A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Raw nagaimo, or "long potato," is a starchy tuber similar to African yams, and is appreciated in Japan for its neba-neba qualities. There's no fair translation for this onomatopoeia, but it refers to a magical kind of slippery stickiness... if there were a nice-sounding word for slimy, it would be neba-neba.
In the US, such foods are often treated with suspicion, but it wouldn't be fair to dismiss this texture outright; Japanese cuisine is more about experiencing contrasting textural experiences than, say, complex seasoning or elaborate technique.
Other neba-neba foods include cooked okra and nattō, and, to a lesser extent, the sea vegetable mozuku. I will never be as big a fan of nattō as Hiromi is, but that's thanks more to the aroma than the texture. I love okra, especially cooked with onions and tomatoes. And mozuku is a favorite treat of mine, served as a simple side dish with a chilled, almost soupy, lightly acidic dressing.
Nagaimo is a kind of mountain potato, or yamaimo. If you grate it with a daikon-oroshi grater, you'll get a madly viscous mass called tororo-imo which can be mixed with a raw quail egg, simply seasoned with soy sauce and chopped scallions, and poured over rice at breakfast. Tororo-imo is also indispensible for making good okonomiyaki.
Fresh nagaimo also makes a nice side dish when cut into matchstick slivers (sengiri), as seen above. This brings out the neba-neba qualities while retaining a pleasantly crisp texture. I now typically use a mandoline to make this task easier; however, in a pinch, a good chef's knife will do. Just expect the cutting board—and your hands—to get slippery. You can avoid that by wearing latex gloves while preparing the dish. You may want to wear gloves while peeling the skin anyway, since some people suffer from a mild itchiness on skin contact with yamaimo skin... I'm lucky enough not to have that problem.
Once cut, place the nagaimo in small serving bowls and splash on a little soy sauce. For the flavor garnish, sometimes I add some chopped umeboshi and kizami-nori, or thin strips of nori. This time I used chopped scallions and a wasabi-seasoned nori, cut into strips with kitchen shears. The goal is to have a little saltiness, a little crunchiness, and some clean but sharp contrasting flavor. This version would be called sengiri nagaimo to wasabi-nori.
For an even more sticky experience, the nagaimo could be mixed with mekabu (wakame sprouts)... but that would be a lot of neba-neba for one night...
Kushiyaki is the Japanese equivalent of kebabs. Most anything that's grilled on a stick can be called kushiyaki, though items that are served already in their sauce tend to have other, more specific names (yakitori, for example).
Ideally, I'd break out my shichirin on a warm night and keep eating various nibbles of grilled goodness until the coals burn out... but since I was dining alone tonight, that seemed like overkill. The All-Clad grill pan came to my rescue. I really only needed one stick, as I had a few other things to eat as well. I started cooking dinner with a persistent headache, so I wasn't in the mood for anything that required a lot of commitment.
Tonight's kushiyaki featured some oversized shishitou, which are generally small, wrinkly chilies with just a slight hint of heat, and some fat shiitake mushrooms.
Shishitou are actually probably best dipped in nothing more than a bit of salt, but I prepared some ginger and soy sauce as a dip for the grilled shiitake.
Thanks to some ibuprofen and the comfort of warm rice and daikon-shungiku miso soup, my headache gradually dulled and mostly disappeared by the time I finished eating dinner. A little imo-jochu might have helped even more...
Yes, but it's that time of year. I suppose there will be at least one or two more.
Actually, I haven't eaten asparagus all that often lately, and local asparagus hasn't quite kicked in. But most weeknights I've been too lazy to take any photos of dinner, and on weekends... well, I guess I've been lazy on weekends too. In fact, Friday night I was so lazy that, straight off the bus on the way home, I went straight to Paseo, the Cuban-ish shop in my neighborhood, and grabbed dinner to go. I almost never grab dinner to go.
Today I made a brief stop at Thanh Son Tofu, followed by some vegetable shopping at Uwajimaya. I originally had planned to make some Japanese foods, but I was really feeling weary once home... all I really wanted was a gin and tonic.
I kicked off the rice cooker, but I didn't do anything at all that would result in a Japanese dinner appearing on the table... A few minutes before the rice finished, I chopped some asparagus, scallions and garlic, sliced some shiitake, and halved some fried tofu. I prepared a very hurried porcini-konbu soup stock. A quick saute, a splash of soup stock, a little piqin chili oil, a drizzling of vegetarian oyster sauce, a few grindings of black pepper, and suddenly dinner was on the table. Not fancy, but flavorful and satisfying...
Sometimes, in order to make a bit of progress at something, you almost have to invite disaster. Tonight I invited disaster home, into my kitchen. To be fair, I did it responsibly. I did minimize the number of potential victims... In spite of popular opinion to the contrary, for a passionate cook there is more than one reason to cook for oneself... taking risks is one.
Many people think me more adventurous or inventive in cuisine than I see myself. I'm perhaps obsessive, but I work within a certain vocabulary. The spectrum of flavors and techniques I work with is perhaps broader than average, especially in an age of convenience, but generally I'm quite content to work from well-understood, classic techniques and flavor combinations. Basil and tomato never gets old for me. I feel the same about ume and shiso.
I'm quite content playing with my food within familiar parameters... Although I push the boundaries often enough, usually simplicity wins out over novelty.
Sometimes I do simplicity with a little novelty.
That's all this was... I was at the supermarket tonight, and I saw kumquats for a reasonable price... I thought, "Hey! kumquats! Suddenly, I feel like cooking with kumquats."
My usual non-dessert impulse would probably be to put them into a salad or something. Then I remembered I bought asparagus a few days ago, and I really ought to use it up.
I wondered, "hmm... what can I do with kumquats and asparagus?"
Well... citrus... butter... it works for artichokes, why not asparagus? Lemon, kumquat, close enough, right? Hollandaise sauce can be made with lemon juice, and asparagus likes hollandaise... Ah, that settles it.
So I sort of simmered the kumquats in way too much butter for several minutes to mellow them out, and added a bit of salt. I tossed in a few slices of shiitake because they were handy, and I had nothing better to sacrifice them to. Later, I added the asparagus, tossed them around in the pan a bit, and covered them for a few minutes. I added some nira (sometimes called garlic chives). After adjusting seasoning a bit, I pronounced the dish done.
It worked. It turned out to be a good combination. The shiitake proved to be more a distraction than anything else, but I'll definitely be repeating the kumquat butter combination, and since asparagus season is just kicking off, I have a feeling the trio will be back in my life soon.
Ring. Fumble. Where is my cell phone?Ring. Fumble. Aha. Ring. Hello?
Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company... Hello?
Yuzu Trading Company, how can I help you?
"May I speak with the owner?"
What do you need?
"Hello? This is [unintelligible] with Domain Names and [blah blah blah]. Can I get your fax number to send you a packet of information [unintelligible]?"
"Uh... I ..."
No, I already have information on domain names. Thanks. I don't need anymore. Especially sent to my fax number, I think silently.
"Well, I just [unintelligible] mrpfhfmphf."
No, thank you. (Click)
Granted, I have some sympathy for people making cold calls... I've been there, done that. It's no fun. But the last thing I want, when on the receiving end of such calls, is to give implicit permission to send even more marketing material that I don't want. Especially when it's the in the first semi-intelligible utterance in the conversation.
I have this instinct that makes me immediately suspicious when I receive a call and the person on the other end of the line doesn't respond like a normal person... if they say hello before I do, or if there's a second or two of supernatural silence before a clicking sound, I just know it's a marketing droid and I immediately activate my "fight or flight" defenses.
However, I've had those defenses successfully disarmed, at least long enough to listen to the key message.
It just takes a little more effort. Not that I want more marketing calls, but just as an example...
Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company...
"Hi Jason, I was just looking at YuzuMura.com... It's a beautiful site. You have some really interesting products I've never seen anywhere else."
Flattery will get you 15 seconds of myattention... "Is this a customer?" I wonder? Oh! Thank you, I say.
"I know you're busy... I'm with [name omitted] publishing company that produces a number of books, some of which cover Asian art and travel topics... Would you be interested in taking a look?"
Oh, it's a marketing call after all. But wait, she actually knows something about my business, and has something potentially relevant to offer.
Well, I'm certainly willing to take a look... On my web site I really need books that have a coffee-table format, or otherwise have a production style that would be appropriate for the gift market. At the moment, I have some hurdles with books because my storefront's software has some issues with shipping calculations using multiple shipping methods, but it's certainly something I've been considering...
