Tag Archives: Natto

Traditional, easy, natto-aboabo-shirasu dinner

11 Apr


I’m fortunate, in that my girls love natto, shirasu (baby sardines, steamed right after they are caught), as well as avocado slices over steamed, multi-grain rice.

My little one deftly picks up her rice bowl with her left hand, and expertly picks up a clump of rice, and pops it in her mouth. She then thoughtfully chews, and tells me, “Mama, I like natto!”

My older one carefully picks up the avocado slices, clockwise, and tells me, “I love abo-abo!” *They have called their respective blankies “Minuh’s” and they call their beloved avocado, “abo-abo.”

My parents watch this exchange over Skype, amused, and tell me how wonderful it is to see them enjoying such traditional food despite living outside of Japan.

I’m simply thankful it’s a quick, easy, healthy meal I can pull together in a few minutes (as long as the rice is ready!).


Gyoza is what I want!

3 Jan

Dear Reader –
My apologies that my entry does not include a photo of the final, cooked, gyoza (dumpling) platter… 

However, I managed shots leading up to the final product….

At the request of my older daughter, we had gyozas for their birthday dinner.  Of course, they circled the kitchen table with me, and made gyozas, scooping up spoonfuls of the meat mixture, and carefully pressing them into the gyoza skins whose edges they had carefully wet with their fingertips dipped in water.


1 packet gyoza skins – I like the circle shaped skins from Nanka Seimen.  I pick these up at the Japanese food store – either at Nara, in Port Washington, NY or Shin Nippon Do in Roslyn, NY.

1 lbs ground turkey – from Makinajian Poultry Farm

2 carrots, 2 scallions, 1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger, 3 cloves of garlic, 5 button mushrooms finely minced (through food processor)

Small dish of water – to dip your fingertips to seal the gyoza

I mix the turkey and minced vegetables together in a bowl, well, by hand.  Once the mixture is well incorporated, I set aside.  My suggestion is to have several flat plates onto which you can lay the finished dumplings.  There are about 50 skins, so it is important to try to gauge the perfect amount of meat : skin ratio. 

Take a gyoza skin (if they were in the freezer section, please let them defrost in the refrigerator for a day) in your left hand, and lay it flat.  Add a heaping teaspoon of the meat mixture into the center of the skin.  Take your index finger of your right hand, dip in the water dish, and trace the edge of the gyoza skin.  Fold the gyoza skin in half, carefully and gently pushing the two edges of the skin at the very top, together.  Make pleats along the edges of the gyoza on one side only – I make the pleats on the side facing AWAY from me.  The water serves as sealant, but too little or too much will not seal the edges.

Once you have pleated and sealed (again, pleat only ONE side of the gyoza), place them on your platter keeping each one apart.  Also, the bottoms should be completely dry – otherwise, you run the risk of the skin sticking to the platter when you go to cook them.

A photo of half of the batch – I have to cook them in batches to ensure they are able to eat freshly cooked gyozas.

In a frying pan over medium heat, I add 1 tbs canola oil, and carefully add the gyozas, gently pressing down to ensure a “base” is created on the bottom.  I carefully cook them until the bottoms brown – I try not to move them much as I carefully lift the bottom edges with a spatula, lest I rip the bottom!  Once they are golden brown on the bottom, I add boiling water, up to 1/3 of the height of the gyoza, and cover the frying pan with a lid.  I happen to use a glass lid, which allows me to see the gyozas. 

The key is to allow the water to steam to top portion of the gyozas – and to NOT lift up the lid until you hear the gyoza pieces starting to sputter as all the water is cooked away. 

At this point, carefully lift up all the gyozas, and flip over, golden bellies on top, and serve immediately.  (With very hungry children anxious at dinner, it was hard for me to stop to photograph…)

I serve the gyozas with a ponzu sauce – you can either purchase pre-made ponzu sauce (I use Mizkan brand) or you can also make your own dipping sauce with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and if you prefer, a bit of la-yu or spicy chili oil.  I make my own with a tablespoon of Korean kochukaru (ground, dried, red chili powder) and equal amount sesame oil, stirred gently.

My daughters had great fun making the gyozas, and Mama had a fun time carefully re-constructing them to ensure I wasn’t left with too many gyoza skins at the end of the evening.  I carefully peeled apart the skins that didn’t have enough meat in them, and the ones oozing meat from their seams, I carefully adjusted the amounts, and re-sealed them.

The gyoza dinner was accompanied by freshly steamed multi-grain rice topped with natto, seasoned with finely chopped scallions, mekabu or thinly sliced seaweed with a slightly slimy texture (similar to okra) and soy sauce and miso soup with julienned daikon slices, simmered until soft and translucent.

We waved at Jiji and Baba over skype as we showed them our festive meal.  I believe they were quite impressed to know the girls helped make dinner.

My older one sighed, and said, “Mama, this was my favorite dinner!”

A lazy day dinner – Summer 2011 version

14 Sep

I found this little snippet of summer saved in my draft file, and thought it best to share before winter descended with snowflakes whirling and dancing across the frosty window.

