Friday, March 26, 2010

Wasabi-ha わさび葉

Tis the season for lots of fresh greens!  I noticed today that wasabi leaves are officially on the market, a specialty of the prefecture I live in.  Wasabi leaves are similar to arugula in that they have a bit of a spicy bite to them but they're not as bitter as arugula.  If you can't find wasabi leaves in your local market arugula makes a decent substitute.  Of course you could always try growing your own wasabi if your area is wet enough!

How to Prepare
Personally I'm not a fan of how wasabi leaves are usually prepared in Japanese cooking, stewed to hell and back.  Instead I go for the fresh approach; chop them up and throw them in a salad or wilt them in a pasta.  Just make sure to rinse them before you eat them.

Easy Wasabi Leaves Recipe

This recipe is as easy as it gets, seriously!

Pan Seared Salmon with Wasabi Leaves
Makes 2 servings

Prep Time: About 30 minutes

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh dill, chopped (optional)
  • 3 cups wasabi leaves, chopped
  • 2/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1.     Toss salmon with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dill.  Marinate 15 minutes.
2.     Cook salmon, skinside down, in a frying pan over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Make sure to carefully lift the salmon from the pan from time to time to keep it from sticking.
3.    Reduce heat to medium.  Cover the pan and cook the salmon for another 3-4 minutes, or until it's cooked to your liking.  I usually cook my salmon medium rare; cook it a bit longer and it will be medium.
4.    While salmon is cooking, toss wasabi leaves, tomatoes, and red onion together.  Just before serving, toss with olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
5.   Place salad on plate.  Top with salmon.  Serve with brown rice or some sort of pasta.
6.  Finished!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seri セリ

Man have I gotten bad about updating.  I apologize.  If anyone can figure out a way for me to be able to post from work I'm all ears!

Seri, known as Japanese parsley or Chinese celery, is a springtime vegetable found for only a few short weeks here in Japan.  Seri is high in vitamins C and A as well as potassium.  It tastes great fresh just thrown in a salad and can also be used in stews, stir-fries, and soups.

How to Prepare
Make sure to select seri that is bright in color and not wilted or musty looking.  It should look similar to cilantro or other leafy herbs.  From there just chop it up and throw it in your recipe!

Easy Seri Recipe

While seri is best known for its role in the traditional spring dish nanakusa no sekku, all seven of those vegetables can kind of be a pain to get a hold of.  Instead will make a tasty fresh salad with our seri!

Seri and Chicken Salad
Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: About 30 minutes

  • 1 bunch of seri
  • 300 grams chicken breast
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 40 grams harusame (super thin rice noodles)
  • 4 tablespoons peanuts, crushed
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons vinegar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce (also known as nam pla)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 togarashi pepper, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried togarashi
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

1.     Roughly chop seri.  Thinly slice the red onion and place into cold water.
2.     Cook harusame according to package directions, then place in cold water to stop from cooking further.  Drain and chop into bite sized strands.
3.    Cut chicken into bite sized pieces.  Season with pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons vinegar.  Cook in microwave for two minutes or until cooked through.
4.    Mix together remaining vinegar, lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, togarashi, garlic, and ginger.
5.   Drain red onions.  Toss together seri, onion, harusame, chicken, and dressing.
6.  Place into small bowls and garnish with peanuts.
7.  Finished!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kogomi コゴミ

I'm on a roll so why not post another recipe lol.

Kogomi are the tender sprouts of the ostrich fern or fiddlehead fern.  It might weird you out to think of eating a fern but these are one of the most delicious plants you can sink your teeth into in the spring!  But you can usually only get them for about 3-4 weeks once you see them start popping up in the supermarket so make sure you grab them when you do see them!

They taste like a cross between asparagus and brussel sprouts, making them an easy addition to pastas, sautes, and so on (as my students would say).  In Japan they tend to be included in salads, tempura, and stewed dishes.

How to Prepare
With kogomi you want to cut off the bottom inch of the stem where it has hardened and then give them a quick rinse.  From there you can fry, saute, stew, basically any way you would prepare asparagus you can also prepare kogomi.

Easy Kogomi Recipe

Garlic sprouts are easy to include in just about any recipe.  This stir-fry recipe is super easy and only takes about 45 minutes to make including marinating time.