"Yes, that's pretty much all we produce. Would you be interested in..." (the conversation continues)
To be fair, I haven't yet ordered from that second company yet, either, but I have a positive impression of the company, and the salesperson put me at ease. She appeared to take a serious look at my business, even if it only means she spent 30 seconds skimming through the text and photos on the top page of my online shop. She tried to offer me something she thought would be compatible with my business.
Not everything works out instantly, but guess which company I'm likely to call back when I need something they offer?
No, I am not a great fan of meat analogues, but every once in a while I get an odd craving for a veggie burger. Most of the frozen products are not very exciting, and they've gotten incredibly expensive in the last few years, so they're almost never on my shopping list. But I do sometimes decide to make them at home.
This week, I still had a substantial amount of leftover okara, the soybean mash that's a byproduct of soymilk-making, a consequence of my godoufu-making endeavors. It really has a short lifespan, so I've been doing my best to make use of it before it's too late.
Some of the okara I had went into a croquette-like dish I made last Sunday. Seasoned okara has a slightly longer lifespan than unseasoned okara, so I repurposed some of the remaining croquette base, and blended it with some of the filling from some mushroom gyoza that was also sitting in my refrigerator. I shaped the resulting mixture into patties and carefully slipped them into a deep fryer.
What goes into such a concoction as okara croquettes or okara burgers? Well, there are other options, but basically I seasoned everything with a little salt, maybe a splash of some soy sauce, some pepper, and, in this case, and some mitsuba, a Japanese herb slightly similar to flat-leaf parsley. I used a little flour, and maybe even an egg yolk, to help everything hold together. The mushrooms added a bit of aroma and flavor, and since they were repurposed from a gyoza filling, they also benefited from the garlic-like flavor of nira, a chive-like herb.
The okara burgers are, in this case, served on soymilk buns. The excessive surplus of soymilk in my refrigerator perhaps made this inevitable, but it works.
There's no way I'd be able to give a precise recipe for the okara "burgers", but a little experimentation and tasting before cooking should be enough of an indication of the likely success or failure. In this case, I deep fried them, instead of using a frying pan, but either way would work. Deep frying, counter-intuitively, absorbs less oil than using a frying pan, because the temperature is more stable.
They're served with mixed greens, onions, and brie, and the usual mayo/mustard/ketchup (corn-syrup free) condiments.
Potatoes were yukon golds, fried at a bit lower than normal temperature to keep them from browning too quickly, are twice-fried and tossed with porcini salt and a bit of additional sea salt. These would be equally nice roasted in the oven with olive oil.
The soymilk bread is reasonably simple... Unlike the okara burgers, I actually measured the ingredients, though the recipe was still fairly improvised.
Tounyuu Pan (豆乳パン)
400 g flour (I guess that's about 3 cups... get a digital scale and be sure).
225 ml warm, not hot, soymilk (about 1 cup)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp. dry yeast or one cube of "fresh" yeast.
Place the flour into a bowl, making an impression large enough to accommodate the soymilk. Pour the soymilk into the bowl and add the yeast. If your yeast requires it, proof it in the soymilk in that impression. Otherwise, add salt and slowly blend the milk with the flour, using small circles with a wooden spoon.
Knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. The goal is to have a fairly moist dough for rolls, so resist the temptation to add much more flour unless the dough just doesn't hold its shape.
Allow to rise for at least an hour, then use a dough cutter to separate the dough into six equal pieces. Massage these into rounds, and use a rolling pin to make each bun a fairly even thickness, roughly 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Allow to rise for another 20 minutes or so.
Preheat an oven to 200C (425F). Place an oven-safe pot filled with hot water in the top rack of the oven.
Brush a little soymilk or egg on top of each roll. Gently press the wet side into a plate of sesame seeds.
Bake the buns for about 25 minutes, until golden-brown on top. Remove from oven and cover with a cloth, allowing them to mostly cool before consuming.
These buns are, perhaps, a bit too chewy for a "burger" bun, but they're also quite nice as breakfast rolls. They would likely become somewhat less chewy with a touch of sugar, some egg, or added fat such as butter or olive oil.