 2009 at 10:12 PM Comments comments (0)

Seasonal vegetables are an ideal candidate for tempura.  I found these zuchinni blossoms at the Farmers Market. Zuchinni blossoms aren't usually seasonal in December but I am sure with the way the weather has been, they are getting confusing signals. I got to the farmers market late. The farmer who grew these beautiful zuchinni blossoms was packing up but said I could have the basket of blossoms for just  $1. I couldn't resisit. I bought some cucumbers and green beans from him too. I went home and made tempura.


Mix the flour into the egg mixture, and not the egg mixture into

the flour. This makes a crispier batter.


It's okay to have some lumps of flour in the batter.

I use a thick, heavy cast iron frying pan when making tempura.  The pan should have plenty of depth to hold oil. I wished I owned a bigger tempura pan. That's next on my wish list for cookware. I always make the batter with ice cold water, fresh eggs, flour and a little cornstarch. I even threw an ice cube in the batter to make it colder.  I shouldn't do this but I took it out before it melted.  I only make small batches of batter at a time to keep it fresh. One new trick Akila Inouye of Tsukiji Soba Academy taught me was to mix the flour into the egg water mixture, and not the egg mixture into the flour.  Just by following this step, it made a much crispier batter and gave me more confidence in making tempura. 

Don't over crowd the pot.  Let the blossoms dance freely in the oil.

serves 4

12 zuchinni blossoms with stems
1 cup of flour mixtture - cake flour and 2 tsp of cornstarch
3/4 cups ice cold water
1 egg yolk

Clean the zuchinni blossoms.  

5 cups of canola, peanut or sesame oil.

Combine the cake flour and cornstarch. Sift together.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg, ice cold water, and egg yolk.  Using a pair of chopsitcks, lightly add the flour and cornstarch mixture and cut in the ingredients. Do not mix or beat.  Don't worry if you find unmixed articles of flour or egg yolk.  Set the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water.  

In the preheated oil (325F), begin to cook the tempura until crispy and golden color, about 1 minute. Drain the tempura on old newspaper or paper towels.  Give a dash of salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

My Japanese Pantry - Burdock Root - GOBO

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 9:31 PM Comments comments (0)

Gobo - Burdock

The Burdock root can grow to 3 feet (1 meter) long.   

Burdock tastes like a cross between a potato and an artichoke. It is particularly enjoyed for its crunchy texture. Burdock has a naturally brown color like a potato and the good earthy flavor is all in the skin, so don't shave or peel the skin all off. Gently scrub to remove the dirt and hairy roots.

These Burdock roots, GOBO, in the picture measure nearly 3 feet long. How can they grow so long? And for me the frequently raised question is how do I get these home from the market? It's always a challenge with the longer ones. You can buy water packed, peeled and shaven burdock but the flavor is inferior to fresh burdock, and contain additives, so I don't recommend them. When I get home, I cut the Burdock root in half, wrap it in a wet day old newspaper (Not the FOOD section!)  and plastic to keep them fresh in the fridge. When Burdock roots are old, they get pulpy, shriveled, and tough.  Make sure you find one that feels thick, firm and flexible. The fresher they are, the crispier the texture. You can eat them raw when they are very very fresh.  Burdock improves digestion and is full of fiber.


Kinpira - Stir Fried Lotus Root and Burdock

Posted on December 2, 2009 at 11:13 PM Comments comments (0)
 Kinpira Renkon to Gobo - Stir fried Lotus root and Burdock

Stir frying lotus root and burdock in roasted sesame oil

There are some beautiful root vegetables at the Asian markets right now. I often make Kimpira when I see a nice burdock. Burdock and Carrots are the most popular combination for this dish but you can also use lotus, daikon radish, celery and potatoes.  The vegetables are simply stir fried in roasted sesame seed oil and caramelized in a soy sauce, sugar and sake sauce. Taste the roots midway through your cooking, and make adjustments to suit your palate. I love cooking with Lotus root and Burdock because they both retain their crunchiness in cooking and don't get mushy.

Serves 4

8 oz lotus root, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 burdock root, roots scraped off, lightly scrubbed to remove dirt, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 tbls roasted sesame seed oil
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
2 tbls sake
1.5 tbls sugar or more to taste
3 tbls soysauce or more to taste
1/2 tsp Crushed red chili pepper or 1 dried chili pepper, seeded and chopped

Soak sliced burdock and lotus root in water with 1 tsp of rice vinegar for 10 minutes. Drain.

Heat sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the lotus root and burdock for
2-3 minutes, or until the roots are tender and opaque in color.  Turn heat to low and add sake, sugar, chili pepper, and soysauce and cook for a couple more minutes until the roots absorb most of the caramalized liquid. Turn heat high for 10 seconds.  Remove from heat
and serve.

Garnish top with sesame seeds.

Slice the burdock at a diagonal. Soak both vegetables in
vinegared water for 10 minutes.  Leaving them out will
discolor the vegetables and make them look unappealing
so have the vinegared water ready before you start slicing 
the vegetables.

