Mabo / Mapo Tofu

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mabo tofu mapo tofu Japanese style
Winter is chili season: hot, spicy, and comforting food makes spirits warm in spite of the bleak weather! Mapo tofu is a Chinese dish well loved in Japan, both in Chinese restaurants and at home. It’s easy to prepare with common ingredients: tofu, pork, toban jiang, and green onions.

Mapo tofu is a dish from China adapted by the Japanese to their own tastes.

It is the texture of this dish which is interesting in the mouth: the tofu is soft and the pork is chewy. It’s an odd combination that: pork and tofu, neither vegetarian nor meat centered.

In this variation of the recipe I experimented with making the meat soft and the tofu chewy.

Gingered Pork

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ginger pork w wine_6319
This recipe is similar to one I’ve enjoyed often, but the method of preparing the thin slices of pork is ingenious. We’ve all heard about partially freezing meat to make it easier to slice thinly. In this recipe Ms. Shimbo has the cook use a mallet to pound pork cutlets thin. Pounding the meat means no need for knife skills!

I’ve made variations of this recipe, served with different vegetables, as donburi, as sandwiches, and they are all delicious! I even carried a bento with ginger pork on a plane to Florida—much tastier the the tiny packet of dry pretzels, though perhaps I’d advise leaving out the garlic…

Chorizo and Shrimp Rice

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Japanese Shrimp and Sausage Rice
This one-dish recipe with shrimp, sausage, peas, saffron, and ginger provides a hearty meal with remarkable complexity of flavor and fragrance. The result is like a cross between Paella and a delicate Stir Fry. The flavors permeate the rice, but because the pot has not been stirred, there are gradations of taste and fragrance from top to bottom. Does it taste Japanese? Well, I think the Japanese should claim it before someone else does!

Lasagna Bolognese

Christmas guest from China
Lasagne is a collated noodle dish.

My perfect lasagne would be straightforward al denté noodles framed with luscious sauce, just as lightning, seen against extravagantly swirling deep blue and grey clouds, is both dramatic and simple.

This recipe is not that, but it is luscious, subtle, to remember, to repeat.

As Christmas 2012 dinner, it is especially memorable because we shared it with an unexpected and charming guest.

Crabby Eggs and Ham

The first time I made this Japanese crab meat omelette, Mr. Tess said it tasted just like egg foo young! Wikipedia notes that creative Chinese cooks in the U.S. invented egg foo young in the 1930′s. (see this note.) Eggs are beaten together with minced ham, crab, or chicken, then fried and served with a chicken stock-soy sauce gravy thickened with cornstarch. Since the 1950′s kanitama-don is a popular dish in Chinese restaurants in Japan. It’s a fine example of a well-traveled yoshoku (multi-cultural!) recipe: a recipe sort-of-from China, to the U.S. and then to Japan.

Another Thousand Leaf Cabbage

Cabbage does not bring to mind Japanese cuisine! But home cooks have a repertoire of recipes to take advantage of the humble inexpensive tender-sweet cabbages which come to market in autumn and winter. These meals are homely and comforting, warm and rich, and as you can see: they are not necessarily beautiful to the eye. Don’t be deceived. One cannot “judge a book by its cover.”
The “thousand leaves” (mille-feuille in French) in this casserole are layered horizontally with a pork stuffing. The casserole in my previous post involved layering the cabbage leaves vertically. The flavor of this version is also very different from the other. Enjoy!

Thousand Leaves Stuffed Cabbage

I can’t explain why I’ve been craving stuffed cabbage, but there it is. My mother never made it while we were growing up. The only time I ate it as a child was when I went to my friend Joan’s house for dinner. Her family owned the local funeral home, and they lived upstairs. Her mother made stuffed cabbage the evening I visited, and after dinner Joan invited me to go downstairs to comb the hair of their latest “guests.” I declined. But ever since then, I’ve really enjoyed stuffed cabbage in the fall and winter. There are variations of stuffed vegetables, especially stuffed cabbage, all over the world. This recipe is one I made two years ago. The umeboshi adds such a lovely flavor to the rich pork and sweet cabbage that I hope you will try this recipe.

Stay Cool with Summer Ramen

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Every summer, I look forward to preparing this recipe of chilly noodles in a sweet-sour-salty sauce, topped with colorful seasonal vegetables and meats (or tofu). Summer brings such a variety of colors, textures, and flavors that one could eat this everyday without repeating the combination. It’s all a pretty party in your bowl! It’s easy-on-the-cook party-food, too: guests can choose their favorite fresh vegetables.

Ginger Pork Stir-fry

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Buta no shogayaki is an extraordinarily simple and satisfying meal with many variations. Shoga-yaki means ginger stir-fry, but of course shoga (ginger) refers to the dominant flavor rather than to the main ingredient. Buta (pork) is the most popular choice in Japan because the meat becomes so tender and juicy. I found recipes using beef, chicken, squid, or tofu as the protein of choice.
I bought okra only because it looked so fresh, green, juicy, and I recalled how much I loved it last spring. It is an odd vegetable with its unusual sparkly slimy texture. In fact, if overcooked, it can be more slimy than bright. I came home from the grocery store and found some pork loin in the freezer, and being the efficient sort of person I am (also not wanting to go back to the store) I googled “pork and okra.” My adaptation of this recipe from Eri has more sauce than the recipe I’d made previously and turned out to be a very lovely dinner.

Miso Ramen: a night for a fire

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The romance of a fire on a cold night is a perfect setting for a bowl of hot ramen. All three cats made a rare joint appearance to watch what skill Tess and J. exhibited by slurping noodles while sitting on the floor!
Home-made stock is key to an exceptionable bowl of ramen; it’s a delightful surprise to turn up a container of the broth from the deep back of your freezer—one of the many nice discoveries made as we slowly move house.