Japan Eats

Recipe: Goya champuru

It ain’t easy being green

On the face of it, goya isn’t the most appetizing of fruit. With its dark green complexion, prickly texture and bitter taste, it looks like a cross between a cucumber and a durian. Even its English name is less than appealing – ‘bitter gourd’.

But while it may look intimidating and taste bitter uncooked, goya is actually delicious when properly prepared. And it’s easy to remove much of the bitterness. Simply scoop out the seeds and slice into thin pieces. Soak these in water for 10 – 20 minutes and you’re done.

The fruit is said to have a variety of health benefits (it’s high in Vitamin C) and is commonly used in traditional medicines to combat such things as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Goya is a key ingredient in Okinawan cuisine (the name itself is Okinawan – nigauri in Japanese) and goya champaru is the prefecture’s signature dish. Goya champaru is popular elsewhere in Japan, particularly during the summer months.

This preparation is for a very simple version of the dish. To add volume and texture, add a handful of moyashi (bean shoots). You can also add pickled ginger as a garnish.

Goya champuru

Goya champuru

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 goya
  • 200 to 350 g tofu (momen tofu)
  • 100 to 150 g pork (sliced butabara pork is best)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 5 g kezuribushi

Method

First cut the goya in half and take the seeds out using a tea spoon. These seeds and the white pith around them is very bitter and should be removed carefully. Next, slice the goya into 5 mm slices. Place these into a bowl of iced water for around 10 to 20 minutes (this too is to minimize the bitterness).

While the goya is soaking in the cold water, wrap the tofu with a paper towel and warm it in a microwave for 3 minutes in order to draw the water out of the tofu. Now cut the pork into bite size pieces and mix with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour 1 tablespoon of salad oil into a pan and cook the pork. Strain the water from the goya and as soon as the pieces of pork begin to change color, add the green vegetable to the mix. Cook the pork and goya together for 1 to 2 minutes.

Breaking the tofu into small pieces by hand, add these to the mixture in the pan. Season with a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce. Mix thoroughly, trying not do break the tofu up too much.

Crack the eggs and pour them into the pan, making a circle around the edges of the pan. Cook these slowly. When the egg begins to cook, turn off the gas and pour a dash of sesame oil into the pan.

Serve, placing kezuribushi onto the top of the dish.

Restaurant Review: Q.E.D. Club (Ebisu)

This restaurant didn’t receive any stars from Michelin, but it’s still one of the nicer places you can have a meal in Tokyo. And as Q.E.D Club happens to be the spectacular former residence of the Hungarian Ambassador to Japan, it has been known to play host to a number of other pastimes for the well-heeled such as weddings and casino nights.

Q.E.D. Club Grill RoomThis place doesn’t disappoint.

If you arrive a bit early for your reservation, you’ll be led into a spacious, art-encrusted sitting room with floor to ceiling windows that would offer a phenomenal view down the hill if it weren’t for those ferro-concrete buildings in the foreground. If a view is what you have in mind, then make sure to do dinner at Q.E.D. Club.

But the grill and main restaurant open at noon (last order at 1:30 pm), and there are few finer places in Ebisu for a business lunch. The grill room (teppanyaki) has two cooking islands that front a beautiful tree-rimmed view of the grounds. Book early so as to make sure that you can be one of the two parties allowed in.

We opted for the 6,800 yen course, and started with a delicate vegetable appetizer. That was followed by tuna, bream, and horse mackerel sashimi (raw fish). Then Mr. Ishii, the teppan chef, quietly entered stage right and began working his magic on the remainder of our meal. He began by grilling some fish and followed with beef. The subtle teppan theatrics later involved fresh vegetables bathed in salt and garlic-infused oil.

That mild salt he uses is from Hiroshima prefecture, and it’s a condiment that every kitchen would do well to stock. Both the filet and sirloin are wise choices while the garlic chahan is a bit too dry and perhaps the only letdown on the menu that we sampled. Superior to the garlic chahan is the takana gohan, both of which are options along with miso soup once the grilling is done.

