Hiroko Shimbo – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 ‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/ /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/#respond Wed, 27 Dec 2017 10:00:44 +0000 /?p=59436 Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Hiroko Shimbo

After moving to the United States, I was fascinated and eventually hooked by the way Americans welcome the new year. There were New Year’s Eve parties peppered with all kinds of excitement: sexy dresses, endless champagne, playful party props, dancing, counting down the seconds and kissing whomever is near while listening to “Auld Lang Syne.” None of these elements — except counting down the seconds — exist in our Japanese tradition. I was brought up in a culture in which welcoming the new year is a spiritually refreshing traditional event, packed with ancient superstitions and customs, that extends from the end of the old year into the first three days of the new.

In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries. It is a solemn moment for us to reflect on ourselves, looking back at the past year. What kinds of sins and mistakes did we commit? Did we do anything especially good? By identifying these elements, we try not to carry bad luck into the new year. We also try to complete unfinished tasks. The new year must be a fresh start, without unwanted baggage from the old year. During this period in the Shinto religion, we observe a change in the god of the year. At the end of the year, we express thanks to the departing god for protection during the past year. On the first of January, we welcome a new god and ask for his favor in the new year.

Nearly all the Japanese population eats soba (buckwheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve. This is one of the superstitions involving new year culinary traditions. When you visit Japan at this time of the year you see signs at restaurants and food stores, many of them written on handmade washi paper with bold ink brush strokes, notifying customers that they will offer Toshikoshi soba, the buckwheat noodles especially eaten on Dec. 31. Toshikoshi soba itself is really nothing special as a dish. It is actually the same soba noodles consumed during the rest of the year.

The tradition of eating soba at the end of each year goes back to the latter part of the Edo period (1600-1868). Because buckwheat flour does not have gluten, the cooked noodles break apart easily. Hence, our superstitious ancestors concluded that eating soba at the end of the year helps to cut off bad luck and bad omens that plagued us during the old year.

If you want to test this superstition or at least participate in a delicious tradition, here is one important reminder: You need soba noodles made from 100 percent buckwheat flour. Japanese and Asian stores in America, and even some American ones, carry soba noodles, but many of them are made from a combination of buckwheat and other flours. These noodles won’t break so easily, so they won’t separate you from last year’s bad luck!

Soba meets its match

Tempura is a perfect accompaniment to soba. My mother prepared a feast at the end of every year, but simple soba noodles with shrimp tempura were the highlight of the meal. The live shrimp were sent to us by one of my father’s patients as a thank-you gift on Dec. 31 for as long for as I can remember. After eating the tempura and soba, all of us were certain of a very healthy, good year.

After the meal, close to midnight, we would head to the nearby Buddhist temple, where the priests performed a special service welcoming the new year for the community. A large bonfire, created for the warmth and for burning old talismans and any unwanted documents from the past, brightened up dark, cold environment. As we watch the fire and listened to the temple bell tolling 108 times, our past sins and errors were dispelled so we could to welcome the fresh start for the new year. People quietly greeted each other with “Omedeto gozaimasu” (Happy New Year), and the voices and people soon disappeared into the dark in every direction. Each headed to enjoy brief sleep before the next morning’s pilgrimage to a Shinto shrine to make the new year offering and prayers. This was followed by the huge New Year’s Day festive feast, Osechi-ryori, a meal packed with additional symbolic and good fortune food items.

If you want to enjoy an important part of our tradition, here is the recipe for Toshikoshi soba. As I mentioned, make sure to secure 100 percent buckwheat noodles for this special occasion. The tempura accompaniment here is called kakiage tempura. Chopped shrimp and vegetables are deep-fried in the form of a delicious pancake.

Dozo Yoi Otoshio! (Please have a good end of the year!)

Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura

Adapted from Hiroko’s American Kitchen

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients 

Canola oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup eggplant, finely diced

1/2 ounce kale, julienned

5 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tempura flour or a blend of 80% cake flour and 20% cornstarch

3/4 cup cold water

14 ounces dried soba noodles (preferably 100% buckwheat noodles)

5 cups hot noodle broth

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon scallion

Directions

1. Heat 3 inches of the canola oil in a heavy skillet to 350 F. Place a slotted spoon in the oil and allow it to heat to the temperature of the oil to prevent the batter from sticking to it.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. In a bowl, toss the green peas, eggplant, kale and shrimp with 2 tablespoons of the tempura flour. In another bowl, mix the remaining tempura flour with the cold water. Stir with a fork until smooth. Add the tempura batter to the shrimp mixture and mix with a large spoon.

3. Using the large spoon, scoop 1/4 of the shrimp mixture from the bowl and pour it into the slotted spoon that was warming in the oil. Immediately lower the slotted spoon into the heated oil and submerge the shrimp mixture. Leaving the spoon in place, cook the mixture (kakiage) for 1 1/2 minutes or until the bottom side is cooked. Using a steel spatula, remove the kakiage from the slotted spoon and let it float free in the oil. Cook the kakiage for about 4 minutes, or until lightly golden, turning it a few times during cooking. Transfer the cooked kakiage to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and let drain. Repeat the process for the remaining batter.

4. While cooking the kakiage, cook the soba noodles in a boiling water for 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time on the package. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold tap water. Drain the noodles and keep them in the colander.

5. Prepare a kettle of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the cooked noodles to re-warm them. Drain the noodles and divide them into bowls. Bring the noodle broth to a simmer in a medium pot over medium heat. Pour the hot broth into the bowls. Divide the kakiage tempura among the bowls. Garnish with the ginger and scallions and serve.

Main photo: Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

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6 Naturally Gluten-Free Japanese Summer Dishes /cooking/6-naturally-gluten-free-japanese-summer-dishes/ /cooking/6-naturally-gluten-free-japanese-summer-dishes/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 09:00:04 +0000 /?p=65999 Tossing the ingredients for maze-gohan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

These days, many are choosing a gluten-free lifestyle. But artificially contrived gluten-free products such as pasta, bread and baked goods can be disappointing. With its rich tradition of rice-based dishes, Japanese cuisine beautifully suits a gluten-free diet. Here are six delicious, easy to prepare, gluten-free Japanese rice dishes for spring and summer.

Stir-fried rice with hijiki and Parmesan

Stir-fried rice with hijiki and Parmesan

Stir-fried rice with hijiki and Parmesan is an inspired fusion creation. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Stir-fried rice dishes make use of one- or two-day-old rice and other ingredients that happen to be on hand. This recipe is one I invented for American audiences to showcase hijiki, my favorite Japanese seaweed. Rich in dietary fiber and minerals, it also has a pleasantly crunchy texture and tastes of the sea. It uses the black hijiki along with Parmesan cheese, cilantro and ginger.

The cheese is the secret to the success of this dish, whose recipe was in my first cookbook, “The Japanese Kitchen.” Fifteen years later, hijiki is much more widely available in this country.

Maze-gohan with parsley, shiso and egg

Maze-gohan, or tossed rice, with parsley, dried purple shiso leaf and egg. Credit: Copyright 2015 by Hiroko Shimbo

Maze-gohan, or tossed rice, with parsley, dried purple shiso leaf and egg. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Maze-gohan, translated as “tossed rice,” is a simple dish of cooked rice tossed with flavorings. This version uses chopped parsley, dried purple shiso leaves and scrambled egg — ingredients that elevate the flavor, color and texture of plain cooked rice into a festive dish. Western-style flavorings can be used instead, such as ground black pepper, crisp butter-browned sliced garlic, finely chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.

Maze-gohan goes well with any protein dish, such as fish, chicken or meat.