Garnish with roasted sesame seeds.

Mushroom Nabe - Nabe workshop V1

Posted on November 29, 2009 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

A medley of mushrooms - shimeji, shitake, chanterelles, oysters,
enoki and maitake 

There are some foods that take time, sometime years, for the palate to appreciate. That's how mushrooms have been for me.  As a child, I hated them.  I had this preconceived idea that mushrooms were more medicine than food, and found their appearance, flavor and smell utterly unappealing.  My mother had a lot to do with it.  She cultivated slimy medicinal mushrooms under the kitchen sink. I got goose pimples every time I saw her brew tea with them. My grandmother had smiliar interests in mushrooms. She often visited the Chinese herbs shop in town and I would tag along for the thrill. Dried mushrooms could be found next to the dusty bins of dried rattle snake skins, shark fins and ginseng roots. The medicine man would come up with a cure for whatever ailment my grandmother was complaining about that day. Mushrooms were high on his list of recommendations. How I eventually came to appreciate mushrooms was my encounter with matsutake mushroom in a delicate dobinmushi - soup that my mother made. The scent of matsutake was fragrant and lovely, and it was served in a clay pot like tea. I suddenly felt like a grown up when I had my first sip. Since matsutake is so expensive, all I got was a sliver but that was enough to enjoy its essence.  Now, I enjoy mushrooms of all kinds for their scent, flavor, and medicinal properties. I discovered that many edilble mushrooms contain lots of minerals, fiber and protein - not bad for a fungus.  My mother and grandmother weren't just practicing some follklore medicine after all. At the workshop, we made a mushroom nabe with tofu and salmon.  It was a healthy combination of foods in one pot.

Alexandra smelling the fragrant Maitake

Serves 4-6

You can use a variety of edible mushrooms. I used both Japanese and western mushrooms. Besides mushrooms, you can mix other vegetables like napa cabbage, mizuna, or shungiku.  If you like a totally vegetarian nabe, you can substitute the salmon tofu tsumire for plain tofu.

On the platter are shitake, shimeji, enoki, maitake, chanterelles
and negi. 

The Dashi:
2 tbls sake
1 tbls Mirin, optional

The Vegetables:
1 package of enoki mushrooms, ends removed
1 package of maitake mushrooms, ends removed
1 package of shimeji mushrooms,ends removed 6-8 shitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 Negi or 3 scallions, ends removed

The Tofu Salmon Tsumire: **
8 oz salmon fillets, skin and bones removed
2 pinches of salt (about ¼ teaspoon)
4 oz firm tofu 1.5 tbls potato starch (Katakuriko) or all purpose flour
1 tsp ginger juice
1 tsp sake
1/2 egg
½ negi or 1 scallion, chopped
¼ tsp salt
Dash of pepper

Garnishes and Condiments:
1-2 Yuzu or lemon sliced rind into thin slivers
1/3 cup grated ginger
Optional garnishes: Grated daikon, sansho pepper,
ground roasted sesame seeds, sliced scallions

** For vegans, you can substitute Tofu Salmon Tsumire with medium firm tofu. Cut the tofu into 8 cubes.  Do not over cook the tofu in the nabe.  Just keep it in the dashi long enough to heat it, about five minutes.

Ian and Missy slicing the vegetables.

Make the Dashi broth. Season 6 cups of the broth with sake, mirin, usukuchi soysauce. Reserve the remaining 2 cups of plain broth to replenish the hot pot.

Prep the Tofu Salmon Tsumire: Take the tofu out of the package, and drain water. Wrap drained tofu in a clean cloth to remove excess water. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place the skinless, boneless salmon on a cutting board. Cut the salmon in small cubes, about ½ inch in size. Take a couple pinches of salt (around ¼ teaspoon or a little more) and sprinkle it all over the cubed salmon. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Mince the salted salmon cubes, using a knife. It’s should have some texture like a steak tartare. In a medium size bowl, combine the tofu, minced salmon, sake, ginger, egg, negi, salt and pepper to taste. Use your hands to mix the ingredients.  Crumble the tofu with your hand.  Transfer the tsumire mixture to a clean bowl. Refrigerate. (Note: Don’t make this more than 1 hour ahead of time or it will get watery).

Clean the mushrooms. Separate the shimeji, maitake and enoki mushrooms, so they are easy to eat. The enoki mushrooms can be cut in half. Arrange everything on a platter. Keep each ingredient in separate piles.

Slice Negi or scallions crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange negi on the mushroom platter.

Prepare the Garnishes.

Rebecca mincing the salmon by hand.

Set the table with chopsticks, spoons, and serving bowls for each person. Bring out the condiments and garnishes and set them on the table.

Bring the seasoned dashi, the plain dashi (in a little pitcher or cup) the mushrooms and the negi, and the bowl of tsumire to the table. Turn on the portable burner. Pour the seasoned dashi in the Donabe, Hot pot, and heat the dashi over medium heat.

