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.

 

Gobo Burdock Root

Our cooking school has opened up. While we continue our food tours in Tokyo, we are starting to put more energy into teaching Japanese cuisine. Our blog will include more recipes going forward. We will also continue to share restaurants and food shops in Japan as well as the occasional travelogue.

IMG_2931

Shin gobo 新牛蒡

In season now is the earthy root vegetable, gobo, or burdock root. This time of year it is called shin gobo, or new gobo.

Burdock root can be dense in texture, but in early summer the fibers are very tender. Burdock root is often sold with earth clinging to the skin. After washing it off it can be peeled. Many cookbooks will suggest soaking it in water so the burdock root doesn’t turn brown. My vegetarian cooking teachers says that it is better not to soak in water and to just cook with it immediately. She also suggests scrubbing the long root vegetable thoroughly with a scrubber (Japanese tawashi) and not peeling it.

IMG_2935

Burdock Root and Chicken

This dish is simple to pull together. Carefully wash the burdock root and cut at an angle into small pieces. Cut chicken thigh into bitesize pieces. In a pot saute some garlic and burdock root in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Add the chicken and continue to saute until the color of the chicken changes. Add dashi to cover the mixture and then some soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.

kinpira gobo

Kinpira Gobo

Mastering kinpira will add a wonderful dish to your kitchen repertoire. I usually make it with gobo (burdock root) and carrots, but it can be made with a variety of vegetables including renkon (lots root), celery, and even potatoes. The vegetables should be julienned, or if making from renkon, sliced thinly. Better yet, learn how to do the “sasagaki” cut, which results in vegetable shards that look like bamboo leaves (sasa).

Gobo should be soaked in water immediately after it is cut or it turns brown.

Cut your vegetables (julienne or sasagaki).

In a saute pan, stir-fry the vegetables in a bit of oil until the vegetables start to soften. Then season with sugar, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil. I do it all to taste but if you are looking for rough amounts:

1 burdock root
1 carrot
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sake
1 Tablespoon sesame oil

If you like a bit of spice feel free to add either dried chili sliced thinly or seven spice shichimi togarashi. Toasted sesame seeds are also a nice compliment.

This dish can be eaten hot or cold, so is perfect for adding to a bento. For a vegetarian sandwich, toss with some mayonnaise and serve with bread.

Aoyama Cicada

At Cicada in Aoyama, near Omotesando, I always order the mezze plate. I love the variety of small bites, often with lots of vegetables. If you have allergies, or prefer for an all vegetable mezze, the kitchen is great to substitute something.

I sometimes come by myself and sit at the bar.  In New York City I found it very easy to start up conversations with complete strangers, but that is much harder to do here in Japan. However, I’ve met some interesting people here, including a designer. In our conversation we realized that we both worked on the same food project, at different stages. Cicada is that type of restaurant that draws in an international crowd, but also internationally-minded locals. There is always a buzz in the restaurant and the staff speak English.

The draft beer is from T.Y. Harbor, their sister shop. The wine list is reasonably priced and there is a nice selection of wines-by-the-glass that match the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

There is outdoor seating, but that seems to book up quickly, so plan ahead if you want to dine al fresco.

Aoyama Cicada4

Aoyama Cicada Mezze

Cicada

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-7-28 港区南青山5-7-28

https://www.tysons.jp/cicada/en/

Takenoko Gohan

Bamboo shoots are in season at the moment. They are also in season in the fall. But I associate the delicate flavor and aroma with spring. I was at a friend’s house on the weekend. Her mother, who is an excllent cook, had just cleaned and boiled a bamboo shoot and had brought half to my friend’s house. My dear friend then gave us half of that. We brought it home and made takenoko gohan. When you cook the rice in the pot with added ingredients it is called takikomigohan.

Shinji cut up the tender bamboo shoots and put it in the donabe with dashi, sake, soy sauce, and deep-fried tofu. It is garnished with sanshō leaves which we plucked from grandpa’s sanshō bush in his rooftop garden. It was so good I ate three bowls.

IMG_1914

In the supermarkets in Tokyo, you can find both fresh bamboo shoots, complete with the skin on it. Or you can find already boiled and peeled of the hard skin.

Some more inspiration from these recipes:

http://tokyostation-yukari.blogspot.jp/2011/06/easy-bamboo-shoot-recipes.html

take bamboo 竹

takenoko 竹の子

takenoko 筍

 

Japanese Spring Vegetable – Udo

Spring is an exciting time for vegetable lovers in Japan. Udo (Aralia cordata) is spikenard. It is grown here in Tokyo in the area where we live. It is grown underground and the spears are white or with a hint of green. There is even a character, Udora, for udo in Tachikawa. While most characters strive to be kawaii (cute), Udora is far from kawaii.

Udo reminds me of the white asparagus I had while living in Belgium, just with a bit of bitterness to it. It is lovely as tempura, as served at Nihonbashi Tenmatsu.

Two of my other favorite dishes are kinpira (top photo), sautéed with oil, sake, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. The bottom photo is boiled udo dressed with mayonnaise and umeboshi.

Udo is one of Japan’s spring vegetables that is very easy to cook at home.