Donburi with teriyaki steak

Donburi with teriyaki steak. You can also substitute chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 by Hiroko Shimbo

Donburi with teriyaki steak. You can also substitute chicken. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Donburi dishes combine cooked rice with a topping of separately cooked ingredients and sauce. This one is a beef lover’s favorite: I cook the steak in a skillet, cut it into cubes and flavor them with a sizzling sauce of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine) to create everyone’s favorite teriyaki sauce.

When it’s time to serve the donburi, put the teriyaki beef and sauce over freshly cooked rice for a quick, mouthwatering dish. The sauce trickles down and gives its delicious flavor to the rice. A similar dish can be made with chicken teriyaki.

Takikomi-gohan with chorizo and peas

Takikomi-gohan, a sort of Japanese paella, with chorizo and peas.

Takikomi-gohan, a sort of Japanese paella, with chorizo and peas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Takikomi-gohan is rice that is cooked with seasonal vegetables and/or seafood or poultry in kelp stock or dashi stock. It’s like Japanese paella or risotto.

Spring pea rice is a traditional version of takikomi-gohan for spring or summer. The key to producing the best green pea rice is to blanch the peas in stock, then cook the rice in that stock and add the briefly cooked peas toward the end of rice cooking. This method keeps the peas very green and firm.

I emphasize the paella comparison by adding chorizo as well as ginger. Unlike paella or risotto, though, takikomi-gohan usually has no added butter or oil. This allows all the ingredients to speak for themselves in the dish.

Takikomi-gohan with mushrooms

This takikomi-gohan is made with three kinds of mushrooms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

This takikomi-gohan is made with three kinds of mushrooms. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

For a version of takikomi-gohan studded with mushrooms, I use shimeji mushrooms for savory umami flavor, maitake for their fragrance and king mushrooms for their distinctive texture.

For all these rice dishes, I recommend that you use freshly picked vegetables and mushrooms from your local market or store. The natural taste and sweetness will come through.

Corn rice with shoyu and butter

Corn rice with shoyu and butter is an irresistible combination.

Corn rice with shoyu and butter is an irresistible combination. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

This version of takikomi-gohan is my favorite summer rice dish. I toss the steaming hot, corn-studded rice with the butter and shoyu. As the butter melts in the hot rice with shoyu, it creates a rich and savory flavor that everyone loves.

The diverse world of Japanese cuisine contains hundreds of such naturally gluten-free dishes. If you are looking for more recipes, consult my two books, “The Japanese Kitchen” and “Hiroko’s American Kitchen.” Both are widely available and contain detailed instructions to make some of the dishes described here.

Corn and Ginger Rice with Shoyu and Butter

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 ears corn

2 1/4 cups short or medium grain polished white rice, rinsed and soaked 10 minutes, then drained

2 1/2 cups kelp stock or low-sodium vegetable stock

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 ounces peeled ginger, finely julienned (1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

1. Remove the corn husks and quickly grill the ears over a medium open flame on a gas stove, turning them until the entire surface becomes lightly golden. Or, boil the corn in salted water for 1 minute.

2. Cut each ear of corn in half. Place each half ear on the cut end in a large, shallow bowl and use a knife to separate the individual kernels from the cob. Repeat with all the pieces. You will have about 1 1/2 cups of kernels.

3. Place the drained rice and the stock in a medium heavy pot. Sprinkle the corn, salt and ginger evenly over the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and cook the rice over moderately high heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until the stock comes to a full boil.

4. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the rice for 6 to 7 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Turn the heat to very low and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the lid and add the soy sauce and butter. With a spatula, gently and quickly toss and mix the rice. Divide the rice into small bowls and serve.

Main photo: Tossing the ingredients for maze-gohan. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

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5 Reasons Why Sake Is Best Served Warm /drinking/5-reasons-sake-best-served-warm/ /drinking/5-reasons-sake-best-served-warm/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 09:00:24 +0000 /?p=62414 Photo: Bottle of sake with a traditional ceramic carafe and small cups known as o-choko. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The dogma about sake today is that high-quality versions must be served chilled, but that is a total misconception. In fact, there are many quality sakes that are best enjoyed warmed.

It’s true that sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, was once consumed warmed if its quality was not good enough to be appreciated when chilled. But sake has gone through a dramatic change in quality in Japan in the last 50 years.

In the 1970s, specific yeasts that could produce delicate, sophisticated aromas and flavors in sake were developed. This accelerated the creation of high-grade ginjo sake. Made with highly polished rice, ginjo sake is lower in acidity, more fragrant and possesses elegant flavor. Because of the delicacy of its flavors, it should not be warmed.

I believe that the development of ginjo sake was hugely influenced by the introduction and growing popularity in Japan of wine from Europe and America. French, European or American meals served on white tablecloths with forks and knives accompanied by wine were seen as sophisticated and modern.

So when the new ginjo sake arrived on the scene, style-conscious drinkers became convinced that all good sake should be consumed cold or chilled.

But some traditional sake lovers shunned ginjo sake because of its lack of acidity and rich flavors. Some sake brewers also went against the trend and focused on producing quality traditional sake, which is high in acidity that is bold and round in flavor. They are known as junmai (100% rice sake), yamahai, kimoto and honjozo (alcohol added) sake. These varieties are well suited to be enjoyed in a different range of serving temperatures.

Five reasons to drink your sake warm

1. Warming sake helps to blossom its natural flavors and fragrance.

2. Warming sake balances its sweetness, acidity and astringency.

3. It is wonderful to consume warmed sake with meals during the cold winter. It’s like mulled wine, but with no added sugar.

4. Warmed sake is absorbed by the body more quickly, so we can “feel” it sooner and control the amount we drink.

5. Without learning how to appreciate warmed sake, we can never say that we have a complete understanding of this wonderful beverage.

Certain groups of sake can be enjoyed at nine different temperatures. This may seem intimidating, but according to Hiroshi Ujita, president of Tamanohikari Brewery in Kyoto, there is no strict rule on warming sake. Each sake lover in Japan has a preferred temperature for a particular sake.

How much to warm the sake is also influenced by the season, the temperature of the dining room and the temperature of the dishes that will be consumed with it. You can find temperature guidance on warming sake in my book “The Sushi Experience,” but here is some guidance on four easy to master-and-understand sake temperature levels that you can use to begin exploring the joys of warmed sake. Consider these levels and try them on your favorite robust flavorful sake: Body temperature (hitohada), 98 F; lukewarm (nurukan), 104 F; warm (jokan), 113 F; hot (atsukan), 122 F.

I suggest that before using real sake, you practice recognizing these temperatures with some warm water and a thermometer. It won’t take you long to distinguish with a touch of liquid on your hand between the four levels I have suggested. If you decide to try warming sake, follow the very basic instructions in the recipe.

Sakes made for warming

Here are some recommended sakes to start on your warmed sake adventure. If you start with this group, you will fall in love with these warmed beverages for the rest of your life. The recommended temperature is only a guideline. As Ujita advises, explore different temperatures to see what you prefer, and have fun with it.

1. Tamanohikari Yamahai: This sake comes from the 342-year-old Tamanohikari Brewery. After the war, a rice shortage forced brewers to produce sake with less rice and added alcohol. In 1964, Tamanohikari Brewery was the first company to revert from its postwar poor sake production method to the original, traditional method using 100% rice-produced sake. Tamanohikari Yamahai has good acidity, umami and round body. Recommended at 98 F.

2. Tengumai Yamahai: This sake comes from the 192-year-old Shata Shuzo Brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. The name Tengumai implies that everyone wants to dance after drinking this sake. Acidity is high with slight astringency and strong aroma. Recommended at 98 F and 113 F.

3. Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo: This sake comes from the 211-year-old Kokuryu Brewery in Fukui Prefecture. The company has been developing robust tasting ginjo sake that has been designed to be consumed warmed, going against the major trend of chilling ginjo sake. Warming Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo enriches the characteristics of sake — roundness, robustness and refined flavor. Recommended at 98 F.