When the seasoned dashi starts to gently boil, turn heat to low, and add all the mushrooms except for the enoki. Close lid and cook the mushrooms in the simmering broth for 4-5 minutes.

Open the lid. With two spoons or clean wet hands, make tsumire balls, using about 1.5 tbls of the mixture, and drop the balls gently into the broth. Repeat until you have used up half or all of the mixture. Closed lid to continue cooking for a couple of minutes.  (Note: If you plan to serve the nabe in two stages, reserve half for the second round.)  Open the lid and taste the soup. If the soup tastes a little salty after you added the Tsumire, you can adjust the flavor by adding plain dashi. If the soup tastes bland, you can adjust it by adding a ½ teaspoon of soysauce or usukuchi soysauce. For a rounder, sweeter taste, sake and sweet sake can be added sparingly.

Add the enoki and the negi.  Close the lid and continue cooking until the tsumire floats freely, about 3-5 minutes more.  Serve one tsumire and the mushrooms with ½ cup of soup per serving to start with. Garnish with sliced yuzu.

Let everyone help themselves to the condiments and garnishes on the table. Note: If you plan to do a second round, try to clear the first round of ingredients out of the nabe.

Have a bowl ready to scoop out the leftovers, which gets eaten or discarded. One of the things a host does during the nabe dinner is to encourage the guests to have more, so you have no left over’s. You don’t want to mix overcooked ingredients with the fresh ones. The left over broth can be used to make a porridge or used as a broth for noodles.

The mushrooms will shrink as they cook.

When the Tsumire floats freely, they are cooked and the
nabe is ready.  Garnish with yuzu rind.

Oxnard - A trip to bountiful

Posted on October 4, 2009 at 12:18 PM Comments comments (5)

A whimsical display

It's good to have a reason to leave the city once in awhile, even if it is to deliver some boxes to put in storage.  Our storage is out in Oxnard, an one hour drive on the Ventura Freeway from Santa Monica.  We've made the trip countless times.  It is a long drive just to go and store things but today, I am enjoying this trip.  Who knows, I might find something I want to take out.

Open sesame. Lots of stuff in there.  As the old Japanese saying goes, dust collects and turns into a mountain.  But among the dust, there are some interesting things.  Boxes of Sakae's toys and baby kimonos, my grandmother's tea table that needs repair, an old mosquito net.  Half of the space is taken up by family stuff, the other half is Sakai's sculptures and paintings from another time, which I'd like to see out in the open air.  But where do we put them?  It's good to look through old things.  I found a box marked "Old Cookbooks."  I decided to take that back with me.  I wanted to see what cookbooks I put away. 

Before leaving Oxnard, we looked for a farmstand to buy some fresh produce.  Oxnard is mostly known for their strawberries fields.  Shortly after my family moved to LA from Tokyo in the early seventies, my parents took us to visit a strawberry farm that was owned by a Japanese American family in this area.  I could not believe the sheer size of the farm. They let us pick as many strawberries as we wanted.  Where we came from, strawberries were very expensive.  We only got strawberries on top of our birthday cake when we were lucky. Most of the time, we had canned peaches instead.  But here in America, it was strawberry fields forever.  That seemed incredibly promising.


We found several farm stands, selling the last strawberry crop of the season. The berries were still sweet and juicy. I bought a boxful for $15. The box was marked Fraises de Californie but these strawberries aren't going to France.


Besides strawberries, they had some beautiful pumpkins.  The owner had her foot in a cast but she got up to help me pick out a pumpkin.

When we got home, I opened the box of old cookbooks and found a couple that belonged to my mother. That made me happy.  I am cooking out of one tonight.   

The Oxnard pumpkin now sits at our doorstep.  Soon it will get a face.


Homemade Fast Food- Onigiri Rice Ball

Posted on October 1, 2009 at 1:13 PM Comments comments (0)

Okay so it's October 1.  Opening day of Sakai's art Exhibition.  Eddie, Sakai's assistant arrived at 730am to wash the last stone sculpture and stone bases for the show.  I drove out to rent-a-wreck to return the truck. Sakai has been burning the midnight oil for the last three days.  The brochures and posters have been printed.  Having an art show is exciting and nerve racking at the same time. Sakae calls from Portland to wish his Dad good luck.  I can only hope for the best turn out and response. 

Last night was fast food night and this morning is the same too. That means rice balls for most Japanese people.  You can grab it like a sandwhich and run.  The stuffing can be anything from grilled salmon such left overs from last night to seasoned ground meat or grilled tarako- cod roe.  There is a little rice left over to make one rice ball this morning so I decide to make one and stuff it with a pickled plum -umeboshi.  There is an old Japanese saying - A pickled plum a day keeps the doctor away.  

There isn't much of a recipe for making Onigiri.  You just need steamed rice.  Use short or medium grain rice.  The fresher the rice, the tastier. The rice balls I made last night were great because the rice was steaming hot and fresh. This morning I am working with day old rice but it is still good.  You will need some salt, a pickled plum and a crispy sheet of nori seaweed to wrap the rice ball. Use about 3/4 cup of rice for each rice ball.

