Let’s Cooking with Wheat Gluten (it’s better than it sounds!)

For a small country, it seems to me that Japan has an amazing variety of regional cuisine. Here in Ishikawa, we’re blessed with ample seafood, and the cold winters and hot, humid summers lend themselves particularly well to fermentation; as a result, many of our regional specialties involve fermented seafood which, I think, is something of an aquired taste that I have yet to aquire. If you, like me, are looking to try something else that’s popular with the locals, why not give fu (麩) a try?

Fu is the name used to describe a number of preparations of wheat gluten (essentially, what’s left over if you wash all the startch out of wheat flour.) Some kinds, including sudare-bu (すだれ麩 – a type of fu eaten almost excuslively in Ishikawa), are very dense and hard, and require soaking before they are edible. Other kinds, such as kuruma-fu (車麩 – a popular ingredient in home cooking in Hokuriku) are leavened with baking powder. These are light, brittle, and extremely absorbent. The soak up sauce like nobody’s business, and make a satisfying (and protein-rich) meat subsitute in stir fry and curry.

I bought a package of kuruma fu earier this week, and have been having a lot of fun cooking with it. Would you like to give it a try? Check out Hokuriku Expat Kitchen this week for recipes for Fu Donburi and Cold Miso Soup (the latter is even seasonal!) Happy cooking!


Let’s Make Umeshu (Japanese Plum Wine)

Umeshu (梅酒)is a traditional Japanese form of liquor that is often times translated as “Japanese plum wine”.  However, one taste of Umeshu will let you know that Umeshu has closer ties to hard liquor than it does to wine because of its potency.  With that said, Umeshu is a very sweet drink that can be drank straight up or on the rocks by almost anyone, as well as mixed with other drinks to make tasty cocktails.

Umeshu is easy to find in the grocery store, and is offered in many different varieties as well as brands.  But Umeshu isn’t just a drink to be bought, it is a drink that many people in Japan make in their own home.   Not only is Umeshu legal to make at home, it is surprisingly easy to do.  But, the time to make Umeshu is now, so if you want to make Umeshu you need to get to the stores and look for the Umeshu making stalls.

If you want to make Umeshu at home this is what you will need:

1 Umeshu Jar.  These Jars usually come in 2 or 4 liter variants, and have red caps.  The thing to remeber with the Umeshu Jar is its ability to be sealed.  A good Umeshu Jar should have a double seal.  Id you find the local Umeshu making area in your supermarket you should spot the 2liter and 4 liter jars quite easily.

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Foreign Cookery Lessons

Photo: meddygarnet

The following is a guest post by Jess, an ALT living in Kanazawa.  She also runs the Chuhi Chic blog listed on the side bar under our “Friends” category.  Thanks, Jess!

Ever tasted the delights of foreign food and wondered how it was made?  Well now’s the time to learn!  Kanazawa is home to a diverse foreign community and there is an opportunity to to meet other foreigners and cook in an informal environment. Yoko’s cookery classes run on a Sunday every month.  See below for the next 3 lessons:

Sunday 28th March – Green tea ceremony and pot luck lunch –¥500
Green tea ceremony from 10-11.30 then everyone brings in any type of food they want (portions for 3 or 4) .  Lunch from 12pm followed by some games.

Sunday April 18th- Iranian cooking class – ¥500 foreigners/¥1000 Japanese

Sunday May 16th- Romanian cooking class – ¥500 foreigners/¥1000 Japanese

Call or email Yoko (English okay) for further details or to register: 090-8265-0283;  kawamori (d0t) 3 (at) ezweb (dot) ne (dot) jp

Editor’s Note: Cooking classes are located just a few blocks behind Kourinbo 109, in Kanazawa.  The classes are pretty casual, and it’s a fun environment and a great chance to get to know some other foreigners in the area!  No cooking experience necessary, and since each lesson is taught by a different person, the experience is really different for each event.

If you’re interested in cooking, I’m sure Yoko would be excited for you to teach something from your own country as well!

Recipe: Stupidly Easy Tomato Soup

Photo: vmiramontes

I love tomato soup, but it’s hard to find for me as a vegetarian.  Luckily, it’s stupidly easy to make, and you can make yourself a lazy man’s dinner that’s comforting and satisfying by just opening a can of crushed tomatos and following the recipe below.

Stupidly Easy Tomato Soup

1 cup water (about 250 mL)

1 vegetable bullion cube

1 can crushed tomatos (should be about double the amount of water)

1/2 cup milk (about 125mL)

2 tbsp butter (optional) – I just cut a chunk that doesn’t make me feel too guilty…

basil (optional)

pepper (optional)

**I love recipes that can easily be adapted and don’t require measuring.  To be honest, I just eyeball how much of everything I toss in, so don’t be too obsessive about the amounts!

1.  Boil the water and dissolve your boullion cube in it to make a broth.

2.  Add the can of crushed tomatoes to the broth.

3.  Toss in some milk to combat some of that canned-tomato acidity!  Want to add more milk? Go for it.

4. (optionally) Toss in a chunk of butter — less is healthier, more is oilier.  You choose your quantity.

