Posts Tagged natto

Mabo dofu plus…natto!

Vegetarian spicy tofu

I’ve written about mabo dofu (that is, spicy tofu, also transliterated as mapo doufu) before, because it’s so darn tasty. The origins are Szechwanese, but it’s a very popular dish in Japan.

This version was extra-special, though, based on a recipe that Yusuke happened upon recently. Traditional mabo dofu is supposed to have ground pork, or possibly ground beef, but that just ruins everything. This is a lovely vegan* version of the classic dish, with mushrooms and natto instead of dead animals. Yes, natto: those slippery, pungent fermented soybeans. Along with the mushrooms, they provided a perfect texture and layering of umami.

Yusuke pretty much followed his usual recipe (quantities are approximate):

  • 1/4 tsp minced ginger
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp chili bean sauce (a.k.a. tobanjan)
  • 1 tbsp sweet bean sauce (a.k.a. tenmenjan)
  • Broth*, around 250 mL
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp katakuriko (Japanese potato starch), dissolved in 2 tbsp of water
  • Green onions, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 packages of silken tofu, cut into cubes
  • Lots of mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 packages of frozen natto
  • Splash of soy sauce
  • Splash of rice wine vinegar
  1. Saute ginger and garlic in sesame oil
  2. Add tenmenjan and tobanjan and stir
  3. Add mushrooms
  4. After mushrooms begin to cook, add natto and mix
  5. Add broth, tofu (gently), and green onions and continue to stir
  6. Add a tiny bit of vinegar and soy sauce
  7. Drizzle in the katakuriko mix
  8. Eat with plain rice (and miso soup and salad)

Lovely, filling texture and awesomely spicy taste.

*Yusuke used chicken stock, but veggie broth is fine, as is dashi stock.

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2013 Soba

I’m having a hard time believing that it’s already time to adieu 2013. Well, I prefer even numbers, so I’m ready to get this show on the road.

To usher out the year properly, and to wish for long (but not thick) life, we followed the Japanese tradition of eating soba on New Year’s Eve.

As usual, the soba was dressed with a nice variety of toppings: natto, mashed avocado, eggs with slightly runny yolks, raw green onions, nori seaweed cut into strips, and of course, wasabi and tsuyu (soba sauce).


[UPDATE: just a note about the eggs: they’re hot springs egg style (i.e., soft yolks). The key to this is to bring water to a boil FIRST, then add the eggs and cook for seven minutes.

Also, this wine.


New Year's Eve rosé

New Year’s Eve rosé

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Magical soba

This dish was rather a nifty creation, in my opinion.

Yusuke’s first task was to boil fresh bean sprouts: just a few minutes to retain a crunchy texture.

Next, he halved cherry tomatoes, removed the seeds, and sautéed them in a dry frying pan (they had enough liquid alone).

He set the tomatoes aside and repeated the sautéing with asparagus spears, again in a dry pan.

After the veggies were done, he boiled soba in plain water for about 4 minutes. Longer leads to mushiness!

He arranged the drained noodles on a plate, topping the pile with neatly placed bean sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, and sliced avocado.

In the centre went glorious natto, sans the mustard sauce that comes in the package.

Last, we drizzled soba sauce over everything, sprinkled a bit of shichimi (spicy seasoning) and mixed it all up—after taking a picture, of course. The soba sauce had its usual components: water, dashi, mirin, sake, soy sauce, and a tiny bit of sugar.

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This dish was quite simple, but deceptively time-consuming to make. It was also quite messy! Good thing my specialty is cleaning up after dinner.

First, Yusuke boiled okra, chopped it all up (a very sticky operation!), and combined it with prepared (i.e., microwaved) natto.

Next, he finely chopped cabbage and boiled it.

The cabbage went into big bowls, onto which the natto-okra mixture was poured, followed by hot springs eggs.

Last came a sauce of water, dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. We also added a sprinkle of しちみとがらし(shichimi togarashi, seven spices mix).

Then we stirred it all up and ate!

This dish is incredibly great for soothing stomachs with its ネバネバ texture (neba neba, i.e., slipperiness) and extremely low caloric content.

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Soy supreme: natto tofu

This dish is waaaay Japanese. Only those who can appreciate soft subtle tastes need apply.

First, Yusuke thinly sliced white onions and soaked them in water to lessen their strong taste. Next, he prepared a sauce with 1 tsp mirin, 1 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of dashi, and the tiny packet of “mustard” that comes in a package of natto.