Fresh steamed rice tastess the best but mine is the leftover from

last night.  I want to use it up.  Have also a bowl of salt water, using

about a teaspoon of salt to 3 cups of water.  This is for wetting

your hands while you make the rice ball.

First wash your hands.  Dip you hands in the bowl of salted

water to keep it a little wet so the rice doesn't stick to your

hands while molding the rice ball.  Put a dab of salt to season

the rice ball (about 1/4 tsp).  Too much water on your hands

will make the rice ball soggy so don't over do it.

I put a pickled plum in the center of the rice ball.

Make sure you remove the pit from the pickled plum.

Using both palms and fingers, hold the rice and mold it into a

triangle. You can make a round rice ball if the triangle is too

difficult. But it really isn't.  Cup the pointed corners with your fingers

and press down to make the mountain shape.  Then turn the 

rice ball and repeat until all three corners have a nice peak.

A snow covered Mt. Fuji.

This is a small Onigiri.  I used 1/4 sheet of the nori and

cut it into smaller pieces to wrap it. You can sprinkle

the Onigiri with roasted sesame seeds or Furikake, if you like.

This onigiri is too small for the sculptors. 

So I eat it.  So good!  

Nothing can be Everything

Posted on September 28, 2009 at 6:58 PM Comments comments (0)

Sakai has been going back and forth between Santa Monica and downtown LA, making art deliveries to the gallery. There are four more days left to the show.  We are passed the intense period. Last week it felt like a volcano was erupting right in our backyard.  This week it feels more like the calm before the storm. One more sculpture to go. Sakai is finishing up a huge wall piece.

I make lunch - just for myself.  I go for plain steamed broccolinis. Sometimes it is nice to eat vegetables with nothing on it.  Nothing can be everything.  

Last of my garden peppers - Santa Monica

Posted on September 25, 2009 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Braised Shitake mushrooms - Basics

Posted on September 24, 2009 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I always keep a jar of dried shitake mushrooms around.  Braised, they make a nice condiment for noodles, Inari (here is the link) and Chirashi -sushi.  You can slice them up or use whole.



6 Dried Shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in water

6 Tbls Shitake mushroom water (from soaking)

2 Tbls Sugar

1 1/2 Tbls Soy Suace


Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in a bowl of water.  After 30 minutes, the mushrooms will hydrate and look full. They look gorgeous.   Trim stems and discard.  


In a small saucepan, combine Shitake mushrooms, shitake mushroom water, sugar, soysauce and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Turn off heat.  


Keeps in the fridge for about a week. 

Finely chopped braised shitake mushrooms on the

left side of the dish.  The right side is braised burdock and

carrots.  They will be used for making inari  

or chirahsi sushi.

Burdock chips - The Potato Chips alternative

Posted on September 1, 2009 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)


I found some old dishes that were tucked away in the back of my china cabinet. I had not used them in awhile.  They are Made in Japan, probably from the Art Deco period or a little later. I got them in a thrift shop.  Paid less then $10 for the set of five.  They are not fine china by any means but I like the bold design and black and dark persimmon colors. I try to figure out what I can serve in them.  It's fun to give the plate a priority over the food for a change.  I look at the wavy lines on the plate and I think about possibilities. Then Burdock comes to mind. Taking burdock shavings and deep frying them in sesame oil makes beautiful crispy chips with soft curves.  You serve the chips while they are piping hot otherwise they will go limp.  I season them with salt and pepper and with red cracked chili pepper when I want them to be hot.  It's delicious and a perfect match for this beautiful dish.

Burdock Chips

Makes 4 servings

1 long  burdock, washed, and shaved into long thin shavings, about 2.5-3 inches long
2 cups sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Red chili peppers to taste (optional)

In a small cast iron frying pan, put enough sesame oil to fill about 1.5 inches deep.
Bring frying pan over medium heat.  

Deep fry the burdock shavings until crispy and brown but not burnt. The temperature of the oil should be around 300F.
Dry them on paper towels.  
Sprinkle salt and pepper and serve immediately.  If you like them hot, you can sprinkle cracked red hot chili peppers.

Quick Summer Pickles - Asazuke

Posted on August 27, 2009 at 2:31 AM Comments comments (0)


  Cucumber, turnip and carrots take a plunge into the ice water

It's been just too hot and dry in Southern California. I miss the rain and pray for clouds everyday.  Even my vegetables in the garden could use a little cooler weather.  In the late afternoons, the cucumbers look a bit limp from the heat.  So today, I decided to give them an ice break.  They went for a plunge in a bowl of ice water.  I'd like to take a plunge myself.

I made quick pickles, Asazuke, (it is the Japanese word for lightly pickled) with basically what I found in the fridge and garden - one carrot, 3 turnips and 2 Japanese cucumbers. You can also use cabbage, radishes, celery and peppers too.  I thought these pickles will last over two or three days.  But we ate most of  it  in one evening. They were good.  I have to make some more.

