Kanako's Kitchen

Vegetable Agebitashi: Marinated Deep Fried Vegetables

Posted in main dish, Recipe by kanako on July 8, 2010

It’s still hot in Montreal, so we’re still doing refreshing summer recipes. This one uses the same somen sauce we wrote about the other day – actually, we’re using leftovers here. This is one of the very few vegetarian dishes you’ll find in this blog. But don’t be fooled: a disturbing amount of oil goes into this dish, so Vegetable Agebitashi is more a hearty main dish than  a light side dish.

Agebitashi means fry (Age) and soak (Hitashi). So how do you make it? First you fry the vegetables, then you soak them in the sauce. That’s all! The kicker is that you serve it cold – very cold. It sounds strange, I know, but just trust me and give it a try. And be sure to serve this with simple white rice. They go very well together.

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Hiyashi Somen: Chilled Noodles with Sauce

Posted in main dish, Recipe by kanako on July 7, 2010

Boy, it’s hot in Montreal…really hot! Yesterday we had 34 degrees, but with 96% humidity it felt more like 40.

With this weather, there’s only one Japanese dish you think of: an ice-cold noodle specialty called Hiyashi Somen.

Besides being delicious, Hiyashi Somen’s also easy to turn from just a meal into an event. If you have a long cane of bamboo handy, you slice it in half, smooth out the inside, and you’re ready to make Nagashi Somen: a bamboo water slide for Somen. Everybody loves this, but especially kids, who have great fun picking out their lunch with their chopsticks as it moves down the half-pipe. (See the video)

I know the very concept of eating ice cold noodles strikes foreigners as especially weird and maybe not so appetizing. But you really should try these: they’re very easy to like. What can I say? On a hot summer day, there’s nothing as refreshing as an ice cold bowl of Somen.

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Renkon Manju: Lotus Root Dumplings

Posted in main dish, Recipe, side dish by kanako on March 8, 2010

First some etymology: “renkon” is what we call the root of the lotus flower plant, while manju, less poetically, means something like “round bun”. What we have here, in fact, is a shrimp-infused dumpling made with a dough of grated lotus root. Place one of these in a bowl under sauce and you’ve made a blockbuster side-dish. Put two of them in a bowl and what you have is a deeply satisfying main.

When we lived in Europe, we had a really hard time sourcing fresh lotus roots, but here in Montreal it’s no problem: they always seem to have them at Kim Phat. That means we’re able to make lotus root tempura, which is a particular favorite of mine, as well as braised lotus root (kimpira), which is also very good. But renkon manju is in a league of its own: a truly special delicacy.

Don’t let this recipe intimidate you, though: after you’ve done it once or twice you’ll find it’s much easier than you imagine.

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Sanma-no kabayaki: Braised Pacific Saury Fillets

Posted in main dish, Recipe by kanako on February 23, 2010

Here’s another recipe featuring my favorite fatty fish: pacific saury (sanma). This one involves rather more than just grilling: “Kabayaki” is a braising technique for fish fillets that uses a sweetened soy sauce mixture similar to what you would use as a marinading liquid for teriyaki.

Classically, kabayaki is a way of cooking freshwater eel. If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant in England you’ve probably run into Kabayaki as “unagi-don” or “unadon” – eel-on-rice. It’s great; a classic restaurant dish.

In this recipe, we use Pacific Saury instead of eel for two very good reasons. First, eel spoils almost as soon as it’s out of the water, making it virtually impossible to cook at home (unless you have a large fish tank, some sharp knives and a fair bit of gumption!) Second, eel is expensive. Sanma, on the other hand, is not only delicious but affordable, too: so Saury Kabayaki is kind of like poor man’s Eel Kabayaki.

It’s a powerful dish, sure to impress friends, and very good when served “donburi” style: in a large bowl over plain white rice.

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Ebi Lettuce Itame: Stir-fried Shrimp with Lettuce

Posted in main dish, Recipe, today's meal by kanako on January 29, 2010

Yes, you read that right, what we have here is stir-fried lettuce. I know it sounds strange, but just trust me on this one. Although the lettuce seems withered, you’ll see it remains surprisingly crunchy and delicious after cooking.

Simply seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh ginger, Ebi Lettuce Itame is a delightfully “assari” dish. This is one of those hard-to-translate terms: it means subtly flavored, delicately textured and light all around.  Japanese culinary culture puts a big premium on this sort of thing – subtle, refreshing dishes that won’t leave you feeling weighed down or overstuffed. I guess this isn’t necessarily that fashionable in Western cooking, but in Japan calling a dish “assari” is high praise indeed.

So when you want something light but still more consistent than a salad, try some stir-fried shrimp with Lettuce.

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Okonomiyaki: Osaka-Style Cabbage Pancakes

Posted in main dish, mid-afternoon snack, Recipe by kanako on January 24, 2010

Some Japanese dishes just defy categorization, and none more so than okonomiyaki. In the West, I’ve seen it described as Japanese Pancakes, Japanese Omelettes, even as Japanese Pizza (huh!?)

Pay no attention. Analogies are only confusing. Okonomiyaki isn’t “like” anything else you’ve tried before. It’s better.

This recipe is for Osaka-style okonomiyaki, the city’s signature dish. I’ve seen fancy London restaurants serve it as an exotic delicacy (and charge upwards of 12 pounds for one!) but, in Osaka, there’s nothing fancy about it: it’s a cheap, filling, flavorful meal young people adore.

I’m a Kansai girl, so Okonomiyaki is definitely “home cooking” for me. Regionalism aside, though, Okonomiyaki travels well. This is the one Japanese dish that just about every western person enjoys. Even Canadian children, who wouldn’t think of eating most of the weird things I put on this blog, seem to love okonomiyaki.

Truth is, okonomiyaki is “B-Grade cuisine” – which is a polite way of saying it’s junk food. And yet Osaka people take their okonomiyaki pretty seriously. Because, while making mediocre okonomiyaki is easy enough, making blockbuster okonomiyaki is the subject of much oneupmanship.

If you find this recipe a little involved, that’s because it’s designed to wow the locals. It shares a lot of little tips and tricks (marked in bold) I’ve learned over the years. Put in the time to follow them, and you’ll make Okonomiyaki better than any foreigner is supposed to be able to!

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Saba Tatsuta-age: Deep Fried Mackerel

Posted in main dish, Recipe, today's meal by kanako on January 8, 2010

Named after the golden red color of the autumn leaves by the Tatsuta River near Nara, as evoked in a famous poem dating from 9th century, Saba Tatsuta-age is a wonderful recipe to try when you manage to secure high quality mackerel (‘Saba’ in Japanese), whether fresh or frozen.

Though traditionally prized for the delicious taste you get when you seal in all of the fish fat, this method of cooking has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts as scientists have increasingly identified the health benefits of essential nutrients such as Omega-3, which are plentiful in mackerel and other blue-backed fish.

A secondary, but not inconsiderable, advantage is that this way of cooking mostly attenuates the strong, fishy-smell that’s typical of Blue-Backed fish. The result is a succulent fish dinner that’s nutritionally outstanding without the overpowering fishy taste you get from other ways of cooking mackarel.

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