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Archive for the ‘Japanese Food’ Category


From top, clockwise: miso-pickled turnip greens, broiled salmon skin, stewed pumpkin, kinpira, Hakurei turnip pickles

As my last few posts attest, I’ve been on a bit of a Japanese food bender these days. Around New Year’s, I start to feel a little homesick for my parents’ cooking and start making things that I used to wish would disappear or turn into pizza when I was a kid. I started to have a hankering for the kind of foods my mom will often cook in big batches on Sunday to have for breakfast through the week, and the results were quite satisfactory.
Here are a couple of recipes:

Kinpira:
This dish is usually made either with burdock root or carrots (not both), but I like the combination of the two together plus a handful of hijiki seaweed.

1/2 lb burdock root
1/2 lb carrots
1/2 cup dried hijiki seaweed
sesame oil
soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup

Peel and slice burdock into matchsticks (about 3 inches long and 1/2 cm wide) and set in a bowl of cold water + 1 tblsp vinegar. This is to keep the burdock from discoloring. Peel and slice carrots in the same way. Submerge hijiki in cold water; drain when softened and about quadrupled in size.

Heat one tbsp of sesame oil in a frying pan. Add chopped burdock root and carrots, plus about 2 tbsp of soy sauce (or less, if you like your food less salty). Stir-fry about 3 minutes, then sprinkle brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup over the vegetables and add the drained hijiki. Stir-fry another 10 minutes. Done!

Stewed pumpkin:
For this batch, I used a small Jarrahdale pumpkin I got from Paradise Valley Produce the last time I visited. The standard squash to use is some sort of kabocha, which is sweeter and starchier than the Jarrahdale, which is somewhat bland but has a moister, more yam-like texture.

1 3lb winter squash or pumpkin (not a Sugar Pie or Cinderella, as these will not hold up in the stewing pot)
2 cups dashi or fish stock
1/4 c soy sauce
1 inch-long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise
brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup to taste
3 tbsp sake

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and veins, then slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch crescents lengthwise. Heat dashi together with the ginger slices until it reaches a slow boil. Mix in the soy sauce, sweetener (I say “to taste” b/c the sweetness of this dish can vary very widely) and the sake. Then, add the squash slices and turn heat down to a simmer. Simmer about 40 minutes, or until the squash is soft all the way through.

Note: I’m a little alarmed to find that health warnings have been issued in a number of countries (the U.K., New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong) advising people to avoid consumption of hijiki due to high arsenic levels. Not quite sure what to make of it – I’ve been eating it all my life and I’m not dead yet; on the other hand, the same could be said of a lot of things that aren’t healthy. Decide for yourself. Kinpira is just as good without it and I certainly don’t want to be accused to poisoning anyone with Japanese food!

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I love finding unusual vegetables and thinking of ways to cook them.

A jaunt up to the farm just before Christmas yielded a huge bounty of wild radish greens, which is both of one my favorite vegetables and also something I’ve never seen in a store or a farmers market, most likely because it’s a weed. It sprouts like crazy throughout the year, especially as it gets colder. If you have a garden, or have strolled through an area farm, you’ve probably seen it – it grows to about 3 feet and has little pinwheel flowers that are generally either yellow, white or lavender.

The plant looks very much like a taller, spindlier version of broccoli raab, which it also closely resembles in taste. It quickly grows tough and fibrous, so it has to be harvested when the tips are still young and tender, ideally before the flower opens and the inflorescence is just emerging from the stalk. I felt very lucky indeed to coincidentally be on the farm when this prolific weed was just entering the phase when it’s ideal for picking.

There are a couple of ways to cook it. It’s got a one-two punch of brazen mustardy bite plus an undertone of bitterness, which I think gives it character, but which could be off-putting to people who prefer their vegetables to be more demure. So a good way to temper it is to make tempura with it – this brings out the tender snap of the stalk, crisps the leaves and mellows the bitterness.

Another method is to stir-fry at high heat with a prodigious amount of toasted sesame oil, a dash of maple syrup or brown sugar, and about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce per pound.

A more traditional way to cook it is to use it in oshitashi – some recipes call for things like mirin, sake or sesame of some sort, but I like to just splash some soy sauce on it with a handful of katsuo flakes and call it ready. This is the plainest preparation of the green, one which doesn’t mask the bitter spiciness of the vegetable, and one that goes especially well with a nice rich fish accompaniment like the one below.

I was also delighted to come across some Scarlet Queen turnips at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Eatwell Farms stand. I think it’s a shame that turnips are generally either neglected or reviled in American food because they require so little preparation to bring out their juicy sweetness. They’re best when they’re on the smaller side (i.e., not too much larger than golf-ball sized), as fresh as possible and not too mature. Sometimes you get turnips that have been sitting around in the ground for too long, and the mellow tenderness that make them so delicious has dissipated into a searing, nose-clearing mustardy taste.