The next time you are dining at your favorite Japanese restaurant, try ordering your sake warmed to your preferred temperature.

How to warm sake like a pro

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 2 to 3 minutes

Ingredients

Sake

Flask

Medium-size pot

Thermometer, optional

Directions

1. Transfer sake into a flask, filling to 90% of the flask.

2. Add cold water in a medium pot, enough to submerge 80% of the flask, and bring it to a boil.

3. Turn off the heat and add the flask in the center of the pot and leave it until the preferred temperature. It will take about 1 to 2 minutes to heat to 98 F. If you want to warm it a bit more, leave it for an additional minute.

4. Warmed sake should be served in a small sake cup and consumed while it is nice and warm.

Tips

  • Use a little ceramic or heat-proof glass flask that can hold about 1 cup of sake.
  • Use a pot of boiling water to warm the sake; don’t put it in a microwave oven.
  • Enjoy warm sake in a small ceramic o-choko cup, or a small heat-proof glass cup.
  • As a beginner, follow the temperature guidelines above. Be careful not to overheat the sake; the modestly warm temperatures I have suggested are best.
  • Enjoy different temperatures and find the preferred one for your selected sake.

Photo: Bottle of sake with a traditional ceramic carafe and small cups known as o-choko. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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Health And Well-Being: Lessons From My Japanese Mother /world/health-and-well-being-lessons-from-my-japanese-mother/ /world/health-and-well-being-lessons-from-my-japanese-mother/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:00:35 +0000 /?p=77011 A mother's wisdom continues to shape and guide a daughter's well-being. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Rereading my mother’s fax-letter dated Dec. 18, 2011, made me rethink how I should cook a particular dish I was making at the end of last year. I was preparing numerous Osechi Ryori (New Year’s feast) dishes for our New Year’s open house, during which we received 60-plus guests. I had soaked black soybeans for a dish called kuromame, sweet, simmered black beans. This is an indispensable item in the New Year’s feast because it allegedly brings good health for the entire year.

While juggling dozens of tasks in preparation for the feast, I sat down for a few minutes with a cup of hot tea and my mother’s old fax-letter, part of my pile of repeatedly used recipes from her. My mother, 84 at the time of the writing, shared with me about her kuromame dish: “In the past my generation cooked beans for the dish in the way so that the soybeans had a wrinkled skin when they are done. This reminds us of reaching old age, and celebrating and cherishing a happy and healthy old age with family members.” I smiled as I continued reading. “Today women don’t want to get wrinkles on their face, so the way to cook the black soybeans has changed — a smooth and stretched skin at the end of cooking is desired.”

I had been one of the converts. By cooking beans the new way, I had forgotten the point of serving this specific dish at the new year. So I went back to my mother’s way, and the kuromame at our feast was presented with the venerable wrinkled skin.

Eating for your well-being

A faxed letter with notes on a traditional Japanese recipe that continues to inspire today. Credit: Hiroko Shimbo

A faxed letter with notes on a traditional Japanese recipe that continues to inspire today. Credit: Hiroko Shimbo

Certain things my mother taught me have deeply nourished me both mentally and physically, becoming a part of my being. This wisdom, related to our well-being and relationships, is worth sharing.

Those who want to achieve healthy well-being should consider Hara-hachibu. Hara means “stomach” and hachibu means “80 percent.” Hara-hachibu literally translates to “eat until your stomach is 80 percent full.”

It is scientifically proven it takes about 20 minutes for our brain to receive the message we are full after eating. If we eat slowly, we get the message at the right time and stop eating even when we want to eat a few bites more. On the contrary, if we eat too quickly, by the time our brain sends us the message, we have probably eaten too much.

The practice of Hara-hachibu only requires self-discipline to eat slowly and the courage to say “no” to more food. When I was small, my mother conditioned me to not overeat. Now I am grateful I am in control and receiving the benefit. Hara-hachibu, by the way, does not rob you of the enjoyment of eating. Rather, it improves the joy of eating.

I eat fairly well, treating food as blessings from nature that keep me healthy and energetic. Eating well means I do not often indulge in expensive, rich foods. My eating habits rely on the concept of Ishoku Dogen. Ishoku means “food and medicine,” and Dogen means “shares the same source.” This literally means good-quality foods maintain our mental and physical health and help us to get well. Conversely, bad-quality foods destroy our health.

I learned Ishoku Dogen from my mother, who cooked for my father’s surgical patients at his clinic in our home. My mother’s carefully thought-out and well-liked dishes facilitated the patients’ quick, smooth recoveries.

When I was young and I left some items on my plate, my mother knew how to urge me to finish. “Nokori mono niwa fukuga aru” was the phrase she repeated at such times. Nokori mono means “leftovers,” and niwa fukuga aru translates to “brings you good fortune.” When my mother repeated this to me, she was telling me, “If you finish what is on your plate, good fortune will come to you.” She did not want to waste precious food, and at the same time, she wanted to teach me how to eat. Yes, times have changed, but if anyone needs this “trick” for their little ones or even yourself, try this in combination with Hara-hachibu. My mother, now 90, is a testament that these methods work.

Whenever my mother enjoyed something seasonal at the peak of its flavor and nutrition, she told me we are lucky and should cherish the moment, because after consuming it we will never find exactly the same thing again. Meeting and relating to people falls under the same philosophy. Each time we meet someone, we should treat that moment in the relationship as the final encounter. In this way we show respect for each other. The philosophy is called Ichi-go-ichi-e, which literally means “each personal encounter occurs only one time.” So from my mother I have learned both how to eat and how to interact with my fellow beings, lessons that can perhaps be useful to all of us.

My Mother’s Kuromame

Kuromame. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Kuromame. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

Prep time: About 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 hours

Total time: 5 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 10 to 20 servings, depending on serving size

Ingredients

10 ounces black soybeans

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

1. Rinse the beans and soak in water for 30 minutes. Remove any broken beans and drain.

2. In a large pot, add 6 cups water, sugar, soy sauce and sea salt and bring it to a boil, dissolving the sugar. Let the liquid cool, then add the soybeans. Cover the pot with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

3. Place the pot over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Remove foam that floats to the top of the water. When all the foam is gone, turn heat to low and cook, partially covered, for 5 hours. During cooking add water as needed so the beans are always barely covered by the cooking liquid. Let the beans cool in the cooking liquid.

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Japanese Mothers Know Best: Arrowroot’s Healing Powers /cooking-wrecipe/medicinal-arrowroot-starch-cures-many-ills/ /cooking-wrecipe/medicinal-arrowroot-starch-cures-many-ills/#respond Thu, 15 Dec 2016 10:00:20 +0000 /?p=76334 The production of kudzu-ko, or arrowroot, begins with a large rhizome. The rough bark is removed, then the starch is rinsed again and again, and formed into blocks. The blocks are kept cold for several months, after which they dry and crumble. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kurokawa Honke

I watched the lined-up buckets fill with brackish brown water as they sat on a bare concrete floor, wet with icy cold water. Not far from them were snow-white blocks of almost-finished product in wooden containers, undergoing a final drying process.

What a stark contrast. This production of kudzu-ko, or arrowroot starch, requires only a plant’s rhizome and clean well water (the brown water is the result of washing the rhizomes to remove impurities). The skin comes off during a rolling process that eventually creates the snow-white powder.

This pure white kudzu-ko has been produced at the small, rural, family-owned factory called Kurokawa Honke in Nara Prefecture, Japan, for more than 400 years.

Why we need kudzu-ko

When the end of the year approaches, I make sure to have sufficient stock of kudzu-ko in my pantry. Festivities during this season may lead me to over-indulge in rich food and alcoholic beverages. When matters go to excess, my body’s immune system seems to weaken and I am vulnerable to sickness.