He mixed the sauce into natto and then piled it over blocks of silken tofu, which were also topped with the drained raw onions.

Yum, yummy.

Alas, the tofu was firmer than we prefer due to a recent tofu tragedy. We used to buy “president’s choice/ménu bleu” silken tofu, a store brand at Provigo (aka Atlantic Superstore aka Loblaws). But they haven’t had it for weeks and weeks. We even tried another store, but now hope has faded. Sniff. Japanese-style tofu is incredibly hard to come by in this part of the world…

We also had an unusual miso soup with this meal, with green peppers, potatoes, and cherry tomatoes. Yusuke used a bit of chicken broth, salt, and sugar (a tiny bit) instead of dashi powder.

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Natto eggplant pasta

わふう パスタ (wafuu pasuta), or Japanese-style pasta, is a perfect example of the national penchant for adapting traditions from other cultures to make them uniquely Japanese. When we were in Japan in April, we had a meal at a fun わふう パスタ restaurant from which Yusuke was inspired to create the dish above. Other common Japanese pasta ingredients include mushrooms, seaweed of various types, squid and other seafood, fish roe (tobiko or mentaiko), eggs, and more. Sometimes tomato sauce is used, but Japanese soy sauce-based dressing is more common.

So, to get to the recipe: first Yusuke sautéed chunks of eggplant in olive oil and garlic. While it was cooking, he brought a pot of water to a boil and added roughly 3 tbsp of dashi powder and a pinch of salt. He added the pasta and cooked it until just barely soft. Then he added it to the frying pan with the eggplant and cooked both together, adding soy sauce. Once the pasta and eggplant was transferred to serving bowls, he added natto and shredded nori (seaweed).

A note about natto: you might recall that I initially likened the taste of these fermented soy beans to vomit. But with a bit of determination, I learned to tolerate natto, and now I crave it from time to time. I’ve even been known to eat it for breakfast. It was especially tasty in this pasta. Persistence pays off!

More examples of wafuu pasuta

More pasta on display

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Natto and okra

This dish is pretty much the definition of ネバネバ (neba neba)—the experience of eating something slippery and sticky. A Google image search might further elucidate the concept.

Combined here are two quintessentially neba neba items, natto and okra. Others include nameko mushrooms and tororo, which is made from grated nagaimo (a potato). Just for fun, I pasted a previous mention of tororo below. See more about neba neba this page (mid-way down).

So this brings us to natto. I’ve written before that it is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Thanks to the legions of natto enthusiasts, the wikipedia article on the subject is very good. I’ll borrow its description: “nattō (なっとう or 納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food. As a rich source of protein, nattō and the soybean paste miso formed a vital source of nutrition in feudal Japan. Nattō can be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slippery texture.”

The first bite isn’t bad; it’s the after-taste that gets you. I hope you’re not eating as you read this, because the only way I can describe it is vomit-ish.

Natto is beloved by many Japanese people and reviled by others. It has also become quite popular elsewhere because of its health benefits from the soy, protein, and beneficial bacteria (especially for folks into macrobiotic diets. See more info here and here).

Natto from flickr user whalt. License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

So despite the taste, I’m determined to acquire a taste for natto, and I asked Yusuke to make this dish so that I can give it another go. I’m interested in the health benefits, as well as being a gaijin who can eat natto.

Natto is usually sold in small styrofoam packages. There are lots of ways to eat it, but Yusuke usually mixes it the special mustard that comes with it along with soy sauce. For this dish, he just boiled and chopped the okra, mixed it with natto, and served it over rice.

So did I manage to eat it? Yes! Although my natto-to-okra ratio was weighted to the okra side. I think I can manage small quantities to develop the taste. Yusuke says that you can put natto in miso soup, so that’s what I’d like to try next.

The Natto Land website has some good pictures of natto on its English side, and as always, Just Hungry has a nice post. I also came across an interesting blog called the Natto Project, which describes one couple’s quest to make themselves eat lots of natto.

Tuna with tororo-imo

Tuna with tororo-imo

This dish above is yamakake, which is the combination of maguro (tuna) and tororo. Tororo is essentially nagaimo or yamaimo which has been ground up. Did you follow that? In other the words, the white stuff is a root vegetable that becomes extremely sticky and, well, slimy, when it’s grated or ground. It might be unappealing to some Westerners because of the stickiness. Here it was mixed with an egg, increasingly the sliminess factor. I liked the combination with the maguro, though it’s wise to keep rice nearby when eating it. (Original post)

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