5.  If your boullion cube didn’t provide enough season, toss in some basil and pepper.  Feel free to experiment with other spices as well.  I’ve been successful with a little cinnamon and nutmeg.  Spices are magic.  Use them.

That’s all.  You’re done and you’ve got yourself a totally fabulous and pretty healthy soup!  Make a dinner out of it by adding a side of toast with cheese on it.  Truly the lazy man’s dinner — with easy clean up, too!

Korean-Style Fried Chicken

I used to post for this thing, but I quit.  Now I’m back and it feels great.

And first topic up after about seven months of hard thinking – cooking.

This recipe comes courtesy of the New York Times, which two weeks ago covered New York City’s new love for various Asian styles of fried chicken.  This recipe is meant to be a take off of Korean-style fried chicken, as it uses gojuchang chili paste, which if you trust the NYT, is commonly used in Korean cooking.  Personally, I’m a bit skeptical as to whether or not this is genuine Korean fare, as the gojuchang chili paste is mixed with equal parts ketchup.  But who am I do speculate about the authenticity of Korean cuisine?

Here’s the recipe and the link:

Time: 30 minutes, plus one hour’s marinating

1 small yellow onion, coarsely grated

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for coating

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for coating

8 to 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, quartered, or 24 wings

3 tablespoons Korean chili paste (gojuchang)

3 tablespoons ketchup

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, more for garnish

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Oil for deep frying

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup cornstarch.

1. In a medium-size bowl, combine grated onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat well. Cover and set aside to marinate for about 1 hour.

2. In a large bowl, stir together chili paste, ketchup, sugar, sesame seeds and lemon juice. Taste and adjust flavors to get a spicy-sweet-tangy finish. Set aside.

3. Pour oil into a large heavy pot to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. Heat to 350 degrees. Combine flour and cornstarch in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.

4. Working in batches to avoid crowding, lift chicken from marinade, dredge lightly in seasoned flour and cornstarch, gently drop into oil and fry for 5 to 7 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining chicken, checking oil temperature between batches.

5. For wings only, when all pieces are done, increase oil temperature to 375 degrees and refry in batches for 30 to 60 seconds, until very crisp. Drain once more on paper towels. While chicken is still hot, brush thickly with chili sauce. Serve hot, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Tips: The people who will actually make this chicken likely do not need tips about frying, as their initiative is suggestive of a pre-existing interest in cooking.  But I’m going to give tips anyway.  First, if you don’t have a thermometer and want to test the temperature of your oil, just poke in a wooden chopstick and if bubbles shoot up after about two seconds, you’re ready to go.  If bubbles shoot up immediately, then that means the oil is too hot.  If it takes longer than three seconds, then the oil is not hot enough.

On the second fry, be prepared to fish that chicken out fast because it can burn very easily.  The recipe says to leave in for a minute, but keep it down closer to forty seconds.  The second fry is your friend, as it is the key to forming a crispy crust.  But be aware, that it can quickly turn your enemy and scorch the chicken.

These wings are wonderfully delicious, perfect for parties, and go well with beer.  So give it a shot and if you find the time, tell me what you thought in the comments section.

~Matt Savas

Recipe: Eggplant and Shishitou Pasta

Eggplant and Shishito Pasta
Serves 2-3

Easy, healthy, and delicious!

Easy, healthy, and delicious!

Translated and adapted from http://www.sakinet.com/tabete/cooking44.htm

I suppose the majority of the dinners I prepare would fall under the category of “fusion”: Western-style pasta dishes made with Japanese ingredients. This particular dish melds the fall flavors of shishitou peppers and eggplant in a tomato-based sauce. Shishitou is a green-colored pepper grown in Japan. It’s not terribly spicy and is a little bit sweet, not entirely unlike what we refer to as a green pepper in English.

Shishitou come in a variety of sizes.  These are rather large--about the size of my hand.

Shishitou come in a variety of sizes. These are rather large--about the size of my hand.

The original version marks most of the amounts of the ingredients as “to taste,” but in my version, I’ve written out how much I prefer. Feel free to adjust the amount of pepper, shishitou, and bacon to your taste.

160-200 grams of penne (May substitute spaghetti.)

3 strips of bacon or thinly sliced pork (optional)* I recommend 豚ローススライス (buta loosu suraisu, sliced pork loin).
1 medium eggplant/aubergine (なす nasu)
3 shishitou (ししとう)
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
½ tsp. of pepper
½ tsp. of salt
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese**
A pinch of dried or chopped parsley

For the sauce
1 can of “whole tomato” 完熟ホールトマト (kanjuku houru tomato)***
1/2 tsp. dried basil (the 2.5 ml spoon); 1 tablespoon if fresh
1/2 tsp. oregano
A pinch of salt and pepper

1. First, make the tomato sauce. Pour the can of “whole tomato” into a frying pan or small pot. Cut the tomatoes into chunks with a fork and knife. (Be careful not to scratch the pan if you’re using a nonstick frying pan.) Add oregano and a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce over medium-low to medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add basil, then remove from heat and set aside.

