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Yuzu Ginger Daikon & Carrots over Silky Tofu

March 5, 2011
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It’s Saturday morning and a Japanese breakfast is in order. A full Japanese keiseki breakfast meal is very elaborate, as you may have seen from my Nagano trip post. It could include miso soup, grilled fish, rice with nori seaweed, egg, and pickles. It is definitely more on the savory side than even American scrambled eggs with bacon. But making the whole ordeal is obviously not practical for a weekday breakfast. And it’s down-right impossible for me, even on a weekend.

So far, I’ve mainly attempted to cook Japanese dishes for dinner and I have not swayed from my assigned task. For the first time, however, I attempt to make a Japanese breakfast dish, using my own recipe to boot. Shocking, I know. Technically, a part of this dish didn’t start out at breakfast but found its way onto rice for dinner one day. The leftovers, however, were matched with tofu on the following morning and it turned out to be a perfect match!

Here’s my recipe for ‘Yuzu Ginger Daikon & Carrots over Silky Tofu’ (on side note, in my US formulation lab I previously made a Yuzu Sake Facial Toner and it was well received, so if you’re feeling adventurous, you can drink some sake and smother the sauce from this recipe on  your face, it will do wonders (don’t get it in your eyes though)):

The first thing you can do ahead of time, previous night lets say, and that is to make the kiriboshi daikon (sun-dried radish) dashi stock. I used Elizabeth Andoh’s Kansha book’s recipe on pg. 76.

It calls for:

1/2 cup kiriboshi daikon strips

1 piece kombu seaweed, 2 x 1-1/2 inch size

4 cups soft water

Place the ingredients in a glass jar, cover, and keep for at least 30 minutes.  Strain the flavor-infused liquid and keep the strips and kombu for another use.

Now, this stock matches very well with the daikon and carrot I’m going to use, but you’re not limited to making this type. You may probably get away with using Hon-dashi ready-made seasoning if you’re strapped for time or patience. You will not get the slightly sweet flavor of the kiriboshi daikon, however. Also, you may be inclined to omit using stock to cook the veggies and use plain water but this will not give you the sweet savory backdrop to the dish, so don’t skip this step. Stock is everything as I learned.

For this recipe you don’t need 4 cups of stock so you may either halve the recipe or use the leftover stock for another purpose.

Peel a 10 x 10 cm (roughly 4 x 4 in) size daikon and 1 thick carrot. Slice in matchstick-size pieces. Heat a skillet on high heat, put some a Tbsp or so of vegetable oil and lightly fry the daikon and carrot strips. Lower the heat to medium and pour 1 – 2 cups stock. Simmer until vegetables are soft, do not cover. Most of the liquid will evaporate but there will be some left for the sauce.

Meanwhile, grate a good knob of fresh ginger (peel first). Once the veggies are cooked, turn the heat off. Proceed to introduce the ginger and 3 Tbsps of Yuzu-flavored soy sauce. I’m sure you can find this sauce in a Japanese supermarket, it is used for dipping. The unique citrus flavor and aroma of this sauce goes well with ginger and these veggies. And that’s pretty much it!

You may cool the mixture to room temperature, or if made ahead of time, there’s no need to reheat when serving. Just slap a good quality silky (not cotton) type tofu piece, about 10 x 10 cm single serving size, on a nice plate. Pour the veggie ginger sauce mixture onto the tofu and eat. This recipe will yield about 4 good heapings of veggies, so roughly 4 servings, depending on how much you like vegetables and/or ginger.  For a heartier version, serve a bowl of rice on the side.



Sake Soup!

March 3, 2011

Well not quite, but very close..

I’m sorting through my pictures from Hokkaido trip with mom. There should be a few posts on that coming out, eventually.

My mom returned to US and I’m cooking for myself again. Today’s recipe is from here, called Kasujuru, and this is the third time I’m attempting to replicate it. And third time is the charm as they say because the first and second ended up as edible failures.

This recipe is very interesting. It uses regular Dashi stock at its base as most Japanese soups do. It introduces sake kasu, which are lees leftover from sake production. KyotoFoodie gives a good description of what this ingredient is and what it looks like. Plain sake and sweet sake are both used extensively in Japanese cuisine but this is something different, leftovers, something that could be viewed as waste. It totally enticed me into trying this winter soup. I had some difficulties finding this special secret ingredient in the supermarket but it turned out to be in the refrigerated section next to tofu, looking rather dull.

Now, the Japan Times recipe calls for 200 grams of this stuff, and on my first attempt I halved the recipe and put 100 grams of it, which turned out to be way way too much. All the veggies were overwhelmed by it. It’s possible my store-bought sake kasu was compressed a great deal making it more concentrated than fresh version.

