Grilled as you like it

Kuro-goma purin: Black sesame pudding May 29, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 9:09 pm
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Pudding, or purin as it’s called here, is a popular dessert in Japan. It is usually more firm than an American-style pudding, more like a custard’s consistency. The most common flavor is vanilla with caramel sauce. Another popular flavor is black sugar, which is a dark, slightly salty, molasses flavored sugar. One of my favorite flavors is black sesame. The pudding is flavored with sesame paste, which gives the pudding a strong sesame flavor, almost reminiscent of peanut butter.

This recipe is super-easy to make if you use Japanese sesame paste. Of course, you can grind your own sesame seeds too, but it will be a bit of work. If you are grinding your own sesame seeds, I recommend that you use a suribachi, a Japanese mortar and pestle. The texture of Japanese sesame paste is thinner than tahini, so it’s a good idea to look for the real thing at an Asian market, but if you can’t find it, it might be fun to experiment with tahini or another nut butter like peanut or almond. The black sesame paste gives the pudding a gray color, flecked with black bits of sesame. It may look a little strange at first, but once you taste it, you too will become a fan or gray desserts.

This recipe is adapted from a Japanese cookbook called Pudding Book by Junko Fukuda. While the vanilla pudding in this book is an egg-yolk custard, the black sesame pudding is set with gelatin, a bit like a panna cotta except that the milk and cream are not cooked. I actually found it almost a little bit too creamy, so I think I will experiment with using more milk or a lighter cream (I used nama cream 47, which I think has more butterfat than nama cream 35).

Kuro-goma purin – Black Sesame Pudding

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
45 grams (about 3 tablespoons) kuro neri goma, Japanese black sesame paste
70 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
250 mL (1 cup) milk
150 mL (about 2/3 cup) cream

Put the water in a small dish and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set aside.

Stir the sesame paste well to incorporate the oil and sesame solids. Put the sesame paste in a large bowl. Add the sugar and mix well. Next, stir in the milk a little at a time. Stir well to ensure that the sugar is fully dissolved.

Microwave the softened gelatin for 20 seconds on high to melt it. Stir in a few tablespoons of the sesame-milk mixture. Then add the gelatin to the rest of the sesame-milk mixture and stir well.

Stir the cream into the mixture. Place the bowl over another bowl filled with ice water and stir well until the mix begins to thicken. Finally, strain the mix and pour into custard cups or a gelatin mold.

* if your neri goma has separated and is difficult to stir back together, try putting the lid on the jar tightly and leaving it upside-down for a few hours. It should be much easier to stir together afterwards.


Kindai farmed bluefin tuna May 28, 2008

Filed under: Japan — laurel @ 11:09 pm

I usually try to steer clear of bluefin tuna (hon-maguro) at the store and sushi bar since it’s listed as unsustainably fished at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. However, for hon-maguro and toro fans out there, Kinki Daigaku (Kinki University, Kindai) has developed a method of farming bluefin tuna from its eggs to adulthood. It may be possible to enjoy sustainably harvested bluefin tuna in the future. Of course, it remains to be seen whether these carnivorous fish can be fed in captivity in a sustainable way.

The Kindai tuna became available in Japan in 2004, and an article in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle food section tells which San Francisco area restaurants are selling the fish. The demand for sustainable bluefin outpaces the supply in America still, so it is currently a hot commodity.

I’ll keep an eye open to see if I can find it here in Maebashi.


Maebashi cycling club ride to Shibukawa May 27, 2008

yae-zakura, double-flowered cherry blossoms

I almost forgot to post some pictures that I took on our ride with the Maebashi cycling club. We went for our first ride with the Maebashi cycling club on the last weekend in April. We rode along the Tone River cycling road from Maebashi to Shibukawa. I really enjoyed riding along the cycling road. Aside from the cycling club, there weren’t too many other people and the road takes a gradual ascent to Shibukawa along the river. It was a really pleasant ride, and I was surprised to learn how close Shibukawa really is (perhaps it takes only slightly longer to ride there than it would to take the train). There are sakura planted along the path and river, and although they had already finished blooming, I could imagine how beautiful riding along there would be in early April.

