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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Learning Japanese~

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I’ve been meaning to write about my 2010 obsession. For years I have hated the idea of a January diet. Not only is it a glum month but a glum project as well. Last year NSSP gave me Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku cookbook. On first perusal it looks like a coffee table cookbook on recipes from the Japanese home kitchen. I thumbed through it, tried a recipe and went back to pasta and polenta. This year is different. As I savored holiday fare I secretly plotted my first of the year quest.

First I skimmed through the whole book to get a rhythm of the dishes. Next I made an extensive list of pantry and perishable foods I would need. I cleaned out my Asian shelf in the pantry pushing Chinese and Indian ingredients to the far side. I checked all expiration dates (always humbling), and did the old heave-ho. I made notes of items I had and checked them against the book.

Trundling off to Uwajimaya, our local fabulous mega Japanese/Asian store, I slowly went up and down each aisle checking ingredients against the book and recipes I might want to try. If the ingredient was only in Japanese on the container I took out a magic marker and wrote the English translation on the container.

Once home, I lovingly started to take out the new ingredients. I couldn’t bear to have them canoodling with the other Asian counterparts so I put them on a rolling cart. When I was ready to cook, out rolled the cart from pantry to kitchen. What a dream!

I am the first to admit I am a recipe skimmer. I get the gist and start cooking from the hip. Not this time. I had to think about each ingredient, cooking process, and assembly. I was determined to charge ahead. Our first Japanese meal was Eggplant stuffed with ground chicken, carrots and asparagus in a creamy tofu sauce, pickled rokkyo bulbs (which I bought), rice, and Clementine’s. Thank God NSSP isn’t a 5pm dinner kind of guy!

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The Japanese eggplant was cut in half then the half was sliced but not all the way through. I used 4oz for 4 “sandwiches” so the eggplant was flavored with the chicken but not stuffed by American standards. The pieces were fried skin side down so it stayed purple and got very crispy. The carrots w/ creamy tofu sauce were o.k. NSSP liked them I thought so-so needs work. I was all over the rokkyo bulbs and NSSP was not. They are similar to little scallion bulbs that are pickled in a sweet slightly sour marinade. Poor NSSP they will be on the table again!

I have moved on to curried chicken, gingery seared pork, Shabu-Shabu (from Japanese Cooking Now by Joan Itoh). There was a recipe for asparagus with black sesame seeds that I tackled even though the description mentioned the sesame seed sauce consistency to be like soft sand…flavor great black paste out of my comfort zone.

I do slip off the culinary wagon. Two days ago it was hanger steak, mashed potatoes and kale. Tonight I might slip off to Italy. All in all I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with Japanese food and its flavor components. By setting a block of time aside to delve into the cuisine I’m internalizing the recipes and widening my repertoire.

Below are some other cookbooks I have used. I like to go to www.alibris.com, www.powellsbooks.com, or www.ecookbooks.com to buy them.
Food of Japan by Shirley Booth Excellent descriptions of ingredients, uses, other names- good resource!

Japanese Cooking by Jon Spayde

The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving by Hiroshi Nagashima sharpen your knives and have some fun!

Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen wallow in the world of tasty Gyōza, Spring Rolls & Samosas

Takashi’s Noodles by Harris Salat

Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat

Where shall I go next year?
Read, Eat, Enjoy!

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