You can use the leaves of the turnips, too.

There is no need to peel the turnips.

Cut the turnip and cucumbers thin but not too thin.  

The carrots are cut in match sticks.

Sprinkle some chopped shiso as a garnish for extra flavor.

Quick Cucumber, Carrots and Turnip Pickles

3 turnips

2 Japanese cucumbers

1 medium size carrot

2 shiso leaves, sliced thinly (optional)

2 tsp salt



1 tsp salt

2 inch piece konbu seaweed, sliced, 1/4-inch wide

1 cup water (250 cc)

Don't peel the turnips.  Slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick pieces.

Peel the cucumbers and slice them crosswise, 1/4-inch thick pieces.

Peel the carrot and make 2-inch matchsticks.


Soak the sliced konbu and salt in one cup of water. Put the mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Turn off heat. Cool broth and set aside.


Sprinkle measured salt over sliced cucumbers, turnips and carrots. Let stand for 5 minutes to let the salt settle.  Then gently mix (massage) the vegetables with your hand until water is extracted from the vegetables.  

Put the vegetables in a zip log back.  Make sure there are no air pockets. Press the vegetables by putting some weight on top for about 30 minutes. You can put a plate or cutting board on top and then a large can of tomatoes or something even heavier like a stone.  That's what my grandmother used.  The modern Japanese way to press vegetables is with a pickling device (see picture below). I've had mine for more than 20 years but it's as good as new.  It comes with a lid so I can put it right in the fridge.  You can find pickling devices at a Japanese market.  They are great to have if you plan on making pickles, which I do regularly.   

Japanese pickling device.  It has a handle so you can also use

it  to build some triceps if you like.  

Prepare a bowl of water with ice and set aside.  

In a saucepan, boil 3 cups of  water. We will dump the hot water on the vegetables first, and then give them the ice bath.  So go ahead and take the vegetables out of the zip lock bag or pickling container and put them in a strainer.  Pour the hot water over the vegetables. Let stand for 5 to 10 seconds. This step will make the vegetables slightly limp. Then transfer the vegetables into the ice water with ice cubes and cool the vegetables quickly. This is to get them crispy and cold. Keep the vegetables in the ice bath for 10 seconds.  Drain. Return them to the pickling device or zip log back along with the brine and press for additional 30 minutes or longer.  Keep refreigerated.

To serve, lightly squeeze the water out of the pickles and sprinkle some chopped shiso leaves.  

Nutty Tofu Dressing - the oil and vinegar alternative

Posted on August 24, 2009 at 3:13 PM Comments comments (0)

SHIRA AE is a tofu based dressing that goes well with vegetables and seafood. It is one of my favorite ways to eat tofu since I was a child.  My grandmother would sometimes make it just for me.  That meant a lot because I had four other siblings and many cousins to compete with.  I would help her grind the sesame seeds in the mortar. The grinding of sesame seeds took time but that was okay, we talked stories while we worked.   

Traditional Japanese mortar and pestle -suribachi and


The ridged interior of a Japanese mortar works efficiently to grind

sesame seeds and nuts.  

This pestle which is made from the branch of a pepper tree

is more than 20 years old.   

My grandmother made Shira Ae to dress a variety of vegetables - spinach, green beans, eggplant, taro potatoes, carrots.  I still remember the day she suggested making Shira Ae with Taro potatoes.  I thought it was a bizzare idea but I loved it.  Shira ae is very mild in flavor.  It is pureed tofu with a little soy sauce and sugar. You can add ground nuts or roasted sesame seeds and even add a tablespoon of heavy cream, if you want a richer and creamier sauce.  Today, I wasn't really thinking about putting any nuts in the sauce but I remembered that I had some fresh trail mix, which I got at the farmers market.  Okay, so why not throw a few pieces in to make it a little nutty?  I picked out the fresh walnuts and pecans, enough to make a 1/3 cup. The amount of nuts will depend on how nutty you want the sauce to be.  I tried this sauce on shimeji mushrooms, broccoli and banana, yes, fruit too.  

Broccoli with Walnut and Pecan Tofu Sauce


Strawberries, kiwi, apples, kaki work well but not the citrusy kind. I could be wrong but I think the general rule is to leave out the watery and citrusy fruit because it will make the tofu sauce watery.  Don't combine the sauce with the vegetables or fruit until the last minute because that will also make it watery.  You can serve fruit with tofu dressing at the end as a dessert.

What's a Banana doing here?


Banana with Walnut and Pecan Sauce - a good dessert


1/2 Firm (Mengoshi-type Tofu)

1 Tbls sugar or maple sugar

1 Tsp Light color soy sauce (Usu-kuchi shoyu)

1 tsp white miso (such as Saikyo miso) (optional)

1/3 cup unsalted mixed nuts (roasted, unsalted) - pecan and walnuts * (optional)

1 Tbls heavy cream (optional) 

Grind the nuts in a blender or mortar until it is as fine as you can get them to be. You want to extract the oil out of the nut.  Aadd the tofu, sugar, heavy cream and soy sauce to the ground nuts and blend well to make a smooth sauce.  You can also do the whole thing in the mortar if you have one.  It will be more textural.  If you want a creamy finish, you can press it through a strainer.  That will mean more work though.  It's good either way.