My father used to have a batch of turnip pickles going whenever they were in season, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to replicate that out here. These turnips were especially nice because their festive reddish-pink blush added a bit of cheer to what’s otherwise a relatively drab-looking vegetable. I cut them into thin, half-moon slivers and layered them in a glass dish with a bit of yuzu peel, salt and kombu. Then I put some plastic wrap over them, weighted them down with a jug of water and waited an hour. I also pickled the greens in a similar fashion, but replaced the salt with light miso and added a tsp each of sake and mirin. Add some rice, miso soup and a protein of some sort and you’ve got a meal!


Clockwise, from top: hijiki brown rice, wild radish green oshitashi, pickled turnips w/ sesame oil, miso-pickled turnip greens, miso soup, sauteed wild radish greens, fried sand

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Which, for me, is this kind of thing:

Broiled mackerel with grated daikon, miso soup, brown rice w/ stir-fried hijiki and parboiled green beans with sesame seeds

That’s pretty much the sort of thing my mom always made at home – some kind of broiled fish, very simply prepared vegetables, miso soup and rice with a couple of rotating accompaniments like salt pickled turnips, sauteed lotus root, burdock kinpira, or stewed chicken.

I realize that probably sounds kind of weird, and certainly, it used to be a source of tremendous consternation to me that my mom never made me any “normal” food. This was especially true at lunchtime in elementary school, when everyone would take out their lunch boxes and start trading things like strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups and juice boxes feverishly.

Now that I’m older and don’t live at home, I get a hankering for that food every now and again, and thankfully, it’s really easy to make. I think some people find the idea of cooking Japanese food at home kind of intimidating because of all the unfamiliar ingredients, and the cultivated esotericism of the typical unsmiling sushi chefs encountered in Japanese restaurants. But it isn’t difficult to make a straightforward meal like the one pictured above:

Parboiled green beans with sesame seeds:

  • Cut the tips off a quarter pound of green beans
  • Drop beans into water that has reached a rolling boil; cook 2 minutes, or until the beans have about the give of the flesh on the tip of your index finger.
  • Remove from heat and plunge into ice water. Drain.
  • Dress with a dash of sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds – or just a dab of mayonnaise.

Hijiki stir- fry:

  • Submerge 1/2 cup of hijiki in cold water, set aside until it expands to about 3 times the original size; drain
  • Peel and quarter a carrot lengthwise; cut into thin, fan-shaped slices
  • Sautee the carrot slices in 2 tbsp sesame oil until semi-soft
  • Add the drained hijiki and continue stir-frying for about 5 minutes, adding 1 tsp brown sugar and 1 tbsp soy sauce (you can adjust to taste – I prefer less sugar than some people)

Broiled mackerel:

  • Set oven to broil
  • If using a whole mackerel, slit the fish from the tip of the jaw down the belly to the tail; scoop the innards out (Or just leave them, if you don’t mind fish innards. I find them kind of bitter.) Rinse and pat dry. Make two cuts on either side of the head to splay the body open like a book.
  • Salt lightly, then brush with any kind of cooking oil you want – safflower, soybean oil, sunflower, sesame, whatever.
  • Broil with cut side facing up for about 10 minutes, or until the meat on the inside browns – keep a careful eye on the fish so it doesn’t burn
  • Serve w/ finely grated daikon radish and a spot of soy sauce

I usually just cook my rice in a rice cooker, so I can turn it on and ignore it while I’m making everything else. Easy-peasy!

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But here’s how my mom feeds 360 pounds of Asian:


Clockwise from top: boiled chestnuts, hard-boiled eggs, sliced meatloaf, broiled salmon, sauteed lotus root with sesame seeds, salt-pickled chinese cabbage with sesame oil, sliced persimmons, brown rice

There’s a great audio clip circulating the internet of an irate Texan giving Jimmy Dean a dressing down for shrinking their sausage packages from 16 oz to 12 oz. 12 oz of sausage, a couple dozen eggs and a T-bone steak are apparently *not* enough food for what he calls “600 pounds of MAN!” to eat first thing in the morning.

Now, food is a tremendously cultural matter, so I can’t really say that what this guy should do is ditch the cholesterol gut-bomb for breakfast and eat Mama Hoshino style. But then, let’s be serious here. Eating that kind of crap for breakfast is just not healthy, even if it makes me feel like a snooty food chauvinist to say so. 6 grams of saturated fat in a 56 gram portion?? How is that even possible?

And as an aside – I’m not really sure what this guy is so hyped up about. A cursory stroll through the Jimmy Dean website indicates that their sausage is indeed still available in a 16 oz. package (or a 32 oz., or a 48 oz., for that matter). Maybe Randy Taylor, Texas Man, should have reserved his ire for the local supermarket.

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