Fend Off Colds with Ginger Kuzu-yu

 

ginger-kuzuyu

Kuzu was first put on my radar by the famous vegetarian chef, Yumiko Kano. Kano Sensei is a prolific cookbook author with 29 cookbooks, all vegetarian, except for the very last one, Okazu Salada, which is vegetable-rich, but does introduce a bit of fish and meat.

At a cooking class Kano Sensei talked about the health benefits of using kuzu instead of katakuriko (a potato starch) as a thickener. She said that kuzu warms up the body while katakuriko cools the body down. Kuzu is also rich in flavonoids, a strong antioxidant. Here is a hon-kuzu that we like: http://www.morino-kuzu.com/en

A friend of mine told me that she and her husband were advised by their doctor to take kuzu to fight off a cold that they both felt they were coming down with and it worked like a charm. Influenza is spreading in Tokyo at the moment and so I started drinking a thick slurry of kuzu mixed with grated ginger and honey when I too started to feel like I was catching something. It has kept the cold from setting in and I love the ritual of making the drink.

Look for hon-kuzu 本葛 本くず in the supermarket. Do not use katakuriko (potato starch).

Ginger Kuzu-yu

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon hon-kuzu

1/2 Tablespoon grated ginger

honey

In a pot add 1 Tablespoon of hon-kuzu to 1 cup of cold water. Mix until the chunks of kuzu dissolve. Turn on the heat and continue to mix until the color changes from white to almost transparent. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 Tablespoon grated ginger. Add honey to taste.

kuzuyu-mattcha

Mattcha green tea and black sugar is a classic combination in traditional Japanese sweets. This mattcha kuzu-yu is a refreshing and earthy afternoon tea, here served with sweetened black beans.

Mattcha Kuzu-yu

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon hon-kuzu

1/2 Tablespoon instant mattcha

kokutō (black sugar)

In a pot add 1 Tablespoon of hon-kuzu to 1 cup of cold water. Mix until the chunks of kuzu dissolve. Turn on the heat and continue to mix until the color changes from white to almost transparent. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 Tablespoon instant mattcha. Add kokutō to taste.

http://yumiko-kano.com/index.html

 

 

 

Shikaku-mame Winged Beans

Shikaku-mame 四角豆、literally square beans, are also called winged beans. Shikaku-mame is a crisp green bean with slightly bitter notes that can be blanched, sautéed, or fried as tempura. I came across a package at Tsukiji Market for 100 JPY ($1 USD). I asked the shopkeeper her suggestions for cooking and she suggested ohitashi-style and sautéed.

Rinse the shikaku-mame in water and pat dry. To sauté, simply panfry with a small amount of oil and season with salt and pepper. This version was a bit bland. I will try this once more, but with some pork and other vegetables.

The ohitashi-style was my favorite. Blanch in hot water and shock in ice water. Cut into bite-size pieces and season with soy sauce and katsuobushi. In the photo above we used katsuo-kona, a powder made from smoked bonito flakes. The beans are crispy and have a pleasant hint of bitterness.

Peak season: September and October

Scientific name: Psophocarpus tetragonolobus

Kitazawa Seed Co. link

http://www.kitazawaseed.com/seed_218-10.html

 

Sweet Potato Chips

Fried as chips, sweet potatoes are a fun alternative to potato chips. The trick is to let the sliced sweet potatoes to dry a bit before deep-frying. The chips are very crispy and have a rich texture. Slightly sweet balanced with some salt call out for an ice cold beer.

Wash and dry the sweet potato. Do not peel. The chips on the left are cut with a vegetable peeler.  The chips on the right are simply sliced thin with a knife. Let the strips of sweet potato dry on cooking paper or newspaper until the flesh dries out.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown and sprinkle with salt as soon it is removed from the oil. Eat immediately.

Kakigori

kakigori

Kakigōri Shave Ice

Tokyo summers are terribly hot and horribly humid. We seek refuge in kakigōri, shave ice, topped with toppings sweetened condensed milk, mattcha, azuki beans, and fruit preserves. The only problem with going out for kakigōri is that this time of year there are usually long lines, often outdoors. We beat the heat at home with a kakigōri machine so we can have shave ice any time.

Look for kakigōri machines at electronic shops like Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera.

This machine came with two plastic cups for freezing water for ice. The recipe book also suggests freezing milk with sweetened condensed milk and strawberry jam that is then shaved. We have been fun playing around with the variations. My favorite so far is this rhubarb jam and sweetened condensed milk.

If you are visiting Japan, look for small flags with this kanji 氷 (kakigōri) in front of their shops.

