Tzatziki

tzatzikiLast time, I posted about making Greek (strained) yogurt at home, and here’s one of my favorite ways to use it. Tzatziki is a Mediterranean sauce or dip which is good with veggies, bread, or meat. It’s best after it sits for a night to let the flavors develop, so plan ahead if possible.

Ingredients
3/4 cup (180mL) Greek or strained yogurt
1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Instructions

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. If the cucumber has a thick peel, you may want to remove it, but it’s not necessary. Chop the remaining cucumber into small pieces.

Mix all ingredients together well. Let the tzatziki sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The flavors will get stronger as it sits, so don’t add more garlic until you taste it the next day. If some water collects on top of the tzatziki overnight, you can pour it off, or mix it back in.
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Some of my favorite ways to eat this are with pita bread or chips, with falafel, with chicken, or with rice dishes that have warm spices in them. In the picture above I have a homemade pita filled with sauteed chicken, tzatziki, red onion, broccoli sprouts, and extra cucumber.

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.

Gyoza (Dumplings)

cooking dumplings3
Gyoza (餃子) is the Japanese word for dumplings. They consist of a thin wrapper and a filling of meat and/or vegetables, and may be cooked by steam-frying, boiling, or deep-frying. Gyoza can come in almost infinite varieties, so feel free to adjust as you like. This is my basic recipe, but it often varies depending what’s on sale, in season, or around my kitchen.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
125g (1/4 lb) ground pork
1 cup finely sliced cabbage or hakusai (Napa cabbage)
1/2 cup finely sliced veggies (nira/garlic chives, green onions, other greens, carrots, etc)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
24 gyoza wrappers (or round dumpling wrappers)

Optional (for dipping sauce): Additional soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and/or chili oil

Instructions

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients (except wrapper) well. (It can help to use your hands.) Tip: it’s a good idea to check the flavor, so you can microwave about 1 tsp of the filling until cooked and taste it. That’s what your finished dumplings will taste like, so adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Fill each dumpling with 1/2 tbsp of the filling. Dip a finger in water and draw a line halfway around the edge of the wrapper, and fold. You can find videos showing you how to fold gyoza online if you haven’t done it before, or look at the pictures below for an idea. If it’s your first try, it’s best to check out a video, or have someone show you.

gyoza2Once all the dumplings are folded, you can cook them. Gyoza can be pan-fried, boiled, or deep-fried. The first way is the most common, and what I usually do at home, so I’ll give the instructions here. Boiling and deep-frying are pretty self-explanatory. You will need a frying pan that has a lid.

Place teaspoon or two of oil in a frying pan on medium heat and set the dumplings down in it. Leave a little space between them so they don’t stick together. You want the pleated edges sticking straight up. Let them cook for a minute or two, and then pour about 1/2 cup of water into the frying pan and put the lid on. (Remember, you’re pouring water onto hot oil, so it may splatter.)

Steam the dumplings for about 8 minutes. If all the water evaporates before then, add a little more. After 8 minutes, remove the lid and let the extra water boil off. You can check for doneness by poking one open with a chopstick and making sure there’s no pink in the meat. Finally, let the dumplings cook in the hot oil until the bottom gets crispy and brown (see the picture at the top of the post).

Serve immediately.

Optional dipping sauce: mix equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Some people like to add oil as well; you can use sesame oil or chili oil (ラー油, raayu).

Winter Bean Soup

Picture to come!

This soup is not an exact recipe, but it’s something I make variations of all the time in the winter. As you might know, Japanese homes don’t have central heating, so winter can feel especially chilly. Like most people, we use our “aircon” (in Japan, they function both as AC in the summer and heaters in the winter) and space heaters to heat only the room we are in. But we also try to keep the heat low and wear sweaters. During the day I sometimes make this soup for lunch as another way to keep warm.

Japan Notes: Dry beans are one of the few things I have really not been able to find in Japan. Of course, there are plenty of soybeans and azuki beans, and I have seen dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) in import stores, but canned black or kidney beans are quite hard to find, and I have never seen dried beans. We get ours from family members in the U.S.

