Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bunashimeji ぶなしめじ

Sorry about the long hiatus!  I took a trip out to Saipan and then spent the past week just catching up on relaxation.  I can't remember the last time I had a week to sit around and do nothing.  I hope everyone else had a good holiday season!

Amanda requested I talk about shimeji mushrooms and here they are.  I personally love shimeji and will throw them in just about any recipe where mushrooms can be added.  They usually come in a big bunch and can be found in brown and white varieties.  Their firm texture make them perfect for stews and stir fries since they won't break up like other varieties of mushrooms tend to.  Shimeji are also low in calories and high in niacin; they're also believed to have anti-tumor agents in them!

How to Prepare
You'll want to cut off the bottom section where the mushroom was growing.  Then break up the mushroom into chunks or individual stems.

Easy Shimeji Recipe

If you've never had sukiyaki before, now's the time to start!  Sukiyaki is big in Japan, especially during the cold winter months.


Serves 4

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 300g shimeji mushrooms (1 package)
  • 1/3 head Chinese cabbage 白菜
  • 2 leeks
  • 400g beef (ask your butcher to thinly slice the beef like deli meat, or if you're in Japan look for うす切り牛肉.  It should look like the picture)
  • Shirataki, one bag drained (shirataki is a type of konnyaku.  It looks like translucent noodles before it's cooked.  It can be found at most Asian markets as しらたき.  If you can't find it, it can be omitted)
  • 1 block grilled tofu 焼き豆腐, drained (can be found at most Asian markets.  If you can't get pre-grilled tofu, buy firm tofu and grill it yourself).
  • 4 eggs, beaten
Sukiyaki Broth
  • 1 package powdered kombu broth 昆布だしの素 (can be found at Asian markets and Whole Foods)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the sukiyaki broth.  Set aside.
2. Cut bottom off the shimeji mushrooms and cut into small sections.
3. Cut the Chinese cabbage into bite-sized chunks.  Cut bottom and dark green parts off the leeks.  Cut into bite-sized slices.
4. Drain tofu and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Drain the shirataki.
5. In a nabe pot or medium sized heavy pot, add the sukiyaki broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add the mushrooms, cabbage, leeks, tofu, and shirataki.  Spread everything out evenly in the pot.
6. On top of all that, spread out the slices of beef evenly. 
7. Once the beef begins to change color, add the beaten egg to the sukiyaki.  Cook until the vegetables are to your liking.
8. Finished!

Sukiyaki is a very easy weeknight meal.  Try it out!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shishito ししとう

Shishito, the longer, skinnier cousin of the green bell pepper. Shishito also happen to be much tastier than Japanese green bell peppers and I use them whenever I can in recipes that call for bell pepper. The most famous of the shishito are manganji tougarashi. These are shishito grown exclusively in Kyoto, so lucky for you if you're in the Kyoto area. Other shishito are just as tasty and can be readily found at the farmers' markets. For those outside of Japan, you can try looking in Asian supermarkets, or standard green bell peppers are a close enough substitute. And like bell peppers, shishito are a great source of vitamins C and A.

How to Prepare
With the smaller shishito, you can cook them whole, which is what I usually do because I'm lazy. Even the stems of shishito can be eaten so simply cut up the shishito however you want.

Easy Shishito Recipe

The snow-filled winds are encroaching on Shiga so pots of hot, tasty goodness are where it's at!


Serves 4-6

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 package of shishito, chopped or 1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 celery stocked, diced
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, minced
  • 1 small package sausage, cut into bite-sized slices. (For people in Japan, I recommend going to Amica or the Brazilian market to buy sausage. Otherwise, the "chorizo" at the regular supermarket will do the trick)
  • 1 chicken breast, skin removed and chopped
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can beans, drained
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 package medium sized shrimp, peeled
  • 2 cups chicken broth
1. Add oil to a large saucepan.
2. Over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery until onion is translucent.
3. Add parsley, sausage, chicken, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes (with juice), tomato sauce, and 2 cups chicken broth. Gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
5. Pour rice and beans into the pan and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until rice is cooked and absorbs most of the liquid.
6. Stir in shrimp and cook 5 minutes more.
7. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with cayenne pepper and salt.
8. Finished!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Miso 味噌