Japanese Eggplant

The simple step of roasting eggplants and peeling before adding to miso soup adds a rich and smoky dimension to our mornings. Japanese eggplants are thin with small seeds. When cooked the eggplant flesh becomes soft and juicy. Some Japanese eggplant can be eaten as sashimi, simply sliced and served raw with soy sauce. Growing up in the US I was not a big fan of eggplants. But in Japan I can’t get enough of them.

Japanese kitchens lack a big oven for roasting and baking, but often come with a small fish grill, perfect for grilling fish and vegetables. Simply peel off the leaves at the top of the plant exposing more of the skin. Prick the skin in a few spots with a toothpick or knife so that when it cooks the steam can be released. If not, it may explode while cooking. Put in the Japanese fish grill and roast until the skin blackens. If you don’t have a fish grill, you can blacken the skin directly over a gas flame. Be careful.

Put the roasted eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for a few minutes. Peel, cut into bite-size pieces, and add to miso soup.

We sometimes sauté in a pan with vegetable oil and dress with a sweet Kyūshū soy sauce. It can be stir-fried with ground meat and seasoned with miso, saké, and sesame oil for mabō nasu, which needs to be eaten with a big bowl of rice.

A classic Japanese dish is dengaku miso over roasted or deep-fried eggplant. Dengaku miso is a sweetened thick miso dressing. If you are not an eggplant fan and have access to Japanese eggplants, consider giving it a second chance.

茄子 nasu – eggplant

焼き茄子 yakinasu – roasted eggplant

賀茂茄子 Kamo nasu – Kyoto vegetable Kamo eggplant

田楽みそ dengaku miso – sweetened miso dressing for eggplant and tofu

 

Shiso Juice

I am enchanted with the minty aroma of shiso. Did you know there is a red shiso and a green shiso? The green shiso is often served as a garnish for sashimi. If you find it on your plate, often as a backdrop to sliced raw fish, then be sure to eat it. If not by wrapping a slice of sashimi with it, then by using it to pick up the julienned daikon and eat as a palate cleanser between sashimi bites.

Red shiso is used not for its flavor, but more for its color. Red umeboshi get their bright color from red shiso and the leaves can be dried, pulverized, and mixed with salt for a dark purple furikake called Yukari. I happen to love Yukari.

Shiso juice is made from red and green shiso. The green shiso helps to add the unmistakeable aromatic notes that is shiso, as the red provides color and is not rich on the nose. This colorful juice is sweet and tart and the perfect afternoon drink on a hot day or a refreshing aperitif before a meal. It’s a breeze to make and I only regret not making more of it.

Shiso Juice

300 grams shiso leaves (mix of red and green)

2.2 liters water

25 grams citric acid (kuensan クエン酸)

200 grams sugar

Remove the leaves from the stem of the plant. Rinse three to four times in water or until it is rid of dirt.

In a large pot, bring 2.2 liters water to a boil. Add a large amount of washed shiso leaves, about 1/3 of the batch, and cook for up to one minute. Any more than a minute and bitter notes will come from the leaves. Remove the leaves and set aside. This process will be repeated until all of the leaves have been cooked.

The red leaves will lose their color when it hits the hot water. This is normal.

Strain the hot shiso water through sarashi (cheesecloth) as there may be some more dirt.

Add the sugar to the mixture and stir until it dissolves completely.

Now, comes the fun part. Add the citric acid and watch the color change from a rusty red to an intense pink. Check out the colors in the photo above.

Allow the juice to cool to room temperature before putting it in bottles for storage. The juice will keep for up to one year in the refrigerator.

Serve over ice.

akajiso  赤じそ red shiso

shiso しそ shiso

kuensan クエン酸 citric acid

Yamagata Dashi

One of my go to side dishes this time of year is Yamagata Dashi, a classic kyōdo ryōri (regional dish) from where my family is from. I didn’t eat it growing up, and only came upon it once I lived in Japan. It’s the perfect dish for summer as the vegetables for Yamagata Dashi are at the peak of their season.

Yamagata Dashi smells like you are in the garden. It has a crunchy texture and depending on how much nattō kombu and okra you use, it can be very slippery. I love the aromatics from the shiso and myōga, the crunch from the cucumbers, and it took a while for me to get used to eating raw eggplant, but I love it now.

The main ingredients are cucumbers, eggplant, myōga (ginger buds), okra, and shiso. Nattō kombu, finely minced dried kombu, is another key ingredient. I picked up this pack of nattō kombu なっとう昆布 or 納豆昆布 at the Yamagata antenna shop in Ginza.

https://foodsaketokyo.com/2011/05/02/yamagata-antenna-shop/

Soak a small amount of the nattō kombu in water while prepping the vegetables.

I like to blanch the okra and remove the seeds, but if you are in a hurry or don’t want to be bothered with turning on the stove, you could mince the okra while raw.

