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.
This is another dish that stretches the definition of “healthy”, but on the other hand chicken breast is a lot less fatty than pork, plus this dish fills them with vegetables. So this is still fried, but feels much lighter than ton-katsu.
In any case, my attitude is that it isn’t meals that are healthy or unhealthy, it’s diets. Eat sasami-roll-katsu four times a week and you have an unhealthy diet. Eat it once every two or three months and you have a delicious treat to look forward to as part of a healthy diet.
Preparation is quite similar to ton-katsu’s, but with a twist. Rather than just frying a cutlet, you’re making a kind of meat-and-vegetable roll, battering it, and frying the whole thing! It’s almost like a Japanese cordon bleu.
Making sasami-roll-katsu is not really difficult, but it will take time and your kitchen is going to be a big mess at the end. Sometimes, though, it’s worth it!
Here’s another of those “chopstick vacations” I wrote about last week – tiny little side dishes designed not to stand on their own but, instead, to contrast with the other dishes you put on the table. Goma-ae is an example of how you can make such a dish with just four ingredients: a tasty and refreshing break from any big meal.
Why is this a good idea? Because when you make a seriously Japanese meal, it’s easy to end up with a lot of dishes that more or less belong to the same family of tastes, often marked out by the use of soy sauce. When cooking for guests, you want to surprise their palates now and then with a refreshing dish that tastes like nothing else on the table. For those occasions, this mayonnaise-based salad is just the ticket.
I know, I know: mayonnaise sounds like it shouldn’t come anywhere near a Japanese kitchen. You’d be surprised, though: Japanese people love mayo, and by mayo they mean one specific brand, which has all but cornered the Japanese market. Kewpie has been selling mayonnaise in Japan since 1925, and its distinctive formulation just tastes like home to us. It’s a little bit embarrassing to say, but a lot of Japanese people abroad prefer Kewpie mayo to French mayonnaise…and, well, the less said about American-style mayo, the better.
If you can’t find kewpie where you live – or don’t want to pay the extortionate prices Asian stores typically charge for it – just squeeze a little bit of extra lime into regular mayonnaise, and you get something close.
You want to talk about silly-sounding literal translations? Umani comes out as “delicious boiled thing”. Which pretty much tells the tale of this simple, unfussy dish which brings together several of Japan’s favorite vegetables with just a little bit of chicken for flavor. The vegetables – which include the delicious, potato-like taro roots – are chosen not just for their flavors but also for their colors: umani must have those orange carrots and bright green beans to keep it from looking like prison food.
One great thing about umani is that it scales up easily: you can just double or triple the portions below to feed more people. For this reason, it’s a typical choice when you have a lot of guests or in big family occasions.
As is usual with these kinds of recipes, there are any number of variations on umani. In a professional kitchen, you would cook each of the vegetables separately – but that’s far too much trouble for home cooking. It hardly needs pointing out that each family will vary the composition of the dish slightly to suit its taste.
This recipe is the version my mom used to make. It tastes like home.