Grilled as you like it

Oden April 18, 2010

Winter is over, but the recent cold and rainy weather means it’s still a great time to enjoy oden, a long simmered mix of root and sea vegetables, eggs, tofu, and fishcakes that is sometimes referred to as Japanese comfort food. A steaming pot of oden is a great day to warm up on a cold day, so it can really get you through the winter. Another great thing about oden is that it’s even better on the second day, after all of the bits have had time to soak up the broth overnight. So you can put together the oden on a weekend when you’ve got time, park it in the fridge for a night or two, and then reheat it to enjoy it during the week.

I made oden for a party, but when you’re making oden for eight the hardest part might just be finding a pot that’s big enough to simmer all that stuff in. I made do with a two-pot arrangement where I used one pot to blanch the age-mono (fried things like fish cakes, fried tofu, and tofu pouches which need to be simmered to remove the frying oil), konnyaku, and boil the eggs and a second, broth-filled pot. When I had finished blanching ingredients and boiling eggs I split the broth into two pots and simmered all of the ingredients for about 3 hours. In fact, even with my two largest pots, there wasn’t quite enough room to fit the eggs in the pot, so I just put them into the storage containers to absorb the flavor of the broth overnight. Actually, this proved to be a stroke of luck because the eggs were flavorful but still had a nice, slightly soft orange yolk since they didn’t simmer for so long with the rest of the goodies.

So there’s about half of my party oden at the top of the page: two types of age kamaboko, konnyaku triangles, daikon, carrot-gobo kamaboko, shiitake mushrooms, thick fried tofu, hampen, boiled eggs, shirataki bundles, chikuwa, age-tofu pouches filled with mochi or egg and tied with kampyo, shrimp surimi balls, and kombu. My favorites are the carrot-gobo kamaboko, eggs, shirataki, and stuffed age-tofu pouches. Another tasty idea from Jiman no Nabe Ryori is Nagoya style oden made with the usual suspects, plus skewered beef tendon and a rich, Hatcho miso broth.

Typically oden is served with sinus-searing karashi mustard, but not being partial to such an intense burn, I also mixed up a slightly sweeter and milder mustard-miso mix to go with mine. (more…)


Honeymoon Miso Dressing February 10, 2010

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:13 pm
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I take Japanese lessons on Thursday nights and it’s nearly 7:00 by the time I get home, so I usually ask Alex to make dinner on those nights. A few weeks ago my teacher cancelled our lesson so I wouldn’t have to bicycle there in the cold, raging wind. I asked Alex if there was anything I could do to help with dinner; he said, “I found an interesting looking salad recipe online, so why don’t you make the dressing.” I got out the ingredients and started to measure. “Hey, this recipe looks awfully familiar,” I said, and he answered, “It should, you wrote it.”

It turned out that the recipe was Shiitake and Edamame Salad with White Miso Vinaigrette, which I created for Sunset magazine’s reader recipe contest in 2006. The recipe contest was advertised in the magazine as a chance to win a dream vacation. The prize vacation for the salad category was a trip for two to Kauai. Kauai sounded like a wonderful place, but salad… hasn’t every combination of fruit, vegetable, and dressing already been published? I remembered standing over the blender late one night, measuring spoons in hand, trying to get inspired to create a stellar salad.

I knew I liked honey-miso dressing: seasoned with sesame and a bit of soy sauce, but with its heavy dose of sesame oil, sometimes it tastes a little heavy. I spied a navel orange in the fruit basket. Mmm… citrus and miso, now that sounds good. Into the blender went the orange juice. For the miso, I decided to use just white miso, not a heartier, saltier red miso. I blended those with rice vinegar, honey, and shallot, then drizzled in a mix of vegetable and sesame oil to make a creamy, golden dressing. The rest of the salad, I admit, was just what was in my refrigerator: shiitake mushrooms, leftover edamame, some thinly sliced green onions. I put it together and Alex and I tasted it: pretty good, but it needed some more color. “Baby beet greens,” I wrote in the recipe; it was a long shot. Who even has beet greens anyways? Well, I do in the spring if I’m growing beets, but I certainly didn’t expect that anyone would go out and buy them.