My mother knew how to fix me up when I was down with such problems. She made me a piping hot, thick-textured drink called kudzu-yu that warmed the body, strengthened the immune system and soothed the stomach. It always worked.

Kudzu-yu is made from kudzu-ko and piping hot water. My mother flavored it with freshly squeezed ginger juice, salty and sour ume plum, sweet azduki bean paste or fragrant yuzu juice.

Arrowroot’s many uses

The kudzu plant has played an important role in Japan since ancient times (and is today an invasive plant in the Southeastern United States.). Its little purple flower, which blooms toward the end of August, was much admired by our ancestors, and has been a constant subject of poetry and paintings since the eighth century. The flower was used to cure a hangover. The leaves were fed to animals. The bark of the root was spun into cloth. The starch inside the rhizome was used as medicine.

Starches used to produce delicious dishes can be found around the world — tapioca starch for Brazilian tapioca crepe and Taiwanese tapioca pearl tea; corn starch for American fruit pie filling; sago starch for New Guinea’s sago pancakes. Today, modified starches are more prevalent than natural ones.

I would like to share with you how the purest natural kudzu starch has been produced since 1615 at Kurokawa Honke. The process I witnessed was like watching an ugly duckling become a snow-white swan.

How kudzu-ko is made

Kudzu-ko is obtained from the thick, long rhizome of kudzu plant that grows quite large, and looks as ugly as can be.

It requires much labor and time to find and dig out this long, thick root without damaging it. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

It requires much labor and time to find and dig out this long, thick root without damaging it. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

How our ancestors found the edible starch trapped inside the rough fibrous bark is lost in the clouds of culinary history. They may have encountered a wild boar digging up the root and enjoying the starch trapped inside.

The rhizome begins to store starch toward the end of November, and it grows larger each year. Kurokawa Honke uses seven- or eight-year-old rhizomes, each averaging three feet in length and weighing about 33 pounds. The production of kudzu-ko must be done during cold months when fewer microbes are in the air, assuring safe production.

The rhizome is put into a roller machine to soften and break up the bark and starch. The processed rhizome is then rinsed in a bucket of spring water to expose the interior starch. This starch is mixed with new water and left overnight.

The next day, the dirty dark brown water with impurities is removed and clean water is added to the buckets, mixed with the starch, and left again. This process is repeated five to seven times until all impurities are gone, and the resulting starch is strikingly white.

After changing the water seven times, the starch in the bucket is nearly as white as a swan; impurities are gone. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

After changing the water seven times, the starch in the bucket is nearly as white as a swan; impurities are gone. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

The moist starch is then cut into blocks the size of tofu bricks.

They are placed in a paper-lined wooden container and dried for two months in a dark, freezing-cold part of the 400-year-old factory.

The dried blocks naturally collapse into small pieces — each 33-pound rhizome produces only 3 pounds of starch. Kurokawa Honke is committed to producing kudzu-ko by this traditional artisan method.

“It is company’s responsibility to produce delicious, safe-to-consume, beneficial to human health and an environmentally friendly product,” says Shinichi Kurokawa, chief production manager, who will become the 13th-generation president of the company.

Shinichi Kurokawa, the future 13th-generation president of his family’s business, oversees the production of the most authentic and pure arrowroot starch made in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Shinichi Kurokawa, the future 13th-generation president of his family’s business, oversees the production of the most authentic and pure arrowroot starch made in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

My own modifications

Since I moved to America, I have modified my mother’s kudzu-yu drink to provide a thinner texture that is more appealing to people in my adopted country. I flavor it with American favorites such as chocolate and cinnamon-scented apple sauce.

Try the recipe below and enjoy this new body-warming, stomach-soothing and mentally comforting drink during this holiday season. While sipping it, close your eyes and picture the image of the transformation of an ugly duckling to a snow-white swan.

Body and Soul Warming Apple, Ginger Kudzu-yu Drink

Smooth and thick, apple kuzdzu-yu makes your soul and stomach happy, warm and soothed; a delightful and different chilly weather drink. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Smooth and thick, apple kuzdzu-yu makes your soul and stomach happy, warm and soothed; a delightful and different chilly weather drink. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Total time: 3 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

8g kudzu-ko

2 teaspoons water

¾ cup apple juice

Ginger juice, squeezed from grated fresh ginger, to taste

Cinnamon powder, if desired

Directions

  1. In a small cup, mix the kudzu-ko and 2 teaspoons water with your finger until the starch is all dissolved.
  1. In a small saucepan, add the dissolved kudzu-ko with water and apple juice. Put the saucepan over medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring, all the time with a spatula. Within 1 minute it will start to thicken. Continue stirring for 1 minute. Add the ginger juice, and cinnamon powder, if you are using. Serve the kudzu-yu hot in your favorite coffee or tea mug.

Quick & Easy Kudzu-ko Chocolate Mousse

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 to 5 ¼-cup size serving cups

Ingredients

15g  kudzu-ko

2 tablespoons + ¼ cup water

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

¾ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons sugar

50g baking chocolate, cut into small pieces

Pinch of sea salt

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, dissolve the kudzu-ko with 1 tablespoon water. Add cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon water, and mix with kudzu-ko. Add the heavy cream and remaining ¼ cup water.
  2. Place the pot over moderately high heat and cook, stirring with a spatula all the time for 1 to 2 minutes. The mixture will start to thicken. Turn the heat to low and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth and blended.
  3. Add the sugar, chocolate and pinch of salt, and cook until the chocolate melts, about 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Transfer the chocolate mousse into 4 to 5 small cups. Chill the chocolate mousse before serving.

 

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Capturing Mineral-Rich Sea Salt’s Perfection Is Real Work /world-wrecipe/capturing-mineral-rich-sea-salts-perfection-is-real-work/ /world-wrecipe/capturing-mineral-rich-sea-salts-perfection-is-real-work/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 09:00:14 +0000 /?p=75073 Crystal clear water used for salt production splashes back and forth in front of Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Timothy Charles, at the exquisite Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, showed me the precious harvest in his palm.

I had been impressed with the flavor of a tiny sprinkle of sparkling sea salt over hotel-churned butter that was served in a small cup with bread during my stay. It reminded me of Suzushio sea salt from Japan, which I have been using for the past 14 years in my kitchen. Displaying the salt in his hand, Charles told me that they do small-scale sea salt production in their own hotel kitchen.

A close up view of Fogo Island sea salt. My request to purchase a small portion was sadly denied because of the tiny quantity produced. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

A close-up view of Fogo Island sea salt. My request to purchase a small portion was sadly denied because of the tiny quantity produced. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Why salt is necessary

Proper intake of salt and the choice of quality salt are vital to healthy living. Salt — in my case, sea salt — is the most important and frequently used ingredient in my kitchen. Without proper salt, no food presents its best taste. A tiny sprinkle of good salt over a slice of sun-ripened heirloom tomato opens up its deep, heavenly flavor. Very basic dressing made of excellent cold-pressed olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice desperately needs excellent salt; it is as crucial as the other ingredients. A lightly salted fillet of uncooked fish exudes all its off-flavor elements from its surface, and the salt firms up the muscle meat — both key to producing a delicious simply grilled fish.

When I prepare stir-fried vegetables, I add a pinch of salt along with aromatics and the vegetables to the wok in order to highlight the best flavor of each individual ingredient. No further flavoring is needed. Salt makes the dish complete.

