Tuesday, October 6, 2009

nihon shoku.

japanese food.

to my surprise, i was treated to a ridiculously delicious meal at sel gris on friday night by some kind out of town guests.  to say the least, it was quite extravagant. i thought it be best to show my gratitude by cooking up a giant japanese food feast for them the following night.

the menu:
(don't freak out, i'll explain all of this)
  • gomae
  • wakame and onion salad
  • agedashidofu
  • wafu hamburgar
  • kinpiragobo (again)
after an early morning trip to the hollywood farmer's market (by the way, i am helping with a cooking demo next saturday!), a rousing game of wiffleball in the park (grrr, i lost), a quick coffee and bronzing sesh (the sun came out!), i got to work.

(blanched spinach with a ground sweetened sesame)

3 large bundles of spinach (1-2 lbs), cleaned with roots trimmed off.
(with stems, it gives it a little crunch. you can use loose leaf, but try not to use baby, unless you are planning on buying a ton of it. if you buy "adult" spinach with stems included, it's way cheaper-plus, it's traditional.)
3 heaping tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
1-2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons of soysauce

real easy.  boil a large pot of water (preferably deep because you have a lot of spinach. it will wilt down, so don't worry if you think you'll have a giant spinach monster growing out of your pot.) having a colander ready, put the spinach into the boiling water for no longer than 15 seconds, making sure it all gets submerged into the hot water. after it has just barely wilted down, IMMEDIATELY dump it into a colander and run COLD water onto it to cool it down. (or, if you have a bowl large enough, fill a bowl with ice water ready to go where you can throw the spinach in straight from the pot.) the point is, you want to stop the cooking process so that the spinach keeps its beautiful green color!
ok, while all of this is going on, you can get your sous chef, significant other, sister, brother, angry baby, or dog, to grind up the sesame seeds. sure, you can use the magic bullet, mortar and pestle or a food processer too, but it's more fun to get someone else to grind up the seeds. normally, there is this japanese bowl (ceramic or plastic) called a suribachi, that has a rough pattern on the inside, in which you grind spices or seeds against it.  that was mine or my dad's job in the kitchen when my mom cooked this to make sure we'd stay out of the way of the "HOT SPINACH, OUT OF THE WAY!". i don't have one of those bowls, so i
enlisted ben to smack it with a spoon with the seeds in plastic ziplock bag. when that's done (it doesn't need to be pulverized, just 75% ground), add the sugar and a couple turns of soy sauce to taste. it should almost taste like slighty salty peanut butter. squeeze all the water out of the spinach using those big muscles of yours and then chop it up into about 1 inch pieces. ( after squeezing all the water out of it, it usually looks like a long green log. i chop it into 1 inch sections short ways, and then in half, length wise, so you get chunks.)  toss the spinach and the sesame mix together in a bowl and serve! (if you have katsuobushi, or dried bonito flakes, that should go on top.)

wakame and onion salad:

small handful of dried wakame (seaweed) or fresh ogo (also a type of seaweed)
one med/large white onion
small bundle of kaiware (daikon sprouts)
rice vinegar
soy sauce
sesame seed oil

i wish i could find ogo. but i couldn't so wakame works as a good substitute. if you are using dried wakame, only use about a small handful of it and throw it in a bowl of water. it grows three times its size, so use as much as you think you'll need depending on how much you are making. while that is soaking, slice your onion VERY thinly. i normally would use a japanese mandolin but i don't have one of those either so i had to use my pro knife skills and slice it by hand.  after you slice the onion, soak, rinse and squeeze the onion a couple times in a bowl of water. it takes the bitterness out of the onion leaving you with the sweetness of the onion  instead. ( i also use this method when i put raw red onion in my salads.) when the wakame is all done expanding, drain the water and throw it into a bowl with the onions and kaiware.  for the dressing, you basically use equal parts of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. i usually go a little lighter on the sugar. add the sesame seed oil last. just add a little to get a hint of it (tablespoon or so if you use equal parts of the other stuff for a total of a 1/3 cup of dressing). toss it in with the onion salad.  it's ready to serve but you can always let it marinade in the fridge if you like.

agedashidofu (fried tofu):

1 package of FIRM tofu (i used portland made "ota tofu")
2 stalks of green onions, chopped
katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
flour/katakuriko (corn/potatoe starch)

before you cook your tofu, you need to get all the moisture out of it so it doesn't get soggy when you are trying to get a nice crust going. what i usually do is stick the tofu (removed from package) in the microwave and blast it for 3 minutes. it basically sweats all the water out (hashimawari household trick). OR, because we don't have a microwave in our house (long story), wrap it in some paper or clean kitchen towels, place a pan or a cookie sheet on top of that and put something heavy on top for about 10-15 minutes. it will basically squeeze the water out. when that's done, cut the big block into smaller rectangular pieces, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick.  heat up a pan with vegetable oil so that it comes about halfway up the height of the tofu. (some people deep fry it, but this is makes it less oily). lightly batter each piece with katakuriko (if you use this, it creates a puffier crust. i didn't have any of this either, so i used flour). place it in the pan and then DON'T touch it. you want to create a nice toasty crust, so don't poke at it. you can check on it to make sure it doesn't burn but for the most part, you'll see the crust from the bottom start to brown up along the edges. when that happens, flip it.  after it's done, place it on a plate and mound it with green onions, then katsuobushi. (again, i didn't have that either, so i left it out.  traditionally, it's on there.)  put a little soy sauce on top (a couple turns of the plate) and that's it.
i should say that there are other ways to serve the agedashidofu. some recipes will call for it to sit in a soup/sauce that contains dashi, mirin, and soysauce.  at home, we use just top it with soy sauce so it doesn't get soggy. plus, it's simpler and really glorifies the tofu.

last but not least...

wafu hamburger (japanese style hamburgers):

1 lb ground beef
3 stalks of green onions, chopped
6-8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 egg
1 daikon radish, finely grated
salt and pepper
ponzu or soy sauce
saute the mushrooms slightly in vegetable oil and remove from heat just before they're done. the hamburgers take a short time to cook, so you want the mushrooms to be slightly cooked to give it a head start. place the ground beef in a bowl with the chopped onions, sauteed mushrooms and 1 egg. season with salt and pepper. mix well and then form small patties (about 2 inches in diameter). place the patties in a lightly oiled (fat from the beef will come out) pan and brown. because the patties are so small, it should only take about a few minutes (max) on each side to cook all the way through.
while this is going on, peel the daikon and grate the radish so you almost get a puree. again, you can always get your handy kitchen helper do this while you're prepping the burgers. it was normally my job (or my dad's if i wasn't around).
when the burgers are done, mound the daikon puree on top and then put a little ponzu on top.  ( i didn't have any ponzu, so i used soy sauce. you can always make your own ponzu by putting a little citrus juice into the soy sauce). when i have it handy, i also like to put a shiso leaf on top of the burger before the daikon.

the last dish is actually kinpiragobo. i made it last weekend so you can look up the recipe from the past entry. here's a picture of it anyway:

to get centimental on you...i had a fun time making this meal.  not only did this remind me of home, but this meal represented who i am as a cook.  this is my idea of what japanese soul food means to me.  my parents are sending me a care package.  get ready, this is only a taste of what's to come...


  1. ive treated you to McDonalds like 3214154316431 times. Ive yet to have you cook me a meal... :(


  2. you are a liar brother! i don't eat at mcdonalds!

  3. heeey my mom has a suribachi but i never knew what it was called. HOW FANCY.