Japan Eats

Recipe: Apple compote with red wine and vanilla ice cream

How bout them apples?

Most people are familiar with the  pear compote. A simple dish consisting of pears slow cooked in sugar, water, wine and spices, it’s a dessert which never goes out of date.

What people may not know, however, is that apples work just as well as pears. Here, we’ll be preparing a version which makes use of Japanese apples.

These come in many varieties: Fuji, Kogyoku, Tsugaru and Jona gold. For the purposes of this dish, use a Fuji apple. Its sour flavor will better compliment the sweetness of the syrup and whatever creamy goodness you serve alongside it.

Apple compote with red wine and vanilla ice cream

Apple compote with red wine and vanilla ice cream

Ingredients (serves two people)

  • 1 apple (400g)
  • 100g sugar
  • 250 ml water
  • 100 ml red wine
  • 1 clove
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 liter water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ice cream/yogurt/marscapone

Method

Peel the apple and then slice it into 4 – 6 wedges, disposing of the core. Add the teaspoon of salt to the half-liter of water, then place the apple pieces into the liquid.

Pour the sugar into a pan together with 250 ml of water. Place the pan on a low heat so that the sugar dissolves. Next, put the apples into the pan, and gently cook for 15 – 20 minutes.

Add the clove, the cinnamon and the red wine and stir. Cook the mixture for a further 3 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. After 12 to 24 hours, the apples should have absorbed the red wine and changed color. When you’re satisfied the apples are ready, take them out of the pan and slice them again (optional).

Place the an back onto a low heat and warm it slowly. Once it has thickened, it can be used as a sauce.

Plate the apples and serve with a dollop of ice cream, yogurt or marscapone. Pour a tablespoon of the sauce over the apples.

What We’re Drinking: Daimaou Imo (sweet potato) Shochu

This was another bottle that I received in the mail. It’s one that I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while as I’ve seen it a few times before at Seiyu, so I was very happy to see the shiny gold label and foil when I popped the box open.

This is another decent imo-jochu from Kagoshima prefecture, but it surprised me a little because it doesn’t smell like an imo-jochu. It’s more refined than the imo-jochus I’m accustomed to drinking while carrying some light fruit on the nose. Before ever putting it in my mouth this shochu was living up to its deceitful name, “Great Devil King.”

Enjoying Daimaou neat, it has a round, medium-bodied mouthfeel. There’s a sweetness to it that is understated to the point of being dry. The yellow mold (essential to the process of breaking the potato starches down into fermentable sugars) used prior to distilling obviously has something to do with this sweetness. The effect is very pleasant. Yellow mold is what is used in the nihonshu brewing process and is somewhat less common in the shochu industry where white mold prevails.

There’s something about this shochu that reminds me of drinking brandy. Try it neat and see for yourself.

I also highly recommend this shochu on the rocks. It’s light, refreshing and easy to drink–definitely one of the better imo-jochus I’ve had that retails in the 1,600-1,800 yen range. And as I alluded above, Daimaou is distributed widely enough by Hamada Shuzo that you can find it in major supermarket chains such as Seiyu.

Recipe: Piman no jakoitame (stir-fried peppers with crispy young anchovies)

Vibrant color, crispy texture.

In many ways, this pepper and anchovy dish is the perfect otsumami (tapas-style dish). For starters there’s its vivid color – bold red, yellow and green.  Then there’s the texture – the slightly crispy anchovies balancing the sauteed peppers. Finally, there’s the flavor of the mentsuyu (a dashi-based sauce usually used for soba and udon noodles).

Stir-fried peppers with crispy young anchovies

Stir-fried peppers with crispy young anchovies

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 200g green pepper (4-5 green peppers)
  • 50g red pepper (1/2 a red pepper)
  • 50g yellow pepper (1/2 a yellow pepper)
  • 20g dried young anchovies
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of mentsuyu

Method

Pour 2 tablespoons of sesame oil into a frying pan and place on a low heat. Add the dried young anchovies and slowly saute them for 3-4 minutes, so that they become crispy.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds, then slice them into strips. When the anchovies become crispy, add the peppers to the pan and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes over a high heat.

Finally, add two tablespoons of mentsuyu and coat the peppers. If you live in Japan, you should be able to find this at any supermarket or convenience store.

If you live overseas and have trouble finding the sauce, however, add the following to the fry pan:

  • 2 tablespoons of dashi soup (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin

It’s also worth noting that were you to make 2-3 times the sauce, you would have the perfect soup for soba or udon noodles.

Recipe: Aona no norimaki (boiled greens wrapped in seaweed)

Norimaki needn’t always come as sushi.

So you’re looking for that perfect appetizer – something that looks great, is dead simple to make, and can be enjoyed by omnivores and vegetarians alike. Well look no further. This recipe for aona no norimaki (boiled greens wrapped in seaweed) is all of the above. Not only that, but its about as healthy an appetizer as you can get.

Aona is the Japanese word for green leaf vegetables, which includes such things as spinach, komatsuna and canola blossoms. Spinach and komatsuna were once winter vegetables, but are now available in Japan all year round. Canola blossoms are only found during springtime.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 200g spinach or other aona
  • 1 sheet toasted nori seaweed
  • A handful of bonito flakes (optional)

Method

First wash the spinach, especially the roots, and then drain. Bring 1 liter of water to the boil and add a teaspoon of salt.

Place the spinach into the boiling water, roots first, then boil for 30 seconds so that the leaves turn a bright green. Rinse under cold water. Next, separate the spinach into two equal portions and squeeze well to remove any moisture. Cut off the roots.

Slice a sheet of nori in half, placing it on the maki-su (bamboo mat). Place the first half of the spinach on the nori, leaving 2 cm uncovered at the bottom of the sheet. Now lift the nearest edges of both the maki-su and the nori, and roll away from you. To seal the nori, dip a finger in water and moisten the top edge. Repeat for the second nori roll.

Finally, cut into 2-3 cm portions and serve on a bed of bonito flakes (optional).

What We’re Drinking: Waseda Beer

Waseda, the lauded private university in downtown Tokyo that fields roughly 130,000 applications for admission each year, has a lot going for it–tradition, influence, and most importantly a very good baseball team.

One thing that it still needs to work on, however, is its beer.

Unfortunately, Waseda Beer (5% ABV)  is strongly yeasty from the moment you pry the cap off it. Then the yeastiness on the nose is backed up by an immediate and somewhat sour yeast dominance on the palate.

The result is a low-wattage sour middle that is not really all that welcome. This means that the hops are nearly undetectable. It would probably go down better, and feel more balanced, if the yeasty nose translated into a medium-bodied, bready mouthfeel.

I cracked two separate bottles to make sure that this was not an errant representative of the Waseda beer brand, but alas I cannot guarantee that they weren’t from the same batch since the same ‘drink by’ date (October 29, 2010) was stamped on the back of both of them.

Given the possibility that I drank two bottles of the real deal, I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s possible to get used to this beer, but it’s really not for me. The one thing that it has going for it is the somewhat dry finish that makes you nearly think the word “refreshing”. The only other plus I could come up with is the cool beer-pouring sound it makes on its way into a glass due to the stovepipe neck on the bottle.

In short, this beer does not do the proud history of Waseda University justice, and I will not be purchasing another one of them until someone assures me that a different experience is in store.

Waseda’s star pitcher, Yuki Saito, would surely be pissed off if he knew that this stuff was being served on campus.

More info about this beer can be found (in Japanese) here: http://waseda-beer.com/