Kogomi Pasta
Makes 2 servings

Prep Time: About 45 minutes

  • 8-10 kogomi heads
  • enough pasta for 2 people (about 150 grams)
  • 5-6 small shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and sliced, or maitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1.     Add kogomi to a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook until just crisp-tender. Transfer to bowl of cold water using slotted spoon. Cool kogomi slightly to stop it from cooking and drain. 
2.     Add pasta to same pot of water and boil until just tender but still firm to bite.  Drain well.
3.    Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan.  Add onions and saute until starting to brown.
4.    Add garlic and saute 1 minute.
5.   Add mushrooms and lemon juice and saute until just starting to become tender.
6.  Add kogomi and pasta.  Stir well.
7.  Add cheese and stir until full incorporated.
8. Finished!

Ninniku no Me にんにくの芽

Ninniku no me is the Japanese name for garlic sprouts.  These greens are super tasty with a light garlic flavor.  They are usually sold in packs in the refrigerated section and are a versatile vegetable.
How to Prepare
Garlic sprouts are similar to asparagus in texture and can be used in the same ways.  Simply cut them down to whatever size you want and start cooking.  Garlic sprouts can be a little tough when raw so it’s best to cook them first, though if chopped finely they can be thrown in with salad or fresh spring rolls.  I most often use them in stir fries and sautés cut into bite sized pieces.

Easy Garlic Sprouts Recipe

Garlic sprouts are easy to include in just about any recipe.  This stir-fry recipe is super easy and only takes about 45 minutes to make including marinating time.

Garlic Sprouts Stir-fry
Makes 2-3 servings

Prep Time: About 45 minutes

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 米酢
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil ゴマ油
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper とうがらし
  • about 200 grams chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch コーンスターチ
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps quartered
  • 1 colored bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1/2 package garlic sprouts, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup matchstick sized carrot strips
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces

1.     Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend.
2.     Add chicken and stir to coat; let marinate 30 minutes.
3.     Drain, reserving marinade in small bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup water and cornstarch into marinade.
4.     Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.
5.     Add chicken and sauté until golden, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to plate.
6.     Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet.
7.     Add mushrooms and stir-fry until tender, about 3 minutes.
8.     Add carrots, broccoli and garlic greens; stir-fry 2 minutes.
9.     Add bell peppers; stir-fry 2 minutes.
10.  Add garlic and ginger; stir-fry 30 seconds.
11.  Return chicken to skillet; drizzle reserved marinade mixture over everything.
12.  Stir-fry until marinade thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
13.  Finished! 

Gobo ごぼう

Sorry I haven't posted in ages!  Things have been pretty hectic here with the end of the school year coming up.  To make up for it I'll do two posts tonight :)

Gobo is Japanese burdock and the big, dirt-covered root things you see in the supermarket.  It has a nice crunch and almost nutty flavor.  You'll often see it in school lunch and in Japanese restaraunts in various forms.  My personal favorite is fried gobo you will sometimes find in izakayas.  If you are lazy like me, you can find gobo that has already been cleaned and julienned in bags near the bean sprouts and bamboo shoots.  But it's kind of expensive to buy it that way so it's really better to buy it fresh and prepare it yourself.
How to Prepare
It's important to thoroughly clean gobo before you use it.  Scrub the gobo with hot water until you have gotten most of the dirt off of it.  Then you want to take a knife and scrap off the outer skin of the gobo to remove any remaining dirt.  Usually gobo is cut into matchstick sized pieces but you can also chop, dice, etc.  It will just take longer to cook done that way.

After you have cut your gobo up into matchstick sized pieces, it's important to allow the gobo to soak in water for at least 10 minutes.  If you don't do this, the gobo will have an overwhelmingly strong taste.  10 minutes should do the trick but it's okay to allow it to soak for longer.

Easy Gobo Recipe

There are tons of ways to use gobo, though you will usually find it in soups, stir-fries, and Japanese-style salads.  Here is a simple vegetable soup that can be made with gobo.   From start to finish, this soup takes about 25 minutes to prepare.

