Thursday, November 26, 2009

Natto 納豆

Natto is the product of leaving your soybeans out for too long so they start to ferment and become questionable. Natto is a rich source of protein and contains pyrazine and nattokinese, thought to prevent blood clotting and thrombosis. Natto conspiracists even tried to claim natto would make you lose weight, causing the Great Natto Shortage of 2007, but it was soon found out the entire thing was made up. As many people in the Kansai area will tell you, its sticky texture and overpowering smell makes it better suited for a trashcan than your mouth but I suppose it's something everyone should try at least once.

How to Prepare
Open the package, hold your nose, and stir it up!

Easy Natto Recipe
Here is a recipe that takes care of the two issues most people have with natto, the texture and the smell.

Natto Fried Rice
Serves 2-3
Prep Time: About 30 mins

  • 2 cups of cooked rice or brown rice
  • 1 pack (50g) of natto
  • Approx. 1 cup chopped scallions
  • Approx. 1 cup chopped vegetables, whatever you have on hand - peppers, carrots, greens, broccoli, etc.
  • 1/4 cup shredded pink pickled ginger 紅生姜
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil ゴマ油
  • 1 teaspoon togarashi
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Chop up all the vegetables.
2. Heat up a wok or large non-stick frying pan with 1/2 of the sesame oil. Add the green onions and the vegetables, and sauté until the vegetables are a little limp.
3. Add the natto and 1 Tbs. of soy sauce. Sauté until the stickiness of the natto has dissipated.
4. Add the rest of the oil, the ginger and the rice. Stir-fry until the rice and the other ingredients are evenly mixed. Push the mixture to one side, and add the rest of the soy sauce to the bare surface of the pan. Stir-fry a couple of minutes more until everything looks and smells toasty.
5. Season with pepper (probably needed) and salt (probably not needed - taste some before adding!)
6. Finished!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kuri 栗

American chestnuts may be all but extinct, but chestnuts are alive and well in Asia.  You often find chestnuts in sweet and savory dishes this time of year and they probably remind your grandma of Christmas and the Rat Pack.  Roasted chestnuts have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that lends itself well to soups, pastas, rice, and desserts.  Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in fat and are very similar in nutritional makeup to brown rice.  Maybe that's why chestnut rice is so popular here in the fall.

How to Prepare
The easiest way to deal with chestnuts is to buy a bag of them already roasted.  Every supermarket has them this time of year.  If you're Stateside, I've heard you can buy them at Trader Joe's.  If you decide to use fresh chestnuts, shell the nuts, cut them in half, and boil them until soft.  They won't have the same roasted taste but work just as well in soups and desserts.

Easy Chestnut Recipe
While chestnut soup is amazing, it can be time consuming for those not used to working with cream soups.  So instead I decided to post this delicious pasta dish.

Pasta with Chestnuts, Prosciutto, and Sage

Serves 4
Prep Time: About 30 minutes

  • 1/2 cup prosciutto, chopped 生ハム
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage (can substitute 2tsp dried if your Heiwado doesn't stock fresh herbs)
  • 1 cup crumbled roasted chestnuts
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 225 grams dried flat pasta such as fettuccine (you can find fettuccine at Amica or Belsie, among other places.  If you can't find, just use the biggest mm spaghetti available at your store)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or 1/2 cup of the powdered Parmesan cheese.
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Cook onion and mushrooms in olive oil, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. Stir in chestnuts and prosciutto, remove from heat.
4. Cook pasta until al dente.
5. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander and add veggie mixture in skillet.
6. Add 1 cup reserved cooking water along with cheese and butter and cook, tossing constantly, over high heat until pasta is well coated (add more reserved water if necessary), about 1 minute.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley and remaining tablespoon sage.
8. Finished!

Yuzu 柚子

When I first heard of yuzu, it was in the form of some not-so-pleasant cough drops.  The second time I heard of yuzu, it was in an even worse yogurt concoction.  As a result, I stayed away from yuzu for a long time and that's a shame!  As it turns out yuzu is a delicious citrus that can easily take the place of lemon in most dishes.  Kind of a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit but sweeter, yuzu is what gives ponzu sauce its zip.  You can also find candied yuzu peels in the yuzu sodas popular in Japanese cafes and one of my favorite drinks to indulge in.  Right now you can buy big bags of yuzu for cheap at the farmer's market in Japan, making it a delicious treat.

How to Prepare
Look for fruit that has a firm rind but slightly gives when pressed on.  It should also be very fragrant and be free of large, black blemishes.  Just like any citrus, you just cut it open and squeeze out the juice.  You'll find that yuzu tends to have more pith and less juice than lemon.  The zest is also great for flavoring dishes.

Easy Yuzu Recipe
I remember as a little kid receiving a copy of Felicity's Cookbook (remember the American Girl dolls that were all the rage?) and the first thing I made from it was the syllabub.  Syllabubs were all the rage in England and its colonies before the advent of ice cream.  Now what makes a syllabub different from a mousse I have no idea but syllabub is a fun word to say so I'm sticking with it. 

Yuzu Syllabub

Serves 4
Time: About 10 minutes 

  • grated rind and juice of 2 yuzu
  • 4 tablespoons sweet white wine 甘口ホワイトワイン
  • 6 tablespoons superfine sugar 上白糖
  • 300 ml heavy cream 生クリーム
1. Warm the sugar, juices and zest gently until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool slightly.
2. Add the wine to the yuzu mix and let sit for one hour.
3. Whip the cream to soft peaks.
Tip: To make your life easier, place a metal bowl in the freezer until time to whip the cream.  The cold bowl makes whipping much faster. 4. Fold in the wine mixture. 4. Pour into glasses and chill well. 5. Serve decorated with freshly grated yuzu rind.
6. Finished!
One of the easiest desserts you'll ever make and so delicious!


This blog originally started on another site as a way to share cooking ideas with Japanese ingredients. The thread became increasingly popular and I realized once I left my work in Japan I would no longer have it as a venue to post in! So now I'm sharing my recipes with the rest of the internet. I hope you enjoy :)