Crunchy Raw Potato and Smoked Salmon Salad

2 uncooked medium-sized potatoes
5 slices smoked salmon
1 Tablespoon Pesto
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt, pepper to taste

1. Peel the potatoes and use a slicer to make very thin slices. Then cut the slices lengthwise with a knife to make thin matchsticks. Place the potato sticks in a bowl and cover them with cold water for a few minutes. Drain the water and cover the potatoes with fresh water two more times or until the water stays clear. Drain the potatoes well.

2. Using your fingers, break the smoked salmon into small-ish pieces.

3. Combine the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl to make a dressing, then add the potatoes and salmon to the bowl and toss to coat. Serve with lettuce or toasted french bread.

Note: Adjust the measurements for the dressing ingredients to suit your own taste, or Replace pesto with a small amount of fresh wasabi for an alternate dressing.


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This is a tasty way to use up any mochi you have leftover from New Years. I stock up on brown rice mochi blocks on the rare occasions it is offered through my food co-op, and I usually have some kind of cheese and sandwich ham in the fridge.

Ingredients (1 serving)

1 block of brown rice mochi, diced

1 thin slice of ham or bacon, diced

1 thin slice of the cheese of your choice

olive oil or butter

toasted sesame seeds or crushed nori (optional)

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Directions:

(1) Put a teaspoon of olive oil and/or butter in a pre-heated non-stick frying pan . Scatter the diced mochi in the pan, trying to keep the bits separated from each other. Cook over medium-high heat for 20~30 seconds.

(2) When the bottoms of the diced mochi become puffy and crispy, turn the whole batch over with a pancake turner  (it is no longer important to keep the pieces separate from each other). Scatter the diced ham into the pan where there is space. Cook some more for 10~20 seconds.

(3) When the other side of the mochi is puffy and crispy, and the ham is looking crispy at the edges, scoot them together in the middle of the pan and place the slice of cheese over the top. Turn off the heat and cover the pan.

(4) When the cheese has melted to your satisfaction, use the pancake turner to scoop the whole pile neatly onto a plate. Scatter crushed nori or toasted sesame seed over the top, and serve.

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Tempura is one of those dishes that I get a strong craving for every once in a while, and which I tend to order on the rare occasions I eat out. But I’d never been able to imitate the awesomely light and crispy coating that the professionals seem to effortlessly produce. That is, until I got the hang of the tempura batter I use in this recipe. If you think the batter is strangely thin, that may be because you have the mistaken idea that tempura is like fritters. Japanese tempura is light and lacy, not bread-y.

When you coat a single ingredient, you dip the ingredient quickly into the batter, without trying too hard to coat it completely. If, as in this recipe, you want to fry multiple ingredients together, you put a balanced combination of your chosen ingredients into a small bowl and spoon the batter over it, tossing lightly before scooping it out of the bowl with a lightly oiled spoon and sliding it gently into the hot oil in your deep fryer or frying pan. I chose bacon and asparagus and shiso for my combination, not only for the complimentary flavors, but also for the colors.

Ingredients:

Bacon, fresh asparagus spears, fresh perilla leaves, all cut into smaller than bite-sized pieces. You want them to be recognizable, but they need to cook through quickly.

Batter: egg, flour, potato flour (or cornstarch), ice-cold water

Vegetable oil heated to 340 F (170 C) degrees in a wok or deep-sided pan.

Directions:

1. Crack a fresh egg into a measuring cup and scramble it with a fork or tiny whisk. Add enough ice-cold water to the egg to reach the 1-cup mark on the measuring cup.

2. Sift 1/2 cup all purpose flour and 3 Tablespoons potato flour (katakuriko) or corn starch into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3.  Pour the egg-water mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with fork or whisk very briefly to mix ingredients, but not too thoroughly. You want to leave some lumps and unmixed patches.

4. Take a little of the bacon, a little of the asparagus, and a little of the perilla and place them together in a small mixing bowl.

