Archive for August, 2009

Sweet sweet potato

Maple goodness

Maple goodness

Yusuke says that this dish, daigaku-imo, is always a favourite among Japanese children for their school lunch. And it’s no wonder: it’s mondo-sugary.

A web search in English retrieves lots of pictures and recipes. Yusuke’s Japanese searching found a few origins for the name, which can be translated as “university potatoes.” Apparently the dish originated as a treat prepared and sold by university students for a little extra cash in Tokyo in the 1940s. Another story says that daigaku-imo was first created at a sweets shop near Tokyo University and became a huge fad before the Pacific war.

Yusuke made a little Canadian variation. We can’t usually find Japanese sweet potatoes here, which are purple in colour, so we went with the familiar (to me) orange ones. He cubed the potato and soaked in salty water for a while. Then he fried it in a canola oil in a frying pan since we don’t have a deep fryer.

Meanwhile, he made the sauce with:

6 (!) tbsp of maple syrup
splash or two of mirin
splash or two of soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp water

He simmered the sauce until thick and sticky and then added the potatoes, mixing well.

Sprinkled with sesame seeds to serve.

Most recipes call for white or brown sugar (or both) or sugar syrup, but Yusuke opted for maple syrup instead, to great success.

And for a random aside, I just discovered that Kit Kat bars come in a bizarrely diverse range of flavours in Japan, including, among many others, chestnut, watermelon and salt, cherry blossom, apple vinegar, kinako, and…daigaku-imo. Wikipedia has a list of the various flavours, and I also enjoyed some reviews of the candy here and here.

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Green bean and egg domburi

Fast food!

Fast food!

Here’s a delicious addition to the domburi (“stuff on rice”) file. It is essentially an omelet with green beans, mushrooms, and white onions served over a bowl of rice. The egg mixture filled our large frying pan, more than an inch thick, but we managed to eat nearly all of it. Inhaled, actually. That’s the hazard with Japanese fast food: it’s hard to eat it slowly.

(To help with my search results: domburi is also transliterated as donburi. Easier: 丼 or どんぶり)

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Peppered potatoes and green beans

Peppered potatoes and green beans

Peppered potatoes and green beans

Another quick stir fry recipe. Step one: boil potatoes and green beans. Step two: stir fry potatoes and beans with sliced white onions. Step three: season with salt and pepper. You can probably guess step four.

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Nasu no salad

Eggplant and onion supreme

Eggplant and onion supreme

This lovely eggplant (nasu in Japanese) salad recipe is from a cookbook called Harumi’s Japanese Cooking. The book has tons of fabulous and (relatively) easy recipes, particularly for Westerners who have trouble getting Japanese ingredients.

Harumi Kurihara is a huge celebrity in Japan. She’s often called the country’s Martha Stewart, but I don’t think this is really apt. As far as I know, she hasn’t been in jail, and she doesn’t really do arts and crafts or whatever it is that Martha does. Her website is in Japanese only, but here’s an article in the New York Times that explains her rock star status: “Empress of Domesticity Drops In.”

Following Harumi’s advice, Yusuke microwaved the slices of baby eggplant before topping them with raw white onions. The recipe calls for myoga, too, but we substituted green onions, as recommended in the book. Yusuke roughly followed the recipe for the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • a bit of sugar
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • sprinkling of sesame seeds

Instead of peanut butter, tahini or sesame paste could be used. Lovely.

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Okonomiyaki redux

Okonomiyaki perfection

Okonomiyaki perfection

I wrote up Yusuke’s okonomiyaki creations before, but it definitely deserved a photo update.

This particular batch was also a little different. We had bought some fabulous Soyarie firm tofu, and Yusuke had the idea of crumbling it into the okonomiyaki batter. It made texture smoother and added a richness to the taste. The veggies included were carrots and cabbage. In addition to okonomi sauce, bonito flakes, and mayonnaise (for Yusuke), we added powdered nori (seaweed) to the okonomiyaki topping. Tasty.

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New knife!

A fancy kitchenware shop in downtown Montreal was having a going-out-of-business sale, and we profited by acquiring a shiny new knife. Japanese cuisine of course requires lots of slicing and dicing of vegetables and fish, and Yusuke was a happy chef with this new tool. I hasten to note that our previous knives were more of the WalMart variety, so this was a substantial step up.

Japanese knives aren’t necessarily easy to come by here (and if found, they are not particularly affordable). But this knife has solid German craftsmanship, “a unique synthesis of design, ergonomics, and function.” To give the specs, it’s a 160 mm (6 inch) stainless steel slicing knife, Twin Cuisine model, made by Zwilling J.A. Henckels.

Very efficient, for example, for transforming this okra into a lovely sticky mass in seconds.

Okra chopping action

Okra chopping action

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Tofu with mushroom sauce

Shojin ryori tofu

Shojin ryori tofu

This is the first recipe we tried from a beautiful shōjin ryōri cookbook called The Enlightened Kitchen by Mari Fujii (limited preview on Amazon). Shojin ryori is the traditional cuisine of Japanese Buddhist monks and does not include any animal products (although this book includes a few with yogurt). One description I read said that the monks do not eat anything “that flees when chased.” The food is based on seasonal vegetables and spices that nourish the body in accordance with the season (e.g., to warm, cool, fortify against cold).

The author’s expertise in temple cuisine is due to being married to a Buddhist monk in Kamakura, an ancient city that we visited during our trip. Maki at Just Hungry wrote a lovely review of the book.

I was surprised that many of the recipes involve frying food and include copious amounts of sesame oil, maple syrup, and peanut butter. So the dishes are not all necessarily low-calorie. Other staples include miso, kombu, and kanten (agar-agar powder).

We cheated a little on the concept of shojin cuisine by making a dish intended for another season. According to the book, this “nutritious tofu is served with a sauce of fall mushrooms, a dish to warm the body as the days grow cooler.”

As the name suggests, this dish is simply boiled tofu topped with a mushroom sauce. The sauce itself is based on stock made from kombu, a type of seaweed. One of our local grocery stores carries dried kombu from Korea, but Yusuke made a special trip to get Japanese kombu instead. A single strip of kombu was needed for this dish and was soaked in water for a few hours beforehand to make the stock.

To make the sauce: bring kombu stock, soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and salt to a boil in a frying pan. Add thinly sliced mushrooms (we used shitake and button) and carrots and simmer for a few minutes. Cornstarch is added at the very end to thicken the sauce. The recipe recommends garnishing the tofu with strips of blanched green beans, but we used green onions instead.

Final judgment: extremely yummy.

The next day, I ate the leftover sauce poured over rice. I had packed my lunch container the night before, and by the time I ate it, the sauce had soaked into the rice, softening the texture and adding a rich flavour.

We also had a different type of miso soup with this meal. Yusuke first toasted sesame seeds in a soup pan before adding hot water, miso paste, and bean sprouts, which gave the soap a more nutty flavour.

Bean sprout soup, rice, and tofu

Bean sprout soup, rice, and tofu

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