I typed up the recipe, sent it off (as usual, just before the deadline), and forgot all about it. Imagine my surprise when I heard from Sunset’s editors a few months later. I was so excited, and we really did use the prize money to go to Kauai for our honeymoon the next summer.

Alex still loves this dressing, and making our own dressing is cheaper than buying bottled dressing at the store (what a waste!). I’ve made a few improvements over the years. I think the most important thing is to use freshly squeezed orange juice. In fact, if you have the orange’s zest, add that too. I have made the dressing with bottled orange juice, but the flavor just isn’t the same. If you must use bottled juice, add some lemon juice or vinegar to give it a little extra zip. I use Kyoto’s sweet, light, Saikyo miso. I switched from rice vinegar to a milder brown rice vinegar and the dressing was a bit on the sweet side. The balance of acid and sweetness will vary between different vinegars and miso so you’ll have to adjust the amount of honey to your own taste. Finally, less is more with the shallot—the dressing will be thick and have an assertive oniony funk if you add too much. If you don’t have shallot, don’t worry about it, try seasoning the dressing with a bit of ginger or even myoga instead.

I noticed that Sunset recently published a similar very recipe that added tahini and adjusted the amounts of vinegar and honey, so it looks like they’ve been making improvements too.

Back to the other night: since it was vegetari-ish night, we had large servings of the salad for dinner. Alex came up with a great way to add more protein and crunch at the same time. Deep fry sheets of abura-age, drain well, and season lightly with salt. Chopped up, they’re like high-protein croutons (maybe we can call them tofu-tons 😉 ).

Honeymoon Miso Dressing
by Laurel Swift

1 small shallot
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons high-quality rice vinegar
2 scant tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Saikyo miso
3 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds.

Roughly chop the shallot. Add the shallot to the orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and miso. Blend until smooth. Next, drizzle the vegetable and sesame oil into the dressing with the blender running. The dressing should be creamy and slightly thickened. Finally stir in the sesame seeds. This recipe makes a generous cup (about 300 mL) of dressing.

*Tip: I make my dressing with a tall, half-liter measuring beaker and a stick-blender. It’s just the right size and easier to clean than a standard blender.

Honeymoon Miso Salad

1 head butter lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 sheets abura-age (thin fried tofu)
10 medium shiitake mushrooms, or substitute king oyster, maitake, or other mushrooms
vegetable oil
1/2 cup shelled, cooked edamame (frozen edamame are fine)
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
orange segments
Honeymoon Miso Dressing

Fill a pot or wok with vegetable oil about 1-inch deep. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle when you add the abura-age. Cut the abura-age into strips and fry them one sheet at a time until they are crispy. The abura-age will float, so use wooden chopsticks or tongs to flip them. Drain well on paper towels and season lightly with salt.

Slice the mushrooms about 1/4 inch thick. In a frying pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil (You can use a bit of the frying oil). Add the mushrooms, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with 2 tablespoons of dressing. Pile the dressed greens on large plates. Top with mushrooms, fried abura-age strips, edamame, onions, and oranges. Sprinkle with more sesame seeds and serve the remaining dressing on the side.


Tofu time February 17, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,Japan — laurel @ 10:41 pm
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While we were home for the holidays, I made tofu for the first time with Alex’s mom. I used the directions that came with a tofu press that I bought recently (see below).

tofu1 tofu2

Here are the soaked soybeans. Step one, grind the soaked beans in a blender or food processor until they are really smooth. When you think they’re done, keep grinding for a few minutes more. Step two, cook the ground-up beans. The mix became very foamy when it was heated, so I had to add some water to keep the foaming under control. You should recognize the smell of soymilk while it’s heating.

tofu3 tofu4

Next strain the mixture through sarashi or layered cheesecloth. The pulp is okara. If it looks like there are still bits of beans in the pulp, add some more liquid and blend some more. On the right you can see the finished soymilk

tofu5 tofu6

Next add the nigari to curdle the soymilk. Strain the curds through sarashi cloth, wrap in the cloth, and press in a strainer or a box like above. In case you are wondering, the box came from Rakuten.co.jp, though wooden ones are easier to find. Weight the lid with a glass of water and wait about 15 minutes. Remove the tofu and soak in water for about 30 minutes. Finally, unwrap your tofu and enjoy.


