“What’s this?” I asked on my first visit to Seki, an unassuming izakaya — a Japanese bar with food — in a quiet corner of Washington. The menu was typically simple, listing sashimi, fried octopus, grilled eel, tempura, pickles, skewered chicken hearts and monkfish livers. And something I’d never seen before: ara yaki.
“Oh,” said Cizuka Seki, who runs the restaurant with her father, Hiroshi, a short, stout, gruff but pleasant man who trained in washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, in Tokyo. “We roast fish scraps, the leftovers from butchering the best fish.”
Eggplant is often called “meaty,” by which we mean what, exactly? Substantial? Versatile? Flavorful?
All of the above, for sure (as well as tough and chewy on occasion; not necessarily a bad thing). But the comparison is no more fair to the aubergine than it would be to call a piece of beef “eggplanty.”
Eggplant stands alone, a vegetable like no other. Actually, because eggplant is a fruit, like the tomato, to which it’s closely related, it’s safer to label it a food like no other, beloved and appreciated worldwide and deserving of respect, not as a meat substitute but as a treasure in itself.
While udon noodles typically swim in water or broth, here they’re coooked in green tea. The herbal broth is fortified by the noodles as they simmer, and brightened with a touch of sweet mirin. This dish is easy as can be (if you can brew tea and boil noodles you’re good to go,) and a perfect canvas for endless variations. I made mine with yellow beans (added to the broth when the noodles were nearly finished cooking,) sliced leftover pork (decidedly not vegetarian,) crunchy lentil sprouts, chopped scallions and a final drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
Normally the idea of sesame noodles conjures images of a dense, nutty sauce. Here, a lighter approach is taken, with toasted sesame seeds offering a subtle nuttiness, alongside hearty whole wheat or soba noodles. Tender, wilted spinach soaks up the garlicky soy sauce, and seared salmon is a lovely accent; you can’t beat crispy salmon skin. However, it is truly just an accent. If you’re looking for a little more heft, you may want some additional protein, be it fish or tofu. Either way, the dish comes together quite quickly, and tastes great at room temperature. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
Mushrooms are delicate but powerful in their ability to add rich meatiness to cooked dishes. This recipe calls for about three cups of mushrooms, though in my fungi-frenzy I measured closer to four. I used shiitake, oyster and cremini — each contributed a distinct texture, creating a rhythm of chewy, porous and meaty spoonfuls. The mushrooms swim in a broth of chicken stock and soy sauce, which intensifies the earthy flavor of the dish. The addition of lemon juice gives a surprising brightness, pulling it up from its savory depths, and strips of nori add a note of the sea. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen ExpressMushroom and Nori Soup
In a pot over high heat, cook about three cups of mushrooms (any combinations works; oyster and shiitake is especially good) in a couple of tablespoons of butter until they begin to release their liquid; add a diced onion, a minced garlic clove, and a chopped celery stalk and cook until the onion in translucent. Add about four cups of vegetable or chicken stock, a quarter cup of soy sauce, the juice of a lemon, a pinch of celery seed, salt, and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Tear or slice a sheet of nori into strips and put in soup bowls; pour soup over the nori (it will mostly dissolve) and serve.
As the weather finally becomes mild, the word picnic has returned to my vocabulary, and I’ve started mentally collecting good recipes for outdoor eating. Not all tasty dishes make tasty picnic fare, but fortunately, most pasta salads will do the trick—especially if they taste good at room temperature, like this one. I love how filling soba noodles are, and they still match well with light sauces and green veggies, as in this recipe. The sauce is simple but flavorful, and the asparagus and edamame are a beautiful, springy contrast to the dark noodles. Try to get your hands on some of the lovely asparagus that’s out there while it’s still super fresh. And happy picnicking! Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
Makes: 2 main-course or 4 side-dish or appetizer servings
Time: 30 minutes
A crowd-pleaser and an easy starter or side—or a main course on a hot day. To make it more substantial, add 1/2 cup or so of small tofu cubes or cooked soybeans. Or top each serving with a few slices of grilled, roasted, or poached chicken. The cucumber adds nice crunch and freshness to what is otherwise a pretty dense dish. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.
February is a time when one must get creative with seasonal produce, much of which is some form of root vegetable. I’d been seeing daikon radish a lot lately, so I figured it would be worth checking out. Turns out that it’s pretty versatile: when raw it has the texture of jicama and the flavor of a mild radish. When cooked, as in this recipe, it becomes tender and a little sweeter. It was a really nice addition to this stir-fry and an ingredient that will definitely remain in my winter veggie arsenal.
If you cook a lot of tofu, you’ll know that it really does need to be patted dry, as the recipe instructs. The more water you can squeeze out of it, the crispier it will become when fried. That crispy tofu is a great contrast to the bok choy stems, which get soft and creamy. There’s no need for anything more complicated than the super simple sauce used in this recipe—just a bit of soy sauce to bring everything together. I served it with brown rice for some heft, but it could stand on its own too as a light tofu dinner. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
Beets happen to be delicious simply roasted on their own, but the spice mixture in this recipe really livens them up. It’s hot and citrusy and goes quite well with the natural sweetness of the beets. The headnote below mentions that you’ll have extra spice mixture, and you most certainly will. Sprinkle on a small amount at a time to cover the beets and add more as needed; it was much spicier than I expected it to be. I also highly recommend trying out the honeyed walnuts mentioned in the variation. The honey downplays the spice of the seasoning a bit, and the nuts add a nice crunch.
If there’s one thing I learned from cooking this dish, it’s that peppercorns and sesame seeds are nearly impossible to grind by hand. A spice or coffee grinder help tremendously. Your hands will thank you. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
There is a tradition of English-speaking writers effectively translating the cuisines of other countries for us, and it’s a worthy one. Those authors may be native to the country of their subject: Marcella Hazan, for example, or Julie Sahni. Or they may have been foreigners, like Richard Olney, Elizabeth David, or Julia Child. To some extent, they offered us the food of other countries in a way we could only otherwise experience by going there, because for the most part the restaurants representing those cuisines were not yet offering us the real deal.
This is the position Elizabeth Andoh is in, and her job is as challenging as any. Ms. Andoh, an American who moved to Japan more than 40 years ago and has spent that time learning Japanese cooking (and culture, and the language, and more) and refining it for English-speaking audiences. One might argue that Ms. Andoh has written the same book several times, a book that says, in essence, “Please. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me explain it to you so you can give it a shot.” Her most recent effort, Washoku, is now nearly five years old and, I think, is underappreciated despite an IACP award. Continue reading →