First some etymology: “renkon” is what we call the root of the lotus flower plant, while manju, less poetically, means something like “round bun”. What we have here, in fact, is a shrimp-infused dumpling made with a dough of grated lotus root. Place one of these in a bowl under sauce and you’ve made a blockbuster side-dish. Put two of them in a bowl and what you have is a deeply satisfying main.
When we lived in Europe, we had a really hard time sourcing fresh lotus roots, but here in Montreal it’s no problem: they always seem to have them at Kim Phat. That means we’re able to make lotus root tempura, which is a particular favorite of mine, as well as braised lotus root (kimpira), which is also very good. But renkon manju is in a league of its own: a truly special delicacy.
Don’t let this recipe intimidate you, though: after you’ve done it once or twice you’ll find it’s much easier than you imagine.
Yes, you read that right, what we have here is stir-fried lettuce. I know it sounds strange, but just trust me on this one. Although the lettuce seems withered, you’ll see it remains surprisingly crunchy and delicious after cooking.
Simply seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh ginger, Ebi Lettuce Itame is a delightfully “assari” dish. This is one of those hard-to-translate terms: it means subtly flavored, delicately textured and light all around. Japanese culinary culture puts a big premium on this sort of thing – subtle, refreshing dishes that won’t leave you feeling weighed down or overstuffed. I guess this isn’t necessarily that fashionable in Western cooking, but in Japan calling a dish “assari” is high praise indeed.
So when you want something light but still more consistent than a salad, try some stir-fried shrimp with Lettuce.
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.
Wait, what on earth is Chijimi doing in a Japanese food blog!? Everybody knows chijimi are Korean pancakes! True enough, though it turns out, they don’t even call them “chijimi” in (most of) Korea. At least the name is ours.
I would argue that, while Chijimi is admittedly not from Japan, it is Japanese by now. It’s so popular, so common, so often made, it’s impossible for me to think of it as “foreign” – in the same way that nobody having a taco in California feels he’s eating “foreign” food.
Don’t let the word “pancake” throw you, by the way: Chijimi is a savory dish you can eat for lunch or dinner, not at all breakfast or desert food. Chijimi are glossed as “pancakes” simply because they are flat, more or less round and made with batter, even though you only really use the batter to hold the vegetables together.
You may want to print out the characters for when you go shopping, as this vegetable can be confusing to locate in the west. It’s sold under a wide variety of names, including “Chinese leek”, “garlic chives” and “Chinese chives”. Nira is basically a type of grass. It looks like chives, but it has a very distinctive, deep, slightly spicy flavor that makes chijimi taste like chijimi.
In Montreal, you can always find the Nira in Épicerie Coréene et Japonaise on Ste. Catherine. Elsewhere, look for for places where Koreans shop – or go poke around Chinatown. And note that, while chijimi isn’t hard to make, it does take a little planning because you need to make the batter a few hours ahead of time.
I came home late tonight, and my husband had been waiting for me hungry. His request was simple, “I want something very spicy”. Surprisingly, we had every ingredient for Ebi Chili in the house, so I went at it.
Even though the list of ingredients is long (shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, doubanjiang, spring onions, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, potato starch, chili peppers), you basically just have to chop things, mix them together and cook them up: actually, it’s an easier recipe than you’d think. It was ready in about 20 minutes.
Granted, you could ask if Ebi Chili really belongs on this blog in the first place. After all, this is certainly Chinese food. Still, Japanese people love Chinese food, and cook it at home often. So even if it’s Chinese food, I still say it’s Japanese home cooking.
No recipe for this one at this time, I’m afraid: we were in a hurry and didn’t take photos of the cooking process.