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.

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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).

Thai Basil Chicken

IMG_6265This is a version of the well-known Thai dish, although it’s completely inauthentic. I first ate it in Japan, where they removed the spice completely to suit Japanese tastes, but re-created it at home. Feel free to up the spice level to your liking!.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)
200g (1/2 lb) ground chicken
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped or sliced
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp pepper flakes (increase this, or add fresh chilis, for spice)
1 large handful fresh basil leaves
2 eggs (optional)
2 servings cooked Asian or Jasmine rice for serving

Instructions

Saute ground chicken in a pan over medium heat until it starts to lose its pink color. Add onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes, until onion softens.

Add fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce, and pepper flakes and continue to stir and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat.

Tear up the basil leaves and stir them in until they wilt from the heat.

Divide into two portions and serve over rice. Optionally, top each serving with a fried egg.

Asian Pulled Pork

pulled porkI developed this recipe from the idea of a pulled pork with Asian flavors, and adjusted my recipe until I was happy with it. This pork takes a long time to cook, so it must be done on a day when you’ll be at home; or it would certainly do well in a slow-cooker, though I haven’t tried that yet. I always use pork loin, as it is a relatively cheap cut of meat in Japan, but I think any cut would do as long as it’s not too fatty..

Ingredients
300g (10oz) pork loin
salt and pepper
1 tsp each canola and sesame oils
1/2 onion, sliced very thinly
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp finely minced garlic
360mL (1-1/2 cups) green tea (I normally put a teabag in my measuring cup, fill it with hot water, and steep for a few minutes.)
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
1/4 cup brown sugar (if you prefer your pork less sweet, use half this amount)
1 tsp rice vinegar

Instructions

Season the pork loin with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the oils in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Place the pork loin carefully into the pan and sear, turning it carefully until it is browned on all sides.

Add all the remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer on very low heat for at least 3 hours. If too much liquid evaporates during cooking, add some water. By the end, most of the liquid should be gone.

When ready to serve, cook uncovered on high heat for a few minutes. The pork can also be refrigerated after the 3 hour cooking time and then reheated on the stove on medium-high heat.

You can eat the pork however you like – add it to a salad, on top of rice with some veggies, or in a wrap – our favorite. I’ll write another time about how we make our pork wraps.

Mapo Dofu

Mapo Dofu is originally a Chinese (Szechuan?) dish, which is also commonly found in Japan. My version is based on the Japanese ones, which is much less spicy and less oily than the original. This dish is very easy and inexpensive, because it uses a little meat for flavor, and tofu to make up the majority of the dish.

Some of these ingredients might be unfamiliar: doubanjiang is a kind of spicy bean paste, and tianmianjiang is a sweet bean sauce. Nira is a vegetable (maybe garlic chives in English) that looks similar to green onions, but the leaves are flat.

Ingredients
1 tbsp sesame oil
100g (3.5 oz) ground pork
1/2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp minced or grated garlic
1/2 tbsp doubanjiang (豆板醤 / トウバンジャン)
1 tbsp tianmianjiang (甜麺醤 / テンメンジャン)
2 tbsp sake, divided
1 tbsp soy sauce
150 mL / ~3/4 cup chicken broth
6 stalks nira
2 tsp cornstarch + a little water
1 block firm tofu (木綿)

Rice for serving

Instructions

Wrap the block of tofu in paper towels, place something flat (like a plate) on top, and let it sit for about 20 minutes to remove excess water.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the sesame oil, ground pork, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the pork is no longer pink. Move the pork over to one side, and add the doubanjiang and tianmianjiang sauces on the other side of the pan. Mix them together and fry for a few seconds before mixing them with the pork. Stir until everything is combined.

Add 1 tbsp of sake and mix with the pork. Cook for a minute or two to let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chicken broth, soy sauce, and remaining 1 tbsp of sake.

Cut the tofu into bite-size squares, and cut the nira into about 3cm (1 inch) pieces. Add both to the frying pan and mix gently (be careful not to break the tofu pieces). Let cook for a few minutes, then add the cornstarch mixed with a little water. Let the sauce thicken, and then turn off the heat.

I like to serve this on top of freshly cooked rice, or you can serve it alongside.

Bulgogi (Korean Barbequed Beef)

bulgogiI learned to make this dish during college, and still love to make it now. Bulgogi is a famous Korean dish that has a sweet sesame and soy flavor.

Ingredients
1 lb (450g) beef, sliced as thinly as possible
1 kiwi
1 medium onion
1/4 cup sugar, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sake (or rice wine)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
5 – 6 green onions, cut into 2″ pieces

Instructions

Spread beef slices in thin layers and sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar. Allow to sit for 15 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the kiwi and onion and blend them in a food processor until smooth. In a small bowl, mix garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, sake, remaining 2 tbsp sugar, and rice vinegar.

Add the two mixtures and the green onions to the meat and mix well. Marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove meat and green onions from the marinade and cook on a hot grill or in a frying pan. It should cook very quickly, in just a moment or two.

Serve with rice, or in a lettuce wrap!

Beef Rice Bowl (Gyuudon)

One of my favorite dinners, this beef rice bowl comes together quickly and is warm and comforting. I like the sweet and salty flavor. In Japan, a bowl of rice with some kind of topping like meat, seafood, egg, or vegetables is called a donburi, which can also be shortened to don, giving this dish its name: gyuu (beef) + don.

Ingredients
1 cup rice (uncooked)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1/3 cup (80mL) sake or rice wine*
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ginger juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 lb (228g) beef, very thinly sliced
2 eggs (optional)

Instructions

Start cooking the rice according to your usual method first, then while it’s cooking make the topping.

Melt the butter in a medium frying pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add the sake and cook for about 2 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.

Add the soy sauce, ginger juice, sugar, and garlic and mix well. Finally, add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, until it is just cooked through. It should cook very quickly, in no more than 2-3 minutes.

When the rice is cooked, divide it between two bowls and spoon the beef and onion mixture on top. Serve at once.

(Optionally, you can put a raw egg on top of each bowl and mix it in; it’ll become half-cooked in the hot rice.)

Serves 2.