Precious Fogo Island sea salt played an important role in this delightful appetizer dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Precious Fogo Island sea salt plays an important role in this delightful appetizer dish featuring smoked mackerel in cold-pressed canola oil, a pumpernickel rye bun, and pickled cabbage and carrot with cream. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

My Suzushio sea salt comes from the Noto Peninsula on the Japan Sea in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture. It is a basic, daily-use, high-quality, artisanal salt. It has higher mineral content than most other salts, resulting in a salt that is balanced in acidity, sweetness, saltiness and astringency. Magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, calcium chloride and trace minerals are responsible for these flavors.

Good salt does not taste strikingly salty; it is complex and flavorful. And most important, this mineral-rich sea salt contributes to our health.

Making Suzushio sea salt

Suzushio sea salt is made at the Nihon Shinkaien Sangyo Co., founded in 2002 by Shoji Koyachi. Koyachi devised the best and most efficient way to concentrate the salt in sea water under the challenge of Japan’s humid climate. He built a factory room with what look like Venetian blinds made of reeds to do the evaporation and concentration process. Two sets each of 22 “blinds,” connected at the top by a long bar near the ceiling, are hung, reaching down to the floor.

To concentrate the salt, sea water is sprayed over and over again on these porous curtains at Suzushio on the Noto Peninsula in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

To concentrate the salt, sea water is sprayed over and over again on these porous curtains at Suzushio on the Noto Peninsula in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

Forty thousand liters of sea water, collected from deep waters offshore, are sprayed over these “blinds.” The water drips down the reeds, allowing for evaporation and concentration; it is then collected at the floor and sprayed over and over again on the reeds for nine days. By the end of the process, the concentration of salt in the water has increased more than threefold to 10 percent. In an adjoining room, there are huge 7-foot-diameter iron pots with stainless steel liners.

Each pot is filled with the concentrated sea water, which is cooked down to perfect salt crystals over a wood fire.

Junko Tsunetoshi has been the salt maker since the beginning of the operation. She stirs the steaming cooking pot with a long wooden spatula for eight hours every day.

Junko Tsunetoshi, the salt maker, stoking the wood burning fire next to her sea salt cooking pots. Ms. Tsunetoshi is a 15 years veteran of salt making at the factory. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

Junko Tsunetoshi, the salt maker, stoking the wood-burning fire next to her sea salt cooking pots. Tsunetoshi is a 15-year veteran of salt making at the factory. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

Her eyes and hands never stop tending the pot for the entire one-week crystallization operation.

Snow white Suzushio sea salt resting in wooden boxes. The newly-made sea salt stays in these boxes for a week or so for further drying. Its shiny, snow white appearance reminded me of a delicious sherbet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

Snow-white Suzushio sea salt resting in wooden boxes. The newly made sea salt stays in these boxes for a week or so for further drying. Its shiny appearance reminded me of a delicious sherbet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Shoji Koyachi

Fogo Island sea salt

The production of sea salt at the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland has a different story. Charles and his crew put buckets out into shallow water at the shore, close to the Fogo Island Inn, during the winter. The water is so clean they do not need to venture out offshore to collect it.

The 60 liters of sea water in the buckets freezes in the cold climate. As less salty ice forms at the top, very salty water is concentrated in the bottom of the bucket. They retrieve the partially frozen bucket from the shore and bring it to the kitchen.

Home-baked crusty bread, accompanied by home-churned butter topped with large crystals of shiny Fogo Island sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Home-baked crusty bread, accompanied by home-churned butter topped with large crystals of shiny Fogo Island sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

After removing concentrated salt water from the bucket, they cook it down in a pot to 5 to 6 liters. Then they spread it on a nonreactive plastic container and dry it to crystals using a gentle breeze from an electric fan. It takes 24 hours to produce the fine granules. Since the process requires extensive energy consumption, the wintertime production remains small. But according to Charles, summer can bring an entirely different method of salt production — foraging a sheet of sparkling naturally crystalized sea salt that has formed directly on the dark-colored rock lining the shore near the inn.

As I write this article, I know that Charles is watching for this natural salt creation every day. “A very special good weather pattern needs to create such a miracle,” he just wrote me.

Timothy Charles showing off some of his team’s production – Fogo Island sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo)

Timothy Charles showing off some of his team’s production — Fogo Island sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo)

Sea salt connects people and nature, and I have seen this connection in two places very distant and very different from each other.

How I use sea salt in my kitchen

Preparation of Fish for Salt Grilling or Skillet Cooking

1. Apply evenly 2 percent salt to the weight of the fish fillet over the fish; let it stand 15 minutes.

2. Gently and quickly rinse the fish under cold tap water to remove excess salt and exuded water. Wipe the fish thoroughly.

3. You may apply a little bit of new salt and cook. (When I fillet a whole, very fresh fish, after salting and resting the filets I simply wipe the fish with a paper towel without rinsing in order to preserve the best flavor. But this is only applicable for the very freshest fish that you have purchased from a trusted fisherman and filleted yourself.)

Quick Pickled Red Radishes

7 ounces red and purple radishes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar

In a bowl, toss the radishes with the salt; let the radishes stand for 15 minutes. Gently squeeze the radishes to remove excess water. Add the sugar and rice vinegar and toss.

Gomashio (Sea Salt and Sesame Seeds) for Sprinkling on Cooked Rice

1. In a small skillet, toast 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds over low heat until each seed is heated through and plump.

2. Add and mix 2 teaspoons of sea salt and let the mixture cool. Store it in a bottle with a tight-fitting lid.

3. Add sea salt to your stir-frying, simmering and braising pot or skillet as you as add other ingredients. (Adding salt at the end of cooking to flavor the dish does not develop the best flavor in the resulting preparation.)

Main photo: Crystal-clear water used for salt production splashes back and forth in front of Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

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Sublime Sushi: Fish That Tastes Better With Age /world/cuisine/sublime-sushi-fish-that-tastes-better-with-age/ /world/cuisine/sublime-sushi-fish-that-tastes-better-with-age/#respond Thu, 07 Jul 2016 09:00:23 +0000 /?p=74294 Chef Koji Kimura enjoys conversation over the sushi counter with his regulars, but his demeanor becomes much more serious when he is crafting and presenting sushi to his customers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

This story begins 20 years ago.

While researching my first book, “The Japanese Kitchen,” I met Tsuyoshi Iio, the fourth-generation president of Iio Jozo, a family-owned, small rice vinegar production company founded in 1893 in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.

Iio Jozo is the most honest and respected rice vinegar producer in Japan. It’s not just the company’s exceptional tasting rice vinegar, but most important, its vinegar is safe to consume. Here’s what I mean.

Best rice vinegar

Iio Jozo's Akasu, the best and only long-aged sake lees vinegar in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Iio Jozo’s Akasu, the best and only long-aged sake lees vinegar in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Tsuyoshi’s father, Terunosuke Iio, was a visionary president of the company. During the 1950s, Japan became caught up in rapid postwar economic development. The use of strong agricultural chemicals — to increase and speed up the production — became the norm. But soon tadpoles, wild insects and animals disappeared from rice paddies. Farmers suffered from mysterious diseases.

At that time, Terunosuke Iio read the Japanese translation of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and decided he wanted to use only organic rice in his vinegar production. But it took him two years to persuade enough farmers to agree to raise rice organically. All the farmers were aware of the toxic influence of chemicals, but most could not be persuaded to return to the labor intensive, chemical-free farming practices.

Today Iio Jozo Company is run by an energetic fifth-generation president, Akihiro Iio. It has been producing 3- to 5-year-aged Akasu for years. Recently the company began aging it up to 15 years, upon receiving a request from a sushi chef in Nagoya Prefecture.