5. Spoon some of the batter over the ingredients in the small bowl and toss together, without worrying about coating the ingredients evenly.

6. Take a lightly-oiled metal spoon (the size of a soup spoon) and scoop the the battered ingredients from the bowl, then let them slide off the spoon gently into the hot oil in the pan.

7. After 30~60 seconds, remove the crispy ingredients from the oil with chopsticks or a metal net scoop, and lay it on a metal rack to drain, then to paper towels to drain some more.

8. Because of the bacon, this tempura is already seasoned and doesn’t need tempura sauce or salt, but you can sprinkle a little fresh lemon juice over it if you like.


Japan has a very season-conscious culture, and this is certainly reflected in the foods that are listed on my weekly food co-op order sheet. Nothing beats eating the produce of the sea and the hills when they are in season. There are products that become available to me only at this time of the year (the border between winter and spring), and I pounce on them with the enthusiasm of a northerner who still has a month to go before the snow begins to melt, but whose heart is strengthened in knowing that early spring has reached the southern prefectures.

One such product is Shirako, the milt or sperm sac of certain fish– in this case, cod. I came to relish Shirako somewhat late in life, after I was able to put aside my initial squeamishness. I’ve just recently discovered a new way to serve it. As a co-star to the menu, I chose another food product that I adore, but can never get enough of, because its season is so short. This is tara-no-me, or the budding tips of the branches of the Japanese Angelica-tree. Tara-no-me is popular served as tempura, but I decided to saute it in the residual butter after frying the cod milt. Then I tossed the tara-no-me shoots with bits of fresh iyokan (my favorite citrus fruit, which is also in season right now) for their color and gently refreshing acidity.

Ingredients:
Fresh or defrosted cod Shirako (also called Madachi)….. 100 grams
Fresh Tara-no-me …6-8 shoots, brown stem bark removed
1 Tablespoon flour mixed with 1 Tablespoon katakuriko (potato flour) OR 2 Tablespoons flour
Butter….2 Tablespoons
Salt, Pepper
Fresh, peeled citrus segments (iyokan, if you can get it), broken into to small pieces

Directions:
1. Wrap the milt in some paper towels to draw out the excess fluid. Then sprinkle the milt with salt and pepper, and toss it gently in the flour/potato starch mixture.
2. Melt the butter in a pan, place the milt in the butter, cover and cook over medium heat for 2~3 minutes. When the bottom of the milt is golden brown, turn it over gently with a spatula and cook for 2~3 more minutes, or as long as it takes for the milt to cook through the middle without getting tough or dried out. Remove the milt to a dish.
3. Dust the tara-no-me shoots with a little salt and any remaining flour mixture, then saute them in whatever butter remains in the pan. If they are short, one minute should be enough. You don’t want them to become limp. Remove the shoots to a small bowl and toss with the broken citrus segments. Then place on dish next to the sauteed cod milt. The cod milt should be marvelously creamy with crispy edges, but no trace of remaining raw smell or taste. Makes enough for two small servings.


Hokkaido is famous for our delicious asparagus, and freshly-harvested asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables (it’s nothing like canned, frozen, or old asparagus!!). But I have a friend who sends me a big box of just-harvested asparagus every spring, and eating it all up before the flavor drops is always a challenge. This year I decided to use a lot of them in a pie. It turned out to be one of the easiest and yummiest pies I’ve ever tried.

I lined a pie plate with pie crust and blind-baked it for ten minutes at 200 C (400 F). While waiting for the crust to cool, I prepared the contents of the pie:

10-15 fresh asparagus spears cooked till tender, but not soft. (I steam them in my microwave)

1 block of firm “cotton” tofu (momen), or whatever kind of tofu you have.

