Sashimi

Whenever my husband and I enjoy a simple dinner of sashimi or temaki sushi at home, I am always reminded of my Jiichan (grandpa), and my Baachan (grandma). (Photo: Halibut or Fluke, also known as hirame in Japanese.)

Although my paternal grandparents moved to Japan before I completed elementary school, over the years, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with them during my trips to the “land of the rising sun”. While I spent a decent amount of time traveling across Japan and seeing its many wonders, often my visits centered around spending time with family and relaxing at my home away from home. As a child, the Japanese snacks and frozen treats were always something to look forward to, but as I matured, the food became increasingly important during my trips to Japan. While I’ve dined at high-end restaurants and enjoyed phenomenol traditional Japanese multi-course kaiseki ryori, fine desserts, specialty tempura dinners, as well as off beat vegetarian mountain cuisine (feel free to ask me about this) and hole-in-the-wall joints for ramen and okonomiyaki to die for, what I remember the most about my trips to Japan is the endless amount of fresh sashimi that my grandparents always ate, practically on a nightly basis.

Regardless of the season during which I visited my grandparents, an abundance of sashimi (in addition to many cooked dishes) was always available on their dinner table. I look back now, and appreciate how fortunate I was to enjoy such lavish sashimi dinners almost nightly, in the comfort of my grandparents home. (Photo: Hamachi or yellowtail.)

In my youth, I never appreciated sashimi  and considered cooked ebi (shrimp) or blanched tako (octopus) the closest things I would ever get to eating sashimi, but as we all know, our tastes mature with age. I am no different.

It must have been in high school where I began trying different sashimi and sushi at the encouragement of my parents… Then, during my first job out of college working for a Japanese company, I was fortunate to travel to Japan for work, and I came to know the true meaning of fresh, extremely high quality sashimi and sushi… A sushi – sashimi snob was born… Then there was the era of earning enough money to try many sushi bars in my former playground of Los Angeles and indulge in fine sushi dinners… (Photo: Pre-sliced, assorted sashimi sourced from a local Japanese market.)

Today, sushi is reserved for when my husband and I occasionally dine out (without the kids) and sashimi is something my husband and I enjoy at home. However, the kids don’t eat sashimi, so I am always a bit hesitant to make a sashimi dinner for us as I am then required to make a secondary dish for the kiddies or provide a temaki spread complete with many cooked ingredients and vegetables. It’s not something we eat regularly.

However, whenever we do enjoy a nice sashimi dinner at home, I am always reminded of my grandparents and the time I’ve spent in Japan or the simple sashimi dinners my Mom prepared in my youth.

Sashimi

  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Yellowtail
  • Mackerel
  • Snapper
  • Salmon
  • Scallops
  • Squid
  • Octopus
  • Abalone
  • Kaiware radish sprouts, thinly sliced daikon (radish), or thinly sliced cucumbers for garnish
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi

1. Use any of your favorite fish or seafood for sashimi. Always select fresh sashimi with vibrant fresh color and clear liquid, if any, from a reputable supermarket. Sashimi should not smell “fishy”, but rather, like fresh fish. The flesh of the sashimi should be resilient and “bounce back” so-to-speak if pressed. It should never be mushy or seem stagnant. Most Japanese supermarkets clearly identify sashimi-grade fillets of fish versus those that are meant to be cooked.

2. If the sashimi is not pre-sliced, always use an extremely sharp knife. (My Dad has the sharpest sashimi knives ever and he maintains them meticulously.) Slice the fish against the grain in one single motion of the knife, pulling the knife towards you. Never slice the fish in a “see-saw” back and forth cutting motion as this ruins the delicate flesh of the sashimi.

3. Arrange sashimi on a plate and garnish with kaiware daikon sprouts, thinly sliced daikon   (radish) or thinly sliced cucumbers. Serve with soy sauce or specialty sashimi soy sauce (often thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce) and wasabi.

Japanese Hamburger: Hambaagu or Hamburg?

It’s day three of the 2012 London Olympics and I’m slightly at a loss for words. Perhaps it’s exhaustion from our busy weekend (which I will happily share in a separate post), or because our DVR wasn’t working Sunday night when I couldn’t stay up to watch swimming, or perhaps I’m feeling a bit off because my left knee is having unusual joint issues. Instead of my weekly gym date with my BFF Monday night, I opted to be a couch potato, rest my uncooperative knee, watch the Olympics and look through my inventory of un-posted, yet not forgotten food photos.