Kenchin Soup
Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: About 1 hour

  • 1 block tofu
  • 6cm length of daikon radish
  • 1/2 a carrot
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/3 stalk gobo
  • 1/2 block konnyaku こんにゃく
  • 1 sheet fried tofu 油揚げ
  • 3 taro roots 里芋 (can substitute baby sized potatoes)
  • 1/2 bundle Japanese mustard spinach 小松菜
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons dashi (fish stock)
  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sake
1.     Drain water from the tofu.
2.     Cut daikon and carrot into thin half moon shaped slices.   
3.     Destem the mushrooms and cut caps into quarters.
4.     Cut gobo into thin, round slices and place in water for 10 minutes. Drain water.
5.     Peel the skin from the taro roots, salt the outside of the taro, allow to sit for a minute and then wash the taro.
6.     Cut the konnyaku into large bite-sized pieces.  Wash thoroughly.
7.     Place the fried tofu into boiling water until most of the oil has been removed from the tofu.  Remove from the water and cut into bite-sized pieces.
8.     Heat oil in the soup pot over medium-high.  Add daikon, carrots, mushrooms, gobo, taro, konnyaku, and fried tofu to the pot.  Stir fry for about two minutes.
9.     Add dashi and water to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat so the water is simmering.  Skim the top of the soup once every couple of minutes to remove any scum that rises to the top. 
10.  While soup is simmering, cut the drained tofu into 4cm blocks.  Separate out the bunch of Japanese mustard spinach.
11.  Add tofu and spinach to the pot.  Add soy sauce, salt, and pepper to the pot. 
12.  Remove pot from heat once tofu has heated through.
13.  Finished!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Konnyaku こんにゃく

Konnyaku is a curious thing.  Is it a vegetable, an animal, an amorphous blog of atoms?  Turns out it actually is a plant, and an ugly one at that.  I'd be curious to know why the first human who ate it decided to even approach the thing.  Maybe he was starving and delirious in the jungle.  Apparently it's called konjak in English, but as I've never heard that word in my life, I'm content to call it konnyaku.  Konnyaku doesn't have much of a taste and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, all of them gelatinous in nature.  You can also get konnyaku that has been infused with such things as mushrooms and cayenne pepper.  My favorite is the spicy konnyaku, particularly the noodle shaped one.
As far as nutrition goes, you know the cabbage diet?  The one where you eat lots and lots of cabbage because it has very little calories or nutritional value  so you can eat as much as you want?  Konnyaku is Japan's answer to the cabbage diet.  It's fat free, contains next to nothing in calories, and has lots of fiber.  So it's a great filler food but don't rely on it as your sole sustainance.  Probably the greatest thing about konnyaku is it's cheap, so you can throw it in to just about any recipe to bulk it up without affecting its flavor.

How to Prepare
Konnyaku comes packed usually in fish broth so you'll want to drain that.  You can find varieties that are packed in water as well.  Once it's drained it's ready to go!  If you buy a big block you can cut it into any shape you want.  Or you can buy ones shaped as noodles, balls, on a stick, if you can imagine it, konnyaku has been shaped into it.  Konnyaku can be eaten hot or cold, stewed, steamed, boiled, frozen, just about any way you want.

Easy Konnyaku Recipe

My favorite way of eating konnyaku is in nabe, but you can also throw it into stir-fries and other dishes easily.

Pork and Konnyaku Miso Stir-fry

Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 2 sheets of konnyaku, cut into triangles
  • 150 grams pork, cut into 4 cm strips
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 small pack shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and cut into halves
  • 2 green peppers, cut into strips
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons cooking sake, divided
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoons ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoons togarashi
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 30g miso paste 味噌
1.  Mix together 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, miso paste, sugar and water.  Add pork and konnyaku to the marinade.  Allow to marinate for about 20 minutes.
2.  In a frying pan, heat sesame oil over medium high.  Add onions to frying pan.  Saute until starting to become translucent.
3.  Add green peppers, cabbage and mushrooms to frying pan.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, or until green peppers being to soften.
4.  Add garlic, ginger, togarashi, remaining sake and soy sauce.  Saute for 1 minute or until fragrant.
5.  Add pork, konnyaku, and sauce.  Saute until pork has browned and sauce has begun to thicken.
6.  Serve with rice.
7.  Finished!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dekopon デコポン

It's officially dekopon season!  Dekopon are the sweetest, juiciest citrus you will ever have the pleasure of consuming.  It's like someone took a tangerine and jumbofied it.  Delicious!

