A Good and Sweet Year!
My kitchen was redolent with the sweet spice fragrances of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom combined with the scent of caramelizing honey as the honey cakes baked while I prepared a Jewish New Year’s meal with a Japanese accent.
Rosh Hashanah is early this year, and because the weather is so summer warm and sunny, with only a hint of low slanting autumn light, I decided to make a chicken salad with a sumiso dressing. Sumiso is a Japanese sauce made with white (or light brown) miso, sugar, and rice vinegar. Its sweet, sour, and salty flavor is delicious eaten with shellfish, or raw or blanched vegetables. Hiroko Shimbo’s latest book, Hiroko’s American Kitchen,
notes that this sauce is versatile because it can enhance many modern Japanese preparations as well as adding new possibilities to popular American recipes for salad dressings, marinades, and rubs.
This is a Jewish holiday. Shouldn’t I serve Jewish food? I enjoy new ways of celebrating traditional holidays.
It follows that I appreciate Ms. Shimo’s approach in her newest book to use locally and seasonally available foods, flavored with familiar Japanese ingredients; it illustrates the resourcefulness of the Japanese mindset. While the meals she makes are composed of American products (she lives now in NYC), the flavors of Japan can remain distinct even as they appeal to a Western palate.
The dressing for this chicken salad does not have mayonnaise. The base sumiso sauce for this main dish salad adds a bit of mustard, and most interestingly, the spices used in Japanese curry. Unlike Indian curries, Japanese curry is mild with major overtones of turmeric, coriander, cumin, and cardamon, accented with small amounts of black pepper and cayenne, and undertones of cloves, fennel, cinnamon, anise, allspice, and others. The flavors are all beautiful company for the aroma of a traditional Rosh Hashanah meal.
Hiroko Shimbo’s Chicken Salad with White Sumiso Dressing
adapted from Hiroko’s American Kitchen (Cooking with Japanese Flavors)
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2012
serves 6 to 8
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 2 pounds
- 6 Tablespoons White Sumiso Sauce
- 5 Tablespoons Dashi Stock, water, or chicken broth
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustart
- 2-3 teaspoons Japanese curry powder
- 2 Tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium apple, a firm variety like Granny Smith or a Paula Red, which is sweeter
- ½ cup of diced celery (or more apple, or a few nuts: I don’t like celery!!!)
- ½ cup diced red onion
Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts, return to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered for 7 – 8 minutes. Cover the pot, remove from heat, and leave the chicken alone for 15 minutes in its hot bath.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing for your salad. Use a bowl large enough to mix (or to serve) the salad. Whisk the sumiso sauce, olive oil, Dijon mustard, curry powderm sesame seeds, and black pepper.
Core and cut the apple into thin bits which one could eat with a fork or chopsticks. Dice the celery and onions if you have not already done so.
Remove the chicken from the water. On a cutting board, cut it into ½-inch cubes. Mix the chicken into the sumiso dressing tossing with a large spoon. Add the apple, (celery), and onion and mix it up well.
Serve on fresh crisp lettuce leaves, garnish with cherry tomatoes or sliced garden tomatoes. I can also think that mandarin orange segments would compliment the curry spices nicely.
But this is a Jewish holiday. Shouldn’t we serve Jewish food?
“There is really no such thing as Jewish food. What is familiar here as Jewish food is totally unknown to the Jews of Egypt, Morocco and India. Local regional food becomes Jewish when it travels with Jews to new homelands.“
Claudia Roden in The Book of Jewish Food
Jews have been dispersed around the world, and while there is no one single Jewish cuisine, they have adapted to cooking the foods available locally. Because Jews follow the set of dietary laws, called Kashrut, taken mostly from the Torah’s Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Jewish foods offer distinctive variations of cuisines all around the world.
A simple and very partial set of the requirements:
Mammals must have both cloven hooves and be ruminants; meat from kosher animals must be slaughtered according to the laws of shechita. Fish require scales and fins. All invertebrates are non-kosher apart from certain types of locust (okay, never tried that!). No reptiles or amphibians are kosher. Mixtures of meat and milk are forbidden from the broad interpretation of the commandment not to “cook a kid in its mother’s milk”
These restrictions forced people to be creative in adapting to new places where these other foods were much utilized. Using oil or schmaltz instead of butter for frying, or for cakes and cookies; using birds instead of pigs for sausages; substituting fish for shellfish, and more. The laws about not working on the Sabbath, and the laws about not using leavening for grains during Passover, became reasons for innovation as well. The cooking methods and flavors of various countries added to the diversity of Jewish food around the world.
Japanese cuisine is in some ways also very bound by tradition, though famous chefs (IronChef, anyone?), and home cooks (and non-cooks) seem to be adapting to many foreign influences. Perhaps the concept of an “authentic” Japanese cuisine lies significantly in the minds of foreigners who want to believe in a quaint and quintessential Japanese culture.
Culture, however is created, changed, and complicated by the individuals who participate in it; it’s also complicated by weather, location, governments, and family which influence those individuals. Cultures, like life is in constant flux.