Tag Archives: Shiitake

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.


Grilled porgy Fall season 2011

9 Sep

A dear friend of mine was kind enough to offer the bounty of fish (porgy!) caught by her husband this past week. 

Last year, we received a similar bounty of fish, and my older daughter pointed to them, solemnly stating, “Fish sleeping.” 

After the girls went to bed, I decided to grill a few, and freeze the others to save for when my brother and his wife came over, so they could also savor the delicious fish.

I find grilling the entire fish on the barbecue (we have a gas-grill) over medium heat to be wonderfully convenient, and it also provides a nicely crisp, slightly charred skin, surrounding the moist and mild flesh. 

I pre-heated the grill – I don’t recall the actual temperature to be very honest – as I tend to often cook by “instinct” – and placed the cleaned, de-scalled porgy directly on the grill.  The best perk of grilling whole fish, is that unless you plan on eating the skin, you don’t need to de-scale it.

My grill has three burner “levels” that run horizontally.  I usually keep the furthest back burner on high, and leave the middle and front burner levels at low.

For these fish, I turned the back burner to high, and the two front layers to medium low. 

I then placed them on the front-most section of the grill, and shut the lid. 

I checked on the fish occasionally, and flipped them over once the skin was crispy – about 8 minutes on each side, depending on the size and thickness of the actual fish.

I then commenced to de-bone the fish – at our house, chopsticks do the trick.  The meat is very moist and mild, and I managed to sneak a few morsels as I removed the cooked flesh.

My labrador paced around the periphery of the kitchen, and both of my cats proceeded to weave around my legs, meowing and begging for a bite or two.  (All three enjoyed the fruits of my labor).

To serve, unless we eat the grilled fish immediately (and I debone the fish at the table, sprinkle a little freshly squeezed lemon juice) I often re-heat the fish (very quickly) in the microwave, and serve with a bowl of steamed rice, veggies, and a soup for a truly “traditional” Japanese meal.  Other times I add into an omelette, or add to soup – either miso, or a clear shiitake/dashi based soup.

Either way, we love our grilled fish!

Back to school Monday with a fish tale to tell

13 Apr

The weekend brought a bit of excitement to our lives.  My older daughter enjoyed her second day at Japanese school, and I was starting to see semblance of a routine for Saturdays.

We then had our nephew come to stay with us – as my sister-in-law headed into the hospital in preparation for the girls’ newest cousin’s arrival… 

This was a bit exciting for my older daughter – but the little one was still recovering from the bug she had on Thursday.  Hopefully my nephew didn’t pick the bug up during his stay with us.

Sunday morning brought us the usual noodle routine.  Both girls had a bowl of udon (wheat noodles) with poached egg, spinach, carrots, scallions with a shiitake based soup.  I gave my nephew a small amount, but cut his noodles into small pieces, as he probably wouldn’t know how to eat the noodles.

My brother-in-law, who missed seeing his son on Saturday, stopped by to see him.  Before I go further, just a few points to clarify.  My husband is as “American pie” as they come – and until he met me, he probably ate Chinese food (never Japanese food), maybe once a year, and never utilized chopsticks.  Now, fifteen years later, he may not eat as much Asian food as I wish – but he is very supportive of my maintaining and incorporating Asian, especially Japanese culture into our children’s lives, and frankly, his chopstick holding skills are amazing.  In Japan, where often, image is important, proper chopstick etiquette and positioning is crucial.  I’ve taught him well! (Rather, he learned efficiently and correctly!)

Back to my brother-in-law.  He is as American as they come, and is half Italian and half Irish.  I have a suspicion I am probably one of the few non-American, non-Caucasian people he’s come into close contact with, and I am fairly certain, from a food standpoint, he is extremely conservative and reluctant to try anything different.  Case in point – at my husband’s younger brother’s birthday dinner, I decided to order the whole roasted branzino over sautéed spinach.  My husband doesn’t order whole fish – but I’ve grown up being served whole fish, and I have no hesitation ordering this at a restaurant.  Once the fish arrived, I could see my brother-in-law visibly becoming uncomfortable (I was sitting diagonally across from him) and soon, there was a fortress of menus shielding him from seeing the fish on my plate.  At the time, I was slightly amused, but more annoyed – as this reminded me back to my childhood when non-Japanese playmates and school mates would look at me in horror when I told them I had sushi for dinner.

Jump forward to Sunday morning.  I offered the children a handful of niboshi to hold them over until the soup was done.  Both girls happily munched on the little fish, similar to little slivers of potato sticks.  My nephew followed suit, and munched on the fish – and was enjoying the new food.