Make the tofu dressing that contains miso.

Makes 4 servings

1/4 broccoli, cut into florets

Tofu Dressing


Make the Tofu Dressing (See recipe above)

In a medium size saucepan, cook the broccoli with a pinch of salt until its cooked but still firm. Drain.  Chill in ice cold water for a couple of minutes.  Drain again. 

Serve with the Tofu dressing.  Either put the sauce on top or serve it on the side like a dip.

You can make the broccoli in advance but do not combine it with the dressing until you are ready to serve.


Make the tofu dressing that contains the miso.

Makes 4 servings

1 package of shimeji mushrooms, ends removed and mushrooms separated

into small mouth-size bunches

Tofu dressing


In a medium size saucepan, blanch the mushrooms with a pinch of salt in boiling water for about 10 seconds. The mushrooms should hold their shape after cooking so be careful not to over cook them.  Gently drain.  Set aside and cool.

Combine with tofu dressing or serve it on top of the mushrooms.  Serve immediately.


Makes 4 servings

1 banana 

Tofu dressing

Make Tofu dressing.

Slice the banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces.  Each person should get 3-4 pieces.

Combine the pieces with the tofu sauce and serve immediately.

* You can use other seeds and nuts such as walnuts, peanuts and sesame seeds.

Pretty in Purple - Eggplant with Neri Miso

Posted on August 20, 2009 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (8)

When I visit the Santa Monica Farmers Market I am always amazed at the variety of food farmers are growing and fishermen are catching locally. Just today, I found live spotted sprimp from Santa Barbara, which is in season until November, Korean Shiso, Japanese shiso -both green and purple types, dehydrated kaki, Japanese Koho white peaches and these gorgeous eggplants . Italian, American, Japanese eggplants - all one happy purple family.

Sun drying eggplant

Drying eggplant in the sun brings out the vegetable's natural sweetness and adds texture. Just a couple of hours will make a difference. You can do this with other vegetables such as daikon radish, zuchinni, and carrots. To accompany this eggplant dish, I made some Neri-miso - a thick all purpose sauce that goes well with grilled eggplant and grilled tofu. The classic Neri Miso can be much sweeter than my neri miso recipe. The eggplant itself can be sweet. Also the miso, sugar, sake and mirin. In other words, all the ingredients in this recipe contribute to the sweetness but sugar in particular. The amount of sugar you use depends on how salty the miso paste is and how keen you are about using sugar. The sweetness of mirin may just be enough. The saltiness differs from miso to miso, so taste the Neri miso and make adjustments accordingly. You can also add a half a teaspoon of grated yuzu or roasted sesame seeds, which are both wonderfully fragrant. Neri Miso can be used with both the sun dried eggplants and regular eggplants. Both recipes are listed below.                        



Pan fried Eggplant with Neri Miso

Makes 4 servings


  • 3 Japanese eggplants
  • 3-4 Tbls olive oil
Miso Sauce (Neri Miso): 
  • 3 Tbls Miso paste (red or white miso - I like to use mild miso, which is not too salty)  
  • 1 Tbls sugar  (as needed)
  • 2 Tbls Mirin (sweet sake)
  • 1 Tbls Sake
  • 1/2 Tsp grated ginger juice
  • Chopped chives 
  • Crushed red chili peppers or shichimi pepper
  • Red chili peppers or shichimi pepper
  • Grated Yuzu (optional)
  • Roasted sesame seeds
Neri Miso made with white miso

  1. Cut the eggplants into 1/2 inch pieces crosswise.  Sun dry for 2-3 hours.  
  2. In a non stick frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Grill or Pan fry the sun-dried eggplant until it is toasted on both sides and cooked inside but not too soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Make sure there are no dry spots.  If you find any, brush surface of eggplant with olive oil.  Remove from heat.  Keep warm.
  3. In a small bowl, mix miso, sugar, sake, ginger jurice and mirin.  Cook the mixture in a small pan over low heat. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the miso mixture is no longer runny. Be careful not to burn the neri miso. 
  4. Serve the eggplant in a bowl. Garnish with chopped chives and and red chili pepper and serve the Neri Miso on the side.
Dengaku style Eggplant with Neri Miso just out of the oven


Alternatively, you can slice each eggplant lengthwise into four, base it with olive oil and follow the same steps as the other recipe to cook and toast the eggplant on both sides. Then dab the Neri Miso generously on top of each eggplant and put them under the broiler to toast the miso. Keep a close eye on the eggplant so they don't burn. Serve immediately with the garnishes.

Neri Miso ist best if you can use it within five days.