I share with you a favorite summer dinner option.  A favorite for Mama because it requires minimal cooking (as long as the rice is ready), and a favorite for the girls, because it includes natto,  okra, and mekabu, all very uniquely mucilaginous, and beloved in Japanese cuisine.

For this particular meal, it was:

Bowl of steamed multi-grain rice topped with natto (fermented soy beans)-chopped scallion-julienned shisookramekabu topping (well mixed) with a side of thinly sliced and sautéed eringi mushrooms in a little olive oil/butter and soy sauce, accompanied by miso soup (this one had thinly cut onions). 

A side of ika sashimi, or squid sashimi, served with a little soy sauce for dipping.

I point out, the topping for the rice contains ingredients that are known individually for their rather slimy, gooey nature.  Iw!! May be your initial reaction, dear reader.  GROSS!!! You might add.

All I can say, is that I was on a mission to ensure my girls would be able to adjust to the unique Japanese tolerance of various unique foods, including their textures!

And I must say, based on my daughters’ meal preferences, I may have succeeded.

The preparation of the natto-okura-mekabu topping is quite easy.  Natto comes in little pre-portioned packets at the Japanese store.  Okra, I purchase at the local farm during the season, and blanch in boiling water until they go from either a dull green/purple to a cheery green.  I then quickly shock them in ice water (to keep the crunch) and cut into 1/4 inch pieces.  Mekabu comes reconstituted in a convenient package, also from the Japanese store.

I chop up one bunch of scallions, a handful of shiso leaves from the garden, and start assembling.

I put everything into a bowl, and using chopsticks, mix the whole gooey concoction together, incorporating all the components together, and seasoning with soy sauce.  Once everything is mixed well (until the little thin, filament like natto threads are well incorporated into a uniformly sticky mixture), pour over your rice.  I omit the mustard that is included in the natto packet, as I once added an entire packet to the girls’ natto, and I almost frightened them – they almost revolted! – away from EVER trying natto again… (Too spicy).  Here are two very good blogs written about natto one by Maki of “Just Hungry“, and another referred from her site called “Welcome to Natto Land.” 

The girls silently scarf down the rice with natto mixture, and often ask for more.  The little one manages best with a spoon – otherwise she picks up one item at a time with her training chopsticks, which is excruciatingly time-consuming and almost painful to watch, especially after an hour and a half of her picking up natto bean + okra seed + mekabu strand and carefully placing each sticky morsel in her mouth.

Miso soup starts with adding 2 tbs ground shiitake powder in boiling water – about 4 cups, and adding thinly sliced onions in the water until they become a little translucent.  I then remove the pot from the heat, and add about 4 tbs of miso paste.  I dissolve the miso into the stock, well.  The key is to NEVER BOIL miso, as the delicate flavor will be ruined.

When I have enough time, I will make a proper dashi with katsuobushi shavings, but on the rushed evenings, I take a short cut and make-do with the ground shiitake powder which I have come to depend on greatly.

You can include a variety of items in miso soup – such as cubed kinugoshi tofu, thin slices of aburaage or other vegetables, such as napa cabbage, julienned potatoes or mushrooms. 

Jiji and Baba will laugh when they read today’s blog – they will recognize the porcelain dishes as they are the same ones from my childhood.

Broccoli and Beets, please

10 May

My older daughter loves fruit – blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, apples, watermelon… The little one is a bit pickier, and scrunches her face up at the berries, pokes them, and tells me defiantly in two languages, “Don’t wanit.  II-no!”  The older one swoops in, and says, “OK!  I’ll help you then,” and runs off with the rejected berries.

Yesterday, I received a request from my daughter for broccoli and beets.  She also requested I include natto, or fermented soy beans as her rice topping. 

If you are not familiar with natto, it is a unique Japanese food that is often served for breakfast over rice.  Natto is very pungent, and has a very unique smell, texture and consistency.  In western cultural terms, I liken it to a very strong cheese, with a similar taste – a strong, unique taste – I’ve heard it reminded someone of Guinness! 

Natto is sold in small styrofoam containers, and is prepared by putting it into a bowl, adding chopped scallions, soy sauce or dashi stock, and mixing everything together.  The natto is sticky, and the more you stir (usually with chopsticks), the more stickier and viscous it becomes.  At our house, we add blanched and chopped okra when it’s in season, or mekabu, a type of seaweed that has a similar viscous texture.  Once everything is mixed well, we pour it over bowls of steamed rice and enjoy.  It’s nutty, salty, and delicious – and reminds me of home.

Again – natto is certainly an acquired taste, but I believe there are similar products in other Asian countries.  I feel it smells similar to Korean doenjang, but with a different texture.

Needless to say, I don’t think natto is a good option for my daughter’s lunch, but I’ll be certain to prepare it for her during the week.

Today’s lunch included:

Mini-hot dog (conventional), with a cute pattern – my mom always cut a pattern into them

Blanched broccoli florets

Roasted beets – in star shapes

Steamed multi-grain rice with furikake or dried seaweed seasoning


No natto, but hopefully everything else makes up for it!