Here’s another of those nice-food-if-you-can-get-it recipes, the “it” in this case being the tricky to find main ingredient: garlic sprouts.
Though, on second thought, there’s really no good reason these should be so hard to find in the West. They’re just the young green plants you get from a garlic bulb when you plant it in the ground.
Garlic sprouts seem to be a popular ingredient in Chinese cooking, and we also eat them in Japan, usually with beef. The taste is garlicky, but milder than the bulb’s and they have a unique sweetness that’s not weighed down by a strong smell. Their crunchy texture survives a fair amount of cooking.
Here in Montreal you can find Garlic Sprouts at the big Chinese/Vietnamese/Cambodian grocery superstore: Kim Phat.
Just looking at the Japanese name for this dish you can tell that something screwy is going on here: “piman” comes, of course, from the French “piment” – bell pepper. In fact, Piman Nikuzume is a typical example of “Yoshoku” – 洋食 – a “western style meal.” As you can guess, what we have here is a thoroughly Japanified take on Westernness. Really, Yoshoku means “Japanese Style Western Style Meal.”
The stuffing here could just as easily turn into “hambaagu” – you guessed it, Japanese style “hamburger”, which is more like a hamburger steak and a third of the way to a meatball rather than something you’d eat between slices of bread.
In Japan, though, eating just meat is considered a little boring and usually too heavy, so the solution in this case is to encase the hambaagu in vegetables. Of course, just putting a bell pepper around it doesn’t really make a hambaagu lighter, but psychologically, somehow, it becomes much more acceptable to the Japanese palate. For me, also, piman nikuzume is always much nicer to eat than hambaagu: a mongrel dish that tastes like home to me.
Though the basic package is always more or less the same, each family has its own recipe for the filling. Here, I show you the way my mom used to make it, with glass noodles instead of vegetables.
Whatever you put inside, the thing that makes a great spring roll is simple: the contrast between a soft filling inside and crunchy pastry outside. You can play around with the filling, so long as the result is soft.
What you get is Harumaki, a tasty treat absolutely everybody loves.
There are a lot of steps in this recipe, but don’t be put off: this is actually really easy to make. In fact, because it uses no eggs, no flour and no bread crumbs, Harumaki one of the least messy ways to make a good fried dinner. Give it a try!
It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but if you ask me Japan’s true national dish is curry. Japanese people are crazy for the stuff: it’s served constantly, both at home and in restaurants. I think it has a good claim to be Japan’s best-loved dish.
Of course, curry isn’t from Japan. As everybody knows, curry is originally Indian, but the dish came to Japan in the late 19th century through the colonial route, via Britain. This may explain why compared to Indian curry, Japanese curry is usually quite mild, sweet even, and certainly never very spicy.
I’ve met some Canadians who are really into Japanese culture, and they all complained that whenever Japanese people invited them for dinner, they made curry! It’s easy to understand why they run into it so often at parties: this dish scales up very well, so it’s ideal for big gatherings, parties, and the like. And since everyone in Japan loves the stuff, it’s very often served to guests. (In honor of this, the recipe below is for 20 people!)
I’ll admit it: Westerners sometimes fail to see the point of Japanese curry. I can see why. If you’re used to Indian food, our way of making it could strike you as a little unexciting. I’ve come to the conclusion this is one of those dishes that divides cultures more than it brings them together: almost everyone in Japan loves Japanese style curry but reactions abroad are more mixed.
Here’s a recipe that doubles as a communal activity: Gyoza are labor-intensive little packets of flavor that you can make together with your friends and family.
You’ve probably already run into Gyoza: they’re commonly available as an appetizer in sushi places these days. Turns out you can make those at home! While they’re certainly a bit of work, you can also save a lot of money if you skip the restaurant bit.
Kids love Gyoza, and as a kid I used to love making Gyoza as well. So consider pressing your little ones into service here: their gyoza may not be the most symmetrical but they’ll love it, and gyoza-making is a skill they’ll be glad to have for the rest of their lives.
This is another dish of slightly questionable Japaneseness: Gyoza are strongly rooted in Chinese cooking. But that’s a historical footnote: Gyoza are so firmly established in the Japanese Kitchen these days, it’s absurd to think of them as “foreign” anymore.
You can find ready-made Gyoza pastry shells in most Asian stores. Buy a packet and then all you have to do is mix the filling and start folding…it’s fun!
I don’t have that much to say about gyuniku itame; really. It’s just delicious, that’s all.
Do note, though, that the secret to this dish is potato starch. Added to the beef, alongside soy sauce and sake, right before cooking, it helps coat it in those delicious flavors. Whatever else you do, don’t skip the potato starch.