Omit sugar if you are doing Macrobiotic.

Kimpira - Spicy Stir-fried Carrot and Burdock

Posted on August 18, 2009 at 2:43 AM Comments comments (0)

Some people say that the best way to cut burdock thin is by shaving it at an angle like you would sharpen a pencil by hand.  Then soak the shavings in vinegared water to remove the inherit "nigami" or bitterness of burdock and make them crispier. True, but I do neither when I make Kinpira Gobo.  I cut them rather thick, slightly wider than 1/8 inch and about  2 to 2 1/2 inches in length and skip the soaking.  The dish comes out crunchier and tastier. There will be chewing involved but it's fun and good for your health - burdock is high in fiber.  While the texture of burdock is wonderful,  it needs a little help in the seasoning department because it tastes bland.  Traditionally, the Japanese season it with soysauce, sugar and mirin.  Mine is a milder version of the classic recipe. I use less sweetners. You can decide what works best for your palate.  Adding more carrots to the dish will sweeten the Kinpira Gobo naturally.


Make 4 servings

  • 2 burdock roots, about 1/2 lbs, scrubbed
  • 2 carrots, about 4 oz 
  • 2 Tbls soy sauce  
  • 1 Tbls mirin, sweet sake
  • 1 Tbls sugar, or more to taste.
  • 3 Tbls sesame oil
  • 1 Tsp roasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red chili pepper, or more if you like

*You can omit  the sugar or replace sugar with more Mirin or maple sugar or honey.   

Cut the roots by hand.  The slight unevenness makes for more
interesting texture.
  1. Lightly scrub the Burdock skin but do not shave it off, as the earthy flavor is in the skin. Cut the Burdock root into matchsticks, about 2 1/2inches in length and a tad wider than 1/8-inch. 
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat and stir fry the burdock and carrots until they soften, about 6-8 minutes.  They can be slightly toasted but not burnt.  Add soy sauce and sugar and lower the heat and cook for another 5 minutes.  Taste the Kinpira. If it tastes crunchy and cooked, add mirin and cook for a couple more minutes.  Remove from heat.
  3. Serve with rosated sesame seeds and/or crushed red chili pepper.  Tastes good at room temperature or heated.


My Garden Tomatoes

Posted on August 12, 2009 at 4:38 PM Comments comments (0)

A Lunch Guest from Japan

Posted on June 22, 2009 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (20)

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Bufala and Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese

Russ Parson's Roasted Cherry Tomates and Mozzarella Bufala.

I am having a Japanese guest over for lunch today. I figured she might be hungry for Japanese food after being in LA for 5 days. So I made some fresh dipping sauce for the noodles last night and checked the pantry to see what kind of noodles I have in stock. I have plenty of soba and somen noodles. I am in good shape. It would be a no brainer simple lunch. But later in the evening, I did what I usually do almost every night. I took a cookbook to read in bed. Whenever I read about food, I either get involved with it or it knocks me right to sleep. What came with me to bed was an old issue of Savuer (April 2008), which featured Classic Pasta. I've read this issue countless times but when it comes to classic recipes, I like to reread and cook them in my imaginary kitchen. This practice hones my skills and deepens my appreciation for cooking, without any pressure. This issue discusses various Ragu alla Bolognese recipes. Ground meat, tomato sauce, red wine, onions, carrots and celery are the basic ingredients. The modern recipe spices the ragu sauce with coriander, star anise, cardamon, sherry vinegar, fish sauce, tabasco and tons of garlic. Another recipe in the same issue doesn't ask for garlic or a single sprig of parsely. An Italian ragu recipe with no garlic or parsely? I reread the recipe to make sure I didn't skip a line. So funny what keeps me up in the middle of the night. Some where between looking for the garlic in the recipe and thinking about tomorrow, I fell asleep. When I woke up this morning, I was still thinking about the ragu alla Bolognese so I decided that I will serve Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese and forget the Japanese noodles.


Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese



You can almost never go wrong feeding Italian food to Japanese people. They adore it. If you go to Japan, the second most popular flag next to the Japanese flag is the Italian flag. This is because there are so many Italian restaurants that fly them. I basically combine three recipes from Saveur but use ground chicken as a base because that is all I have in the fridge. Ground beef, lamb or pork are more common meat for making a ragu sauce. From the modern ragu recipe, I use a dash of coriander and with some hesitation, star anise but I skip the fish sauce, tabasco and the sherry vinegar. That would too adventurous. Then I go to the old recipe I already have in my head, which is no recipe. I add some dried herbs - basil and oregano. Now I feel in my comfort zone. I cook the sauce for about two hours over low heat. I get a little nervous about what the star anise is doing to the sauce. What if my guest doesn't like the flavor? I don't want it to overwhelm so I scoop it out. I taste the tomato sauce. It has a hint of the anise scent. That's exactly what I was going for. I make a few adjustments to the sauce with a teaspoon of sugar to help neutralize the acidity of the tomato and a generous splash of red wine just for fun. It can't hurt. My kitchen smells Italian. The Ragu came out light because I used chicken. My guest thought it was nice and healthy.


