Grilled as you like it

Summer vegetable and scallop salad June 28, 2008

I went to Shoku-no-eki last week to buy some ume for my ume jam. The fresh summer vegetables looked so delicious, so I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of them too. The zucchini and green beans looked great, but my favorites were the baby corn. They had two sizes: small ones about the same size as the canned baby corn that we can buy in the states, and larger ones that feel a little more substantial. They were great just chopped into bite-sized pieces and blanched. Here’s a summer vegetable salad with seared scallops and wafuu (Japanese style) dressing that I made for dinner that night. I didn’t measure the ingredients for the dressing, so just mix them to your own taste. This salad made a great light summer meal since it was pretty hot that day, and it was great for lunch the next day too.

Summer Vegetable and Scallop Salad:

fresh baby corn
green beans
golden zucchini
cherry tomatoes, halved
bacon – about 1 ounce for each salad
large sea scallops – 2 for each salad
black sesame seeds
wafuu dressing (recipe follows)

Wash the lettuce and mizuna well. Tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces and cut mizuna into 2-inch lengths. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt the water generously. Cut baby corn, broccoli, green beans, and golden zucchini into bite-sized pieces and blanch separately until tender in boiling water. Drain and allow to cool. Cut the bacon into small pieces and saute until crispy. Set aside. Heat the same pan until very hot. Salt the scallops lightly and then cook in the bacon fat until nicely browned on both sides.

To serve, mix together the mizuna and lettuce. Mound the greens in the center of a plate. Scatter a handful of each of the cooked vegetables, tomatoes, and bacon over the top. Spread some slices of avocado into a fan shape and place on top of the salad. Place the scallops on the avocado. Dress with wafuu dressing and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Wafuu dressing:
shiro neri goma – white sesame paste (you can substitute tahini or very finely ground sesame seeds)
whole-grain or dijon mustard
black pepper
soy sauce
rice vinegar
toasted sesame oil
vegetable oil

In a suribachi, whisk together neri goma, mustard, honey, and black pepper. Whisk in soy sauce and rice vinegar a little bit at a time. Whisk in sesame oil and vegetable oil a little bit at a time. Do this step slowly to keep the dressing emulsified. Taste and adjust your seasoning by adding more of any of the ingredients.

*I didn’t measure when I made this, so please adjust the proportions to your own taste. If you’re not sure how much to use, start with a pinch of black pepper and half a teaspoon of everything else. You will probably need about a tablespoon of more of vegetable oil. These proportions will probably make just a small amount of dressing, but it is easier to make more than to make less. Making dressing isn’t hard; the secret to making a good dressing is to taste as you go and stop when it tastes good.


Hittin’ the sauce June 27, 2008

Filed under: Japan,Maebashi — laurel @ 11:18 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, here’s more new about rampant crime in my town. The latest is a man who was arrested for ride-by saucings.

From the Mainichi Daily News, May 28th 2008:

Man nabbed for squirting high schoolgirls with soy sauce-filled water pistol

MAEBASHI — A man suspected of squirting soy sauce over high school girls using a water pistol to “blow off steam” has been arrested, police said.

The 22-year-old man, Kenichi Ogawa, was arrested on suspicion of assault. He has reportedly admitted to the allegations, telling police he did it to relieve his stress.

Police said that several high school girls in Maebashi had been attacked in similar incidents this month, and police are investigating a possible connection between the attacks.

Investigators accuse Ogawa of getting on a motorcycle and approaching a 17-year-old high school girl cycling along a street in the city at about 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and squirting soy sauce on her back as he passed her. The girl was traveling home with a friend at the time, and the back of her uniform was left covered in soy sauce.


Ume Jam! (and ume-miso) June 25, 2008

fresh ao-ume

I’ve been seeing lots of lovely green ume (Japanese “plums,” though I’ve heard that they’re actually a type of apricot) at the market lately. I’ve also heard that the season for ume is quite short, so I decided I had better get some to try before they’re gone. I got some inspiration for my ume cook-a-thon while reading on Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden and Blue Lotus. Last week I had Monday off, so I rode my bicycle to the Shoku-no-Eki (Food Station), a shop that carries a lot of locally grown and produced foods. I picked out a nice looking bag of locally grown ao-ume (“blue ume,” but as you can see they’re really green).

