お粥 (Okayu) – Rice Porridge

Okayu

Rice porridge is a staple food all across Asia, though probably China and Japan are most known for it. It is a great dish to know how to make for a couple of reasons: you can put anything you want in it, and it’s one of those warm, comforting foods that is great for rainy days and runny noses. It kind of fills the niche of both chicken soup and oatmeal.

Since the rice is cooked until very soft, it is often served to people who are sick, since it is easy to digest, but it is delicious regardless of your state of health. It is easy to make with some meat, or to make vegetarian or vegan, just depending on what you want.

When we cook dishes that are served with rice and we have leftover rice, we wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer just for the purpose of making rice porridge. You can then just pull some out, unwrap it, stick it in the pot with liquid, and heat it up. It’s hard to judge ratios of rice to liquid this way, but in the end it doesn’t really matter that much. If you’re using pre-cooked rice, you want about twice as much liquid as rice to start with, but you can always adjust as it cooks and add more or cover the pot if you don’t have enough liquid, or remove the lid to let liquid cook off if you have too much.

This rendition just happens to use a number of things we had in our fridge that needed to be used, and it turned out really delicious. Try to find the same ingredients, or just use what you have at home and make up something new. The same basic principles we state below will give you a good starting point to experiment from.

Ingredients

  • Approximately 2 cups cooked rice
  • Approximately 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 large or several small carrots, sliced thinly
  • 4 Chinese-style sausages, sliced
  • 3 eringi (king oyster) mushrooms, diced
  • Handful of turnips and turnip greens, roughly chopped
  • Handful of komatsuna, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the cooked rice in your pot, and add maybe 3/4 of the stock.
  2. Turn on the heat to medium-high. If you’re using frozen rice, let it defrost and break apart.
  3. Once the rice is all broken up and the stock is steaming, reduce the heat to low, and start adding other ingredients. Add the minced ginger and garlic first.
  4. Next, start adding ingredients that take longer to cook, like the carrots and sausage in this case. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Let those ingredients cook for a while with the rice and stock, adding a little more stock periodically if need be, to maintain the desired texture of the porridge. Be sure to stir regularly, so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Once those ingredients start to soften/cook, add other ingredients that don’t take as long to cook, like the mushrooms, turnips, and any sturdier greens you may have (the komatsuna in this case).
  7. Once everything is nearly finished, add anything you don’t want to cook very long – delicate greens (the turnip greens) and green onion in this case.
  8. Taste for seasoning, add anything you think it might need, and then serve it up in bowls, steaming hot!

きゅうり あさつけ (Cucumber Quick Pickle)

There is a rich tradition of pickling in Japanese cuisine, but much of it is not quite the same way we think of pickled items. Most western pickles are fermented or soaked in brine for at least a week. Many Japanese pickles (tsukemono) are fermented or soaked only for 30 minutes, up to several hours. They retain more of the flavor of the raw item, and just enhance the natural flavor rather than create something totally new. The following method is often used with vegetables you have around the house that are a little past their prime, and maybe wouldn’t be as good on their own anymore, but are still edible.

This is a quick cucumber pickle that we made this weekend. I used two small persian cucumbers, but you can use any type really. It does work the best with cucumbers with tender skin and small seeds, though. If you can find Japanese cucumbers, they are usually thinner and longer than the pickling cucumbers we typically use in the U.S., more like English cucumbers. I added some ginger for extra flavor, you could also add chili powder (togarashi) or sesame seeds – or really anything you think would taste good with them. If you have or can get kombu, adding it to the pickle adds some flavor, and also thickens the brine a bit.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Cucumbers
  • Bowl(s)
  • Heavy Object(s)
  • Kombu (optional)

Directions

  1. Thinly slice the ginger, then julienne it, so it’s in small, thin pieces.
  2. Put the ginger in a bowl (or in multiple bowls depending on how much you’re making), and lightly salt it. Toss it to distribute the salt.
  3. Thinly slice the cucumbers.
  4. Put the cucumbers in your bowl(s).
  5. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt, and then toss them lightly to distribute the salt.
  6. Let everything sit for about 10 minutes until the cucumbers start to glisten with moisture.
  7. Starting gently and increasing pressure, work the salt well into the cucumbers, and begin to use enough pressure to squeeze a fair amount of liquid out of the cucumbers.
  8. If you have kombu, cut about 1 inch square(s), and put it (them) in the bottom of the bowl(s).
  9. Find a heavy object or objects that are nearly the same diameter as your bowl(s). I used mason jars full of water.
  10. Put plastic wrap on the bottom of said heavy object, and then place it on top of the cucumbers, so that it’s pressing them down.
  11. Let sit at room temperature for about 2-3 hours.
  12. Remove the kombu and discard it.
  13. Eat!
Making tsukemono.Making tsukemono.Cucumber quick pickle with fresh ginger.