Drinks at the Q.E.D. Club are the only things on the menu that are not anchored to some kind of course set-up. Glasses of wine start at around one thousand yen while the lunches themselves are priced between 5,200 and 12,000 yen. Dinner, which runs from six to eleven pm (last order at 8:30), sees the set menu prices vault to the seventeen to twenty-seven thousand yen range.

The main restaurant area caters to lovers of French and Japanese cuisine, and again everything is set up as a multi-course meal. If you’re the type of person who likes a little more control over what you eat, then I’d recommend going French. A three (4,500 yen) and five (5,800) course plan are available at lunch, and it’s more of a choose-you-own-adventure set-up than can be experienced in the grill room. The impressive list includes everything from the obligatory foie gras to grilled Basque pork. After six, however, the set menus come back into play, and two courses (twelve and sixteen thousand yen, respectively) are available.

Diners who select Japanese for lunch (course menus: 5,200; 6,800; and 12,000 yen) will enjoy sashimi, tsukemono, plus a variety of other fish, meat, and rice dishes. There’s only one course meal option available for dinner, and that’s priced at 17,000 yen.

And in case you were worried, the dessert plates are Q.E.D. Club Dessertmassive (well, at least that’s how it works in the grill room). After some post-entree tea, we were led back out into the massive sitting area where we enjoyed a full sofa each as we attempted to rip through a multi-cake finale. The chocolate spoon was a nice touch. Coffee followed, and then we were lovingly rolled out the door.

Expect to spend between 8 and 20 thousand yen per person for lunch, and 15 to 40 in the evening. Q.E.D. Club is ideal for the aforementioned power lunches, first dates, or any other occasion where one hopes to impress. They also have black tie events such as casino night and there’s also the occasional wine tasting.

The Q.E.D. Club is accessible from the west exit of JR Ebisu station. Click here for a map.
Reservations: 03-3711-0006
For online reservations and inquiries click here.

Directions: from the west exit look across to the other side of the rotary and find the Doutour coffee shop. Walk up the small street on the right side of the Doutour building for seven to ten minutes. The road goes uphill and finally veers off to the right. The Q.E.D. Club is at the end of that road (don’t go down the hill after the road turns).

Asazuke

This wonderfully fresh pickled ‘salad’ makes an excellent winter side-dish. I like to serve this together with any kind of nabe (Japanese hotpot) or beside salmon or mackerel, the yuzu-flavored pickles helping to balance the oiliness of the fish. It also makes excellent otsumami (Japanese tapas) served alongside beer, shochu or sake.

This particular recipe calls for Chinese cabbage, but you can also use a mixture of Chinese cabbage and the regular variety.

Flavored with yuzu, a citrus fruit found in China, Korea and Japan.

Flavored with yuzu, a citrus fruit found in China, Korea and Japan.

Ingredients (serves 8 as a side dish)

  • 300g Chinese cabbage (3-4 leaves)
  • 80-100g cucumber
  • 150-200g kabu turnip (with stem and leaves still attached)
  • 1/2 a yuzu, sliced into strips
  • One 10cm by 10cm piece of kombu (kelp)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of kobu-cha (kelp tea)
  • 1 dried red pepper

Method

First cut the Chinese cabbage into large pieces. The leaves should be roughly 3-4 cm in size, while the hard white stem section should be sliced into pieces 5-7cm in width, following the grain.

Next, slice the cucumber into pieces 2-3mm thick.

Cut the stem from the top of the turnip, leaving about 1cm. Boil the stems in a pan of water for about 10 seconds, then place them into a dish of cold water. Quickly wash them and squeeze any moisture out. Cut the stems into sections 3-4cm in length.

Now, wash the turnip, using a toothpick to clean the remaining stem section. Peel the turnip, being careful to leave the remaining stem in place. Finally, slice the turnip into 1mm thick pieces, again following the grain.

