How do you usually eat Tofu? In the Japanese repertoire, there are plenty of recipes to choose from, from Yu-dofu and Nabe to Miso soup, Kenchin-jiru, Agedashi tofu and Hiya-yakko, a popular fresh tofu recipe that I’ve not yet presented here.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a kind of fancied-up hiya-yakko using sesame oil rather than soy sauce. Why the need to fancy it up? Because, while simple Hiya-yakko sure is delicious, it’s just a little bit too plain a dish to serve guests. If you want to make a fresh tofu dish that’s sure to impress, this recipe is the solution for you.
A note of caution: these uncooked tofu recipes will turn out impossibly light and delicious if you use the right kind of tofu. Really, they live or die on the quality of the tofu you manage to get. In Kyoto, where silken tofu is a prized artesanal specialty made fresh each morning by traditional craftsmen, it’s hard to go wrong. Here in Montreal, where the tofu is ok but not necessarily fantastic, results can vary. Wherever you are, you should only try these using the best quality, softest silken tofu you can find.
And a tip: in North America, some quite decent Korean brands market this type of tofu as “extra silken”. That’s the kind you want.
As you know, I’m not a big fan of sushi. On an average day, making sushi is far too much work for the home cook to take on: you have to make the rice, flavor it with vinegar, then let it cool, then make each sushi shape by hand, plus you need several different types of fish for credible sushi. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, who needs it?
But what if you have a craving for raw tuna, but don’t want to go to all the trouble to make sushi? In that case, try this maguro zuke-don recipe, a kind donburi (see also Oyako-don) made by placing sashimi (raw fish – in this case, tuna) over a bowl of normal white rice.
The great thing is that even very lean tuna – which doesn’t make for very good sushi – works quite well in Maguro zuke-don. The result is this easy, quick, and really satisfying dish.
I’m very much aware that non-Japanese people find plain white rice quite boring, so I’m always looking for quick little recipes that add some flavor to it. This one does that with sesame seeds and shiso leaves.
A few years ago, you would’ve had the hardest time finding the leaves, but suddenly Shiso leaves are all the rage in Western cooking, so finding these should be no problem for you.
In Japan, rice with store bought shiso-flavored furikake (“yukari”) is quite popular, but making shiso-gohan with fresh shiso leaves is much better, with a far more delicate taste. I often make shiso-gohan for guests, because this is the kind of flavor that makes you feel special.
WARNING: 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.
In Japanese cooking, taste is the main thing, but not the only thing: a meal’s color balance is also important. You should never serve a meal where all the dishes look the same. So sometimes, when I decide on a main dish and a side dish, I realize something green is lacking in the meal. Spinach namul is a great solution to that problem.
Variety is the key to color balance. So when you have something brown (often meat, or miso soup), you need to balance it with something green or red (mostly in the form of vegetables), something white (from white rice), or something yellow (egg or mustard). That, by the way, is why when I make takikomi-gohan (savory rice, which is brownish), I always serve it with osuimono (which is a clear broth) rather than with miso soup.
Quick, tasty and healthy, spinach namul is the perfect side dish when you choose a menu and realize, at the last minute, that you really need to add something green.
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.
This is a quick vegetable side-dish; the kind of thing that gives the Japanese diet its reputation for being fearsomely healthy. There’s really not a lot to it: just boiled greens with a simple, light sauce. Very simple to make, surprisingly delicious.
How Japanese is ohitashi? The word first appeared in print in 1517, but some ancient texts from the Nara period suggests people have been eating it since at least the 8th century!
And why shouldn’t they? Light, easy to make and delicious, Ohitashi is a dish for the ages.