Aji (horse mackerel) fresh, not aged, from Wakayama Prefecture. Aji is an oily fish, so the sushi is always topped with a mound of grated ginger and thinly sliced chives as a mouth refresher. But Chef Kimura hides the ginger and chives between the fish and sushi rice. He says, "Those condiments are unnecessary for our eyes. Our taste and texture sensors enjoy the harmony of the fish and the condiments only in our mouth." Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Aji (horse mackerel) fresh, not aged, from Wakayama Prefecture. Aji is an oily fish, so the sushi is always topped with a mound of grated ginger and thinly sliced chives as a mouth refresher. But Chef Kimura hides the ginger and chives between the fish and sushi rice. He says, “Those condiments are unnecessary for our eyes. Our taste and texture sensors enjoy the harmony of the fish and the condiments only in our mouth.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Aged fish

A complete, miraculous transition — this was my experience at Sushi Kimura, a tiny seven counter-seat sushi bar restaurant in Futako Tamagawa, just one hour from central Tokyo by train.

At this restaurant, Chef Koji Kimura has developed a special kind of nigiri sushi.

He uses fish that has been cured and aged — some up to 90 days. This aged fish does not spoil nor become stinky; it acquires much umami and a quite tender texture.

Chef Kimura discovered it almost by accident.

After opening his small restaurant, he waited for customers night after night, for weeks. The fresh fish he had purchased and prepared did not keep for long. “There were lots of waste,” he said.

Instead of giving up,  Kimura was determined to find out how long he could age and improve the fish. Bleeding, salting, de-salting, shaving the surface, observing — every day for months his hard work brought him to a startling accomplishment. He successfully produced delicious, safe-to-eat fish through aging up to 90 days.

Chef Kimura proudly exhibits a bottle of Iio Jozo rice vinegar (left) behind his sushi counter. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Kimura proudly exhibits a bottle of Iio Jozo rice vinegar (left) behind his sushi counter. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

In order to create the perfect match for such fish, Kimura cooks his rice to a rather firm texture and flavors it with Akasu (“red color-tinged rice vinegar”).

The use of Akasu in the preparation of sushi rice produces a distinctive, strong yeasty fragrance and taste, and a faint reddish brown color. Akasu was made from sake lees, the solids left over from fermenting rice to make sake; it was the vinegar used at the time of the invention of nigiri sushi in the city of Edo.

And, thus the marriage of two unique businesses — Kimura Sushi’s aged fish and Iio Jozo’s Akasu. Together they produce a new dining experience, one with deep historical roots.

A harmony of flavors

This appetizer before my sushi course is "abalone risotto." It consists of sushi rice with tender-cooked cubed abalone flavored with a sauce made with abalone liver resulting in a creamy texture with a distinctive flavor and a hint of bitterness. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

This appetizer before my sushi course is “abalone risotto.” It consists of sushi rice with tender-cooked cubed abalone flavored with a sauce made with abalone liver resulting in a creamy texture with a distinctive flavor and a hint of bitterness. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

For my meal at Kimura Sushi, I began with 10-day aged shiro-amadai (white horsehead) on top of a small squeeze of sushi rice. It was tender and sweet with a surprising touch of firmness.

Fourteen-day aged kinme (alfonsino) was melting tender with umami that was further elevated by the Akasu. To my surprise, kinme loses two-thirds of its original weight during the aging process.

Fourteen-day aged kinme (alfonsino). Kinme is a very expensive fish in Japan that can not be wasted. Its white flesh is noted for its sweet and oily flavor. Chef Kimura’s aging process results in fish that is tender and creamy, but not broken down and mushy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Fourteen-day aged kinme (alfonsino). Kinme is a very expensive fish in Japan that can not be wasted. Its white flesh is noted for its sweet and oily flavor. Chef Kimura’s aging process results in fish that is tender and creamy, but not broken down and mushy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Aji (horse mackerel) from Wakayama Prefecture was fresh, crunchy and delicious. Tai snapper was lightly cured in kelp.

But the climax was unthinkable before my visit: 60-day aged makajiki (striped marlin).

Chef Kimura's 60-day cured makajiki (striped marlin) proved that properly aged fish can develop so many wonderful new and delicious flavors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Kimura’s 60-day cured makajiki (striped marlin) proved that properly aged fish can develop so many wonderful new and delicious flavors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

I closed my eyes to concentrate all of my senses on the fish. Caramel, coffee, cream, sweet … a miraculous harmony of flavors swept through my mouth. Aging matters — probably it’s much better for the fish than for me.

Main photo: Chef Koji Kimura enjoys conversation over the sushi counter with his regulars, but his demeanor becomes much more serious when he is crafting and presenting sushi to his customers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

 

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Japanese Health Habit: Variety Is The Spice Of Life /cooking/japanese-health-habit-variety-is-the-spice-of-life/ /cooking/japanese-health-habit-variety-is-the-spice-of-life/#respond Fri, 08 Apr 2016 09:00:52 +0000 /?p=73025 This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes, dried baby fish -- some of these rather small amounts. I give it a score 10 item including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

An official slogan for improving the nutrition of the Japanese population was issued by the Japanese government in 1985: “Consume Thirty Different Food Items Each Day.”

The food items were divided into six categories, and we were advised to choose evenly from each category. Each ingredient, it was said — meat, poultry and fish, soybeans, grains, vegetables and fruits, milk products, and sea vegetables — contains its own nutritional properties, so following this slogan will help to create balanced meals.

Even before this public announcement, there was a growing awareness that the Japanese diet since the turn of the 20th century had succumbed to influence from the West. It was thought that we must return to our own traditional diet to achieve optimum nutrition.

Just for fun, from time to time I still count how many different food items I have consumed in a single day.

A realistic goal?

A high-scoring lunch at home of kinpira ( flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba buckwheat noodles, fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg). Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

A high-scoring lunch of kinpira (flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba (buckwheat noodles) with fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

This practice was instilled in me by my mother. Recently I made the count for all three meals, and found I’d consumed 21 separate foods on that day; far short of the government’s recommendation. This caused me to think. How and why did this government recommendation come about? Is it still a realistic guiding principle?

Here is what I found.

Until 1868, Japan lagged far behind Western countries in technology, science and engineering because of the closure of the country to foreign trade for 260 years. Even the small physical stature of the Japanese population was blamed on a poor, very limited Japanese diet that was based on small quantities of rice, fish, soybean products, with some vegetables and seaweeds.

The Meiji Emperor encouraged the population to begin consuming beef, a food item previously banned for ordinary citizens. Newly imported Western ingredients included meat, meat products, milk and butter, and new preparation techniques led to the creation of new “Japanese” dishes that were called “yo-shoku” (Japanized Western dishes).

Yo-shoku dishes with their rich flavors and large servings instantly became national favorites: beef steak, pork cutlet, curry and rice, “omu-rice” (stir-fried morsels of chicken and rice, seasoned with tomato ketchup and wrapped in an omelet), to name a few.

Dietary changes brought risks

Chikuzen-ni: This dish features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil -- a 9-item dish.

This dish (Chikuzen-ni) features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil — a nine-item dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

During the heyday of Japanese boom-times in 1970-1990, even more varieties of Western foods became available and popular (provided by the major Western fast-food companies). And Japanese began consuming increasing quantities of rare cheeses, foie gras and expensive wines.

These dietary changes came with hefty penalties: Diabetes became more widespread. Heart disease became the number No. 2 killer in Japan. And — this was formerly unthinkable — morbid obesity is now present in the country.

Meals dominated by fat, meat, meat products, egg, sugar and milk products push up calorie consumption but not the number of daily food items. The broad categories of foods of the traditional complete Japanese diet such as seafood, seaweed, vegetables and more fruits are lacking. So the 1985 rule was an attempt to bring variety back to the everyday diet.

Want to try eating 30 different foods in a day? Choose at least two items from each of the six food categories. Since consuming vegetables and fruits is good for our health, add two additional items from categories 3 and 4. If you do this, you will easily approach 20 separate food items — a good start for reaching the goal of 30 items that the Japanese government recommended.