The story goes that back in the 70s the Japanese were trying to create a citrus that could compete with navel oranges.  Scientists worked hard crossing this fruit with that, but the results were paltry at best and the experiment abandoned.  But not all hope was lost!  A farmer from Kumamoto stole a branch from one of the experimental trees and started his own experiments.  Soon, he got this fruit yielding to commercial levels, gave it a vaguely sexual name, and ever since it's been a big success!

How to Prepare
Peel and devour!

Easy Dekopon Recipe

To be honest, a dekopon rarely makes it outside of its rind before I've destroyed it in my mouth.  But on the off-chance you do have dekopon laying around, here's a great and super easy recipe.

Dekopon and Honey Jello
Makes 2 servings

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 2 dekopon
  • 5 grams powdered gelatin
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 dash lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
1. Mix 2 tablespoons water with the powder gelatin.  Mix well.
2. Peel dekopons.  Break into segments.  Take 3/4 of the segments and remove the pith as well as you can from the segment.  Cut into bite-sized chunks.  Set aside.
3.  Juice the remaining dekopon segments into a measuring cup.
3. Add lemon juice and enough water to the dekopon juice to equal 300mL or 1 1/4 cup.  Pour the juice mix into a small, microwave-safe bowl.
4. Add honey, 1/2 teapoon at a time, and mix well.  Add honey until desired sweetness is achieved.
5. Microwave the dekopon mixture for one minute.  Add gelatin to the heated mixture and whisk until gelatin has dissolved.
6. Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Place the small bowl with the jello into the ice bath.  Stir the jello occasionally.  Once jello begins to jiggle, remove the bowl from the ice bath.
7. Layer the chunks of dekopon and jello into small glasses.
8. Finished!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mikan みかん

Right now it's peak season for mikan, those little citrus fruits that I could eat by the dozen if I'm not careful.  In English they're known as clementines or satsuma oranges depending on where you live.  I've heard the term satsuma orange has to do with one of the areas where mikan are grown in Japan, but the only place I know of where mikan are worth their snuff is Wakayama.  Like most citrus, mikan are packed with vitamin C so grab a couple if you want to ward off the scurvy, yarr!

How to Prepare
One of the best things about mikan is they're so easy peel.  I actually loath dealing with navel oranges now after having lived with mikan so for long.  The peel of mikan is also great for cooking and especially baking, so don't let it go to waste!

Easy Mikan Recipe

This may sound like a funky combo for a salad but it's actually delicious!  As an added bonus, endives are one of those random vegetables that for some reason are cheaper in Japan than in the US.  I don't really get how that one works.

Citrusy Endive Salad

Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: About 30 minutes


  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 5 mikan, peeled and segmented
  • 2 to 3 endives (エンダイブ or チコリー)
  • 2 inner ribs of celery (the pale white looking ones), including leaves
  • 1/4 cup black olives, pitted and cut into slivers
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley or loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
1. Whisk together vinegar, honey, and salt in a small bowl until salt are dissolved, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking well. Season with pepper.
2. Remove the pith from your mikan segments but don't worry about being anal retentive, just remove the biggest chunks.
3. Halve endives lengthwise, then cut out and discard the cores. Cut endives diagonally into 1/2-inch-wide strips and put in a large salad bowl.
4. Separate celery leaves from ribs and cut ribs diagonally into very thin slices.
5. Roughly chop the celery leaves.  Add the leaves, ribs, olives, onions, parsley, and mikan to the endives.
6. Whisk dressing, then gently toss salad with enough dressing to coat.
7. Finished!

An easy salad for a light weeknight meal!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Renkon れんこん

Renkon is known as lotus root in English, that funky root that looks like a flower and packs some crunchy goodness.  You can do just about anything with lotus root cooking wise, just make sure to choose ones that are firm and a light brown color.  The smaller the lotus root the more tender and crispy it will be, so don't pick ones that are too big!  Lotus root is low in calories and high in vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6.  Right now lotus root is in season so it's the best time to try it!