I started by removing the stem-end from the ume and soaking them in salted water. Then I went out to buy some jars. Once I got to the cooking store, I realized that I had better know that I like making jam before I invest in canning jars, so I decided to just freeze my jam in “tupperware” instead.

ume-miso on day 1

Back at home, I started with Obachan’s ume-miso. A 1-pint jar held 6 ume. I weighed the ume to determine how much sugar and miso to use. It turned out that 160 grams each of ume, sugar, and miso filled the jar almost perfectly. After a few days, the ume began to release their juices and the miso and sugar blended together. There was some sugar on the bottom of the jar that hasn’t quite dissolved yet, so if I make ume-miso again, I’ll put in some miso first and then the ume and sugar. I’m not sure exactly what to do with the ume-miso when it’s finished. I’ll start looking for ideas between now and then.

ume jam and yogurt

After ume-miso came the jam. I used Obachan’s recipe and this one that she linked to in her post. I tried my best to read the recipe on the Japanese page, but there may have been some errors in my translation. I wasn’t sure if I should drain the ume after they turned the color of ume-shu’s ume, but in the end it didn’t matter, because by the time I noticed that they had changed color (due to some kitchen multi-tasking) they had become too soft to drain anyways. So I just boiled the jam for a while to evaporate the excess water. In hindsight, I think I should have tried my best to drain them because it took several hours for the jam to thicken to a proper consistency. By the time it did, the jam was no longer a lovely shade of green. In fact, I stopped paying attention for a few minutes so that I could finish making dinner, and the jam at the bottom of the pan had started to caramelize (maybe even to burn?). Oops 😮 Luckily, even though the color is a bit darker than I had hoped for, it doesn’t taste burned at all, and it’s lovely and tart. My favorite way to eat it is stirred into my yogurt for breakfast.

edit: Here’s more about my second (not burned) batch of ume jam.


about 6 ume (about 160 grams)
160 grams white sugar
160 grams miso

Pack ume into your empty jar to determine how many you can fit in it. My 1-pint jar holds 6 large ume.

Make a 1 cm (approximately) layer of miso in the bottom of a 1-pint jar. Add two ume. Add 1 to 2 cm layer of sugar. Continue to layer sugar, miso and ume until the jar is filled and all of the sugar, miso, and ume are used. Close the jar and wait one month or more until the ume-miso is ready. I am not sure what to do with it next, so I guess there will be more to come on that later…

Ume Jam

900 grams ao-ume (mostly green, not yellow
700 grams sugar (this makes a very tart jam, use more sugar if you like your jam sweeter)

Use a toothpick or wooden skewer to remove the stem end from the ume. It is brown and may be very small, but it does not taste good, so make sure to remove it. Place ume in a large bowl and cover with salted water (I used a tablespoon or so of salt). Soak ume for several hours or overnight.

Place ume in a large pot (I use a heavy cast iron to prevent scorching. If you are careless, even this may not save you. See above) and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Once the water starts to boil and the ume change color slightly, drain them. Return to the pot with a small amount of water and simmer gently. A white froth will form on top as the jam boils. Skim this and discard it. When the ume are soft, you can use a wooden spoon or potato masher to smash them and remove the pits. When the jam thickens to the point that it coats the back of a spoon, it is ready. Allow to cool slightly before putting into containers. I froze mine, but you can can yours in jars if you wish to keep it for longer than a few months.

In case you’re wondering how fresh the ume are at Shoku-no-eki, I saw this fellow making a delivery as I was leaving after my shopping there. As you can see, they work with many smaller farmers.

More ume on Okonomiyaki!


School Festival: It’s a Maejo World! June 22, 2008


We recently finished my school’s cultural festival. The theme was the world, so each class picked a country to learn about and create a classroom display of. The students made traditional clothing from their country and put on a fashion show. There were also lots of live performances. Each club also had activities. My ESS club (English Speaking Society) created the traditional Gunma Prefecture game of Jomo Karuta in English, had an English translation machine (actually a giant box with two students sitting inside who would translate sentences from Japanese to English) and English Omikuji (traditional fortune slips). They also chose some dishes for an international cooking project. The club members translated the recipes and created a display about each of the dishes that they made and tasted. They chose baklava, Indian rice pudding seasoned with cardamom and topped with golden raisins and pistachios, Swedish baked apples, and guacamole.

baked apples

Most of the club members liked all the dishes, but some of the students thought that the cinnamon in the baklava and cardamom in the rice pudding were too strongly flavored (strong spices are not common in Japanese cooking, so some people really don’t like them). Baklava and rice pudding were both declared, “very sweet!” The rice pudding was certainly sweet, so I will reduce the sugar by quite a bit if I make that recipe again.

This was the first time I’ve made baklava, so I didn’t realize that the sugar syrup has to be heated to the proper temerature or the baklava won’t set. Since the syrup wasn’t heated enough, it ran out of the baklava squares when we put them on a plate. I still have plenty of leftover phyllo, so I’ll try to make another batch sometime soon. (Phyllo is available from The Meat Guy and FBC here in Japan.)

For the baked apples, I was planning to substitute corn syrup for the Swedish syrup in the recipe, but I forgot to buy it, so I made a homemade “corn syrup” from sugar instead. It’s probably a good thing, too, because I don’t know what I would have done with the rest of the bottle of corn syrup. 🙂

rice pudding (shamefully out-of-focus)

The guacamole was the most unfamiliar dish to most of the students. They said that they rarely eat avocados, and corn tortilla chips are also not very common, so I had to go to the import store, Kaldi Coffee Farm, to get them. Almost all of the students really liked it though, and they snacked on the guacamole while they were working on their other projects for the festival. The one ingredient that they left out of the guacamole was the chopped cilantro. They said it tasted like the smell of kame-mushi, which they described as a kind of stink bug. I can see why they wouldn’t like that flavor in that case!