おにぎり (Onigiri)

Onigiri!

 

Continuing on our recent trend of cooking a lot of Japanese food, here is a classic. Onigiri are rice balls (or maybe more specifically, compressed rice with filling in it). They can be made in many shapes, and with many fillings (or just plain with salt). They can be shaped by hand, or using a mold. They are a convenient food to make ahead of time and then take with you somewhere, and they are pretty and pleasant to eat. Because you can fill them with almost anything, they are also very diverse, and can be made sweeter, more savory, or salty and pickled, depending on how you’re feeling. They are often wrapped with a piece of nori (seaweed) on the outside, both for aesthetic purposes, and to allow you to hold the onigiri without the rice sticking to your hand.

For ours, we were just using what we had on hand. We had used some katsuobushi recently to make a somen noodle dipping sauce, and that involved soaking the katsuobushi in soy sauce, mirin, and some other things, so we strained out the katsuobushi, squeezed it out, and kept it for filling. We didn’t have any nori on hand, though I do usually prefer wrapping a small piece around the onigiri. We did have some nanami togarashi (a ground spicy pepper and sesame seed mix), so I used that to decorate the onigiri, and provide a little extra zing when eating them.

Other fillings we have used in the past include miso paste and pickled vegetables, miso pork and pickled ginger, and ginger chicken, but really you can put anything in there that will fit. Soy-soaked shiitake mushrooms chopped finely would be delicious. Any other cooked and chopped vegetables would be nice. Other types of dried or cooked fish could also be good.

Directions

The process is very simple. You just need rice and filling. For six onigiri (using the mold we have), I made 2 cups of rice.

If using a mold, moisten the inside, and press enough rice in the bottom to fill it up about halfway, then press a divot into the center. If doing it by hand, moisten your hands, and take a large bunch of rice in your hand, and press a divot in the middle.

Onigiri! Onigiri!

Fill up the divot with filling.

Onigiri!

If you’re doing this by hand, roll the rice around the filling, and then form it into whatever shape you like. If using a mold, press more rice in on top of the filling.

Onigiri!

Then press the top of the mold in firmly but gently – not enough to smash the rice, but enough to press it together.

Onigiri!

Tip the mold upside-down, and squeeze the onigiri out.

Onigiri!

Now, no matter whether you’re doing it by hand or using a mold, decorate your onigiri using nori, togarashi, sesame… whatever you like.

Onigiri!

And that’s it. Let them cool so that the rice kind of congeals and sticks together well, then wrap them up and take them away, or eat them then and there.

カレーライス (Japanese Curry)

Anyone who knows us – and probably you’ve all guessed from this blog as well – knows that we love Japanese food. It’s simple, yet tasty, and usually not overly heavy or extremely time-consuming (not like Cassoulet or Boeuf Bourguignon). As with pretty much any national cuisine, I feel like the rustic, country dishes are often some of the best. With Japanese cuisine, nabe (hot pot) and Japanese curry are two of our very favorites.

Japanese curry is kind of a twist on Indian curry – it uses many of the same spices, but it also has a sweetness that Indian curry doesn’t have, and it is made with a roux (mixture of flour and fat of some sort), so it is thicker and a bit more like a stew than Indian curry.

Typically when we have made Japanese curry, we have used the little blocks of solid roux that you can get in a box at the store, and just melt into your hot water to cook everything in. However, we don’t usually like to have to depend on a pre-made thing, because you don’t know if you’ll always be able to find it, and you may have to go out of your way to get it, when you could just make it from normal ingredients that you have already, or are easier to find.

So, we wanted to try making the curry from scratch. We found this recipe at No Recipes, and decided to give it a try. We made a few modifications from the recipe. I used 1 lb ground beef, and 1 lb ground pork, as we kind of like ground meat in our Japanese curry. I used 2 apples, as we really like the sweet apple flavor. I used 2 cups water, and 2 cups homemade chicken stock. We used half garam masala, and half curry powder. I also used Okonomi sauce instead of Tonkatsu sauce, because we had one and not the other :) We have also made this both with butter, and with coconut oil, and both ways were very good. We have also used ground turkey instead of beef and pork, and that was very good. We’ve substituted rice flour for the wheat flour to make it gluten free, and we’ve made it with just veggies and mushrooms (and coconut oil as above) to make it vegan. Mix it up and find your favorite way to do it.