It’s been a while since I shared a favorite childhood dish so I am sharing my Mom’s Japanese hambaagu (that’s Jenglish for hamburger). Japanese hambaagu is a classic Japanese family dish. I’m certain that every (non-vegetarian) kid in Japan has eaten hambaagu at one time or another. It’s one of those dishes you find on the menu of every family restaurant or kissaten (cafe) in Japan, or a Japanese-American home in the U.S.

Oh, and just a sidebar, but if you go to a Japanese restaurant in the U.S. and they have “hamburg” on the menu. It’s not misspelled. It’s another term for referring to Japanese “hambaagu”. Gotta love Jenglish!

The only difference from the hambaagu recipe posted below and the one my Mom used to make for us is that I use ground turkey meat, instead of ground beef, and I let the hambaagu steam just a little. Japanese hambaagu is a Japanese version of an American hamburger, yet without the bun, mayo and vegetables. A more accurate translation of the Japanese hambaagu, is meatloaf. Yes, I think hambaagu is more like individual meatloaf patties.

My Mom serves hambaagu with gohan (rice), miso shiru (miso soup), a cooked vegetable such as broccoli or cauliflower, and a salad. For our hambaagu sauce, we usually made it ourself, which was a mixture of our preferred amount of ketchup and okonomiyaki sauce or tonkatsu sauce. My Dad prefers his hambaagu with black pepper and mayonnaise. He likes to keep things real!

Mom’s Hambaagu

for the patty:

  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 slice bread (I use “shokupan” – Japanese sandwich bread)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Salt and pepper
for the sauce:
  • 1/4 cup okonomiyaki sauce (or tonkatsu sauce)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons ketchup

1. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients for the hambaagu patty. Using your hands, mix until well-incorporated.

2. Make patties about 3/4 inch thick and 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

3. Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large pan with lid. Cook patties for about 5 minutes on each side. Pour a little water into the pan, just enough to cover the pan, and close with lid to steam the patty (about 2 minutes) until the water evaporates.

4. Mix sauce ingredients and serve, or use ketchup, soy sauce or other condiment of choice.

Hiyayako | Traditional Japanese Cold Tofu

There’s nothing more traditional in Japanese cuisine than cold tofu simply garnished with sliced green onions, katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito) and fresh grated ginger. This is exactly how my Mom served hiyayakko (cold tofu) to us all the years my brother and I were growing up. (Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha)

Hiyayakko often made an appearance at dinner as an accompaniment to a meal of grilled fish, steamed rice, miso shiru (soup), and vegetables. We often ate hiyayakko with our meals a few times per week, especially during the warmer months of Spring and Summer. My Mom would serve a small square piece of chilled tofu, just enough for four or five bites. It was always refreshing and somehow made our family meals complete.

When I went away for college, hiyayakko became a simple, high protein, inexpensive, quick, low-prep meal.  In those days, I avoided cooking as much as possible, given I didn’t know how to cook, and honestly, I had no desire to learn. My college version of hiyayakko often involved eating an entire block of tofu (as it was my main course), and this was garnished with shoyu (soy sauce) and katsuobushi, or I would garnish my tofu with shoyu and furikake.

For those of you unfamiliar with furikake, it’s a dried seasoning which is typically reserved for seasoning cooked rice. Almost every kid in Japan grows up eating furikake with their rice, and it’s an iconic part of Japanese food culture. There are many different flavors of furikake available.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

I have good memories of eating hiyayakko during my Summer breaks from college when I usually went home for a few months. In the summer my Mom often garnished our hiyayakko with a chiffonade of fragrant shiso (green perilla leaves) or very thinly sliced chilled myoga ginger which are in season during the warmer months. My parents often grew these in our backyard and while both the shiso and myoga ginger impart very strong flavors, I love both equally when I enjoy hiyayakko. I encourage you to try these as garnishes if you decide to make hiyayakko this summer.

Lastly, my Mom used to garnish our hiyayakko with shirasu or baby anchovies. In middle school and high school I always questioned what these tiny fish were, yet I still ate them. There was something about their savory-brininess that I enjoyed with my hiyayakko. Occasionally, when I’m at the Japanese supermarket I’ll come across these and buy a pack to garnish my hiyayakko. Like all the food my Mom used to make for us, hiyayakko is simply, comfort food to me.