Recipe links:
baked apples
rice pudding


2 ripe avocados (they should feel slightly soft when squeezed but should not be brown inside)
juice from half a lime
large pinch of salt
1-2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped tomato
half a clove of garlic, finely minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
pinch of chili powder

Cut the avocados in half. Use a spoon to remove the pit and scoop the flesh of the avocado into a bowl. Add the lime juice and a large pinch of salt. The lime juice helps keep the avocado from turning brown. Use a fork to mash the avocado roughly. There should be some chunks left in the mashed avocado. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Taste the guacamole and adjust the seasoning by adding more of any of the ingredients. For the best flavor, wait at least 30 minutes before eating. Serve with tortilla chips


Bamboo Suringashi June 21, 2008

bamboo surinagashi: creamy bamboo and tofu soup

Well, we’ve just finished with our school festival, which was keeping me very busy after school. Now I hope to have a chance to catch up with some posts about what I’ve been doing for the last month or so. I bought some bamboo shoots at the market to make bamboo surinagashi (creamy bamboo shoot and tofu soup). I had to buy the packaged ones because the fresh shoots come and go from the market in just a few weeks, and the locally harvested ones are available for only a week or so. Even so, this post is coming a bit late, as the season for bamboo shoots came and went around the first week of May.

The recipe for bamboo surinagashi is another from Elizabeth Andoh’s forthcoming Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions. It was a light soup in which I could really taste the flavors of both the bamboo and tofu. The sprinkling of ground sansho on top also accented the flavor nicely. I saved the leftovers for lunch the next day, and I think I enjoyed it even more then.

kansha cover


Pickled pink myoga June 14, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 9:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

fresh myoga | cold somen with wakame, shrimp, cucumber, and pickled pink myoga

I’ve been meaning to make pickled myoga for a while. We had some at the tofu class I took in April, and I really enjoyed their refreshing flavor and bright pink color. So when myoga went on sale at my local market, I went a little crazy and made a big batch of them.

I made my myoga using Elizabeth Andoh’s technique, but the vinegar I used was inspired by this recipe from Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden. When they were finished, I tucked in the rind of a buntan for some extra citrus flavor. The buntan was a gift that my landlady had given me, and it’s been sitting around on my counter waiting to be eaten for an embarrassingly long time. You can also find out more about buntan at Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden. I used only the rinds of the buntan for the myoga, so I ate the rest. I really enjoyed the flavor: like a grapefruit, but not as sour or astringent. The drawback is that the membrane between the segments is really tough, so you have to peel it off, making buntan a bit labor-intensive to eat.

The pickled myoga have been finding their way into a lot of my meals lately… as a side dish with grilled fish and rice, alongside a salad, and tucked into a recent cold soba dinner. They were ridiculously easy to make, so next time I might make a smaller batch instead, as they do seem to lose their pretty color over time.

Pickled Pink Myoga Technique

Select myoga with the deepest pink tint possible (it does not have to be all over the bud, just a small amount of deep pink somewhere on it will ensure that your buds will take on a nice color when pickled). Slice myoga buds in half. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Put the myoga into the boiling water and blanch until the color becomes noticeably more pale (don’t worry, the color will come back). Drain the buds and do not rinse them with cold water! Put the hot myoga buds into a jar or “tupperware” and pour your seasoned vinegar solution over them. You may need to press on the myoga to submerge them. Top with a piece of leftover kombu or toss in a red chile pepper if you like. Allow to cool before sealing the jar. Store in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, or until you eat them all, whichever comes first! They are ready to eat when the bright pink color returns (it should take about half an hour or so).


Mt. Tanigawa

Panorama view from summit of Mt. Tanigawa, Gunma Prefecture

lunchtime at the summit of Mt. Tanigawa

On Sunday, June first, my school’s mountaineering club along with the club from Takasaki Girls’ and some university students went hiking with Junko Tabei, the first woman to have reached the summit of Mt. Everest. We climbed Mt. Tanigawa, outside of Minakami. There were about 50 people there, so we split into groups of about 10 people. Most of the students wanted to hike with a friend, so we were in the last group, which was mostly teachers and university students.

Mt. Tanigawa is known as an evil mountain because many hikers have perished on the Niigata side of the mountain. The Gunma side seemed pleasant and sheltered from the harsh winds that Tanigawa is famous for though. In fact, even though there was snow covering the trail in places, it was actually quite warm for most of the time, so I found myself hiking in short sleeves and wishing that I had worn more lightweight pants.

We had a really fun time, and I’m looking forward to the next mountaineering club event.

The final ascent up a snow-covered slope | Junko Tabei | descending