The salmon used in this recipe is the salted one (if you recall I mistakingly fried this one upon my arrival to Japan). This time around the salt is supposed to diffuse into the broth. Sake kasu is not salty so a little help from salmon and miso paste is necessary.

The mad formulator in me doesn’t want to settle for standard recipe, however. I just have to mess with it, make it my own or something like that. So the second time I made it, I decreased the amount of sake kasu, which was good, but I added seaweed-flavored konnyaku. What a mistake! This page gives a decent introduction to this Japanese ingredient and mentions the perfect sense to use it alongside daikon or other harty vegetables.  However, in this soup it turned into a mush of seaweed flakes, altered the taste and ruined the white appearance from sake kasu.  Damn. Fail #2. You would not want to see a picture of that, trust me. Maybe it wasn’t the right konnyaku…. I’ll just try koniak (cognac) next time and I won’t notice the taste difference.

The third time was finally a success! I did not deviate too much from the recipe, just made it a little low cal by deleting potatoes. I found gobo, or burdock root (the first time I found something else, which wasn’t supposed to be in the soup). This is a slender dirty root but is quite nice in this soup. Daikon and carrots were nice too, full of their own flavor. The amount of compressed sake kasu necessary for say, three bowls of soup, was 50 grams for me. The flavor of this soup is very interesting, delicious once made correctly.

The decoration on this soup is supposed to be mitsuba, or Japanese parsley. I haven’t discovered it yet so I just put leftover lettuce shreds with some scallions. Worked well for me. 🙂

N-N-N i k k o.

February 14, 2011

Sunlight greeted us on Sunday but did not warm us..

Traveling to Nikko (the name means “sunlight”) National Park with two Thai post-docs was great fun and I was able to relax a bit more without having to worry so much about train and bus schedules. We set off really early, 6 am, and reached Nikko by about 9 o’clock. From train station we took a bus to Ryuzu Falls.

We then hiked up in the snow next to the waterfalls, which although a beautiful venture, led to soaking of my sneakers and subsequent freezing of my whole body.











Yindee’s photo of cold tourists.










Thankfully the scenery and my company were distracting enough to help me not think of my cold feet.

Came down to the lake Chuzenji via a twisty road on a crowded bus and went to lunch.

Read more…

Kawasaki & Yokohama.

February 12, 2011

The rest of last week was spent in Kawasaki, which is known as the industrial hub with numerous factories, including Fujitsu plant, as well as Ajinomoto. I was informed that residential housing has been increasing in this area and I thought to myself that “oh, maybe the factories are becoming cleaner and people are more willing to live near them”. Well, the main reason is that plants have been closing down and relocating abroad. So much for green chemistry…

Either way I got a nice tour of our surfactant manufacturing facility, which was super cool. I’m sure glad I’m not an engineer.

Friday was a holiday so I headed to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. It has an interesting history, starting out as a small fishing village and then being the first to open it’s port to foreigners at the end of the Edo period. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Yokohama in 1853-54 with his fleet of American warships and demanded the opening of Japan’s ports for trade. Seclusion period ended with that and foreign influence grew. Yokohama has a foreigners cemetery, where a sailor from Perry’s fleet was first buried, followed by some obscure Russians.  They say that Japanese wives of foreigners were also buried here. It’s not open during the winter, however, so I couldn’t visit. I did check out the very sophisticated Chinatown, which is completely different from the Flushing or Manhattan Chinatowns. Lots of chestnut stalls, curious shops and good restaurants.  


















Following a good dinner in Chinatown I walked to Minato Mirai 21 urban district to ascend the 69th floor of Yokohama Landmark Tower. This tower has the fastest elevator in Japan, going at max speed of 750 m/min.

I wish they had a transparent balcony or something of the sort as in Toronto Tower or what used to be Sears Tower in Chicago, it would have been a bit more thrilling (maybe I’m just spoiled though).

The building itself is a hotel.










The following day it was lightly snowing. I came back to Minato Mirai 21 to shop (both Kawasaki and Yokohama have huge underground malls that connect between subway and train stations) and also to visit Yokohama Art Museum.


























Nagano Trip

February 11, 2011
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This past week has been insanely busy and full of adventure. I enjoyed the trip overall with an exception of a few stressful moments.

3 days in the Japan Alps:

It all started out with an early Saturday morning  ride to Nagano by Shinkansen (took an hour an a half). It did not stop there, however, immediately upon arrival , a regular JR (Japan Railways) train took me to Matsumoto city. I only had an hour to check out the famous Matsumoto castle (Japan’s National Treasure, completed in 1614) and didn’t get a chance to see the interiors. It’s also known as the “Crow Castle” because of its black walls. On a side note, there are a lot of crows in Japan, my area has bunches that are quite disturbing sometimes.