My brother-in-law arrived, and joined us in the kitchen.  He asked what I gave them for breakfast, so I told him, “Japanese noodle soup with a little egg, spinach, carrots and scallions.”  My nephew had a few bites to eat, and then sat at the table watching his cousins, and babbling in his 18 month old language.  I told him, “Look, he likes these,” and offered my nephew another niboshi.  My brother-in-law looked perplexed, and asked, “What is that?”  I told him, “It’s dried fish – dried baby sardines.  They are very healthy, and high in calcium.”  He was a bit taken aback, and asked my husband, “You eat that?”  My husband replied, “I don’t – but the kids eat it.”  My brother-in-law continued, “Those are something my dad and I would go fishing with…”

I didn’t really think much of the discussion at the time.

My brother-in-law then asked, “Can I make cheese on toast for him?”  I was slightly annoyed, but responded, “Sure.  But you’re going to have to make it, because that isn’t really part of my repertoire.”  He then proceeded to toast a slice of bread with American cheese on top, and offered it to my nephew.  My nephew turned his nose up at the bits of bread, and tapped the kitchen table with his soup spoon.

Perhaps it was the clash of cultures that got me a little riled up in my kitchen that Sunday morning.  Perhaps it was the fact I had thoughtfully made breakfast for the kids – and was only trying to expand my nephew’s horizons – and yet, here was my brother-in-law in my own kitchen, making something he thought was better for his toddler – while one part of my brain was telling me, hey, you’ll be able to exposure your nephew(s) to a larger world through food, for free!! – while the other part of my brain was spewing, “PROCESSED CHEESE (think – fat) on CARBS??”

The kicker to the story was when I later found out, he reported back to my sister-in-law (who was in labor) and my mother-in-law, I had offered fish bait for breakfast to his son.  Fish bait?? Ex-cuuuse, me.  Aren’t you half Italian – specifically Sicilian, where fish, including sardines are used often and enjoyed?

Boy – I have a lot of work to do to ensure my children are continued to be exposed to the infinite world of multicultural and healthy eating!!

My husband tried to assuage me as I started venting, “How dare he call my food, fish bait!  One man’s fish bait, another’s food!”  “At least he didn’t take it away from our nephew, you know,” he said.

True, but NOW, I hope I get to have my nephews over more often so I can  expand their food and cultural horizons!

Monday’s lunch was:

Turkey-flax-vegetable-oatmeal-meatballs, baked

Trader Joe’s tortellini (conventional) with marinara sauce

Cucumber sticks, red pepper slices

Roasted beets in heart shapes

Men men = Noodles = comfort food

21 Mar

As many of you know by now, I try to use Japanese seasonings and flavors in my cooking.  Growing up, my mother often laughed at how I’d try to use excessive amounts of bold seasoning – possibly trying to assert my “American-ness” in my cooking, and defying the common-sense rules of Japanese cooking (subtle, reserved, multi-faceted and layered) … and manners.

These days, I’ve come to embrace my Japanese heritage, and try very hard to incorporate certain items into my girls’ lives. 

One of these items – is the noodle, or as my girls call them, “men men!!”

My husband prefers eggs, bacon and toast, or eggs, bacon and waffles on a weekend morning.  Quite often, the thought of lugging the waffle maker out of its place in the laundry room (space hog results in items being sent off into Siberia) or having to wipe down the stove-floor-counter-sink after a greasy fry-up gives me heartburn.  I’ll try to negotiate with him to just… oh, have a fried egg and toast (with HP sauce) and a glass of cold milk in a frosty glass.

I grew up having noodles on the weekends – whether it be udon, soba, champon, ramenmy father in charge of Sunday breakfast always resulted in long strands of dough in various styles.  My favorites were noodles served in broths – and I especially loved when my father would make udon or soba noodles, and then provide a soup thickened with katakuriko, or what I called “Doro Doro sou-pu.” I especially liked when my father added a cooked, scrambled egg, or tamagotoji, as well as some other items, such as narutomaki fish cakes, scallions, and vegetables. 

My girls also love noodles for breakfast, and often, “Mama Mennn mennn!” is what I would wake up to on the weekends.

This weekend, they had udon noodles in soup with blanched spinach, carrots, poached egg, scallions, and (not pictured here) wakameThe older one deftly captures each noodle and vegetable with her chopsticks, while the little one snags the end of a noodle with her chopsticks, and grabs them with her other hand. 

The soup is made by adding shiitake powder, dried shiitake, soy sauce, a little salt, and a little sugar to a small pot of water.  I slowly bring this to almost boiling, but then, turn down the heat so the soup doesn’t actually boil.  I technically need to leave the shiitake mushrooms to reconstitute in room temperature water, but I never seem to have the time, so I take short cuts.  Sometimes I’ll add a piece of konbu, or kelp, and other times, katsuobushi

For Saturday’s version, I had a pot of boiling water for the noodles only, and I cooked the veggies and the egg in the soup pot. 

Between exclamations of “Mama atsuii! (hot!)” and blowing on the noodles to cool them off, the girls were content and full. 

**Persephone, a wonderful culinary explorer has featured dashi on her blog, and I suggest you check it out for some good basics.