Hiyayakko | Traditional Japanese Cold Tofu

serves 6

  • 1 block of soft tofu (substitute with medium tofu if preferred)
  • soy sauce or seasoned soy sauce
  • 1 stalk green onions, thinly sliced
  • fresh grated ginger
  • katsuo bushi (dried shaved bonito)

optional garnish ideas:

  • shiso (perilla) leaves, chiffonade
  • myoga ginger, thinly sliced
  • shirasu (baby anchovies)

1. Cut tofu block into six equal pieces. Allow the tofu to drain a bit. You’ll find that the tofu releases water the longer it sits. My Mom would often slice our tofu, place it in individual serving dishes and store these in the fridge until we were ready to eat. Just before serving the tofu she would drain the excess water from the tofu that had accumulated in the dish.

2. Garnish tofu with classic ingredients: green onions, grated ginger and katsuobushi. Serve with soy sauce or seasoned (dashi) soy sauce.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Many thanks to my brother-in-law, Hideki, for taking photos of my hiyayakko. Over the weekend he shared with us that one of his photos placed 8th (out of 94 entries) in a Digital Photography Review (DPR) contest. His photo is available on the DPR website. Congratulations Hideki!

Happy Monday!

Judy

Kinkan Kanro-Ni | Candied Kumquats

For as long as I can remember, my Mom used to keep a re-used glass jam jar filled with little orange candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni in the back of our refrigerator. It never looked appealing to me, and as a child, I recall trying several of these kinkan kanro-ni over the years, but I never found the sweet, sour, and slightly bitter flavor of the candied kumquats to my liking. (Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha)

As I got older, the little glass jar of kinkan kanro-ni continued to reside in the back of my parent’s refrigerator. My Mom would eat these when she had a sore throat and would encourage me to try one anytime I was sick or complained of a sore throat. Reluctantly, I would eat one or two a year, but I would always do so with a sour face.

As the years went on, I suddenly noticed that the back of my own fridge seemed rather empty without that little glass jar filled with candied kumquats.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

The funny thing about that jar of kinkan kanro-ni in my Mom’s fridge, is that it was never something that she made herself. She and her friends are constantly trading foods that they’ve cooked, and as it turns out, every year she would be the recipient of kinkan kanro-ni that one of her friends made. She can tell you which of her friends have kumquat trees and which of them don’t, among other vegetation such a who grows sakura or cherry blossom trees, shiso (perilla) leaves, rakkyo, and myoga.

When I asked my Mom if she had a recipe for kinkan kanro-ni, she said she didn’t have one since she’s never made it, but in addition, she gave me her usual no-recipe response in Japanese, “just add a little sugar, water, then boil it for a while”. So that’s exactly what I did, but with the addition of a splash of sake. When I asked her about removing the seeds from the kumquats (which is what I’ve done in the past when making marmalade), she said I could cook them with the seeds in tact and that they were edible. She said the kinkan kanro-ni that she’d always received and enjoyed always had the seeds in tact.

Despite the lack of a specific recipe, on the bright side, I am fortunate to have an abundant supply of very fresh organic kumquats easily within my reach. My in-laws have an enormous kumquat tree in their backyard which grows bountiful kumquats year after year.

In the past, I’ve made kumquat and cara cara orange marmalade, and then used this marmalade to make shortbread thumbprint cookies. This year, I decided to make candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni, and put them in a little jar in the back of my fridge.

Kinkan Kanro-Ni | Candied Kumquats

  • 4 cups fresh kumquats, whole (optional: seeds removed)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sake

1. In a medium pot bring water to a boil, then add sugar and kumquats. Reduce heat to medium and simmer kumquats for about 20 minutes.

Notes:

a) The kumquats will puff-up while cooking.

b) If you don’t have 4 cups of fresh kumquats to work with, a good rule of thumb is using a 1:1 ratio for the water to sugar. I used less sugar than the recipe provides because I prefer my sweets less sugary.

2. Add sake and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid becomes a thick, syrup consistency.

3. Remove from heat, cool, and store in fridge. Note: The kumquats which looked very puffy while cooking, will become shriveled after it cools.

These candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni are perfect for snacking, regardless of whether you’ve got a sore throat or not.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Although I didn’t care much for kinkan kanro-ni as a child, I’ve grown to appreciate these little sweet and sour beauties as an adult. Like many of the foods I am fond of, this one brings back good memories of my childhood, albeit with a sour face.