Here’s a little piece of history I found coming back to the train station:

From Matsumoto I took a bus to Takayama town. It was a beautiful route in the valleys of snow-covered Hida mountains with a blue-green river / stream running along the sides of the road. On the bus I met a fellow tourist from Australia. He liked to chat and has traveled half the world on his own. He gave me some useful tips, such as which travel company to choose when I’m in Laos.

The “old town” dates back to the Edo period (1600-1868) and has been preserved. It is very touristy and there are lot of shops selling overpriced items. The old houses are now either privately-owned shops specializing in a particular craft, such as sake brewing (my favorite!) or wood carving, or they are museums.

I didn’t go to any museums but wondered around the outskirts of the town with many temples instead. I never seem to follow the beaten path.

Heavy load

to carry.









The temple trail led me into a foresty park, which is one hill.

By following this map:








I found a control! 

This curious and huge building below intrigued me from the start. It is not advertised on the tourist maps and I desperately wanted to know what it was.









But I stopped to admire the sake drinking capabilities of Japanese people first:

All empty.

The traditional Ryoken that I stayed in was an antique museum in itself.

The ghost in a yukata (robe):

The food was absolutely amazing. It was a traditional Japanese ‘kaiseki’ or multi-course meal.

And just to make you salivate even more, this was my breakfast:

After my wonderful dinner I took a bus to Hida Folk Village, which is very famous for its ‘gassho-zukuri’ or “praying hands” farmhouses.











I walked back to Takayama but stopped to check out that building I saw earlier and this is what it is:

Origin of the Soul, eh? Very interesting… No wonder they don’t advertise it. Another village up north claims this. I don’t think I’ll be going there.

So on the following morning I went to see the Hida Folk Village again in daylight. Quite stunning architecture of 18th-19th centuries.

The roofs of these houses are held by wooden beams in a 60-degree angle to prevent snow from piling up. No nails were used in making the houses but strips of hazel brenches were used to tie the beams. The interiors are very open. There are no actual windows but the shoji screens serve their purpose.

They had no nails but they had developed these machines to mill their grains (Fodor’s guide says the houses were made without nails to keep them flexible  to sway in the wind, mmmkay..)

Either way, it was very interesting and I spent a little too much time here.

Leading me to miss the bus in Takayama going to Matsumoto. And the adventure begins!

To get to Yudanaka onsen town in time to get dinner at my reserved ryoken meant that I had to get out of this village fast. It didn’t turn out that fast though. I took three trains, first heading south, then east to catch another train going north to Nagano. I missed the earlier bus and so had to take the next available option, which meant I would arrive in Yudanaka at 6 pm. Now this would fine anywhere else  except this is a mountainous region and it gets very dark here. From the bus stop I had to walk 2 kms on a narrow trail in the forest that had wild monkeys and wild boar. Thankfully I brought a flashlight and didn’t stop to read the signs showing which snow prints indicated which animal. But, I arrived alive and with a slight nervous twitch.  Stressful voyage led me to my somewhat cold dinner and an onsen bath, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the one located outside.

Here’s my ryoken following morning

And here are the wild beasts coming after me:

I’m of course exaggerating. These snow monkeys are quite domesticated. Each morning they come to the onsen baths to eat and bathe, and to pose for pictures.

And oh, so cute, they are! All the dozens of them that flocked to these feeding grounds.

This guy was very amusing. Cleaning himself in public.








I think this one liked me.








Long post but mostly pictures, so no excuse to stop here.

Adventure continues to my spontaneous decision to check out the Shiga Cogen ski resort nearby. I was getting antsy from no exercise; hauling a large backpack doesn’t count. And so I went snowboarding, the last time was five years ago.









Half day was enough for me and I headed back to Nagano by bus. There’s nothing major to see in Nagano city except for one temple and Olympic museums. I’m not particularly enthralled by Olympic sports paraphernalia, so I opted out of that but did see the Zenko-ji temple.

On the way back to the train station I stopped by a restaurant, called Sakura. It has a sake brewery on site and a small museum. I had an amazing meal with o-sake (‘o’ symbolizes respect and is a common prefix to Japanese nouns, not only sake 🙂 and miso ice cream. And I was almost late for my Shinkansen.

The day doesn’t stop here though, after I got back to my apartment I switched bags real quick and headed to Kawasaki for work, which is south of Tokyo.

To countdown the transportation of past three days: a total of 12 trains and 6 buses. One adventure, check!