2. Boil the pasta according to the directions.

3. While the pasta is boiling, wash the eggplant and slice it into half-rounds. Leave the skin on. Wash the shishitou and cut it into rounds. Discard the caps. You don’t have to remove the seeds. Mix the eggplant and shishitou in a small bowl. Add pepper and salt and toss.

4. Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan. Slice the bacon or pork into 2-cm pieces. Add to pan and cook through.**

5. Add the vegetables to the pan and stir-fry until the eggplant is lightly browned and soft.

6. Add the tomato sauce and cooked pasta, then stir everything together.

7. Before serving, sprinkle grated cheese and chopped parsley on top.

Goes well with red wine.

Buy too many eggplants? Here is a simple guide to blanching and freezing your extra eggplants. Remember, Japan doesn’t do a lot of out-of-season food, so you can save some eggplants for winter this way.

Leah Zoller is a first-year CIR in Anamizu and is in love with eggplants.

*Vegetarians may omit the pork or bacon altogether. Or, if you like, you may substitute firm tofu 木綿豆腐 (momen toufu). Squeeze the water out of the tofu with a paper towel, then brown in a frying pan. Do this BEFORE you cook the eggplant and shishitou in olive oil, then add to the vegetable mixture at the same time you add the tomato sauce.
**Fresh cheese is best, but in rural Japan, you may not be able to get this. Kraft Parmesan works just fine as a substitute.
***I prefer to use the type that actually has whole tomatoes and cut up the tomatoes with a fork and knife before making the sauce. However, the diced variety of “whole tomato,” 完熟カットトマト. (kanjuku katto tomato) works equally well.

Charity Cooking Class: Arepas & Frittatas

Photo: nicotiine

On October 18th you have a special opportunity to help out charity, and also learn to cook two fabulous dishes.  One lovely JET from Trinidad and Tobago will be teaching us to make (vegetarian and meat) arepas, Caribbean style!  I will also be teaching how to make vegetarian frittatas, which is a super easy and healthy Italian dish you can make any time you’re feeling lazy!

It’s a great opportunity to hang out with Japanese people and foreigners.  The class is limited to 20 people, and sign-ups are based on a first-come basis.


Contact: Caroline at carrieann_o {at} yahoo.co.uk

When: Sunday, October 18th.  10am – 1pm

Location: Nagamachi Kenshukan in the samurai district in downtown Kanazawa. (It’s about 2 or 3 blocks behind Kourinbo 109) — you’ll get more detailed instructions via email if you sign up!

Cost: ¥1,000 per person, which includes a donation to the PEPYride charity, which helps children in Cambodia.

Photo: norwichnuts

P.S.  Can’t make it to the cooking?  Caroline is also collecting English books, Japanese textbooks, DVDs and CDs.  If you have any you inherited that you don’t need, or if you have some you’re done with, send her an email and she’ll let you know when she can come and collect them from you.  She’ll be selling them to fundraise for the same charity at the International Festival in Kanazawa on October 31st and November 1st!

Winter Cottage Pie

It’s the middle of winter, and if you’re anything like me, you’re aching for a home-cooked meal. Walking into a Japanese supermarket can be depressing this time of year, as I see nearly none of the comfort foods that got me through twenty-one New England winters. The bagels are missing, the pizza is covered in squid ink, and the cereal aisle is two feet wide. I’m learning fast that if I want a taste of home, I’m going to have to make it myself.

Last weekend at a potluck, a friend served up a cottage pie. The mashed potatoes layered over minced beef and vegetables was exactly the taste of home I’d been looking for. In fact, I thought the pie was so good that I decided to make it again the next day for myself.

Cottage pie makes a great meal for a party or yourself because it’s big, cheap, and delicious. The recipe below could easily feed 4-5 people or last one person almost a week.

To start, preheat your oven to 190 degrees. Next, heat up a pan over medium-heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan is hot (the oil should be near, but not at smoking point), throw in one large diced onion and one diced carrot. Cook the onions and carrots for about five minutes until the onions turn slightly translucent. Be careful of the heat, because you don’t want to color the onions.

After this, throw in your ground beef and peas and season with salt and pepper. For flavor, I add about a tablespoon each of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Once the beef and vegetable are cooked, give it a taste to check the seasoning and you’re done. If too much fat has rendered out of the meat, you can add a spoonful of flour to thicken it up.

While the beef is cooking you should have about five potatoes (peeled and cut in half) on the boil. Once they are soft enough to easily slide a fork into, drain out the water, and in the same pan begin to mash. Once mashed, add a knob of butter (about two tablespoons), a quarter-cup of cream, and plenty of salt and pepper, then whisk (if you have it, add some goat cheese or parmesan). Like the beef, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary


To wrap things up, grab a pie pan and poor in the beef and vegetables. On top of that layer on the mashed potatoes. Put into the preheated oven at 190 degrees and cook for 18-20 minutes. When the bell rings, it’s go time.




Servings: 5
5 potatoes
1 carrot
1 small can of peas
400-450g minced beef
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp Ketchup
¼ cup cream
2-3 tblsp butter
1 tblsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

by Matt