Here is what we did:

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp (or slightly less) cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp okonomi sauce
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb ground beef, lean
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 carrots sliced diagonally
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes, cut in small chunks
  • 2 apples, peeled and pureed (we use a microplane grater for this)
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat, then plop in the sliced onions. Cook until they are nice and brown and caramelized.
  2. Turn up the heat to high, and add the beef and pork. Cook until browned.
  3. Add the carrots, cook briefly, then add the water and chicken stock.
  4. Bring liquid to a boil, then lower the heat, and add the potatoes, apple puree, some salt, and 1 tsp of garam masala.
  5. Simmer until you can easily poke a fork through the carrots and potatoes.
  6. In a small saucepan, melt the 3 tbsp of butter or coconut oil.
  7. Add the 1/4 cup flour, 1 tbsp curry powder and 1 tbsp garam masala, mix until you have a thick paste.
  8. Add the cayenne pepper, and some fresh-ground black pepper, and mix it into the paste.
  9. Add ketchup and okonomi sauce, and again, mix together. Cook until the paste starts to crumble a bit.
  10. Remove the saucepan from heat, and set aside.
  11. Once the vegetables in the pot are tender, ladle about 2 cups of the liquid into the saucepan with the paste you made, whisking to make sure you make a smooth sauce with no lumps.
  12. Pour this thick sauce back into the pot, and mix it around well.
  13. Simmer for a few more minutes to allow the whole curry to thicken.
  14. Serve over a bed of rice, with a little bit of pickled ginger (kizami shoga).
Kale Raisu. From scratch!

How We Make Tea: Matcha

There is quite a lot to the world of tea. It’s one of those areas where, until you really dig in and explore it, you can kind of feel like black tea is black tea, green tea is green tea, and that’s about all there is to it. However, the breadth and diversity even between, for instance, a Japanese and Chinese green tea, can be astounding, not to mention all the variations between different categories of tea, and the individual characteristics of each plucking and production batch.

One very specific type of tea is a primarily ceremonial tea used in Japan, called matcha. The production of this tea is special in and of itself. It is a green tea, but some time before the harvest of the tea leaves, the tea plants are covered. Removing them from direct sunlight stops growth and forces chlorophyll into the leaves, producing a dark green color. The best leaves are then picked, laid out flat, dried, de-veined and de-stemmed. They are then very slowly ground (so as to prevent heating the tea leaves at all) into a fine powder.

The preparation of the tea involves at least three things: a tea bowl, a bamboo scoop, and a bamboo whisk. Firstly, the tea is sifted through a sieve to break up any clumps that may have formed. A small amount of hot water is poured into the tea bowl to warm the bowl, and the whisk is lightly swished around in it to warm and soften the whisk. The tea bowl is dried out, and the dry tea is scooped into the bowl. Hot water (slightly below boiling) is poured over the tea. The whisk is then used first to gently mix the water and the tea together, and then to vigorously whisk the tea until foamy. The tea is then drunk from the bowl.

This differs from most tea, in that you are not just drinking an infusion from the tea leaves, but you are actually ingesting the entire leaf (ground into a fine powder), which you are whisking into a suspension in the hot water. Because of this, matcha has quite a strong flavor, and also a high caffeine content. It also has higher content of the nutrients of tea, such as anti-oxidants.

Matcha is delicious, is very cozy to prepare and drink, smells wonderful, and the beautiful bright green color, along with a beautiful, hand-made tea bowl is visually pleasing, and feels wonderful to hold in your hands. It really is a very immersive way to enjoy tea.

Matcha Matcha Matcha Matcha Matcha

Enjoyment of Food

One of the biggest reasons that we cook is for enjoyment. Not only enjoyment of eating the end result, but enjoyment of the process, the smells, the interaction with each other, and the anticipation. One of the best ways to enjoy food is as a social event, and we had a chance to remind ourselves of that last night, making Kimuchi Nabe with our friend Rosalind. We just got this beautiful clay donabe this week, for making Japanese Hot Pot (or nabe), Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki.

Donabe

In honor of the event, we also got a little gas burner, and decided to have Rosalind over, as we knew she was a big fan of hot pot. We’ve made this basic recipe a number of times in our large Le Creuset cast iron pot, but this was our first time trying it in the donabe. We prepared all the food in the kitchen, grouped it all on plates, and then headed out to the table with it.

Kimuchi Nabe Kimuchi Nabe

We used fried tofu, oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, green onion, our homemade kimchi, and thin sliced pork. The broth was 4 cups of dashi stock, 1 cup sake, 2 tablespoons shiro miso paste, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.

The hot pot turned out deliciously cooked in the donabe, probably the best one we’ve made yet. But the real best part about doing it this way was the process. Prepare to just relax and enjoy.

First, just put the broth in the pot, and let it get nice and hot, so it is just barely simmering, not really bubbling. Sit and chat, drink some beer, and notice the broth becoming fragrant.