Thanks to my little Bebe E and Nene for helping to pick these lovely kumquats from Yin Yin and Papa’s tree. And once again, thanks to my talented brother-in-law, Hideki, for the beautiful pictures in today’s post!

Cheers,

Judy

Yaki Nasu | Grilled Japanese Eggplant

Growing up, one of my favorite vegetable dishes was yaki nasu, or grilled Japanese eggplant, simply served with shoyu and garnished with katsuo bushi and fresh grated ginger. (Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha)

Most kids don’t like eggplant, and I might be deemed weird, but growing-up, I loved most all vegetables with the exception of the “forbidden three”: brussels sprouts, bell peppers and bitter melon. My favorite was eggplant, or nasubi.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Was I a weird kid? Maybe, maybe not.

It turns out Bebe E also loves all types of vegetables: green beans, peas, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach and more, but her favorite is broccoli. She also loves eggplant or what she refers to in Japanese as “nasubi“, but only if prepared as yaki nasu. She’ll eat eggplant in other dishes that I prepare, but it’s a chore for her to eat when the outer skin is left on. Yaki nasu, on the other hand, is a dish to which she always says, “Mmm, good!”

Mommy and Bebe E love yaki nasu!

My Mom often made my favorite yaki nasu during the summer. Actually, my Dad would throw the eggplants on the BBQ grill and my Mom would prepare it, but there’s something magical about eggplants grilled outdoors: they absorb that smokey BBQ flavor. It makes yaki nasu THAT much better.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

After my Mom peeled the skin off the grilled eggplant, she would make individual appetizer plates for each of us, and then she would chill the dish. On a hot day, a cold serving of smokey-flavored yaki nasu, simply garnished with soy sauce, bonito flakes and fresh ginger, was the absolute best. It brings back great memories. We often ate yaki nasu as a side dish to grilled fish or somen noodles.

During the colder months, or when my Dad didn’t have the BBQ grill going, my Mom would simply grill the eggplants indoors on a little Japanese indoor grill, like the one you see below.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Yaki Nasu | Grilled Japanese Eggplant

makes 4 appetizers

  • 5 – 6 Japanese eggplant
  • Cooking spray
  • shoyu (soy sauce), dashi shoyu (seasoned soy sauce), or ponzu (citrus soy sauce)
  • katsuo bushi (dried bonito shavings) and | or finely sliced negi (green onions)
  • fresh grated shoga (ginger)

1. Spray grill with cooking oil. On an indoor grill pan, or outdoor grill, cook eggplant in their skin over medium high heat until the inner flesh is soft and tender and the outer skin is charred. About 6 – 7 minutes on each side.

2. Either place the eggplant (skin on) in cool water, or allow it to rest until room temperature. My Mom usually allows the eggplant to rest until room temperature.

3. Once the eggplant cools, gently remove all of the charred skin of the eggplant. Remove the stem, and chop the eggplant into thirds or fourths, creating small bite size pieces. Note: yaki nasu can be served at room temperature or chilled.

4. Plate the yaki nasu and garnish with fresh grated ginger, bonito shavings and sliced green onions. Drizzle with soy sauce. (Dashi shoyu or ponzu are alternative seasonings). While there are recipes for yaki nasu served with a dashi sauce (which can be made with home made dashi, soy sauce and mirin) we always ate ours simply served with soy sauce.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Special thanks to my brother-in-law for the beautiful yaki nasu pictures that you see in today’s post! Please take a moment to visit Hideki Ueha to see his full portfolio on Flickr.

Oh, and about them Lakers… If any of you watched Saturday night’s horrible Game 4 against Oklahoma… I am truly sorry! Thankfully, since I wasn’t feeling well, I fell asleep just before half-time and missed the entire 2nd half of the game, including what I heard was, an absolute nightmare 4th quarter. Yet, as a Lakers fan, I couldn’t help but wake-up at 2 AM, anxious and curious, reaching for my phone in the dark to find out what happened. 103 – 100, Oklahoma.

What?!? They lost?!?

To quote my buddy M-kun, “there goes our season.”

What of tonight’s Game 5 Lakers vs Oklahoma to be played in Oklahoma? I’ll be watching, cheering and hoping the Lakers will play like a team, not blame each other like little school boys and instead put their best effort forward, win or lose, with heads held high. However, if I fall asleep again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Have a great Monday!

Judy