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

Chyuka Kyuri Tsukemono | Chinese Style Pickled Cucumber

This past weekend my brother-in-law came over and did a photo shoot for my blog. I’m not the best photographer, and for me, a camera falls under the category of “technology”, and therefore is a serious challenge.

I’ve been trying to take better pictures for my blog, and I can thankfully say that my photos have improved slightly since I started my blog two years ago (some of my earlier shots were quite awful), but I’ve found that photography, for me, is still a challenge and something that I would very much like to improve upon. The photo below is one that I took, and can proudly say is an improvement over some of my more embarrassing food shots.

Fortunately, the brother of my brother’s wife, is a great photographer. He’s really my brother’s brother-in-law, but I always refer to him as my brother-in-law. I was very lucky that Hideki agreed to shoot some of my food for me. Apparently, my brother and sister-in-law didn’t invite him to yesterday’s Dodger game because they found out he was shooting food for me. Oops, sorry Hideki!

In some of my upcoming posts, you’ll see his photography featured on my blog, and you’ll recognize his photos immediately, as those will look REALLY GREAT, as opposed to some of my photos that are hopefully starting to look a little better. I’ve featured a few of his photos here and there around my blog: Oshogatsu’12, Oshogatsu ’11 and Girl’s Day ’12. You can see his full portfolio on Flickr, Hideki Ueha.

Today, I share with you a Chinese style pickled cucumber that is very easy to make and it’s so simple that you’ll definitely want to give it a try. I love the flavor of fresh cucumber slices, and chyuka kyuri no tsukemono is one of my favorite ways to enjoy cucumber.

In Japanese cuisine, there are so many variations of kyuri no tsukemono, or pickled cucumbers, it will make your head spin. I’ve eaten countless variations that my Mom has made over the years and she’ll simply make a slight ingredient change from one batch to the next, such as adding yuzu, or konbu, or shoyu, or togarashi, or even sugarthe possibilities are endless.

One of my favorites, however, is a variation of my Mom’s shoyu kyuri no tsukemono (pickled cucumbers seasoned with soy sauce) that my Auntie Sumiko made for us at a BBQ sometime last year. She added goma abura (sesame oil) which makes the Japanese pickled cucumbers, in Japanese culture, “chyuka” or Chinese – style, hence the title of today’s post, “Chinese Style Pickled Cucumbers”.

Chyuka Kyuri Tsukemono | Chinese Style Pickled Cucumbers

  • 2 Japanese cucumbers (or other thin-skinned cucumber)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried wagiri red chili pepper (sliced in small rings), optional

1. Slice cucumbers into large bite-sized pieces. Place in a sealable (Ziplock) bag or a plastic container that can be tightly, and securely sealed.

2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil and mix well. Add dried red chili pepper slices for some heat.

3. Pour the mixture over the cucumber pieces and shake the bag or tupperware until the cucumbers are well-coated.

4. Refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, periodically mixing the cucumbers to ensure the pieces are evenly coated. The meat of the cucumber will begin to absorb the color of the soy sauce, at which point, they should be ready to eat.

NOTE: If you keep your chyuka kyuri no tsukemono in the marinade for 4 – 5 days in the fridge, they will begin to shrivel and they will likely become very salty. I prefer to eat mine the same day that I make them, or within a day or two of making them at the most. You also have the option to discard the marinade once your chyuka kyuri no tsukemono reaches the desired flavor that suits your palate. This will prevent the cucumbers from becoming too salty.

Happy Monday!

Judy

Nori Tamago Sumashijiru (Japanese Clear Soup with Seaweed and Egg)

Sumashijiru is a clear Japanese soup and can be made with a number of different ingredients, limited only by the creativity of the chef. Growing up, my Mom often made sumashijiru to accompany our dinners.

One of my childhood favorites is a minimalist soup my mom often prepares with nori (seaweed) and tamago (egg) or nori tamago sumashijiru.  She often serves this with her homemade gyoza.  My mom’s gyoza and nori tamago sumashijiru was one of my favorite Japanese dinners when I was growing up.

Other dishes my Mom serves sumiashijiru with is chirashi sushi, but it’s a great accompaniment to most any Japanese dish.

On to the recipe! Just a quick post today as I am trying to post a few things that have been sitting on my computer. :) Continue reading