Kimuchi Nabe

Toss in the green onion and the kimchi, let it sit for a few minutes, and then taste it to make sure there is the right amount of spice.

Kimuchi Nabe

We ended up adding probably 1/2 lb or so of our own kimchi. Results will vary depending on how spicy the kimchi you have is, and how spicy you like things.

Kimuchi Nabe

Let that simmer for a little bit, drink some more beer, and note how the smell changes. By the time you are done with this dish, your whole house will smell like delicious food. Next, stick some of the thinly sliced pork into the hot broth – if it is thin enough, it will cook almost immediately. Pile tofu and mushrooms on top, and then put the lid on and let it steam for a while.

Kimuchi Nabe Kimuchi Nabe

Once the mushrooms are soft, everyone dishes up into their bowl – mostly the solid items, leaving most of the broth in the pot.

Kimuchi Nabe

Add the rest of the pork, mushrooms and tofu on top of the pot, put the lid on, and again let it simmer while you’re eating what you just removed from the pot.

Kimuchi Nabe 

You will notice the smells continue to change, and we noticed that the second batch of things we pulled out of the pot tasted notably different than the first – the flavors continue to develop, to deepen, and to even get better than they were the first time.

Finally, finish the broth with some delicious noodles, or dried, baked mochi squares, which puff up and get crunchy in the oven. All that delicious, rich broth gives so much flavor to the noodles or mochi, and it’s the perfect way to finish off the meal.

Japanese Hot Pot

So, give it a try. Make your meals a chance to spend time with people you enjoy. Cook with them, chat with them, and enjoy the entire process. Share the whole experience of preparing, cooking, and eating something really delicious. I can hardly imagine that you will regret it.

Japanese Hot Pot

We just checked out the book Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat from the library, and today we decided on a whim to stop by the Japanese market after I left work and get some food to try one. We didn’t follow a single specific recipe from the book, but combined elements of a few based on ingredients we had on hand and what sounded good, but we primarily based it on the Kimichi & Pork Hot Pot recipe. It turned out absolutely delicious, was a very filling meal, and we have leftovers, and plenty of ingredients to make it once or twice more. Here is the approximate recipe we used, which should make enough for 3-4 people.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Dashi Stock
  • 2 tablespoons shiro miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 lb (225 grams) very thinly sliced pork
  • 1 lb napa cabbage kimchi
  • About 1/2 lb (225 grams) age tofu, cut into 6 pieces
  • Shiitake, oyster, and enoki mushrooms
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch of mizuna, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 large or 2 smaller cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 package fresh ramen noodles per person

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin and miso paste. Whisk together so the miso paste dissolves in the liquid.
  2. In a large pot over medium heat, heat up the sesame oil, and cook the thinly sliced pork until nearly done.
  3. Add the kimchi and it’s liquid and the garlic, and cook until garlic softens.
  4. Add the stock mixture.
  5. Increase heat and bring the pot to a boil.
  6. Decrease the heat to medium, cover the pot and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Randomly pile the tofu, mushrooms, green onions, and mizuna on top of the other ingredients, cover pot, and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  8. Ladle out the ingredients into small bowls, and cover with broth. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top as a garnish.
  9. Once you finish eating the ingredients in the broth, pour broth back into a pot, heat up to a simmer, and cook the ramen noodles in the broth. Divide the noodles between bowls, and then ladle the broth over them.

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

More Japanese Hot Pot

More Japanese Hot Pot

More Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Dashi Stock

One of the basic stocks in Japanese cooking is a sea stock, or Dashi. It is a very simple stock, and much quicker to make than chicken, beef or vegetable stock. This recipe will make about 4 1/2 cups of stock, which seems to be about what many soup recipes call for.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • About 20 sq inches (130 sq cm) of Dashi Kombu (kelp)
  • About 1/4 cup katsuobushi (dried, shaved bonito fish), loosely packed

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, soak kombu in unheated water for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Over medium heat, bring water up to temperature where small bubbles are just beginning to break the surface of the water.
  3. Add katsuobushi, remove from heat, and let sit for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Remove kombu, and strain the stock through a fine mesh or cloth to remove the katsuobushi.

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

So(ba) Lovely

We’ve been on a bit of a Japanese food kick lately, and one of my personal new favorites is soba noodles.

The other day we made a nice, quick lunch by cooking the soba noodles along with some chopped shiitake mushrooms, draining them and rinsing in cold water, and topping with sesame seeds and chopped green onions, then adding some soba noodle soup base (we bought pre-made soup base, but you could make it yourself and just keep it around). In this case, the soup base is really just a thin sauce to coat the noodles, not to make it like an actual soup.

This was really tasty, and made for a nice, quick, 10 minute meal.

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