There is time to make an appetizer. I decide to do the dish that my friend Russ Parson made for Marisa Roth's party the other night. It is Roasted cherry tomatoes and Mozzarella Bufala which is served on slices of toasted baguette. Russ is not only a very good journalist but also a very good cook. This appetizer was so popular at the party that people took turns sitting in front of the plate. Unfortunately, the Bufala I bought is not the creamy Puglia type that Russ used. I cut my soft but not creamy soft Bufala into bite size morsels and make a sheet of white on the plate. My guest arrives just as I am taking the roasted tomatoes out of the oven. "It smells very good, " she says. "I hope you don't mind, we are eating Italian?" "I love Italian, she said smiling. See I told you. My guest is walking around the house taking pictures of my funky vegetable garden and Sakai's sculptures. While she is snapping away, I put the roasted cherry tomatoes on top of the bufala. I start the water for boiling the spaghetti. Then I go back to the appetizer plate. I garnish the roasted tomatoes with chopped basil and serve it with the toasted baguettes.I offer her wine but she opts for ice tea. I have the same. I will have a glass of wine in the evening.


all gone!



Serves 2

  • 1/2 box or about 24 Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 ball Mozzarella Bufala (Puglia style is preferred) 
  • 1/2-1 clove garlic, chopped finely 
  • 1 tbls sliced basil 
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick,crosswise 
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper to season 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. 
  2. To roast the cherry tomatoes, put them on a sheet of aluminim foil large enough to hold the tomatoes.  Toss lightly with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Seal the foil and put it in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes.  When the tomatoes are half way cooked, throw in some chopped garlic for added flavor.  The tomatoes are done when they are very soft and begin to burst.  Do not burn the tomatoes.  Take the tomatoes out of the oven and open the foil to let them cool down.
  3.  If you can find Bufala from Puglia, the cheese will be too soft to cut.  Simply, scoop it out of the container and spread it on the serving plate.  If you have regular Mozzarella Bufala Campagna, the ball will be soft but not creamy soft.  So you will be able to cut it into small morsels.  Lay the morsels on the serving plate.  
  4. Toast the baguette.  You can brush the surface of the baguette with olive oil, if you like.  Serve the roasted tomatoes on top of the Bufala and sprinkle basil.  Serve with toasted baguette.  
  5. Serve immediately.

Roasted cherry tomatoes 


SPAGHETTI WITH RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE  (Revised from Savuer recipe - Anna Nanni's Ragu alla Bolognese -April 2008) 


Serves 4 people   

  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (with juice)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbls butter
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  •  2 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs ground beef or ground chicken
  • 1 4oz piece pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tbls tomato paste 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt, pepper, taste
  • 1/4 tsp each of coriander, dried oregano and dried basil, or more to taste
  • 1 star anise 
  • 1 package of Pasta - spaghetti
  • 1 cup Parmegiano-reggioano, grated 

  1. Put the tomatoes and their juice in a blender; puree until smooth and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add celery, onions and carrots.  Season with the condiments.  Just a 1/4 teaspoon of each seasoning, to taste.  Put one star anise in the pot but take it out after 15 minutes of cooking and discard. Lower heat and cook for another 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Taste the sauce again and make adjustments.
  3. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spatula, until the meat begins to brown, about 10 mintues. Add the pancetta and continue cooking.  Ad the wine and simmer.  Add tomato pate, the reeserved tomato puree and sugar, and continue simmering utnil sauce is very thick, about  2 hours.
  4. Cook the pasta, following package instructions.  
  5. Serve cooked pasta with the ragu alla Bolognese and grated parmigiano-greggiano. 


 And she left for the airport.

Portland Farmers Market

Posted on June 14, 2009 at 2:29 AM Comments comments (0)

The weather was cloudy and temperatures were on the cool side. Sakae said this was pretty typical Portland weather.  It even drizzled the night before but that didn't seem to curb anyone's spirit.  Especially, mine because I finally made it to Portland. I hadn't seen my son in nearly 3 months. Coming from Los Angeles, I am glad I packed my light leather jacket. The first thing I wanted to do in Portland was to visit the farmers market. Sakae and his girlfriend, Binah, who both go to school in Portland, took me to the one nearby their apartment. It was a small market but there were plenty of locally grown produce and even live country music. Nice looking hazelnuts and walnuts. The three of us went wow! when we saw the fresh Italian garlic from Yakima Valley. We bought some of that. Strawberries were on sale but they were not as sweet as the ones I tasted from the farm stand in Washington. I got a little spoiled with the local farm produce on Lopez Island. I bought some asparagus which cost $6 for a fat bunch. Binah bought bags full of fresh peas from two different stands. Why two? She got the second bag of peas because they looked even better than the first. She made me laugh. As always, I bought way too much. That happens when I visit a farmers market. Binah said, "We'll eat it."

Fresh Italian Garlic from Yakima Valley