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Tag: Japanese

Clean Eating for the New Year: UnRamen

The long-suffering Mr. T and I spent the last night of our week-long New England Christmas tour at the WonderTwins’ Wonderlair up in northern Vermont. While they were, as always, double wonderful, their place left me wondering how they’ve managed to avoid contracting some weird infection from the bathmat or getting scurvy since ramen and beer appeared to be the only things in their kitchen. And having that many litter boxes per square foot HAS to violate the Geneva Conventions. In short, it was gross. Sometimes I wonder if we’re really related. And then I see pictures of us in all in a row making the same expression with the same face and I think, “dammit, there’s no escaping THAT one.”

In ANY event, I was inspired to rustle up this tasty, slurpy, healthy bowl of noodles I’m calling UnRamen in “honor” of the Wonderlair’s rather lacking larder. To its credit, it doesn’t come in a styrofoam cup nor does it provide a badillion times your daily recommended amount of sodium. *ahem* While this is kind of Japanese-y, I’ve no doubt it’s totally inauthentic in execution and composition. Whatever. It was really good and took me from “oh crap I haven’t gone grocery shopping since last YEAR, what the hell-ass am I going to make for dinner” to the table in 15 minutes. And, even though it was cobbled together on the quick, it will be going into heavy rotation this winter–it’s that good.

This is one goes out to my Wondertwins (yes, I’m asking you to buy LIMA BEANS, deal with it); and to Sam, who wanted veggie things; and to Laura, who has probably given up all hope of non-sweets and stopped reading altogether.

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Turning Japanese: Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans

There’s a reason I’m calling this “Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans” and not “Green Beans with Sesame Dressing”. It’s really about the dressing, which is so shockingly good I’m kind of kicking myself for not sharing it sooner, nevermind regretting all the times I’ve NOT made it since we returned from our Super-Ultimate-Numbah-One Trip to Japan last summer. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Using freshly toasted and lightly crushed sesame seeds is critical to this dish’s amazing flavor and texture. Unlike most salad dressings, it isn’t very acidic, and surprisingly I don’t miss the bite at all. The rich, toasty sesame is intensely delicious, and the supporting soy, mirin, and rice vinegar round out the flavor without overpowering it.

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Turning Japanese: Onigiri

onigiri1Oh, onigiri. How I love you. Often said to be the Japanese equivalent of the sandwich, these balls of rice are at once ubiquitous and extraordinarily varied. They are also easy, tasty, and very accommodating of necessity or invention. They can be mixed or filled or wrapped with just about anything, which makes them even more deliciously endearing. When tooting around Japan with Wonder Twin #1 this summer, we would stop every morning at the closest 7-11 or Lawson for breakfast, where we were invariably greeted by a wide array of surprisingly tasty tinned coffees and myriad triangular, nori-clad onigiri.

Ingeniously packaged so the moist rice and seaweed remain separate until you unzipped it all and it pops into your hand all done up in the still-crisp nori. (This is a nifty piece of engineering that needs to be experienced to be believed.)  The Wonder Twin usually went for tuna, which I found a bit much at 9am. I usually picked up the ume-shiso, a salty blend of pickled plum and grassy shiso. Mr. T generally had tea sandwiches, but he’s English. Thus fortified, off we would go to conquer whatever temples, shopping districts, or Important Cultural Assets were on our agenda for the day.

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Turning Japanese: Chawanmushi

chawanmushiSo. First, dashi. Then, miso. Now, chawanmushi. This simple, savory, steamed egg custard seems–to me at least–the next logical step in our exploration of tasty things Japanese. It is also one of Mr. T’s very favorite things ever.  We first had chawanmushi at the venerable Sushi Taro (which, judging from its website, seems to have undergone a significant overhaul since we were last there) and have kept an eagle eye out for it on Japanese menus ever since. It’s usually served hot with bits of chicken and mushroom secreted away in the light, silky egg custard and decorated with slices of kamaboko (fishcake) on top, though we did encounter an elegant chilled version garnished with edamame and a clear sauce during our cooking lesson with Hirayama-sensei in Kyoto.

These really are little miracles. The are at once both extraordinarily light and quite decadent… there’s just barely enough egg (less than one per serving) to hold everything together, but the resulting custard is gloriously smooth and rich-tasting. The little additions (I used peas, mushrooms, and kamaboko) add just enough contrast to keep things exciting but not take away from this delicious, if simple, pleasure. Do note too, that these CAN be gorgeous little still lifes–in addition to being a crap photographer, I neglected to cover the individual custards when steaming them, so they’re a little mottled. SO! Cover yours, and all will be tasty and lovely.

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Turning Japanese: Dashi & Miso Soup

misoOk, so, I was SUPPOSED to do a Dashi-Off this weekend, comparing homemade and instant versions of kombu dashi, the kelp and dried tuna stock that forms the backbone of Japanese cuisine. Due, however, to my inability to calculate things with any degree of accuracy–I rely on a calculator for everything, and even then Mr. T has to check my math–I had nowhere near the 30 grams of fluffy dried bonito shavings necessary to make the homemade dashi. Whoops. Instead, I just used the instant kind, and lo, the world did not end. I will still do a comparison at some point, but CW seems to be that instant is permissible. So, a lightly fishy, umami-full stock. Now what?

While you can go in nearly any Japanese direction starting with dashi, getting to delicious miso soup is probably the shortest journey. The result is so, so, SO much better than those nasty misbegotten dried soup packets. (Even when using instant dashi–I know, I know… consistency FAIL. Whatever.) It’s a lovely, savory, healthy, restorative little bowl, and can be just the answer for everything between a quick afternoon pick-me-up to the opening salvo of a major production Japanese dinner. Furthermore, the miso paste, wakame, and dashi components last practically forever. While there is a bit of specialty shopping to be done up front, once you do have everything, you’ll never be more than a few minutes away from miso soup.

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