1 fresh egg (you can try omitting this for a vegan version)

1/4 coarsely chopped onion, salt, lemon pepper, a handful of fresh dill (season it to your own taste)

Cut the asparagus spears into chunks to make it easier for the blender to do its work, then toss it along with half of the tofu and the rest of the ingredients into the blender. Turn on the blender, adding more tofu till the blender moves smoothly and the contents are well-pureed.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell, and bake in a pre-heated 180 C (350 F) degree oven for 40 minutes or till the pie is set. Let it cool to room temperature before slicing into wedges.

I topped each wedge with some cooked asparagus tips which I had marinated in minced fresh garlic and olive oil. It was fantastic!


Lately I’ve been substituting tofu (soybean curd, not soy milk) for water or other liquids in various standard recipes, and I find that there is invariably an improvement in flavor and texture. My experiments started when I used silken tofu (kinugoshi) instead of water to make the rice-flour dough for my shiratama dango desserts. Since then my experiments have spread to various savory dishes, both those based on traditional recipes and those that I’ve made up.

By using silken tofu instead of the water called for in a traditional Japanese okonomiyaki, I ended up with a fluffy pancake that stayed tender even when it was chilled. I started with a store-bought okonomiyaki flour product, added one egg and enough silken tofu to make a soft (not fluid) batter. Then I stirred in whatever colorful leftover veggies I had in the refrigerator (chopped green beans, carrots, onion, and kernels of corn), not the shredded cabbage that is usual for okonomiyaki. But, of course, you can use cabbage if you have it.

If you have some bacon or thin-sliced pork belly, first lay that in a lightly-oiled, heated frying pan. After the meat is nearly cooked, spoon the batter into the pan on top of the meat. My batter is thick enough that I have to pat it into a circle with the back of the spoon. Drizzle just a little dark sesame oil around the edge of the pancake and jiggle the pan a bit, to keep the pancake from sticking and to give it a yummy smell.

When the bottom of the pancake gets deliciously browned, and the top starts looking dry-ish, flip it over and cook a a couple minutes more till the other side is also browned. I cut this pancake into squares and served it with a dipping sauce made by mixing soy sauce, tart citrus juice (such as yuzu or lemon), and dark sesame oil.

Because it stays tender when cold, it makes a great addition to bentos.


Mizore, which literally means “sleet” in Japanese, is also a culinary term used to describe clear soups or nabe-mono into which finely grated daikon radish has been stirred.  Ae stands for Ae-mono, one of the basic categories of Japanese cuisine in which small-cut ingredients (often cooked vegetables such as spinach or green beans), are tossed with a thick dressing, such as subtly seasoned sesame paste, miso, or creamed tofu. In this recipe I made a non-traditional mizore from daikon and apples, and used it to turn Shimesaba (vinegar-pickled mackerel that is a popular sushi topping) into a refreshing salad-style side dish.

Ingredients:

sashimi-grade Shimesaba, sliced thin……….200 grams

daikon radish……….200 grams

red-skinned apple……….1/4

green-skinned apple……….1/4

juice and zest of yuzu fruit…………1  (or substitute 1/2 lemon)

fresh ginger root……….1 small knob

Apple Mizore steps 1~3:

1. Peel the daikon radish and grate it finely. Place it in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

2. Remove the center cores, but not the peels, of 1/4 red-skinned apple, and 1/4  green-skinned apple. Grate the apples, leaving just an inch strip of the fruit (attached to peel) from each apple to use as garnish in final step. Add the grated apple to the grated daikon in the bowl.

3. Peel and grate the small piece of fresh ginger and add to above. Stir in juice squeezed from one yuzu (or 1/2 lemon).

Finishing steps 4~5:

4. Cut the reserved apple peel strips into small dices so that the colors show. Finely sliver the yuzu zest. Set aside.

5. Arrange the sliced shimesaba on a plate. Drain excess liquid from the mizore mixture and gently pile the mizore on top of the fish. Before serving, sprinkle the whole with the diced apple and yuzu zest slivers. Each diner may mix the mizore and shimesaba together before eating.




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