Miso isn't technically a plant, but it's made from plants, and most of us have no idea how to use it other than in miso soup.  Miso is made from soybeans, salt, and the colonel's blend of secret spices to make a versatile paste that can be added to many recipes for salty goodness.  They make white miso, red miso, chunky miso, smooth miso, miso that climbs on rocks.  They each have their own merits and it's worth trying out different kinds.  Personally I like white miso when you're looking for a subtle miso taste and the darker misos for in your face miso explosion.  Best of all, miso doesn't really seem to expire so you don't really have to worry about it spoiling on you.

How to Prepare
If you are adding miso to a sauce, marinade, soup, etc, add a small amount of warm water to the paste and whisk it with a fork until smooth.  This makes it much easier to mix into whatever your making.  Or you can be like me and just dip vegetable sticks into it for insta-dip.

Easy Miso Recipe

This recipe requires the best miso known to man, habanero miso (make sure to get the red one for this recipe).  If you don't have time to go down to Kyoto and discover the amazing habanero store, you can sub any red miso paste for the miso and chili oil for the sesame oil.  If chicken isn't your thing, I have also made these using fried tofu squares and it's just as tasty.

Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings

Serves 4 for main dish, 8 for appetizer

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons habanero miso + 1 teaspoon warm water to make smooth
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Pinch of togarashi
  • 800 grams chicken wings or drumsticks
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 scallion, chopped 
1. Place chicken in a baking dish, evenly spread.  Bake at 180 degrees Celcius for 20 minutes or until mostly cooked.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
2. Mince garlic and mash to a paste using a large heavy knife.
3. Transfer garlic paste to a large bowl and stir in soy sauce, miso, honey, oil, and cayenne.
4. Add wings to sauce, stirring to coat.  Allow to marinate for about an hour.
5. Either using your fish grill or a BBQ grill, grill wings until full cooked and sauce is just beginning to char.
6. Transfer wings to a large serving bowl and toss with sesame seeds and scallion.
7. Finished!

I have made these several times for BBQs and potlucks and they have always been a big hit!

Kaki 柿

If you're in Japan, by now you've seen a bajillion persimmon trees around town and if you're lucky you'll start seeing the fruit appear on your desk too.  Persimmons have a thick skin and sweet, almost creamy inside that lend themselves well to dessert dishes.  They're also a nice accompaniment to braised pork, salads, and other savory dishes you would put apples or cherries in.  Traditionally in the US persimmons would be used to make a baked pudding, similar to fruitcake.  Japanese persimmons are high in vitamin C and fiber so they make a good breakfast choice.

How to Prepare
You can just bite into one like an apple or slice it up and enjoy the slices if you want a fast snack.  Otherwise you treat it the same as an apple in cooking.  Most persimmons you buy in the store will be seedless or have tiny seeds, so you generally don't need to worry about deseeding them.  Just cut off the top and start cooking!

Easy Persimmon Recipe

This is a recipe that a middle school girl I used to tutor many years ago taught me.  I'm amazed I was able to find it again!  To make your pudding extra fancy, cut off the tops of the persimmons and hollow out the insides so that they become little cups.  Fill the cups up with the warm pudding and place in the fridge to set.  Impressive presentation that takes little effort!

Persimmon Tapioca Pudding

Serves 4-6

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 1 cup small tapioca pearls
  • 4 cups milk or coconut milk
  • 2 large, ripe persimmons, the insides scooped out and chopped (or peeled and chopped if you're not making the cups)
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch turmeric (for color) OPTIONAL
1. In a large pan, soak the tapioca pearls in the milk for about 40 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, add the cut persimmon, cinnamon powder, ginger and 2 tablespoons honey, and place the pan over heat. Stir well, cover and cook on low till the fruit softens. Remove from heat and put aside.
3. Place the pan with the tapioca soaked in milk over heat along with 2 tablespoons honey and the cardamom.  Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5-7 minutes, stirring all the time.
4. Add 3/4 of the cooked persimmons along with the turmeric and continue to cook till the tapioca pearls are completely done and the mixture has thickened. Keep stirring frequently.
5. Spoon into bowls or persimmon cups. Top with the reserved cooked persimmons. Serve warm or chilled.
6. Finished!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Maitake 舞茸

You've probably noticed that the supermarkets have stepped it up in the mushroom department recently.  Fall means shrooms in Japan and the variety here is impressive.  This week we'll talk about maitake, which has weird, gross-sounding names in English like "Sheep's Head."  I don't know what kind of sheep the guy hangs out with that came up with that name but my sheep tend to be less mutated.  Like most mushrooms, maitake is a good source of selenium, B-vitamins and potassium.  It's also been shown in studies to help boost the immune system of cancer patients, so if you think you might have cancer stock up on maitake!

How to Prepare
Cut off the base of the mushroom where it still has some growing medium left on it (yuck).  After that, do whatever you feel like with it!  Chop, dice, shred, boil, steam, grill, the possibilities are endless.

Easy Maitake Recipe

One of my favorite recipe for autumn.  It's easy to modify with whatever you have on hand.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Serves 10 bajillion people (seriously, you'll get 8-10 servings easy from this)

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small package maitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small package enoki mushrooms, bottom 1/3 removed
  • 1 small package shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 8-10 cups water
  • 2 beef or vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 cup whole barley
1. Heat oil in a stockpot and sauté the onion, celery, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, carrot, garlic, thyme and fresh mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Lower the heat and add the flour, stirring every 30 seconds for about 5 minutes or until thick.
3. Add the water and bouillon cubes to the pot, constantly stirring, until vegetables are immersed.
4. Turn the heat to high, and add the barley. Stir well and add salt to taste.
5. Simmer, covered, for about an hour or until the barley is tender and the soup is thickened, stirring often.
6. Add additional chopped parsley, mix thoroughly, and adjust seasonings.
7. Finished!

You can add and subtract just about anything from this recipe.  I often like to skip the carrots and add zucchini when I can findthem on sale.

Nashi 梨

Asian pears: crispy, juicy, delicious.  And because they are much firmer than their European counterparts, can be used as a substitute for apples in most recipes.  Asian pears are high in fiber as well as vitamins K and C.

How to Prepare
You can prepare an Asian pear the same way you would apples.  Just decore and start cooking!

Easy Asian Pear Recipe

The first year I was in Japan there were some Asian pears hanging out in the clearance bin of my local supermarket.  Regardless of the fact that I had eaten Asian pears plenty of times in the States, for some reason I was under the delusion they were apples.  So I bought them with the intention of making some applesauce with them.  Even when I got home and was decoring and chopping up these "apples" I was thinking, "Gee, these are some juicy apples!"  It wasn't until I had finished making the "applesauce" that I realized they were Asian pears.  A really dumb moment in my kitchen but it turned out to be delicious!


Serves 4

Prep Time: About 30 mins


  • 6-8 large Asian pears, peeled, cored, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom or cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1. Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Cover, bring to boil.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until apples are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
3. Cool slightly.
4. Smush pears with a potato masher or a pork for chunky sauce. For smooth sauce, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
5. Finished!

One thing my great-grandmother would always do when she made homemade applesauce was to serve it warm with a dollop of sour cream on top.  It's just as delicious when done with this pearsauce.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beni-imo 紅芋

In Japan, schools often take their class trip to Okinawa, a subtropical island a stone's throw from Taiwan.  One of the better known vegetables from Okinawa is purple sweet potatoes, known as beni-imo or murasaki-imo in Japanese.  I found them at the market today so they're officially in season!  Purple sweet potatoes are awesome because they're bright purple.  How many natural foods can claim that?  They have a milder taste than orange sweet potatoes but can be used in all the same ways.  I've even made purple sweet potato pie from these potatoes which made the pie look like it was radioactively glowing.  Kick ass!

Outside of Japan, I have heard more and more markets are carrying purple sweet potatoes.  So take a look around or ask your local farmers at the farmers' market.  Maybe if you pique their interest enough they'll look into growing them!

How to Prepare
Same way you would any potato:

Easy Beni-imo Recipe
When your star ingredient is such a cool color, you want a way to showcase it!

Jazzed Up Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2-3

Prep Time: About 30 mins

  • 2 large purple sweet potatoes, either roasted in the oven or cooked in the microwave
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon togarashi
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1.5 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro OPTIONAL
1. Cut open sweet potatoes and scoop out their innards into a bowl.
2. Add rest of the ingredients.  Mash together until well blended.
3. Serve!

I really like these potatoes with some pork chops or chicken that has been marinated in some sort of cumin marinade.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kabosu かぼす

Continuing with the citrus theme, let's take a look at kabosu.  Kabosu is grown widely in Oita prefecture but more of an oddity up here in Shiga.  Kabosu is considered a sour orange and has a taste similar to limes and shikwasa.  The lighter in color the kabosu becomes, the sweeter it will taste, but when cooking you want it on the sour side so don't let them become too yellow.  If you can't find kabosu where you are (and if you're outside of Japan that's a good possibility) key limes make a good substitute.

How to Prepare
Just like any citrus, juice it and zest it!  Kabosu tends to have lots of small seeds so be prepared to fish them out of the juice.

Easy Kabosu Recipe
This recipe is about as easy as it gets!

Red Snapper with Chili Kabosu Butter

Serves 4

Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh kabosu zest
  • 1 teaspoons fresh kabosu juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh cayenne pepper or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried lemongrass or fresh lemon balm OPTIONAL
  • 4 pieces snapper fillets with skin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Stir together butter, shallot, zest, kabosu juice, chile, salt, and lemongrass in a bowl.
2. Score skin of fish in 3 or 4 places with a thin sharp knife to prevent fish from curling (do not cut through flesh)3. Pat fish dry and sprinkle with salt.
4. Heat oil in a skillet over moderately high heat until just smoking, then sauté fish, turning over once with a spatula, until golden and just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes, and transfer to a plate.
5. Serve each piece of fish with a dollop of chile lime butter.
6. Finished!

Serve this fish with a side of rice and some steamed veggies for a quick weekday dinner!
If you can't find snapper, any firm white fish will suffice.  Cod is a good choice here in Japan but be sure to thoroughly rinse the fish before cooking as it's usually heavily salted.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Daikon 大根

The giant white radish you find in so many dishes here in Japan.  Daikon can sometimes have a strong sulfury taste, particularly when raw, but when cooked most of that taste goes away.  Daikon is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and supposedly helps cure hangovers.  I don't know if that last part is true, but next time you pull an all-nighter in Osaka eat a cup of shredded daikon in the morning and tell me how it goes.

When buying daikon, choose ones that are firm and on the smaller side.  Sometimes you'll find daikon that are lavender or bright pink in color.  I have no idea what the difference is between those and regular daikon other than their psychedelic tendencies.

How to Prepare
First you'll want to scrub the outside of the daikon to get rid of any dirt that's hanging out.  Chop off the top 2 inches of the daikon as that part is very tough and not worth eating.  Slice the daikon into large section and use a peeler or knife to take off the outer skin of the daikon.  Then soak the daikon in ice water to get it nice and crispy.  You can also just shred the daikon, dice it, etc at this point.

Easy Daikon Recipe
This is my own take on borscht, the Eastern European soup that usually incorporates beets.

Daikon Winter Soup

Serves 4
Prep Time: About 1 hour


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • about 1/2 of a small daikon, peeled and shredded
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup diced beef
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 head of cabbage, shredded
  • sour cream for garnish
1. Heat oil and butter in a saucepan.  Add leek and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes.
2. Add vegetables except cabbage, sugar, vinegar, tomatoes, beef and salt.
3. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.
4. At the same time, add potatoes, water, and boullion to the soup pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are just tender.
5. Add cabbage and vegetables from the saucepan.
6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes.
7. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
8. Serve garnished with sour cream.
9. Finished!