Greens with Goma-ae

gomaaeIn Japanese, goma means ‘sesame’, and it is commonly used in all kind of cooking. This recipe is for a dressing called goma-ae which is sweet and salty, made with sesame, sugar, and soy sauce. It is great on all kinds of veggies, especially greens. In the picture above, I used shungiku, or chrysanthemum greens, but it’s also great on spinach, komatsuna, or other similar vegetables. It makes a great side dish. I especially like the contrast when eaten with something spicy.

Ingredients
1 handful green vegetables of your choice (shungiku, komatsuna, spinach, etc.)
1 tbsp ground sesame seeds*
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp water

*In Japan, you can buy sesame seeds already ground, but if you do it yourself with a mortar and pestle, the flavor is fresher. Either way is fine!

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove. Also prepare a bowl of ice water.

When the water boils, put the greens in and let them blanch for 60 seconds. Then pull them out and immediately put them into the ice water to stop the cooking.

Mix the sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce, and water in a small bowl.

Remove the greens from the water and squeeze out the excess moisture. If the pieces are large, you can cut the bundle of greens in half or thirds. Mix the greens with the sauce and serve.

Swedish Bread

swedish breadI love baking bread in the winter. It makes the whole house seem warmer and cozier, and warm homemade bread is one of my favorite things to eat. This is an old recipe that my Mom and I used to make when I was younger, and I hadn’t made in many years until this Christmas. It’s got egg, milk, and sugar in it, which make the dough rich and sweet, and it tastes like almonds. You can make regular loaves, or braid them like I did in the picture above if you want to be fancy!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
½ cup (113g) melted butter or margarine
⅔ cup (133g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
405 mL (2-1/4 cups) hot milk
2-1/4 tsp dry yeast
¼ cup (60mL) warm water
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 cups (910g) white flour (approximately)

Optional: 1 egg yolk, 1/4 cup almonds (for topping)

Instructions
Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and hot milk in a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Add the dissolved yeast, egg, almond extract, and 3 cups (390g) of the flour to the milk mixture and mix vigorously. Add 3 more cups (390g) of flour and mix well.

Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead for a minute or two, and let rest for 10 minutes. Adding the remaining flour only if the dough is too sticky, resume kneading until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Punch down, knead for a minute or two, and shape into two loaves. Place in two buttered 9×5 inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise until double in bulk again. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

For Braided Bread: After the dough has risen for the first time, punch it down, knead for a minute or two, and divide it into six equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece with your hands until you have six long rolls of uniform size. Make two braids with them, pinching the three piece of dough firmly together when you start braiding and again when you finish. Tuck each end underneath the loaf. Place on greased cookie sheets, cover, and allow to rise until double in size. Brush with 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for only 25 to 30 minutes.

Caramel Hot Cocoa

caramel hot cocoaThis past weekend, the Tokyo area was hit by a “blizzard”. I put it in quotations because I grew up in the Northeast U.S., where 4 inches of snow is not even worth mentioning. But here in eastern Japan, snow is unusual – once or twice a year at most – and usually just a dusting. Anyway, all usual transportation stopped for a day or two, and everyone was finding alternate ways to get where they needed to go, and doing a lot of walking in the snow and slush in shoes that were not intended for that kind of use. It seems like everything has been cold and wet, and when I come home to my non-heated house, the first thing I want is hot cocoa. This caramel hot cocoa is my recent favorite – if you want it to taste more like “salted caramel”, you can add a little extra salt!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt (or more to taste)

Instructions

Put the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it begins to melt. Let the sugar melt and caramelize into a brown liquid. Don’t stir – but you can swirl the pan a little if it doesn’t melt evenly. Don’t walk away – it happens very quickly and the caramel can burn in an instant.

When the sugar is melted and has turned a reddish-brown, turn off the heat and add the cream carefully. It may splatter a little bit. Immediately whisk or stir, but don’t worry if it hardens up on you.* Add the cocoa and mix it into the caramel.