The yae-zakura (double flowered cherry blossoms) were in full bloom in Shibukawa. We also found that there was a local festival and parade that day. There were lots of booths with festival foods, along with people selling crafts, sake, and local fresh vegetables such as takenoko, imo, fuki, and negi.

koi-nobori, carp streamers for Children’s Day (May 5th) | children marching in the parade, the theme was the warrior Benkei


Somen bento

Filed under: Cooking,Four seasons in Japan,Japan — laurel @ 7:54 pm
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I’ve been craving somen since the late-spring weather has really been warming up lately. Here’s a somen bento lunch that I had recently. I used my trusty two-tier Totoro bento box. The left side contains a shredded cucumber, a crunchy-style umeboshi plum, and one bundle of somen noodles, cooked and drained. In the middle you can see a shredded carrot, chicken breast, simmered shiitake mushrooms, and shredded usuyaki tamago (thin omelet). On the right is the cute lid to my bento box, and at the top is a separate container with the somen tsuyu, or cold dipping broth. The sauce is made using the dipping sauce recipe for “Thin Noodles on Ice” in Washoku.

I liked the sauce and noodles, but I haven’t yet mastered usuyaki tamago. I also made a half batch of simmered mushrooms, but forgot to reduce the sugar and soy in the simmering liquid, so they were much too strong. Luckily, I’ll have plenty more chances to perfect my hiyashi somen toppings because summer has not even begun yet.


Eats shoots and leaves May 25, 2008

seven fresh takenoko | layers of leaves at the tip of the takenoko, the innermost leaves are tender and delicious

Springtime is the season for takenoko, or fresh bamboo shoots. I began to see takenoko appearing in the markets around town in mid-April. I had never prepared one before and I had directions and recipes from the Kansha Club, so one weekend I bought one. I wasn’t sure at the time why they were only in the store on weekends, but now I know: they’re a lot of work to prepare!

I cooked my bamboo shoot on the last day of April, while Alex was at a school enkai. I got to work by carefully peeling away the tough, fuzzy outer leaves. When I had peeled to the point where the leaves would split part-way up instead of at the base of the bamboo shoot, I stopped peeling them off. Next, I cut off the tip of the shoot. I found that the tip is fairly tough, so next time I will cut it a bit lower, since the tough layers are hard to cut even with a sharp knife. Finally I slit the leaves halfway through from the base of the shoot to the tip. Be careful here, you don’t want to cut into the base at this point, or it will fill up with nuka while you are boiling it, giving you more work to clean it out later.

After that I tucked the shoot into my biggest pot and added the bag of nuka (rice bran) that came with the shoot. The nuka absorbs toxins from the shoot while it boils. I don’t have an otoshi buta, so I used a smaller lid to keep the bamboo shoot submerged (they tend to float). Finally I added water to cover and simmered the shoot until the base was tender, about 45 minutes.

Once the shoot was cooked and cooled a bit, it was easy to remove the remaining tough leaves. The innermost leaves, called hime-kawa, or princess skin, are tender and delicious so don’t peel them all away!

While Alex was at the enkai, his Kyoto-sensei asked him if he had ever tried takenoko, and offered to bring him some shoots freshly dug from his garden. The next day, I was surprised to find seven more takenoko waiting for me when I got home! Luckily, Golden Week would be starting that weekend, so I would have plenty of time to prepare and cook my shoots. Although the store-bought shoot kept fine for a few days, the cut edge of the garden-fresh shoots began to spoil surprisingly quickly, and the spoiled bits smell terrible. So if you are planning to get some freshly dig bamboo shoots from your friends or neighbors, make sure to cook them within a day. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I thought that the freshly dug shoots had nicer color and flavor than the shoot that I bought at the market too.

takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot with rice) | takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoot with fried tofu

I used the base of the bamboo shoot for takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoots with fried tofu), and the top went into takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice). For the arima-ni, I substituted fresh kinome (leaves of the sansho plant) for fresh sansho berries, since I couldn’t find the berries at my market. Both recipes were delicious and I made them each at least twice (I think I may have made takenoko gohan 3 or 4 times).

After my big weekend of takenoko boiling, I avoided the box of bamboo shoots that someone had brought to my school to share the following week. Considering how many we received from friends, it may be foolish to pay for takenoko at the market, unless, of course, you are buying the already prepared ones, which will save you from quite a bit of preparation time and a messy kitchen. The season is short, though. It seems like all the shoots popped up over golden week, and that was the last we saw of them. The fresh shoots are gone from the markets, though the prepared ones remain. Maybe I’ll get one to make the season last just a little bit longer…

I heard that they have takenoko on our friends the Kobayashis’ farm, so I hope that we can go digging for them ourselves next year. I’ve been told that the shoots are at their best if you can find them before they even come up from the ground. I’ve already marked my calendar.

