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.

Lamb and Mushroom Wontons in Dashi
eating lamb wontonsMy first bite into a wonton, in Leo Ping’s on West Liberty in 1975 in Ann Arbor, began my attraction to the delicate noodle ruffle, surrounding a little pocket of filling. Love at first sight!

Hiroko Shimbo has published this delicious Japanese flavored recipe in her latest book as “Wonton Ravioli” using a wonton skin for the bottom and another for the top; but because I love those slippery wing-like ruffles floating in clear broth, I made wontons rather than ravioli.

The dashi stock, flavored with sake, mirin and lemon juice is perfect. It’s dashi-smokey with a bit of sweet and sour accents.

Corn Cream with Crab Soup
corn cream soup w crab_6152The winter sun-light, reflected by new white snow, makes harsh shadows on our grey and brown landscape. This amplification of the brightness is false. It’s neither warmer nor cheerier, a vision without substance.

I want the pleasant consolation of color! This pale yellow Japanese soup, with bright red and green accents and the tang of a summer sea, is a perfect recipe for this season.

Japanese Style Brisket

Japanese style braised brisketKosher Japanese spare ribs? Well, perhaps something like that for Seudat Mafseket, the pre-fast meal before the Yom Kippur fast. While it is not traditional to eat such a heavy meal before beginning a fast, Mr. Tess wanted some beef. And I’ve been craving these pork spareribs from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen. So I thought, “Why not cook a beef brisket (which is usually fatty-rich like ribs) with the same seasonings!” Some of the Korean beef recipes I’ve posted about previously make my train of thought not so illogical…beef braised with spices and soy sauce.

Stir-fried Liver and Garlic Chives

This Japanese Chinese-style recipe features Chinese chives and lovely tender calf’s liver which melts in your mouth with a salty-sweet gingery sauce.

The pretty green chives are sometimes called nira grass or garlic chives, and its Latin name, Allium tuberosum, means it is part of the onion family. It is a perennial plant which grows into clumps of flat straight leaves. Clusters of tiny white flowers appear at the end of summer on round stalks which rise above the clump. The flowers last well into autumn, providing a bright display in garden when many flowers are well past their prime.

Ebi Chili, Ebi Chirri, Shrimp in Chili Sauce

What’s better than chilli in winter? Japanese-style Szechuan Shrimp in Chili sauce!
Though the winter here has not been especially chilly, a nice spicy dinner is most welcome!

This recipe can be made quickly, and with only a little planning, it’s a pantry meal. We often have shrimp in the freezer, and the main seasonings are ginger, garlic, and toban jan.

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.

(Japanese) Pan-Fried Chicken, Part 3

A delicious dinner calls for an encore! This chicken, marinated in a traditional Japapanese combination of sesame and soy has a sweet and spicy spark of honey and pepper. As inspiring as the flavors of this dish are, it also proves to be a recipe which allows for much diversity: no one wants to eat the same meal day after day!
Use the chicken to make sandwiches or to top a crisp summer salad. Even better: make sesame noodles topped with chicken, sweet red pepper, and green sugar snap peas.

Ginger Pork Stir-fry
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.

Coleslaw á la Japonaise
I was making chili—warm red and fragrant on a snowy afternoon. As a side dish, I wanted something tangy and fresh for contrast. There is a recipe in Hiroko Shimbo’s book, The Japanese Kitchen, for kyabetsu no sokuseki zuke: quick salt-pickled cabbage. Quick means five hours, and because of the snow it had taken two hours to shop so the recipe was out of the question. My solution comes from making other tsukemono: I salted the finely shredded cabbage and carrots in a plastic bag with a weight on top for two hours—long enough to remove excess water from the vegetables leaving them tender-crisp. The result: coleslaw colorful enough for a Japanese bento!