Add the milk and turn the heat back on medium-low. Whisk until the milk heats up and begins to steam. Then add the vanilla and salt.

* If the caramel completely hardens, just add the milk first, turn the heat on, and the caramel will melt into the milk. Then you can add the cocoa powder afterwards.

Simple Donburi (Rice Bowl)

donburi (simple)
Donburi literally means a type of bowl, and the dish called donburi is what is served in it! This dish is basically a bowl of rice with some kind of topping – meat, vegetables, etc. Another example of donburi on this site is gyuudon (beef rice bowl). But this version is very simple, quick to put together, and helps me use up what I have around the house. You can serve it alone, with another veggie side dish, or with a bowl of soup.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100 grams (1/4 lb) ground meat – beef, pork, chicken, or a mixture
2 tbsp yakiniku sauce or your favorite meat seasoning sauce
a large handful of leafy greens: spinach, komatsuna, chingensai (bok choy) etc.
2 eggs (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)

Cooked rice for serving

Instructions

If you don’t have cooked rice already, start the rice first. While it’s cooking, make the toppings.

Saute the ground meat in a frying pan until nearly done. Add the yakiniku sauce and continue cooking and stirring until the meat is done and most of the liquid is gone.

Blanch the green vegetables: Put them into a pot of salted boiling water for 60 seconds, then remove to a bowl of ice water. Let cool, then remove the greens and squeeze out the excess water.

Fry eggs, if using. You can use the same frying pan from the meat, if you remove it to another dish. Crack the eggs gently into the pan and cook over medium heat until they reach your preferred level of doneness.

Finally, assemble the dish. Put some cooked rice into two bowls. Divide the cooked greens and arrange them on top of the rice. Next, add the cooked meat. I like to cover or partially cover the greens, so they get some flavor on them. If desired, sprinkle some sesame seeds on the meat. Finally, add the fried egg on top!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

spaghetti and meatballsEven though I love to try new recipes as often as possible, sometimes I really just want to eat something homey and familiar, like spaghetti and meatballs. It does take a little time, but it’s worth it for the delicious flavor, and a lot of the time is just simmering, so you can do other stuff while you wait for it to cook.

Ingredients
Meatballs
280g (about 10 oz) ground beef/pork mix
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp milk
1 egg
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Sauce (or use your favorite home-made or store-bought sauce!)
400g (14 oz) canned tomato
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Spaghetti for serving, cooked according to box instructions
Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

Instructions

Mix all meatball ingredients well. Form into 1-tbsp balls and roll between your hands to make a neat round shape.

Brown the meatballs in batches in a frying pan and remove to a plate. (They can be frozen at this point.)

Mix all sauce ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (One trick I use is that if the canned tomatoes are too chunky, use a potato masher or fork to smash them a little.)

Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for 45 minutes.

Serve over cooked spaghetti.

Ingredients in Japan: Dairy Products

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

Dairy is not used in traditional Japanese cooking, but these days, many different cuisines are popular in Japan, and all kinds of dairy products are easy to get here. For this post, I’ll talk about milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. There’s a quick note about dairy substitutes toward the end.

Milk
Milk is commonly sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, and drugstores. Most milk seems to be whole milk, but you can also get low-fat milk. Milk seems expensive to me here; in my area it ranges from about 150-200 yen per liter (that would be US$1.50-$2 per quart, or $6-8 per gallon). Low-fat milk is a little cheaper. There is also a higher-fat “luxury milk” available which is more expensive.

Buttermilk
I’ll mention buttermilk here because it’s used in many American recipes, but I have not seen it sold in Japan. Depending on the recipe, you could use yogurt thinned out with milk, or use this “recipe” to make a buttermilk substitute: For 1 cup buttermilk, put about 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches 1 cup (240mL). Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before using.