I also just found a great video of harvesting and preparing takenoko at joi.ito.com. Check it out!


Kansha Club May 24, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,kansha,recipes — laurel @ 6:38 pm
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Simmered ganmodoki tofu dumplings with vegetables

I was offered a great opportunity at my tofu cooking class with Elizabeth Andoh in April, and I jumped at the chance to become a part of it. Ms. Andoh is working on a new book on Japanese vegetarian cuisine called Kansha, which means appreciation in Japanese. I will be working with a group of women (the Kansha Club), most of whom are based in Tokyo, coordinating groups of volunteers around the world who are evaluating some of the recipes. I am really excited to have a chance to learn more from Ms. Andoh, and also to get a view into the process of creating and publishing a cookbook. Of course, I’m also excited to be able to try some yummy new recipes too. I can’t share them here, but I hope that seeing some finished dishes will inspire you to check out the book when it’s published! Look for it in 2010 from Ten Speed Press.

We recently had a meeting/lesson where we made udon noodles from scratch, along with some yummy myoga pickles and marinated kampo. For lunch, we enjoyed a vegetarian version of fuku-bukuro (simmered tofu pouches filled with vegetables and shirataki), simmered ganmodoki tofu dumplings with vegetables, spinach ohitashi with tofu shira-ae, and simmered kabocha. Later we also ate our udon with a “neba-neba” (a Japanese word that basically means “slimy textured”) topping of okra, natto, sliced green onions, and a tangy mustard-soy dressing. We also each made and tasted a pickled myoga temari-zushi (hand-pressed rice ball with myoga topping).


Spaghetti alla Carbonara May 19, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 5:46 pm
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spaghetti alla carbonara with asparagus and mitsuba

I took a semester of Italian in college. While I was studying the language, I thought I would supplement my studies by improving my knowledge of Italian food and culture. I watched Mario Batali’s Molto Mario on the Food Network every weekday. I learned the names and techniques behind a lot of Italian dishes, picked up some of Mario Batali’s culinary philosophy, and occasionally I even cooked a few of the dishes I saw on the show.

One dish that I was really impressed with was his Spaghetti alla Carbonara, or “spaghetti as the coalman’s wife makes it.” The dish is presented with the still-raw egg yolk cradled in a bowl of hot noodles, so you can break the yolk and stir it into your pasta just before you eat. The presentation is striking, especially when you use a deep orangey-yellow farm egg. The eggs in Japan have the same deep color as farm eggs in America, the ingredients are easy to get at the regular grocery store, and it is quick to prepare, so it’s a perfect weeknight meal when we’re not in the mood for Japanese food.

I often make carbonara according to the recipe: using just eggs, bacon, some olive oil, cheese, and black pepper. Sometimes I like to toss in some vegetables too, for extra color and flavor. This time, I tossed some chopped spring asparagus into the pan with the bacon and sprinkled mitsuba leaves on top (the flavor is similar to parsley). Some notes: of course, guanciale is difficult (perhaps impossible) to come by in Japan, as is smoked bacon, but I try to use the best bacon that I can find for carbonara. Usually I get the slab instead of the pre-sliced bacon so that I can cut it into nice thick chunks. Also, this dish doesn’t keep well for leftovers, so I usually only make a half batch unless we’ve got company.

Spaghetti as the Coalman’s Wife Makes It: Spaghetti alla Carbonara
adapted from Mario Batali, Molto Mario

8 ounces bacon, cut into approximately 1-centimeter cubes
1 pound dry spaghetti
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 eggs, separated
Freshly ground black pepper
about 8-12 spears fresh asparagus, cut into 1/2″ lengths
fresh mitsuba leaves, chopped

In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, render and brown bacon until crispy and golden. Add asparagus and continue cooking for about 1 minute. Do not drain fat from pan; set aside.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook spaghetti according to the package directions, until tender yet al dente, reserving the pasta cooking water.

Reheat the guanciale in the pan with the fat and add approximately 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pan. Toss in the cooked pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Add the grated cheese, egg whites, and black pepper and toss until fully incorporated. Divide the pasta among 4 warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the center for the egg yolk. Gently drop an egg yolk into each serving, season with more freshly ground black pepper and grate additional cheese over the top. Sprinkle with chopped mitsuba leaves. Serve immediately.