Finely chop the cucumbers, eggplant, and okra. Mince the myōga and shiso.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and season with either soy sauce or tsuyu (seasoned soy sauce used for soba or udon noodles). Serve over rice. If you can’t be bothered cooking rice, use the precooked rice that only needs to be microwaved.

Serve immediately. Best to make only what you can eat as the texture changes if it sits overnight in the refrigerator.

Yamagata Dashi 山形だし

kyōdo ryōri 郷土料理

cucumbers – kyūri 胡瓜

eggplant – nasu 茄子

ginger buds – myōga 茗荷

okra オクラ

shiso しそ

nattō kombu 納豆昆布

Do let me know if you try making this dish. Curious what your reactions are.

 

 

Kyoto Yasai – Manganji Togarashi 万願寺唐辛子

Kyoto is famous for many locally grown vegetables, Kyo yasai, for short. This list includes mizuna greens that are now popular even in the US, Kyo takenoko (bamboo shoots), and  Kamo nasu (eggplant). Manganji are green peppers that are bigger than shishitō and the skin is a bit thicker. These are not spicy peppers and are easy to cook. The seeds are easy to remove.

This kinpira-style recipe includes dried baby sardines, but you could make it without the fish.

Manganji peppers

chirimenjako (dried baby sardines)

vegetable oil

sake

sugar

soy sauce

Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Cut the pepper into bite-size pieces.

Sauté the chirimenjako in vegetable oil for about a minute or until it becomes a little crispy. Add the peppers and sauté for another minute.

Add some saké, sugar, and soy sauce and sauté for a minute. If you have mirin in the house, add a bit to give the peppers a glaze and a bit more sweetness.

This dish is good hot or at room temperature. It’s a great in a bentō.

Kyō yasai    Kyoto vegetables 京野菜

mizuna  みずな

Kyō takenoko   Kyoto bamboo shoot 京竹の子

Kamo nasu     Kamo eggplant  賀茂茄子

Manganji tōgarashi     Manganji pepper  万願寺唐辛子

Kamo and Manganji are both places in Kyoto, so they are capitalized.

Takenoko Bamboo Shoots

Takenoko bamboo shoots are in season at the moment. Many will go foraging in the mountains to harvest these. It is sad to report that recently four elderly have been killed by bears while collecting bamboo shoots in Akita prefecture. Here is an article from The Japan Times:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/06/13/national/japan-bamboo-pickers-defy-bear-attack-warning-despite-deaths/#.V2SQS-Z97uQ

My father-in-law recently went to Yamanashi prefecture, just West of Tokyo, and came to our home with a large bag of bamboo shoots that he boiled at home. We have been feasting on tender bamboo.

I’ve harvested in the past with my family in Yamagata. It’s hard work so I am all the more appreciative to receive this.

One of our favorite preparations is takenoko gohan. Simply cook rice with dashi instead of water. We add roughly chopped bamboo shoots to the pot before cooking and then mixing it into the rice after it has steamed.

My favorite dish from our dinner was the simplest to make. Cucumbers and bamboo shoots topped with a dressing of taberu ra-yu, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Perfect with an ice cold beer. It will now be on our table every year when bamboo shoots are in season.

Bamboo shoots simmered in dashi and garnished with powdered katsuobushi is also easy to prepare.

The last dish we made for this was a Chinese-style of bamboo shoots, green peppers, and beef stir-fried with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, sake, and chicken stock.

Temakizushi Party

Temakizushi Party

A fun idea for entertaining at home is a temaki-zushi party. Hand rolls (手巻き寿司) are interactive and as each person makes their own rolls it can be a good way to keep everyone happy. Some supermarkets and department store seafood sections will sell the seafood already cut for the rolls, especially on weekends and holidays.

Ingredients are whatever you like. A pot of rice and nori cut in half, as these are easy to roll by hand. For fillings, you can see in the photo above, we have starting from the upper right going clockwise: salmon, tuna, imitation crab, boiled scallops.

mekabu kombu, canned corn with mayonnaise, canned tuna with mayonnaise, and hikiwari natto

shirasu (boiled sardines), avocado, julienned myoga (ginger buds), shiso, denbu (sweetened cod fish colored pink), and ikura

cucumbers, kaiware (daikon sprouts), mizuna greens, and carrots.

Other fillings you could include:

tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), Japanese pickles, seasoned kampyo gourd (sold at supermarket already cooked), roasted salted salmon, cream cheese, toasted sesame seeds, unagi, and more.

We also put out small plates with soy sauce for dipping the rolls and small bowls if anyone wants to make a salad.

When I visit my dear aunt in Osaka we usually have okonomiyaki one night, and the other night is usually temakizushi. It is festive, fun and also a great option for hot summers as they only thing you have to cook is the rice.