The finished tofu. Mmm… better than store-bought.


Tofu-stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms August 7, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:37 pm
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tofu-stuffed shiitake mushrooms garnished with a sprig of kinome (sansho leaves)

Gunma Prefecture is a major producer of mushrooms in Japan, especially maitake and shiitake mushrooms. I bought some beautiful shiitake mushrooms recently and used them to make the tofu-stuffed shiitake mushrooms from Washoku. I had only 5 large mushrooms, so I actually made a half batch, which was just the right size for dinner for two. If you want to make a half batch of mushrooms, be sure to use a smaller skillet so that the sauce doesn’t reduce too quickly.

Although I can get nagaimo easily (which is suggested in the recipe notes), but I didn’t have any in the refrigerator and I wasn’t sure when I would use the rest of it, so I used the cornstarch substitution that’s suggested.

I made a little more than half of the filling from the recipe because my mushrooms were fairly large. I would say that if you have larger mushrooms, be generous with the amount of filling that you prepare, since I think it’s better to have too much than too little (you could fry it up as a tofu “burger” if there weren’t enough mushrooms. I filled the mushrooms just to the edge of the caps at first, and then divided the remaining filling among the mushrooms so that they were all filled evenly.

I did forget to press the excess moisture from the tofu, so the filling was fairly loose. I was worried that it wouldn’t be stiff enough to stay in the mushrooms when I flipped them over into the pan, but it turned out to be no problem – just make sure to flip them into the hot pan quickly. The tofu filling browns nicely and the mushrooms cook surprisingly quickly, allowing me to get dinner on the table in under an hour.

In traditional Japanese cooking, the main dish of a meal is rice (in fact, meals are called “gohan,” which means rice). Aside from soup, it is typical to serve about three side dishes or “okazu.” Of course, to my Western-raised sensibilities, it’s strange to think of rice as my main dish, and everything else as a side dish, so usually one of the okazu still holds the same place in my mind as a “main dish” does in a western meal. The tofu-stuffed mushrooms were the central okazu of this meal, along with rice, miso soup, grilled corn-on-the-cob, and salad.

Tofu-Stuffed Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh

1/2 block firm tofu, about 6 1/2 ounces, drained and pressed
1/4 teaspoon saikyo miso
1 1/2 tablespoons beaten egg
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or 1 teaspoon ground yama-imo
12 plump, uniform fresh shiitake mushrooms, about 3 ounces total weight
2 teaspoons mirin
2 teaspoons usukuchi shoyu
1/3 cup dashi
1/2 teaspoon fragrant pepper salt (sansho-kosho and salt)
1/2 teaspoon ocean herb salt (ao-nori and salt)


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


Komatsuna Ohitashi and Tofu Shira Ae May 14, 2008

komatsuna ohitashi with katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) and crushed toasted sesame seeds

The second dish I wanted to try from my tofu cooking class was the komatsuna ohitashi, marinated komatsuna greens, and shira ae, creamy tofu dressing. I thought the ohitashi we had in class was too mildly flavored to go over well at home. That recipe called for only 1 teaspoon of usukuchi shoyu in the marinade. I checked the recipe for spinach ohitashi in Washoku, this recipe called for 2 tablespoons of seasoned soy concentrate but no mirin. So I split the difference and added 1 tablespoon each of usukuchi shoyu and mirin to my broth.

I also made shira ae, creamy tofu dressing, to serve with the ohitashi. I tried making this dressing when we lived in Boulder, and Alex didn’t like it much. Today, though, he liked the shira ae. Success! He thinks the difference is that the tofu here in Japan has much better flavor than the tofu available at home.

