Tofu Daisy Dumplings
japanese wonton dumpling_6864Fanciful daisy dumplings are fun for appetizers or a light meal. They are sure to delight guests, but are easier to prepare than wontons, gyoza, or shui mai. These flower-like savories bring to mind an early summer bouquet—perfect for relieving the vision of dirty grey snow mountains and the numbing cold we are currently enduring.

Simple ingredients (tofu, chicken, wonton skins, and pantry staples) are transformed so the whole is different from its parts. This recipe is poetry—a longing for one thing to be a substitute for another. A bit of magic. An illusion…

Now is the time to dream of spring and gardens and warmth. I am considering what to to about the lovely Montauk daisies planted in my garden. They are gorgeous plants which bloom late in the year. They can be encouraged in late spring—a time I am committed to considering while life is so cold and bleak now.

Mabo / Mapo Tofu
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.

Sesame Tofu Salad Dressing: Shira-ae

Japanese salads are not usually made with raw vegetables; aemono are usually made with lightly cooked vegetables. The dressings usually do not contain oil but are prepared with vinegar, citrus juice, miso, ground nuts (walnuts), sesame, or other flavors. Shira-ae—white salad—is a traditional Japanese salad dressing in which tofu is blended with sesame paste and sometimes miso.

This salad can be made all year ’round by varying seasonal vegetables or even fruit! Konyaku, carrots, fresh or dried mushrooms (cloud ear, shiitake, shimej (use imagination!), lotus root, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, burdock, spinach, chrysanthemum leaves, of other leafy-green vegetables, sweet potatoes, wakame or hijiki… Mango, papaya, apple, cantaloupe, persimmon…

no go ma po to fu“The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes.” — Julia Child

The other day, I had a craving for mapo tofu. I wanted an easy to make dinner, which would not dirty too many dishes. Hey! I like a bit of spice in my life! As it happened, it was a simple thing that caught me unaware.
This recipe uses cornstarch as a thickening agent. Cornstarch is a flour made by grinding the endosperm of dried corn kernels, much the same way that wheat flour is made.

√ Cornstarch has twice the thickening power of wheat flour and it produces a clearer sauce.
√ An acidic liquid (juices, vinegars, wines), weakens its thickening power by about half.
√ It is best to mix it with water before incorporating it into a sauce, as it clumps easily.
√ If the sauce is overheated, or overstirred, it will begin to breakdown and lose thickening power. If you freeze a sauce thickened with cornstarch, it will become ‘spongy.’

Natto Spaghetti
Natto spaghetti is a very Japanese version of a non-traditional food.
Spaghetti Napolitan is an example of the Japanese imitating Western spaghetti. It was invented after World War II in Yokohama at the Hotel New Grand where GHQ (including General MacArthur) were staying. A chef was attempting to serve some Western-like foods when he came up with the idea of making spaghetti with ketchup. Wafuu pasuta or wafuu supagetti is popular in homes and kissaten (small cafés) all over Japan.

The concept of wafu spaghetti expanded in the 70’s when foods that are usually eaten with white rice were mixed into or put on top of spaghetti.

Natto! Fermented Soybeans“Do you eat natto?” is a question Japanese ask foreigners. Natto is nebe-nebe : sticky, slimy, slippery, and scary. I dare you to eat natto; it smells like stinky socks, ammonia, bleu cheese, or dark coffee.

Natto (納豆) is one of the few soyfoods which has always been called by its native name in every European language, probably because no equivalent could be found. Most fermented soy products are cultured with molds, but natto is made by fermenting cooked whole soybeans with a bacterial starter (Bacillus natto).
Information from SoyInfo Center, where you can read an exhausive article about the history of natto in Japan.

Kimchi Udon
As often happens, I was sidetracked
    by noticing something I was not looking for.

Home cooks take some thing from here, another from there, adapting a dish to suit specific tastes… a loving evolution of adding and changing, and making food that is delicious especially for the diner!
Not in a million years would I have thought of combining kimchi and udon. But you know, it is a delicious combination!

Gomadofu: Chilled Sesame Squares

gomadofu_8570I had planned to make goma dofu during the summer. Goma dofu is a tofu look-alike made with Japanese sesame paste (neri-goma) and, depending on the recipe author, arrowroot starch, kudzu powder, or potato starch. At the end of June, I cut three ½-gallon milk cartons to make 4-inch square molds. But I didn’t make the recipe then. J. kept asking me why I was saving these cut-off milk cartons and were they not just trash? During July and August, I’d put a jar of water with a piece of kombu to sit for an hour, as in the first step of the recipe. But things happened, and the hour became overnight, or a couple of days, or a week. J. was curious about the “science experiments” in the fridge… I don’t know how many pieces of kelp soaked in water that I put down the drain. Now it’s October, and here is a recipe worthy of a hot summer day!

Mabo Tofu Japanese Style
mapo-tofu_8482Chinese food is popular in Japan. The seasonings are adjusted to Japanese tastes: sweeter and less spicy. The Chinese use oyster sauce and lots of garlic to make sauces for fish and meats. The Japanese use only rice and soy products: sake, mirin, soy sauce, and just a hint of garlic.

This recipe is composed from several recipes for Japanese-style mabo tofu. I haven’t tried Chinese mabo tofu, but this version was spicy enough for me! I’d say that mabo tofu is like American chili: everyone has a favorite interpretation—there are no mabo tofu police standing by to determine if your recipe is authentic or not!

Dengaku: Miso Grilling Sauce

dengaku-sauce_7457The characters of the word “dengaku” (田楽) mean rice paddy plus harmony or music or play.

In medieval Japan, public entertainments called dengaku were part of agricultural festivals such as the during new year celebrations or during the rice planting season. The dancers or acrobats were called dengaku hoshi who cavorted on single short stilts. During the festivities, small cakes of tofu were grilled, with miso, on short flat skewers shaped somewhat like the stilts. The tofu dish took its name from the stilts.