Sunday, January 21, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different...

i promised a "reasons for staying" blog and perhaps it's coming, but right now, i wanted to share with you an article i wrote for the Okinawa YAK. I hope it makes the next issue, but our editor is rather strict and my culinary exploits might not be considered YAK material. :)

meh. am sure he'll print it.

but first, in other food related news! On January 4th, a trusted health TV program in Japan (AruAru Daijiten) that has been on the air for 10 years broadcast a story proclaiming that the health benifits of natto (fermented soy beans) have been linked to weight loss. They introduced two people who have lost weight after eating natto every day for two weeks. The Japanese trust their TV, and this program is very popular and they showed data to prove their statements, so this caused a natto buying frenzy all over Japan! Stores ran out of stock. Manufacturers ran out of stock and had to issue public apologies in newspapers! And of course prices of natto went up. Whereas before a small pack of natto was 100 yen, in less than two weeks it went up to 140 and then 170yen. Pretty spectacular, eh? But not anything surprising. But wait! Here's the kicker! It was just found out (the story hit the newspapers today) that the TV show fabricated their data about the benefits of natto they proclaimed! They LIED and everyone literaly bought it!

i did a quick search and this is all i can find right now in English to summarize the story. Also, click on the "100 natto-related searches" link to get more scoop on both natto and the story.

and now, here's my article for the YAK.

Cooking for Clueless

To be in Japan is to enjoy its food. I have been gladly doing that for the last year and a half. Yet, one of my goals while living here has been to improve my abilities in the kitchen. So slowly, I have been pushing myself and trying to overcome my unexplainable anxieties when it comes to cooking. I am constantly afraid of screwing it up and so I don’t attempt it to begin with. But that’s no way to be, and so I bought a couple of books, and a few essential Japanese ingredients, and have been mixing it up in my most unfriendly to cooking kitchen. I don’t understand why Japanese kitchens lack counter space, but adapting is what we’re here to do, so I do and so far no major disasters.

I’ll share a couple of recipes with you and also some definitions of commonly used Japanese ingredients. Most of these things are coming from two great books I picked up from

Bento Boxes: Japanese meals on the go by Maomi Kijima. I like this one because it’s written using simple instructions perfect for me, has lots of step by step photos, and uses actual Japanese ingredients that I can buy at a local veggie stand or grocery store. Am so going to miss that when I move back home and the book becomes obsolete there.

A dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking. This one is great if you constantly ask what it’s in your kyuushoku (school food) and then can’t find a translation in your trusty Japanese-English dictionary for it. It’s not a recipe book. It gives definitions for lots of ingredients found in Japanese cooking and gives the names in romaji, hiragana and kanji for easy look up at a grocery store. But of course, if you don’t want to buy one, just give me a shout, and I’ll look it up.

I would recommend buying several ingredients that appear in most of the recipes I have found. They are mirin(みりん), cooking sake, and of course, soy sauce. Mirin is sweet cooking rice wine. It gives a sweet flavor to food and is great for glazes. You can substitute with 1tbsp sake and a teaspoon of sugar. Sake tones down raw tastes and strong smells and improves flavor.

So without further ado, here’s a couple of things I have been testing out in my kitchen.

Sanma teriyaki. This recipe in my book is for mackerel but I thought I’d try it on the slightly cheaper sanma. Sanma is pacific saury, a fish I have never heard of before coming here. It has made several appearances in my school’s kyuうshoku, so I thought I’d try it at home. FYI, both sanma and mackerel are fatty fish.

For this recipe you’ll need flour, soy sauce, mirin, sake, oil, salt and pepper.

I used two sanma fish and cut each one up at an angle into 4 pieces.

Then I combined 4 Tbsp of soy, 4 tsp of sake and 4 tsp of mirin in a bowl.

After sprinkling salt and pepper on each piece, I dredged them in flour. Heated oil in a frying pan and then briefly cooked each piece of fish. By the time I set down the last piece, the first piece was ready to be flipped. They cook super quick, so don’t walk away. After turning the fish on all sides, add the mixture of sauces to the pan and cook over medium to high heat. The mixture will turn quickly into a glaze, so let each piece soak up the glaze for a bit on all sides. And that’s it!

Boro Boro Jushi This is a simple Okinawa dish that I learned from the home economics teacher at my school. For this you’ll need rice and whatever veggies you want to use. Jushi is mixed rice that I’m sure you’ve had for kyuushoku or as onigiri. It usually has thinly sliced carrots, mushrooms, seaweed, sesame seeds and is brown in color. This boro boro variation I am told is Chinese in origin and looks more like risotto because a lot of water is used to make it.

So for one cup of rice, you’ll use three cups of water. This is not cooked in a rice cooker but in a regular pan. Cut up really small whatever veggies you like and are taking up space in your fridge. I am told that this dish is usually made when there are a few leftover veggies that might spoil if not used, and so they’re all chopped up and thrown in. Carrots, shitake mushrooms, konbu (a type of seaweed), and anything else you like should be chopped up and combined with rice. Tiny shrimp would probably work well, but I haven’t tried that. Then add the water and either soy sauce or miso paste and salt and pepper and any other spices you like. Don’t use both soy and miso, however. After the water boils, let simmer for about 30 minutes. Done!

And as a final addition to this YAK, I thought I’d type up an explanation of how to make curry using the solid curry bricks sold in all the grocery stores. I bought a box of “Golden curry” because that’s the mix the chefs at a restaurant I worked at used as a base, but couldn’t bring myself to try and cook with it because I couldn’t read the instructions and I’m not big on experimenting with food when my dinner depends on it.

So I finally asked for an explanation and here it is.

On the back of the box I bought it suggested 200 grams of meat, one carrot, one large potato, an onion, and something called “sarada.” I used chicken, three small potatoes, and also added frozen broccoli and frozen sliced peppers. Cauliflower would be great as well.

So chop up all the veggies. You can fry up the onions before using them, as most Japanese do if you, like them, don’t care for a strong onion flavor in your curry. I don’t mind, so I used them raw. First bring water to a boil. The box suggested 700ml, I used a bit more because of all the veggies I added. When the water is boiling add the meat. Once the meat is cooked, add all the veggies. Reduce the flame to medium. Once the potatoes and carrots are soft, add curry brick. Might help to cut it up into bits before throwing it in. Mix it in as much as you can and then just let it simmer for another 5 or 7 minutes. Mix again and you’ve got curry!

When I made it, I added a bit too much water so watch out for that unless you like the curry more soupy.


In the next article, I’ll hope to share a recipe for a soup and maybe something with udon.

Those are the goals for my own experiments in the kitchen, so if they work out they’ll make an appearance. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

Kevin said...

mmm... curry. Well, I have news, check out my blog E.