I guess a food blogger shouldn’t say this, but it’s a fact: I’m a big fan of junk food. Of course I don’t eat greasy snacks every day but, sometimes, I do get these cravings for some things you’ve heard of (potato chips, fried chicken) and others you probably haven’t, like Gobou Fries.
Of course, I’m aware that fried snacks have an image problem, but I go by Michael Pollan’s Food Rule #39: you get a free pass on any junk food you make at home, from scratch. When you make your own junk food, it becomes what it should be: a rare treat, rather than a health destroying habit. Plus gobou is full of fibre, so even when fried it’s much healthier than potato chips.
In case you’re wondering, Gobou is the taproot of the Burdock plant – you know, the one with the bulbs that stick to your socks when you walk in the woods. The roots have a highly distinctive appearance: brown and earthy just like an ordinary root, but very thin and very long. In Montreal you can always find gobou at Kim Phat. Elsewhere, many Asian Stores carry it, so don’t be afraid to ask.
I often serve Gobou Fries to guests as a snack to go with beers before dinner, sort of the way you serve peanuts. In my experience, most Western people are totally unfamiliar with it, but once they taste it, then they keep picking at it until it’s gone. Delish.
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.
Kakiage is a member of the tempura family, though these mixed vegetable fritters are less complicated to make than is usual for tempura. For this recipe, I show you how to suspend them in a dashi-based sauce rather than serving them in the usual tempura way – with salt or Worcestershire Sauce. Needless to say, if you prefer, you can eat them that way as well.
Kakiage is a useful recipe when you need to use up the vegetables remaining in your fridge, things like onions, carrots and green beans. Just make some Kakiage, then keep the finished fritters in the freezer. You can eat them on their own, as I show here, or with Udon noodles. When you make udon, take the ready kakiage out from the freezer, heat it in the toaster and add them to the noodle soup as a topping: a great way to sex up a simple bowl of udon.
Made right, the fritters will retain a bit of their crunch even underneath a very watery sauce. The result is absolutely scrumptuous!
A hotpot cooked at the dinner table, Nabe is the quintessential Japanese winter dining experience. With Nabe, you’re cooking and eating in “real time”, which imposes its own pace on a meal: it’s just not physically possible to eat a Nabe in a rush.
That probably helps explain why Nabe conjures up that special kind of conviviality you get when it’s cold outside and you’re huddled around a warm pot sharing a leisurely meal with friends, family or business associates.
Strictly speaking, “Nabe” refers not to the recipe but to the hardware: the clay pot itself. In Japan, everybody eats from a single Nabe, sort of like with a fondue.
All kinds of stuff can go into a nabe, from thin slices of meat (for “shabu shabu” and “sukiyaki”) to meatballs (“chanko-nabe”) to salmon and miso (“ishikari-nabe”) to poisonous blowfish (“te-chiri”).
There’s even a fun dinner party game you can play, called Yami-nabe, where you turn the lights off and each guest has to put a secret ingredient in the pot: the fun is in trying to guess what all the different ingredients are. I remember playing this one time when I was in college and a friend of mine put a McDonald’s McNugget in our yami-nabe: we never invited him again!
Out of the dozens of nabe variations out there, Yose-nabe is one of the simplest and most popular: a light broth flavored with sea kelp and starring, chicken, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms and vegetables. Readers in Quebec may think of it as “Fondue Chinoise Japonaise”, only with none of that weird curry mayonnaise. And with a lot more vegetables in it.
In Montreal, you can find Japanese Nabe clay pots starting at $25 in Chinatown, and we just use a simple portable electric burner to put on the table ($19.95 at Canadian Tire). But if you have an electric pot for Fondue Chinoise, or even a normal Fondue pot, those will work fine. You just need something to keep the ingredients simmering.
Lets be clear: standard Japanese rice is plain. No flavorings, no spices, no salt, no nothing. Just rice, water, heat and time. Older people in Japan – and even a good number of younger people – eat this kind of plain white rice three times a day. It’s like bread for Western people: there at every meal.
So that’s the standard thing. But once every great while mom gets frisky and decides to do something different with rice. Enter takikomi-gohan: a flavored rice that can serve as a main course. Takikomi-gohan can be eaten hot or cold, and it’s a popular lunch-box item. We don’t make this kind of rice every day. We don’t even make it often. But every once in a while, it really hits the spot.
Look it up on Wikipedia and it will tell you that gobou is “the taproot of young burdock plants”. I’m not sure what that means either, I just know that gobou has a distinctive, very deep and totally winning taste that makes it a mainstay of Japanese cooking.
Kinpira gobou is the most typical way of serving gobou, a quick and easy stir fry that’s one of Japan’s favorite side dishes.
In Montreal you can find gobou at Épicerie Coréene et Japonaise, or in most asian grocery shops in Chinatown or beyond.