In class we also tried the dressing with and without a small splash of dashi added. The dashi really brings out the depth of flavor in the sauce. I recommend that you take the time to make some good dashi (not the powdered stuff) and add just a splash to your tofu dressing (and of course, you can use it in the ohitashi marinade as well).

I don’t have a food processor in my kitchen, so I actually made the dressing by pressing the tofu through a fine-meshed strainer and grinding it in a suribachi. This way works well, but don’t forget to press the tofu through the strainer first, before you put it in the suribachi, or it will be too chunky.

I like the ohitashi and shira ae because they are great to take in my bento to work. I can make a big batch (double the recipe) and take it with shira ae one day, and plain with katsuo bushi and sesame seeds the next. Be careful not to make more greens than you can eat in a few days or they will discolor and become brown. Try this recipe with spinach or other leafy greens too.

Komatsuna no Shira Ae
adapted from original recipe by Elizabeth Andoh, copyright 2008

1 bunch (about 3/4 lb) fresh komatsuna or other leafy green

1/2 cup dashi
1 tablespoon usukuchi shoyu
1 tablespoon mirin

shira ae:
1/4 to 1/3 large block tofu, about 4 ounces
2 teaspoons Saikyo shiro miso
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon dashi



Fuku Bukuro May 6, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes,Travel — laurel @ 5:50 pm
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age-fuku bukuro arranged in the pan before simmering

The first dish from my tofu cooking class that I tried at home was age fuku-bukuro, simmered tofu pouches stuffed with vegetables and chicken. This recipe uses the long, rectangular abura-age that are more common at my market than the square ones that I am used to using for inari sushi.

In class, we learned some interesting tips for pressing the air out of the pouches to make them easier to open: after cutting them in half, you can roll a cooking chopstick over the age from the closed end to the cut end to force out the air, or you can place the age half on your palm and slap it, bringing your hands together from the closed end first. I preferred the slapping method since it’s quick, but it is a bit messier too.

long abura-age whole (bottom) and cut in half (top) – simmering the fuku-bukuro beneath a parchment lid

Another tip that I put to use was to give the dried kampyo a salt scrub if they haven’t had as long a time to soak as you’d like (the salt scrub is unnecessary if you use the chemical-free kampyo and you let them soak for a long time).

I don’t have an otoshi-buta (drop-lid, a wooden lid that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan), so I used a parchment circle instead to help keep the simmering pouches moist.

I made a double batch of the fuku bukuro so that we could have some for dinner and enough leftover for my bento the next day. Alex loved them, so I think that these will become a regular in my meal planning. I imagine these slightly sweet and salty pouches might be popular with kids who won’t eat their vegetables too.

the finished fuku-bukuro with our dinner: rice, nuka-zuke, namul salad, cabbage salad with creamy sesame dressing, and miso soup with mushrooms and kamaboko (not pictured

Age Fuku-Bukuro (Treasure Bags)
by Elizabeth Andoh, copyright 2008, all rights reserved
3 to 4 servings (makes 10 pouches)

2 long ribbons of kampyo (dried gourd), each about 2 yards long, soaked in warm water
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
5 slices fried tofu sheets (abura-age)

1 small package (about 6 ounces) shirataki, drained, and coarsely chopped
2 small fresh shiitake mushrooms or 2 ounces other wild mushrooms
1 small (about 1/2 ounce) chunk carrot; scraped and minced or cut in thin julienne
1 small chunk gobo (burdock root), scraped and minced or cut in thin julienne; optional
1 small chunk renkon (lotus root), peeled and minced or cut in thin julienne; optional
scant 100 grams (about 3 ounces) ground raw chicken meat
2 tablespoons fresh (or defrosted frozen) green peas (about 1/2 ounce) or edamame
simmering liquid:
3/4 to 1 cup dashi (basic stock) and/or liquid from soaking kampyo (if kampyo is chemical-free)
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce