Over time I’ve developed the ability to incorporate atypical ingredients into Japanese preparations of food without turning the dishes into bizarre monstrosities. In order to make such dishes work, I try to think of the function of each ingredient, rather than on self-consciously “inventing” something new and dramatic. This allows for a kind of natural evolution of possibility, without the excesses of drama-first fusion cuisine.

Sea beans, a local seaweed, substitutes neatly for hijiki in this side dish with abura-age and carrots. It has a kind of light brininess, but the real highlight is the freshness and slightly crisp texture of this seaweed compared to reconstituted hijiki. It also requires less cooking time than hijiki usually does.

Seabeans

Garlic shoots and shiitake

Garlic-shoots-shiitake

Ninniku-me or garlic sprouts do exist in Japan, though they are not an everyday vegetable for most Japanese. These ones had surprisingly large bulbs on the top. This dish is simply sauteed briefly with some sliced fresh shiitake. On trips to Japan when I have the option to cook, I like to blanch them and use them as a kind of ohitashi, but occasionally I saute them like this.