By following this practice, you can change the way you plan and prepare meals to the benefit of your health.

Six categories of food items

This Japanese style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger, Blue Moon, which sets up their store at Union Square Market, New York City, from spring through early winter. Also onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth -- an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

This Japanese-style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger Blue Moon, which sets up at Union Square Market in New York City from spring through early winter. Also, onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth — an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

The six categories of food items and what they provide:

1. Meat, fish, poultry, egg, tofu products (protein).

2. Small fish that can be eaten whole with bones, milk and milk products (calcium).

3. Green and yellow vegetables (carotene, plus other vitamins and minerals).

4. Other vegetables and fruits (vitamin C, plus other vitamins and minerals).

5. Grains, potato, bread/cakes/cookies (carbohydrates).

6. Cooking oil, nut and seed oils, nuts and seeds (fat).

Rules to follow

I taught 3-5 years old kids at Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York City to eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The little audience was very curious about the colors of beautiful vegetables. Credit 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I taught 3- to 5-year-old kids at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York City about the value of eating vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The young audience was curious about the beautiful colors of vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

As you begin your “Thirty Different Food Items Each Day” project, please observe the following rules. Do not count the same ingredient twice. Do not count ingredients used for garnishes in soups, salads and the like; they have minimal nutritional and caloric value. You can, however, count ketchup, mayonnaise and sauces, which have substantial caloric content.

When you reach 21 food items in a day, please send me photos and a description of the meals. I will share them with my audience.

Before then, please enjoy this stir-fried rice recipe, which gives you a 7 score for the dish.

Seven Score Vegetable Stir-Fried Rice

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here - carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil - can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish anytime. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here — carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil — can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish any time. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 4 minutes

Total time: 49 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

Sea salt

1 cup chopped carrot

1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb or celery

3 1/2 ounces kale; leaves, cut into thin slices crosswise; stems, cut into thin slices slanted

4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice (preferably made a day in advance)

1/2 cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons butter

1 to 2 teaspoons shoyu

Freshly ground black pepper corn

Directions

Heat a wok or deep skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion along with pinch of salt and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add the carrot, fennel bulb and kale stem along with pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the kale leaves, and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Move the vegetables to one end of the wok (or transfer to a temporary bowl). Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in the empty space of the wok.

When the oil is hot, add the rice and cook, over medium heat, stirring, until the rice is fully heated up, or about 2 minutes. Then combine and toss the rice with the cooked vegetables. Add the pine nuts and give several large stirs. Add the butter, soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper and toss the mixture thoroughly. Divide the rice among 4 plates and serve hot.

Main photo: This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes and dried baby fish. Since some are rather small amounts, I give it a score of 10, including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

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7 Secrets To A Perfectly Flaky And Buttery Croissant /world/7-secrets-perfectly-flaky-buttery-croissant/ /world/7-secrets-perfectly-flaky-buttery-croissant/#comments Wed, 16 Dec 2015 10:00:44 +0000 /?p=71281 The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The new year of 2016 is fast approaching. I am now trying to complete the tasks planned for this year but left unfinished, both business and personal. By doing so, I can welcome a new year as a fresh start.

This is what we do in Japan at the end of each year. But something has bothered me for long time, and I have let the years pass without fixing it in my kitchen. It is the croissant. In Japan, croissants are deeply rooted in our culinary culture and have been a part of my life, long before coming to America. So, this October I attended a class at the International Culinary Center in New York City on making authentic croissants. I can now start the new year with the proper croissant that I have dreamed of.

Falling in love with croissants

The proper proofing of the dough leads to a perfect result - fluffy, airy inside with brittle, crisp, butter infused layers on the outside. Delicious! The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It was 30-some years ago when I first visited Paris and instantly fell in love with croissants. Flaky, crumbling, buttery croissants at small cafés in the city became my breakfast. I can still picture myself in the mornings, standing at a long counter bar in these cafés, staring at bottles of liquor and wine on the shelves behind the counter, and then biting into shattering layers of a crispy croissant. With small sips of strong coffee, I always reached for a second croissant in the always-full basket on the counter.

The richness of the butter stayed long in my stomach, but never enough to spoil my lunch. The real croissants back then were rather small (about 6 inches long), narrow, extremely brittle on the outside and airy inside. But today, this gem seems to have disappeared from the streets of Paris.

A bit of Paris in Tokyo

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokoy pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokyo pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Now, let me take you to a very special place in Japan. There is a little patisserie called Aux Bon Vieux Temps near Oyamadai station southeast of central Tokyo. I lived near this station for about three years with my husband, Buzz. On one of our weekend walks, we happened to pass by a small, very French-looking pastry store. We entered and found that it was full of the highest quality authentic French breads, pastries and chocolates. The store became our Sunday breakfast pilgrimage destination — especially for very crisp, buttery, authentic croissants and a cup of very good coffee. Because of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, I no longer had to dream about the old croissants of Paris.

No shortcuts allowed

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream....the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream … the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Katsuhiko Kawata, the owner and pastry chef of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, has been making authentic croissants for years in Tokyo, while the super-sized, bread-like croissants have invaded France and America. Chef Kawata apprenticed and learned the art of baking croissants in his 20s in Paris. He is 70 years old today and still working in his kitchen. His approach to producing quality, artisan croissants and pastries is the same as that of classical music player. During every available minute, he practices his art and polishes his skills. Laziness and shortcuts are out.

On our most recent trip back to Paris, I was saddened by my encounters with ugly, fatty, dense and bread-like croissants at local cafés — the Americanization of the croissant in every aspect of quality had come to France. The use of industrial dough and shortcut baking processes may be among the reasons for this demise. However, last year in March, a very welcoming article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Welcome Back to Authentic Croissants in Paris,” by Alexander Lobrano. That article inspired me. I should stop complaining about fake, fat croissants in the city and learn how much labor, time and care is necessary to bake a good croissant by myself.

Dough techniques

Chef Galarch at ICC showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable, but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Gerlach at the International Culinary Center showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The croissant class taught by chef Mark Gerlach at the International Culinary Center was only a scant five hours in duration. The correct way to make croissants requires at least a full 48 hours, the chef said. In order for the students to engage in all processes of the preparation, we used dough that had been kneaded and rested in advance.

Real croissants: It’s in the dough

Here, from the class, are seven tips on how to make real croissants:

  • Use quality ingredients.
  • Dehydrate flour properly.
  • Use butter with 83% fat.
  • Proof the dough at a temperature of 68 F and humidity of 65-70%.
  • Apply proper lamination technique (folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough).
  • Roll out the dough into correct thickness and into the proper size and shape.
  • And finally, bake it just to the state where crumbling and fluffiness meet.
After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. After painting with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size, I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. Once painted with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Now I am committed to baking fabulous croissants in my kitchen to celebrate the start of an exciting new year. I shall start the project two days before I enjoy the end of this year properly with a bowl of traditional soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you will, too.

Croissant Dough

Instructions on creating the croissant can be found in many places, but here is how to make the dough.

Yield: About 1700g (18-21 croissants)

Prep and resting time: 3 1/2 hours

Ingredients

This recipe uses international measurements, because they are more precise — and precision is very important in this recipe. (Equivalents are 1 ounce = 28 grams and 1 pound = 453 grams.)

750 grams bread flour

15 grams salt

100 grams sugar

30 grams softened butter

38 grams fresh yeast

150 grams milk

285 grams water

345 grams butter

Directions

1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, yeast, milk and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix them on low speed just to combine. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes or until a smooth sticky dough comes together.

2. Oil the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a 12-inch square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is between 50 and 60 degrees F.

4. Place a block of butter between sheets of parchment paper and, using a rolling pin, shape it into a 6-inch by 12-inch shape.

5. Place the butter in the center of the dough. Pull the parchment paper away from the butter. Wrap the dough around the butter, making sure that the dough completely covers the butter but does not overlap at the seam. Lightly pound the dough with a rolling pin to make the butter more extendable.

6. Roll the dough into about a 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform a double turn.

7. Rotate the dough and roll it again into 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform 1 single turn. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle.

8. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour or overnight.

Main photo: The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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In Japan, Giving Thanks For An Abundant Harvest /cooking/history-cooking/in-japan-giving-thanks-for-an-abundant-harvest/ /cooking/history-cooking/in-japan-giving-thanks-for-an-abundant-harvest/#respond Wed, 11 Nov 2015 10:00:14 +0000 /?p=70360 The Japanese holiday called Kinro-kansha-no-hi is a celebration of Thanksgiving for an abundant harvest and all the hard-working people who help bring food to the table. Delicacies featuring fish and vegetables are served at Kinro-kansha-no-hi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful occasion for getting together with family and friends to share food and make up for all of the lost time that we have been apart. The spirit of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was the sharing of precious harvest and honoring the relationship between the Plymouth Colonists and native population — family and friends. That spirit of sharing is intact today, and though some of the ingredients at Thanksgiving feasts have changed, some have remained.

Giving thanks for abundance

Varieties of squash -- a Native American ingredient still used in traditional Thanksgiving dishes -- can be found at farmers' markets like this one at Union Square in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Varieties of squash — a Native American ingredient still used in traditional Thanksgiving dishes — can be found at farmers’ markets like this one at Union Square in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In Japan, we have a similar annual event at around the same time, called Kinro-kansha-no-hi, which means “a day to offer great thanks to all the hard-working people (who have contributed to bring food to our table).” This holiday falls on Nov. 23 and originates in the ancient worldwide autumn ritual of thanking the gods who enabled an abundant harvest while also protecting the people throughout the year. Japanese people are obsessed with excellent food, but there is no universally served meal analogous to the American “turkey with all the ‘fixins.’ ” This is why:

Seafood delicacies

Whole fluke from Blue Moon at Union Square Market in New York City deserves to be served sashimi. The freshness of fish is first class. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Whole fluke from Blue Moon at Union Square Market in New York City deserves to be served sashimi. The freshness of fish is first class. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

November is the month in Japan during which nature brings many varied delicacies from the sea, the rivers, the fields and the mountains. And depending on where people live in Japan (recall that Japan is a long and narrow country extending from far north to far south surrounded by a long coast line), the delicacies of the season differ in each region.

My mother prepared Kinro-kansha-no-hi dishes using the quality seasonal ingredients available to her, and these were also my father’s favorites. Seafood included snow crab, amberjack, kinki (a small red fish a little like the scorpionfish in bouillabaisse) and fluke.

Eggplant appetizers

There is a saying in Japan, "Don't treat your daughter-in-law to (delicious ) autumn eggplant." Some say this shows the ill nature of mothers-in-law, who think that autumn eggplant is too good for their daughters-in-law. Another, less harsh interpretation is that giving a daughter-in-law a seedless eggplant is bad luck--it might keep her from getting pregnant. This appetizer of fried eggplant served with miso sauce is heaven. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

There is a saying in Japan, “Don’t treat your daughter-in-law to (delicious ) autumn eggplant.” Some say this shows the ill nature of mothers-in-law, who think that autumn eggplant is too good for their daughters-in-law. Another, less harsh interpretation is that giving a daughter-in-law a seedless eggplant is bad luck–it might keep her from getting pregnant. This appetizer of fried eggplant served with miso sauce is heaven. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Along with the seafood, turnip, daikon, enoki mushrooms, chrysanthemum leaves and sweet potato never failed to appear at our table. Appetizer dishes such as eggplant and miso sauce also were served.

Dashi

Simmered and flavored carrot and Japanese turnip, baked and fried kabocha squash, fried eggplant and string bean mingle with each other in flavored Japanese dashi broth. Locally available, seasonal vegetables frequently end up in this preparation in my kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Simmered and flavored carrot and Japanese turnip, baked and fried kabocha squash, fried eggplant and string bean mingle with each other in flavored Japanese dashi broth. Locally available, seasonal vegetables frequently end up in this preparation in my kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

I always remember the sweet potatoes that were simmered in a lightly flavored Japanese dashi stock. My mother never changed the way she made her sweet potatoes, but every year we found them tasting better than before. It seemed like playing the piano; it gets better as you practice.

After moving to New York from Japan, I began to join my brother-in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner. Peter is a great cook. He roasts a large turkey to juicy and tender perfection, makes all the traditional side dishes and some wonderful pies to end the meal. Early on I suggested to Peter that I could contribute a real Japanese dish or two to add to his very organized Thanksgiving meal. But he has never shown an interest in my offer, so I stopped asking. It was for me to learn how to enjoy this very American event. And I do enjoy it!

As you know, Japanese love to embrace American culture. Recently the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner began gradually invading my homeland. One popular Japanese website posts more than 80 American Thanksgiving recipes, including how to roast a turkey, how to make cranberry relish and how to bake pecan and pumpkin pies. The size of the turkey mentioned in such recipes is about 13 to 15 pounds. An oven in a Japanese home is one-third to one-half the size of an American oven, so this is the largest bird that can be accommodated. This also was the size of turkeys available in America in 1930s. Today, breeding techniques have increased the size of these birds up to 30 pounds.

Maybe because I never learned to prepare traditional American Thanksgiving dishes, around this time of the year I entertain family and friends as my mother did by preparing dishes from the local seasonal harvest.

Sweet endings

Juice made from fresh pomegranate is naturally very sweet. It became a good pair with my Japanese-style, rather dry steamed azuki bean cake. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Juice made from fresh pomegranate is naturally very sweet. It became a good pair with my Japanese-style, rather dry steamed azuki bean cake. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The bounty of the autumn harvest and offering thanks to nature and the people who contributed to bringing the meal to our table is truly a celebration to be shared with our loved ones.

Kinpira

Traditional kinpira is made with gobo (burdock). Here is my kinpira with locally available sulsify (a cousin of burdock), parsnip, carrot and kale. This version is even better than the original one. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Traditional kinpira is made with gobo (burdock). Here is my kinpira with locally available sulsify (a cousin of burdock), parsnip, carrot and kale. This version is even better than the original one. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

(From The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo)

When you prepare this dish for a guest who can not tolerate gluten, eliminate the shoyu and use all gluten free tamari. Make sure that it is 100% soybean tamari without wheat. Tamari makes the prepared marinating broth a bit darker in color.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 3 minutes

Refrigeration time: 2 to 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons canola oil

3 ounces salsify or gobo (burdock), julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

2 ounces carrot, julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

2 ounces parsnip, julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

Some kale (optional)

2 tablespoons mirin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon tamari

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted

1/3 teaspoon shichimi togarashi

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet and add the canola oil. When the oil is heated, add the salsify or burdock, and cook, stirring, until it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot and parsnip and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons water, the kale (if using), mirin and sugar, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, stirring. Add the soy sauce and tamari and cook for 30 seconds. Add the white sesame seeds and shichimi togarashi.
  3. Transfer the vegetables in a bowl and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for later serving. The prepared kinpira tastes best 2 to 3 hours after preparation, or after overnight refrigeration.

Main photo: The Japanese holiday called Kinro-kansha-no-hi is a celebration of Thanksgiving for an abundant harvest and all the hard-working people who help bring food to the table. Delicacies featuring fish and vegetables are served at Kinro-kansha-no-hi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo.

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