Cream
Trying to buy heavy or whipping cream in the store was a little puzzling to me at first, because it’s labeled differently from the American style. Heavy creams are labeled by percentage of butterfat. I usually see 35% or 48% cream, and recently there has been 42% cream at some places. All of these will whip and can be used as whipping cream. It’s a little expensive and is sold in 100mL or 200mL cartons. It’s usually called 生クリーム, nama kuriimu, literally ‘raw cream’. There’s also something called “pantry cream,” which has a lower fat content, and will NOT whip. (Also be careful not to confuse this cream with the cheaper ホイップ, hoippu which is a vegetable product that can be whipped and used like ‘non-dairy topping’ in America.)

Yogurt
Yogurt is extremely popular in Japan and there are many types available. There are non-fat, low-fat, and full-fat, plain and sweetened varieties, as well as many types with fruit added. Quite recently, Greek yogurt has become available here. It goes by two names: カスピ海ヨーグルト, kasupi-kai youguruto, literally ‘Caspian sea yogurt’, or ギリシャヨーグルト, girisha youguruto, ‘Greece yogurt’. Another very popular product is called ‘drinkable yogurt,’ which is just what it sounds like, and usually found in the refrigerated beverage section.

Ice Cream
Ice cream is popular, but mostly sold as individual pieces on sticks, or in small cartons. Ice cream in large tubs as we often see it in the U.S. is very uncommon. In shops, soft serve is very popular, although it’s called ソフトクリーム, sofuto kuriimu, ‘soft cream’. There are literally hundreds of common and unusual flavors available, often changing by season.

Cheese
This is the one that makes us cry! Cheese is not as popular in Japan as America, so there are few varieties available, and they tend to be expensive, small, and not as tasty (in our humble opinions) as what we had in America. The most common cheese sold in stores is called ‘pizza cheese’ or ‘mix cheese’, which is a mixture of white, meltable cheeses that you can use on pizza or similar. Parmesan cheese (powdered) is also usually available in stores, as is sliced ‘processed cheese’. Other types can be found here and there, but you’ll have to look around to see what different stores carry. If you really want a certain type of cheese, your best bets are ordering online, or going to Costco.

Butter
See my older post on butter and fats.

Dairy Substitutes
I’d like to write more about this at some point, but just as a quick reference: Soymilk (豆乳, tounyuu) is extremely popular and widely available in “plain” as well as many, many flavors. There are basically two “plain” types, which are called 調整 (chousei, ‘adjusted’) and 無調整 (muchousei, ‘unadjusted’) – when I did a little searching I found that the ‘adjusted’ variety has a little salt and sugar added and the pH is adjusted; all of this is done to make it taste a little better or more “drinkable”. I don’t drink soymilk plain; I only use it for cooking and smoothies, so I always buy the ‘unadjusted’ variety. These two plain flavors are found in both small (200mL) and large (1000mL) sizes. The other flavors, which range from coffee to strawberry to mango, along with seasonal or limited-time flavors including cherry-blossom, cola, and grape, are usually found only in the small size. I have seen soy yogurt once in a while as well, but have never tried it.

The other dairy substitute that has become popular recently is almond milk. I’ve seen two brands sold in various stores. There are a couple of flavors that have come out – I’ve seen plain, unsweetened, chocolate, coffee, and banana – but the plain one is easiest to find. I had only seen the small 200mL size being sold (for about 100-120 yen, about $1 US) until last week, when I saw the 1000mL size for the first time in the supermarket, which was a little more cost-efficient at 358 yen (about $3 US). Both brands taste fine, though they seem to contain a lot of sugar.

Naan

IMG_7796This flatbread is easy to make and goes well with curry or lentils! It does take some time, but only because it has to rise for 2-1/2 hours. The actual working time is not very long.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 naan)
2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
3/4 cup (180mL) milk (you can also substitute all or part of the milk with yogurt)
1/2 tsp sugar
1-2 tbsp butter (optional)

Instructions

Warm up the milk, and add the sugar and yeast. Add the salt, and half of the flour, and mix well. Add the remaining flour, and knead until a smooth dough is formed.

Place dough in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 6 to 8 pieces. Let rest for 30 minutes. Heat your oven to its highest temperature. Roll out the dough into circles and bake for 2-4 minutes.

If desired, brush the warm naan with melted butter.