Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm Turning Japanese - Onishime Vegetables

Onishime Vegetables - a Japanese New Year's tradition makes a great side dish any time of year.

My mother was born and raised in Tokyo. My grandfather (who I never met) was the chef/owner of four Tokyo restaurants. How is it that I never learned to cook Japanese food?

The answer is simple. My father, stationed in Tokyo during the American Occupation of Japan, married my mother and whisked her from sophisticated city life to a simple life in Catfish Hollow, West Virginia. There she found Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, but no short grain rice; Ritz Crackers, but no rice crackers; dill weed, but no sea weed. The closest we came to any Asian food was Kikkoman's chow mein. (Come to think of it, the pre-packaged stuff was considered so precious that my mother horded it all to herself.)

But thanks to Hitomi, the instructor at the monthly cooking class at the Pasadena Buddhist Church, I'm learning the ropes of Japanese cooking.
Most of the students are second (nisei) and third (sansei) generation Japanese Americans, who had abandoned tradition for convenience. Hitomi is contemptuous of processed foods and lazy shortcuts, such as using instant dashi powder instead of homemade dashi stock. The instant version is the equivalent of chicken boullion cubes in place of homemade chicken stock. That's a no-no in any language.

This simple dashi stock is the base for dozens of traditional Japanese foods, from miso soup to yosenabe (fish stew) to Onishime vegetables.

(Recipe from Hitomi)

1 ½ oz. kelp (konbu), 20-inch length
2 qts. water
3 T. loose bonito flakes (2oz.)

- Moisten a clean cloth and wring well. Carefully but thoroughly wipe the surface of the kelp. Kelp should never be washed since flavor is lost in the process. - Place the cold water and kelp in a soup pot and leave about 30 minutes. Slowly bring to a boil over medium-low to medium heat. Regulate the heat so the water takes approximately 10 minutes to reach a boil.

- When fine bubbles begin to appear at the edges of the pot, remove the kelp from pot. (Do not allow the water to boil while kelp is in the pot.)

- Add ⅓-½ cup cold water. Add the bonito flakes.

- When the stock returns to a boil, remove it from the heat. When the bonito flakes sink to the bottom , strain to clarify. Do not wring the flakes.


These vegetables are typically served for Japanese New Year's celebrations, but don't wait until then. The vegetables' rich, deep flavors, imparted from the dashi stock, soy sauce and mirin, are oishii any time of year.

1 3/4 lb. carrots
1 1/2 cups dashi
4 T. sugar
2 T. mirin
1 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt

- Peel the carrots and cut into 1/2 inch long rounds.
- Cook in dashi about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in sugar, mirin, soy sauce and salt.
- Turn down heat, keep at a simmer until almost tender.
(This same recipe can be used for shiitake mushrooms.)

I will definitely make these Onishime-style shiitake mushrooms at home because the preparation is simple and the outcome spectacular.
1 3/4 lb. gobo (burdock root)
3 cups dashi
5 T sugar
2 T mirin
/3 C soy sauce

- Scrape and julienne gobo. Keep in cold water to avoid discoloration.
- Parboil about 10 minutes.
- Place parboiled gobo into a pot with dashi, sugar, mirin and soy sauce into a pot.
- Bring to a boil ovr high heat.
- Cover with a drop lid (otoshi-buta) and simmer until reduced by approximately 30%.

The drop lid is made from a circle of parchment with ventilation holes on top.

Renkon (Lotus Root)
1 lb. lotus root
2 cups dashi
1 1/2 T sugar
1 1/2 T mirin
2 1/2 T soy sauce

- Peel the renkon and cut into 1/3 inch pieces.
- Parboil renkon for about 3 minutes.
- Put renkon and dashi into a pot and cook about 5 minutes.
- Add sugar and mirin. Simmer 3-4 minuts and then add soy sauce.

Hitomi encourages to take the extra step to make our creations beautiful. We cut into the sides of the lotus root to make them look like flowers.

I won't kid you. What you see here requires lots of cutting, lots of pots, lots of watching and lots of time. No wonder this is typically done just once a year. But don't be afraid to prepare one vegetable. The depth of flavor is worth it.

(These recipes were submitted to Blazing Hot Wok's monthly regional recipe roundup. The Japanese event is being hosted by Wandering Chopsticks.)


Cafe Observer said...

Looks good, tastes great!
What do Japanese eat for breakfast?

Did you say you went to eat at the Japanese, Aun Deli Cafe, next to de Ice House?

Yes? What ya think?

Susan C said...

Traditional Japanese breakfast is steamed rice, raw egg, a small piece of fish, a small serving of salad or vegetable and, my personal favorite, natto (stinky fermented soy beans).

I'm eager to try out Aun Deli. Peeked in there after my last trip to the Ice House.

Piper Robert said...

I love natto. Throw some maguro on for good measure.

Margaret said...

Where did you find your more unusual ingredients? Lotus root, for example?

Susan C said...

Mitsuwa, a Japanese market on Las Tunas in San Gabriel, carries all of the unusual vegetables, but you'll find better prices at the Chinese markets, such as Hong Kong Supermarket on San Gabriel Blvd. in San Gabriel.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Turning Japanese, you're already Japanese. ;) Is that from the David Mura book? I loved the info about your parents. Ann Curry said much the same thing about her parents. Her mom raised her speaking only English so they could blend in better in Southern Oregon.

Oh! And I meant to ask you the other night if you'd ever read the children's book "How My Parents Learned to Eat."

Susan C said...

WC, It was very common for those in Ann Curry's and my generation to have parents who abandoned their native languages. Such a shame.

I can't believe I've never heard of that children's book, "How My Parents Learned to Eat." It sounds like I could have written it.

From an Amazon review:
"A bi-racial child tells the story of how her Japanese mother and American father met, fell in love, struggled to understand each other's ways, and finally married."

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I have the book, so remind me to show it to you next time you come over. It was one of my favorite elementary school books.

dp said...

I do like lotus root and shiitakes, so I'll have to try this. Such a simple way to cook vegetables, but I'm sure the results are wonderful.

altadenahiker said...

You elegant thing, you.

Jo said...

mmm I love Japanese food! I never cook it... but I love to go out for it :)

Mary said...

I love your recipes. I'm very weak in Japanese vegetable preparation and your post will help tremendously.
Thank you for sharing.

Susan C said...

WC: I'll remind you. :)

DP: Yes, the flavors are unbelievably rich. I hope you try it.

AH: Me, elegant? At least the food is.

Jo: I hope you'll try Japanese cooking. I'll bet your family would love the pork tonkatsu dish that another blogger submitted to the regional food roundup on Wandering Chopstick's blog.

Mary: I just took a peek at your blog and, based on your profile, I think we both have the same philosophy of cooking. Healthy, simple, delicious. Love that "one perfect bite" concept. Hope you'll try these vegetables. You can always "cheat" and buy the instant dashi stock instead of making your own. I won't tell my teacher.

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