February 4, 2011

Yesterday was Setsubun in Japan. Huh?  Sesame bun? No! Setsubun. It is a bean-throwing festival, seriously. It’s held at the beginning of every season and this one is for the start of the spring. It coincides with Lunar New Year and it’s a festive celebration, which includes mamimake or bean throwing. Most Buddhist and Shinto temples perform this ritual, as well as little kids. You’re supposed to put on a scary demon mask, get some roasted soybeans and throw them at someone, no just throw out the door actually. While throwing the beans you’re supposed to say, “Oni Wa Sato” (throw the ogres out!), then you say “Fuku Wa Uchi (bring in prosperity!), and then you fetch the beans and eat them.









Also on Setsubun you’re supposed to eat special dishes, like uncut thick sushi rolls while facing the lucky direction of the new year, this year it’s S – SW. I am not experienced enough to make sushi rolls but I did make this excellent Japanese sweet dish, called Kuro Mame, or black beans. This dish is popular around New Year’s time and I’m here for Chinese New Year, so why not? I used a recipe for Kansha book by Elizabeth Andoh and it came out great! It took forever though. First day, you soak the dried black beans, next day you boil them for 2+ hours, boil some more with sugar, cool to room temperature, following day boil again with soy sauce. Not that’s a test for your patience.

I would write out the recipe but the protocol is way too long and I don’t have patience for that.

Here are the beans (looking not like beans) boiling in sugar syrup:

Doesn’t it look appetizing?

And this is how it looks once it’s cooled down the final time:

Taste delicious! The addition of soy sauce mellows out the sugar and gives it an interesting flavor. Also, the beans don’t fall apart with such prolonged cooking time. On opposite, upon addition of sugar they harden up and keep their shape and their skins, looking beautifully black at at end.

Taste of Kansha

January 31, 2011

Saturday I bustled to the other side of town for a Taste of Kansha.

It took me more than two hours from Edogawadai to Kaminoge, which is southwest of Tokyo. I was a bit early to the party (yes, I know I’m not cool) so I wondered around the neighborhood, which has seen better days. I did find this lovely lady chilling out in the sun in Tama Art University.









Moving on the tasty part. Who knew vegan food can be delicious? I sure thought you restrict your lifestyle, restrict your diet and restrict your palate from tasting anything. But no, I was wrong. I am exaggerating of course, but it was new to me to see how such delicious vegan food can actually be prepared. Here’s my sample platter:

No, it wasn’t a sake tasting, the four cups were used for variations of stock. The key to making flavorful dishes is to bring out the subtle yet powerful flavors of various earth and sea plant ingredients. For example, kombu seaweed is soaked in water for a while (cup #1) to give a sea flavor to the stock.

Combined with kampyo (dried gourd ribbons, see below) you obtain what to me tasted something subtly sweet + sour (cup #2). 







Then if you soak kombu and kiri-boshi daikon (sun dried radish strips) together you obtain a sweet satisfying flavor of a stock (cup #3).

And that’s just the beginning, you intensify the flavors of all savory dishes by addition of these stocks.

The fourth cup is a different kind of stock, I mentioned it previously, it’s called niban dashi, or secondary stock. This one doesn’t use bonito flakes (as bonito are a tuna sort) but instead comes from marinated shitakes in soy sauce, combined with sake, sugar and/or mirin. Since this is the second stock, the first one is actually a concentrate, which Elizabeth Andoh, the creative director, writer and chef of these recipes, called Vegan Seasoned Soy Concentrate, or VSSC for short. This sauce is amazing! Umami through the roof. Totally indispensable in a Japanese kitchen.

The secondary stock is quite good as well and I made a noodle soup with it:







Now why on earth would I drag myself to a vegan (not even vegetarian) tasting? It wasn’t really about the tasting (well, maybe a little, I do like food), it was about learning the Kansha kitchen ways. Kansha means ‘appreciation’ and I would call it a philosophy or a lifestyle. It is very appropriate in the kitchen and serves as a very good analogy for other areas of our daily lives. Basically, what it teaches (teaches us, foreigners, this philosophy has been part of Japan’s culture for all its history) is to appreciate the bounty of nature, to use everything edible in a plant and not waste any food parts. It’s not limited to plants of course, do not waste resources like water, recycle used portions ,etc. It follows the Green Chemistry principles organically. Common sense really, but as is the case with Green Chemistry it is not as widespread a phenomenon as one would hope, especially in the Land of the Plenty. Anyways, it was really interesting to observe how this methodology is applied in a regular kitchen. Well, technically, the kitchen of Elizabeth Andoh is not a typical kitchen. She’s a renowned cook, who has been living in Japan for over 50 years (born in NY), producing wonderful Japanese recipes, and publishing them in English. The latest book is called Kansha, and I received an autographed version at the tasting. Now I’m much better equipped to tackle Japanese cuisine.

Here’s Elizabeth Andoh showing us pickled plums: