Kanako's Kitchen

Senmai-zuke: Pickled Turnip

Posted in Chopstick Vacation, Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on January 14, 2010

This typical Kyoto recipe is a simple way to make fresh, home-made pickles (what we call “otsukemono” – 漬物 – in Japanese) in as little as 12 hours. It’s great as a “chopstick vacation” – a tiny side dish to contrast with the flavor of the main dishes.

As my mom is from Kyushu, this isn’t something she would normally make at home. However, I remember Senmai-zuke very well from growing up near Kyoto, and I always liked it. The image of Senmai-zuke displayed in front of the pickles stores is something which always reminds me of Kyoto.

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Happy New Year, everyone!

Posted in Chopstick Vacation, Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on January 1, 2010

In Japan, New Year is not just a party, it’s a very important festival of purification, renewal and ritual. In fact, New Year’s day (not eve) is one of the most important holidays in the festival calendar. It’s called Shogatsu and it heralds a week-long bacchanalia when lots of traditional banquet foods are served.

The traditional shogatsu dinner is called Osechi: it’s a huge amount of work which basically requires the whole family pitch in. In my house in Japan, my mother used to prepare it every year, with my two sisters and I as assistants. Traditionally, osechi must be served in three- or five-story lacquerware Bento boxes. The banner you see on the top of this blog is, in fact, of one of the osechi we prepared at my house in Japan a few years ago.

Not having lacquerware for Osechi and having a Venezuelan husband, this year we decided to do something East-West for our first shogatsu meal. We had Hallacas, the traditional Venezuelan Christmas food, which is similar to Mexican tamales and we made with his family a couple of weeks ago, and I made small but special little side dishes: Umaki (Japanese omelet with eel), Nuta (spring onions with sweet miso souce), and Ikura Mizore-ae (salmon roe with grated daikon). Mizore literally means sleet in Japanese.

Mizore-ae is very simple but it turns a beautiful dish for a special occasion.

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Japanese Potato Salad

Posted in Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on December 1, 2009

Just to prove that East is East and West is West and sometimes the twain shall meet, here’s a Japanese potato salad!

To tell the truth, I was shocked when I found out potato salad was originally a western thing. For Japanese people, this is definitely one of those old recipes that make you nostalgic for mom’s food.  In other words, potato salad is so deeply adopted in Japanese cooking we don’t even file it under the category of “Western-style cooking” – we just think of it as our own.

My mom used to make potato salad as a side dish, particularly when the main dish was something with pork, and doubly so if it was stir-fried with soy sauce. So, in Japan, potato salad is more side dish than a main dish, and you don’t eat a large quantity like Germans do.

Even so, like any potato salad, it’s perfect for a party or a barbecue!

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Moyashi itame: Stir Fried Sprouts

Posted in Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on November 18, 2009

This bean-sprout stir fry is yet another one of those nothing-to-it dishes that Japanese moms can make pretty much with their eyes closed. As a side dish, it will round out any meal, adding crunchiness, vitamins and a delicious buttery taste to your dinner with a minimum of effort.

Bean sprouts are a staple throughout Asia, and as with any food that’s eaten so often over so many years, it’s sprouted (pun intended) its own little set of food traditions and rituals. One of them, which my husband finds totally crazy but everybody in Japan considers a settled fact, is that you really should trim the sprouts: snapping the stringy ends off with your fingers before you cook them.

This takes time, and it’s an easy corner to cut. In fact, I’m sure Japanese people often do skip this step, unless they are cooking for guests. But Japanese cooking is all about the details, and trimming the ends off of sprouts definitely makes a difference. Try it once, and see for yourself!

You should think of this recipe as a base. Sure, it’s delicious on its own, but if you just add some hot broth to it at the end, you have a delicious soup. And if you use it as a topping for ramen noodles, you easily upgrade a lowly junk food to Real Meal status with a minimum of effort.

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Nuta: Spring Onions with Sweetened Miso Sauce

Posted in Chopstick Vacation, Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on November 16, 2009

NutaNuta is an ancient Japanese side dish: the first recipes for it appear in documents from the end of the Muromachi Era – some 450 years ago.

When I was a young girl, I can remember my grandmother making this for guests. But my feeling is that, in Japan, nuta has fallen out of favor over the years. You rarely see it on restaurant menus anymore, and few younger people seem to cook it at home these days.

I have no idea why that should be. Healthy, flavorful and extremely easy to make, nuta is poised for a come back if you ask me. In fact, over the years, I’ve discovered that people outside Japan love nuta. I always make it for my non-Japanese friends and it’s always a big hit.

Here, I share the vegetarian version of the dish, which is especially easy to make. But if you wanted to go further, you’d add squid to it for a show-stopper of a side dish. Just fantastic!

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Taro nimono: Boiled Taro with sauce

Posted in Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on November 15, 2009

taro nimono Just looking at them on a plate, you could easily mistake taro for potatoes, but one taste will be enough to clear up any confusion. Sweet, soft and unctuous in a way a potato could only dream to be, this ancient root has earned a place in most Asian and even African cuisines, and Japan is no exception.

These days we’re eating Taro at home really often, partly because my husband loves it, but also because the autumn is the peak of taro season. There are a number of ways of cooking taro. “Taro nimono” is the path of least resistance: just boiling them with a bit of sauce, (what we call “imo no nikkorogashi” in Japanese).

Don’t let its simplicity fool you, though: Taro nimono is really delicious. In fact, I think this is one of the most popular comfort foods in Japan, and a classic of mom-style cooking.

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Hijiki Itame: Stir Fried Hijiki Seaweed with Greens and Sesame Sauce

Posted in Recipe, side dish, today's meal by Kanako Noda on November 11, 2009

Hijiki itameWARNING: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recently found unacceptably high levels of inorganic arsenic in Hijiki seaweed. They recommend you don’t eat it at all. (Warning added August 10, 2010)


Here’s a dish I first tried in Milan, of all places! Visiting one of my favorite Japanese artists, we were invited for dinner and presented with this heavenly, super-healthy dish of greens, Hijiki seaweed and sesame sauce. At my husband’s salivating insistence, I pressed our host for this recipe, and we’ve been making it in heavy rotation ever since.

Delicious though it is, I include it in the blog with trepidation. I’m well aware that finding Hijiki outside Japan is often very difficult, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the sesame sauce (goma dare) can be tough to find, too.

The long and the short of it is that if you live in a big city with lots of Asian people, you have a chance: cross your fingers and ask for hijiki and goma dare by name at a well-stocked Japanese/Korean store. If you don’t live somewhere like Toronto or LA…I’m afraid this recipe’s not for you.

In honor of having discovered this dish in Italy, we usually use Cima di Rapa for the greens. But you could also make it with kale, chicory or mustard greens.

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