How to Prepare
If you're lazy, you can buy pre-soaked lotus root in the same section of the supermarket that has the prepared bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, etc.  If you want to prepare it yourself, first thoroughly wash the root.  Then peel the outside layer of the root with a peeler.  Slice the lotus root into thin rounds and soak in a mixture of 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar for about 30 minutes.  This will cut the bitterness in the lotus root.  From there you can cut it up anyway you please and stew, stir fry, boil, fry, etc.
Easy Lotus Root Recipe

This traditional Japanese recipe is about as easy as it gets.  Chop everything up and let it stew for awhile!

Chikuzenni 筑前煮

Makes 2 servings

Prep Time: About 45 minutes


  • 1/2 a chicken breast 鶏もも肉
  • 1/2 a carrot
  • 4cm length of lotus root
  • 50 grams soaked bamboo shoots (can buy already packed in water) ゆでたけのこ
  • 1/2 a length of burdock root ごぼう
  • 2 shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons mirin みりん
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.
2. Cut vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a medium sized pot on medium heat.  Add chicken, carrots, shiitake, bamboo, lotus root, and burdock root.  Stir fry until chicken begins to change color.
4. Add enough water to the pot to just cover the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
5. As scum rises to the surface of the water, use the strainer to catch the scum.
6. Once scum seems to be mostly clear, add mirin and soy sauce.  Bring to a boil once more.
7. Once liquid has reduced to about 1cm to the bottom of the pot, remove from heat.
8. Finished!

Of course you can add just about anything to this recipe, such as onions, konnyaku, etc.  Try it out!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Soba そば

Soba, those thin buckwheat noodles often seen in Japanese restaurants, are one of the foods you're supposed to eat for the new year in Japan.  They're supposed to represent a long life and considering their health benefits, that might not be far off from the truth!  Soba is basically a fat free food that is also surprisingly high in protein considering it's a noodle.  Soba is also believed to help with high blood pressure due to the bioflavonoid present.

How to Prepare
You can find dried soba noodles at almost any supermarket.  Shiga has some particularly good dried soba made in Ibuki that can be found at most Heiwados.  Fresh soba noodles taste better and can usually be found in the fridge section of the market.  In the States, you should be able to find soba at any Asian market.

If you're feeling really adventurous, make your own soba noodles!  Mix equal parts wheat flour and buckwheat flour in a bowl.  Make a small indentation in your mixed flour and add a small amount of water.  Mix the water in with the flour.  Add enough water until you can make a fairly dry ball of dough.  When you pinch the dough together it should feel like you're pinched your earlobe.  If your dough is too wet or sticky, simple add some more buckwheat flour.

You should knead the dough for a long time.  20 minutes or longer.  You want the dough to fully form its gluten chains and to have no air pockets when you form it into a ball.  When you've think you've kneaded it for long enough, knead it for another 5 minutes to make sure.

Lightly flour your counter with katakuri starch (片栗粉) or potato starch.  Flour your rolling pin with the starch as well and roll out your dough.  You want a large sheet like this:

Next you will fold the dough into third with lots of starch to make sure it doesn't stick:

On a cutting board, cut the dough into thin strips to make the noodles.  Make sure your knife is sharp!

Finally you'll boil the noodles for about two minutes, then immediately wash them in cold water to stop them from cooking further.  Your noodles are done!

Easy Soba Recipe

Here's a non-traditional take on soba noodles, salad style!

Spicy Soba Noodles

Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: About 45 minutes


  • 450 grams chicken breast, skin removed
  • 250 grams soba noodles
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons black vinegar 黒酢
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 6 small shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned 
  • 1 bunch mizuna 水菜, chopped (can substitute arugula)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked edamame beans, pods removed

1.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Grill chicken until fully cooked (about 8 minutes each side).  Cut into thin strips and set aside.
2. While chicken is grilling, cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain noodles in a colander and rinse well under cold water to cool, then drain well. Toss noodles with sesame oil in a large bowl.
3.  Stir together vinegar, soy sauce, chili oil, garlic, sugar, and salt in another bowl until sugar is dissolved, then add to noodles and toss until coated.
4.  Add chicken, carrot, mushrooms, bell pepper, mizuna, scallions, and edamame to the bowl of noodles.  Toss together.
5.  Finished!