This is one of the most popular Japanese home cooked side-dishes. It’s not a complicated recipe, but you do need some tips and experience to make a really good one that blends the squash’s natural sweetness with just the right amount of salty soy sauce and umami dashi. In fact, this is one of those recipes where it really pays to measure things carefully before tossing them in!
Squash arrived in Japan in the middle of 16th century from Cambodia through the Portuguese. Originally, we got a kind of butternut squash, but today the green-on-the-outside variety, known as kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin, is the most common in Japan.
Kabocha Nimono is the kind of old kitchen stand-by recipe most Japanese moms can make with their eyes closed. Cooked this way, you don’t even have to peel the squash: the skin becomes very soft through simmering. The big pitfall to watch out for here is using too much moisture and letting the pumpkin get all soggy. The goal is to get the squash soft and buttery, almost like a chestnut. You don’t want it waterlogged.
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.
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.
Miso soup is a Japanese fixation: a shocking number of people in Japan will have a salty bowl of miso soup with every single meal, alongside the obligatory white rice. Even if we’re not quite so fanatical about it, we still make it at least three or four times a week at home.
Of course, there are different kinds of miso (white, red, brown) and you can add in different combinations of vegetables, tofu and/or seafood. So there is some room for variation. But the basic idea is always pretty much the same: miso paste suspended in dashi broth.
In Japan, we add vegetables according to the season. Since it’s fall, we thought pumpkin was a good choice.
Historians will tell you that tempura was introduced to Japan in the 16th century, by Portuguese traders. These days, nobody in Japan would dream of calling tempura foreign food, though: we think of it as quintessentially Japanese.
Deep fried bits of meat, shrimp or vegetables are not, of course, the first thing that pops into foreign people’s minds when they think of Japanese cooking. But tempura is a much loved treat throughout Japan: after all, even the healthiest diet should have some fried things in it once in a while!