japanese


Did you see some broiled, miso-glazed eggplants hiding out amongst the pork belly stew last time? If you did, my dear hawk-eyed reader, then perhaps you also thought to yourself, “Forget the pork belly! Tell me how to make those eggplants!” For surely, this little scene did not only happen in my head.

Well, here, at long last, is that eggplant recipe!

It now seems silly that I took so long to write this follow-up post. Seriously, these eggplants are easier to make than, well, just about anything else (except maybe toast since you know, toast is pretty easy). They make a great side dish and an even better snack, especially with some cold sake. In fact, the first time I had these was at an izakaya which, as an aside, I must say that the Japanese have us Americans beat when it comes to bar snacks.

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables but it’s also one I cook with at home rarely. Have you noticed that most recipes involving eggplants also involve cuploads of oil? Many eggplant-based dishes call for deep-frying the eggplants, including my beloved Fish-Fragrant Eggplants (which, as another aside, has my vote for most misleading name for a dish ever, since there’s no fish involved and it certainly doesn’t evoke the ‘fragrance’ of a fish either). While I will happily eat deep-fried eggplants at restaurants, I personally don’t ever get the urge to deal with large volumes of oil at home. So whenever I find eggplant recipes that manage to not resort to deep-frying, I jump for joy.

*Jump*

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Every so often, I like to go treasure-hunting.

In my freezer.

Without fail, I would find some package of meat I had forgotten about hiding way back in the corner, by the little box of baking soda and the bigger box of delicious Melona bars. My last round of treasure hunting unearthed a neatly-wrapped, butcher-paper-encased package of ‘fresh side pork’…Huh?

It turns out that fresh side pork is basically the same cut of meat as bacon, except that it’s fresh and not cured. Not wanting to wait another week before eating it (that’s the amount of time it would take to make bacon), Nathan and I quickly decided on the #2 best use of fresh pork belly: buta no kakuni. We had it at a Japanese izakaya months before and ever since, I’ve been talking about trying to make it at home. Yup, just call me a copycat. Meow.

I will warn you now that this is not a recipe for warm days since you will be heating up your kitchen for multiple hours to make a hearty, belly-warming stew. But on a cold, rainy night, there is nothing better than snuggling up with such a bowl of porky goodness. Plus, your whole house will smell insanely delicious for the rest of the night, so much so that your kitty (if you happen to have one) will go absolutely bonkers.

PS: Another post to come about those miso-glazed eggplants you see in the background above.

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Pork and Leek Dumplings

It’s been a while since I’ve waxed poetic (at least here) about how much I love dumplings. When I really get going, I have been known to declare that dumplings are the snacks of the gods, are so awesome that nearly every culture has developed some version of them and quite possibly, the food item that will eventually bring about world peace. But I will spare you.

Finding that suddenly I have much more free time than I have in the past months, I decided it was time to stock up the freezer with a menagerie of dumplings again. This time, I restricted myself to only two varieties: a trusty pork and ginger filling from Ming Tsai and a new-to-me pork and leek filling from a recent cookbook acquisition, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s gorgeous Beyond the Great Wall. I ended up modifying their dumpling recipe slightly by adding an egg to the filling to help it bind better and by scaling up, since I always make dumplings in big batches for freezing.

Now that I own two of their books, I can officially say that I love this couple of cookbook authors. Their books are more like travel diaries interspersed with recipes and with plenty of beautiful photography, which happen to be three things I love…well, in addition to dumplings, of course.

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pasta for one

I lack discipline. I really do.

If you’ve ever gone food-shopping with me, this will be no surprise to you. Just last week alone, I made two impulse buys – a bucket of ‘ugly’ fresh shitake mushrooms at the farmer’s market (“it’s such a good deal!”) and a whole bunch of shiso leaves at the Japanese store (“but I must have them for the umeshiso rolls!”). It doesn’t sound like that much, you say? Well, did I tell you that we also subscribe to a weekly delivery of organic produce from Terra Firma Farms? This makes our fridge is a veritable garden, but one where we’re sometimes faced with the task of figuring out how to combine various ingredients that are all going to go bad soon. So… shiso, shitake, and my general laziness in trying to find something more ambitious to do with them resulted in a simple Japanese-style pasta dish.

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Yummi Maki

For a while now, every time I would open the freezer, there would be a few tubs of this pork broth I made a few months ago, taunting me to find a use for them. Honestly, I can’t even remember exactly why I had pork bones to make broth from – I guess we took the meat off for some other use? Anyway, what can you do with pork broth? I toyed around with the idea for a pork pho for a bit, but having never made regular beef pho before, I was hesitant to attempt my first pho with an alternate meat. Then, in a moment of revelation, I finally figured out where in the noodle world pork broth fits… Ramen! (duh)

Although my broth was also made from pork bones, it was much lighter and clearer than my favorite milky-white tonkotsu broth. I heated it up with the white parts of some scallions, ladled it on top of some fresh ramen, and garnished with the green parts of scallions plus a hard-boiled egg (from Devil’s Gulch Ranch – I’m currently obsessed with finding really good farm eggs). Speaking of ramen, why won’t Japanese stores sell just fresh ramen without seasoning packets?!

To go with the simplistic bowls of noodles, I made some umeshiso maki. Mine all came out pretty sad-looking with rips and tears in places, but as my mom likes to say, “It all ends up looking the same in your stomach anyway.”

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