Prepare the kombu by cutting it into 2-3mm pieces using a pair of kitchen scissors.

Finally, slice the red pepper into two halves and discard the seeds inside.

Seal all the ingredients in a double plastic bag, making sure there’s still some air trapped inside. Now shake the bag, so that all is mixed well.

Squeeze the plastic bag so as to let all the air out. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours (or even overnight) before serving.

A note about serving asazuke

It is important that when you serve the dish, you drain any excess water by using both hands and squeezing the vegetables.  Asazuke should not be served swimming in liquid.

Tuna cutlet

This year-round dish is delicious accompanied by tartar sauce and a salad of fresh lettuce and sliced onion.  It’s worth pointing out that when buying the tuna, there’s no need to select the most expensive as it is going to be cooked before being eaten.

Serve with salad and tartar sauce

Serve with salad and tartar sauce

Ingredients

Cutlets

  • 150 to 200g sashimi tuna (ie raw).
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 2 cups of breadcrumbs

Tartar sauce

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tea spoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/6 of an onion
  • 6 to 8 pickled shallots
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1 to 2 pinches of chopped parsley

Method

Prepare the tartar sauce first.  Mince the boiled egg, the pickled shallots and the onion. Blanch the onion for 3 minutes. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them together.

Next, sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on the block of tuna. Prepare three dishes with flour, the beaten egg and one in which to shake off excess flour.

Dip the tuna in the beaten egg, and place the cutlet onto the bed of breadcrumbs. Cover the other side of the tuna with breadcrumbs, pressing down gently with your hands. Shake off any excess breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oil (170 degrees centigrade) and let the tuna slide gently into the oil. When the surface of the tuna turns brown, turn the cutlet around so that it cooks evenly.

As the tuna would normally be eaten raw, it can be cooked quickly on a medium heat.

Once both sides are evenly brown, take the tuna from the oil and drain it on a tray.

Finally, cut the tuna into bite size strips and pour a dash of the tartar sauce over it. Serve together with a salad of fresh lettuce and sliced onion.

February ‘10 Magazine Roundup

This month it’s all about winter warmers – ramen, cream stews, okonomiyaki and winter seafood dishes. Here’s our roundup of Japan’s food magazines for February 2010.

Christel Takigawa trades the newsroom for the tatami room in this month's Otona no OFF.

Christel Takigawa trades the newsroom for the tatami room in this month's Otona no OFF.

This month’s Cuisine Kingdom (970 yen) focuses on seasonal seafood dishes. Japanese as well as international chefs explain how best to cook winter seafood using their own recipes. The magazine also interviews several Kyoto-based chefs and asks what inspires them.

Dancyu (860 yen) asks ‘where in Tokyo does one go to get the best beef or cream stew?’ The magazine’s February edition also looks at that perennial Japanese favorite, okonomiyaki. They introduce seven well-regarded okonomiyaki restaurants as well as recipes for their most popular dishes.

This month’s Syokuraku (860 yen) focuses on ramen. They nominate the ‘ten best ramen restaurants in metropolitan Tokyo’ and then the ‘top ten restaurants for various types of ramen’ (tsukemen, thick soup, etc.). There’s also a ‘top ten ramen restaurants which serve great side dishes’ and (clearly concerned they had left someone out) a ‘top ten ramen restaurants serving great drinks’.

The magazine also devotes space to the humble nabe, and suggests where Tokyoites can sample regional versions of this seasonal dish.

Tokyo Calendar (680 yen) dusts off the crystal ball to predict the year’s dining trends in the Japanese capital. The magazine nominates bistros where one dining alone can eat at a counter, Nouvelle Chinois cuisine and Shitamachi restaurants as three major trends of 2010.

Finally, dessert arrives courtesy of Ryori Tsushin (980 yen), which dedicates its February issue to sweets. Using patisserie Aigre Douce (Mejiro) as an example, the magazine’s authors make the case for sweets to be made from only the finest ingredients. The magazine also looks at traditional German sweets, noting that German confections are growing in popularity.

And also…

Nikkei’s Otona no Off (680 yen) examines the basics of Japanese etiquette. Just how does one behave when eating kaiseki? What are the rules at a tea ceremony? There are even tips on how one opens fusuma (traditional sliding doors).

Boozehound: Shimo-Igusa Ni-chome

I may be stealing Marcus Lovitt’s thunder by reviewing this little gem, which he recommended to me, but he’s busy with Japan Booze, Blind and all that food porn, so I got dibs on the aptly and simply-named Shimo-Igusa Ni-chome. Read more

January ’10 Magazine Roundup

Sushi, tapas and chocolate cake. It’s all here in our monthly roundup of Japanese food magazines.

The Jan 2010 issue of Dancyu

Tsukiji Market, anyone?

The January 2010 issue of ELLE à table (720 yen) runs with the theme “Let’s Party” and asks two caterers to produce a menu for 4 people that comes in under 5000 yen (p. 40).  Dancyu (850 yen), meanwhile, dedicates much of it’s 210 pages to sushi and sashimi. Dancyu columnist Kundo Koyama also contributes an essay on “The five best dishes of 2009″.

Syokuraku (860 yen) follows the sushi theme, looking at which wines best match Japan’s favourite finger food. Cuisine Kingdom (980 yen) leads with a ‘special feature’ entitled “Bar, Bistro, Trattoria – the secret of their popularity”. This basically turns out to be an excuse to present some exquisite food porn from the likes of Barcelona and Paris, of which we wholly approve.

It seems there’s nothing Japanese gourmands enjoy more than the whiff of French sophistication. The cover of Ku:nel’s January issue (780 yen) entices Francophile readers with an offer of a map to “the pleasant face of Paris”. Ryori tsushin (980 yen), meanwhile, introduces several new French restaurants in Japan and offers readers a onetime deal on a “special course and glass of wine”.

In addition to their “French chocolat patisserie collection”,  Cafe Sweets (1300 yen) begins 2010 with a whole lotta chocolate love. The magazine presents a number of chocolate cake recipes for readers to try.

And also…

January’s ELLE à table is the winner of Japan Eats’ coveted Bad English award, for their headline “I am big fun of Cheese”.

Niku jaga

Niku jaga is a dish made with beef or pork, potato, onion and carrots cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin. In addition to being a winter staple in Japanese homes, niku jaga can sometimes be found on menus in izakaya or tachinomiya.

This recipe uses beef, however the pork version is just as tasty – simply replace the beef in the following recipe with roughly the same amount of thinly sliced pork belly (butabara).

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3 potatoes (equivalent to 400g).
  • 250g of thinly sliced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 100 to 150g carrot
  • Shirataki (stringy ‘devil’s tongue’)
  • Haricot beans
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce

Boil a saucepan of water. Drop the shirataki in and boil for one minute. Strain the water and cut the shirataki into bite-sized lengths.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces slightly larger than bite-sized. Bevel the edges and then place them into the bowl of cold water for 5 minutes.

Next, cut the onion into crescents and the beef into strips 3cm wide.

Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a pan and heat it. Once it’s hot, put the beef into the pan. Take the pan off the gas table. And put it onto a wet towel. This is so the beef will not stick to the pan.

Put the pan back onto the gas table and cook the beef. Once the color of the beef changes, put shirataki, carrot, onion and potato then cook with the beef.

Pour the water so that it doesn’t quite cover the vegetables. Once they are cooked, turn the gas down and remove any scum from the top of the mixture.

Put the sugar, sake and soy sauce, into the pan and heat them for about 20 minutes with the middle flame and place a drop lid (otoshibuta) on the ingredients.

Add the haricot beans, turn the gas up and cook the ingredients as you evaporate the soup.

Serve the stew in a reasonably deep dish.

Tips

  • While you’re cooking niku jaga, don’t mix the ingredients too much.
  • Japanese supermarkets usually offer two kinds of potatoes: Danshaku are a round shape and break apart easily when cooked. Mayqueen potatoes are an oval shape and don’t fall apart when cooked. I prefer danshaku potatoes, but its really up to you which you use.

Tantanmen

Tantanmen is a popular noodle dish inspired by dandanmian, itself a spicy noodle soup originating in Szechuan Province of southwestern China. The taste of sesame is predominant in both, but unlike dandanmian, the Japanese variant is usually served as a soup.

The key to making this dish is speed. Its important to have the chicken broth and noodles ready at the same time. Leave the noodles too long and they’ll be overcooked. Serve the chicken broth too early and it will be lukewarm.

Steel yourself. This is going to be spicy...

Steel yourself. This is going to be spicy...

Ingredients (for 1 person)

  • 130g fresh Chinese noodles
  • 50g minced pork
  • 1/2 tablespoon tien mien djan
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon shao hsing wine (you can use sake instead)
  • 250cc chicken soup
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons white sesame paste
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese red chili oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped Chinese pickled cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons green onions (cut the white part of the green onion into small pieces)
  • 1/2 stalk of bock choy (Spinach can also used)

Method

First take the sesame paste out of the refrigerator and let it warm to room temperature.

Pour 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil into a frying pan and warm it. Next, place the minced pork into the pan. Raise the heat and when the color changes, pour in the teaspoon of shao hsing wine, the teaspoon of soy and the 1/2 teaspoon of tien mien djan. Stir the liquid into the meat until it’s mixed together well.

Now take your ramen bowl (or large soup bowl) and pour in the 1 teaspoon of vinegar, the 2 1/2 tablespoons white sesame paste and the tablespoon of Chinese red chili oil. Don’t mix them or you’ll lose some of the sesame paste’s aroma.

Both the noodles and the chicken soup now have to be cooked at the same time.

Following the instruction on the side of the package, boil the noodles in a big pan. It’s important to cook the noodles quickly – consider cooking them for a shorter time than suggested on the package.  In a second saucepan, cook the chicken stock. There’s no real need to make this from scratch (but you can if you want to!). I usually use Wueipa or Youki, but any instant stock will do.

Once the chicken stock is ready, pour it into the ramen bowl and use a whisk to mix this and the other ingredients together. Ideally, the noodles will now be ready. Rinse them and lower them into the ramen bowl. Finally, decorate with Chinese pickled cabbage, green onion, bok choy and the minced pork.

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

‘Butabara’ is the Japanese name for pork belly. It’s a rich cut, and one which goes well with a root vegetable like daikon. This soaks in the flavour, creating a wonderful broth. Ginger is added to offset the oiliness of the pork.

For this recipe, a casserole is ideal, however, if you don’t have one, you can make do with a stainless steel saucepan. Just be sure to be patient as using a regular saucepan will take longer.

Ingredients (serves 4)

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

  • Iron casserole dish
  • 1/2 to 1 whole daikon
  • 400g butabara (fatty pork belly)
  • 1 x ginger
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • Mirin
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 to 1/3 cup soy
  • Water

Preparation

Peal the daikon and slice it up ‘rangiri’ style. Cut the pork into 5cm by 5cm pieces. Next, slice the ginger into thin pieces. Put the sesame oil into the pan and cook the pork, browning it on all sides.

Place the pieces of daikon in the pan and stir them so they are coated in oil. Cook them until the surface of the daikon becomes clear.

Add the ginger and then the sake and mirin to the mix. Next, pour enough water into the pan that the liquid doesn’t quite cover the ingredients (1cm or so).

Turn the heat up to to ‘full’ and once the mixture comes to the boil, turn the heat down and skim any gunk from the top of the mixture.

Let the soup cook on a gentle heat for 15 to 20 minutes, so that the ingredients have softened slightly and pour 1/3 cup soy into the pan.

Continue cooking so that the soup reduces 3 to 4 cm. Now slice another piece of ginger into thin strips and use it to garnish the dish. It is ready to serve.