Ingredients

dried mixed beans
water
red pepper flakes
onion
garlic
vegetable bouillon
salt and pepper to taste, other toppings if desired

Instructions

Follow the instructions on your beans for how to cook them. Some require soaking. Mine just require simmering for 2 hours, so I usually put them on the stove in the morning and then let them cook while I do housework or study. After the beans are fully cooked, add thinly sliced onion and minced garlic, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes if you want some spice. Also add some veggie bouillon. I use my homemade vegetable bouillon.

Let simmer for another 10-15 minutes, or until onion and garlic are cooked. Taste it and add salt if necessary.

At this point you are basically finished, so you can eat it just like it is, or add some toppings. I usually like to drizzle about 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil in my soup bowl, then add some Parmesan cheese and black pepper. There are also other variations you can do: for example, you can add a little milk for a creamy version. If I have leftover baguette or stale bread, I cut it into cubes and put them in my bowl, then pour the soup over them. You could also add some other veggies if you wanted. I think leafy greens would be good, like spinach.

White Bean Chili

white chiliThis chili is great in the winter. In Japan, beans can be hard to find, but you can buy them at import stores, or online. This recipe is adapted from here.

Ingredients
450g (1 lb) chicken breast
1 onion
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp oil
2 cans white beans (or 4 cups cooked white beans)
400mL (14oz) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cans green chiles (In Japan, these are not easily available. Instead you can use fresh peppers, such as togarashi, or a small amount of dry pepper flakes.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream (this amount can definitely be reduced)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion and chicken until the chicken loses its pink color.

Add the garlic powder, beans, stock, chiles, salt, cumin, oregano, pepper, and cayenne. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Add sour cream and cream, and reheat just until simmering.

Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, avocado, tomato slices, etc.

Lasagna


I was never a fan of lasagna with lots of ricotta cheese in it. This version uses a white sauce instead, and has a really nice smooth taste. Original recipe from here. It does take a little work and time, but the sauces can be made ahead of time, which makes this dish quick to assemble and bake.

Ingredients
Meat sauce:
100g (1/4 lb) beef (or beef/pork mixture)
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
400g (14oz) canned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

White sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
480mL (2 cups) milk
1/4 cup flour
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

Other:
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
200g (1/2 lb) shredded mozzarella (in Japan, “mix cheese” is fine)
lasagna noodles (enough to fill your baking dish)

Instructions

First, make the meat sauce. Brown the meat in a skillet and remove. In the same skillet, saute onion and garlic until softened, then add sugar, basil, oregano, canned tomato, and tomato paste. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, then turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Finally, blend the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth. Mix the browned meat back into the sauce, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Next, make the white sauce. Heat olive oil and 360 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk in a saucepan. Whisk the remaining 120 mL (1/2 cup) milk with the flour in a small bowl until free of lumps, and add to the heated milk. Whisk or stir constantly over low heat until the sauce thickens. Add a pinch of nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, you can store the sauces in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna for dinner.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Prepare your lasagna noodles (check the package for instructions on how long to cook them, or use non-boil noodles).

Start by spooning a small amount of the tomato sauce into your pan and spreading it into a thin layer.

Add one layer of lasagna noodles to the pan. Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the white sauce, 1/3 of the parmesan cheese, and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat in that order until you have three layers, ending with cheese on top.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Sweet Spicy Pork Loin

pork tenderloinIn Japan, pork loin is relatively cheap and often goes on sale. One of the small-sized pieces of meat are great for a 2-person dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day. I love the flavors in this recipe, which I originally saw here.

Ingredients
1 small pork tenderloin
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp each cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp chili oil (In Japan I use ラー油, raayu.)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Mix the salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Rub the spices all over the outside of the pork tenderloin. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the pork on all sides. Then place in a small oven-save pan (use something with edges).

Mix together the brown sugar, garlic, and chili oil. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the pork tenderloin.

Bake for 25 minutes until cooked through. Let meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing.