It’s been a crazy summer here – we’ve had lots going on, including a fantastic trip to Japan (more on that story later)! My kitchen experiments have continued unabated, so I’m going to catch up now for lost blogging with a big spread of fun and satisfying dishes. As the title suggests, this meal was actually to celebrate my wife’s birthday, so it’s mostly her requests! (Try to spot the weird extra I couldn’t resist sneaking in, courtesy of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art.)
- miso soup with aubergine and chives
- butaniku shōgayaki / ginger fried pork (with mushrooms)
- kimpira ninjin / sticky simmered carrot
- horenso no ohitashi / spinach in flavoured stock
- budō no karashi-ae /grapes with miso-mustard dressing
- kyūri no o-tsukemono / cucumber pickle
- mikan / satsuma
Read on for my notes…
miso soup with aubergine and chives
a rich flavour for summer
Cut some half-moons of aubergine, fry them to silken perfection, and add to a regular miso soup. Use chopped chives for a subtle onion fragrance. I used white miso here, but if you’re open to a richer, more pungent base, red miso would work well. In this case, consider an upgrade from chives to spring onions.
a sizzling main dish
This is a quick, one-pan dazzler. Buy the thinnest pork loin chops available and find some shiitake mushrooms if possible (fresh UK-grown ones from Tesco have a decent flavour). Fry the chops on both sides, set aside, then use the pork fat to fry the mushrooms until golden. Cut the chops into thin strips and then reintroduce to the pan with your preferred balance of sake (or sherry or Chinese rice wine), mirin, soy sauce and grated fresh ginger. Toss everything together and allow the sauce to reduce slightly to get a nice shimmer. This one was a special request and luckily didn’t disappoint!
the sweet-and-savoury crunch you crave
Often made with burdock root, but here just carrot (ninjin), this typically Japanese ‘salad’ is characterised by a ‘pencil-sharpening’ cutting technique, used to reduce long, non-fibrous roots to rustically elegant, crisp shards. All you have to do next is simmer the veg in a little soy sauce and sugar until sticky and slightly softened. I switched sugar for maple syrup to emphasise the carrot’s naturally sweet, earthy flavour. Try it!
horenso no ohitashi
kids (allegedly) love it
A Simple Art confidently asserts that this method will persuade children to eat any greens, particularly spinach: parboil the leaves until bright green, cool drastically, marinate for some hours in cold stock (regular dashi used here) seasoned with soy sauce and sake, then serve cold with a little of the same stock over the top. Ideally, top with bonito flakes (katsuobushi) for a smokey accent – these are hard to find, admittedly, but they’re not essential. The result is delicate and refreshing. I’m yet to test it on a child, though…
budō no karashi-ae
Halved red seedless grapes in a light miso-based dressing with a hint of hot mustard. Yep, this was my wildcard from A Simple Art. It’s an unusual kind of karashi-ae; a quick Google will confirm that green vegetables are the usual subject for this kind of dressing. So, is this just a weird fusion appetiser that ought to be discarded? Actually, no! The miso-mustard sauce would make an excellent general purpose salad dressing, but it really sings with sweet grapes. A surprise, but a nice one.
kyūri no o-tsukemono
back on familiar ground
You can’t go wrong with a cucumber pickle to round things off. Before smashing, chopping, pressing, dousing in vinegar, or doing anything else to your cucumber for that matter, my tip is to remove half the skin in alternating strips, halve it lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Now if you chop and salt the cucumber, it will firm up really nicely. Today’s quick pickle was just finely sliced and massaged with salt and dried yuzu peel, which we always pick up in Japan – a tiny shaker lasts for ages. Fresh lemon zest would be great, too.
siamo alla frutta…
‘We’re on the fruit,’ as Italians say to announce the conclusion of any meal or other drawn-out matter. For no particular reason, I served a satsuma (mikan) to end this meal, which gives me an excuse to end this post on a fun fact: although in English we call the satsuma after a former Japanese province, the full Japanese name for the fruit – unshū mikan – translates as ‘mandarin from Wenzhou’. I wonder who gets the credit in Chinese?