Japan Eats

Recipe: Lotus and burdock root salad

This healthy winter salad makes a great accompaniment to a hearty stew

Gobo (burdock) root is high in fiber and has an earthy flavor. It is thought to have first come to Japan as a Chinese medicinal herb several centuries ago. Lotus root, meanwhile, is also a winter vegetable, coming into season between October and March. It is part of New Year dishes throughout Japan, the holes in the root allowing Japanese to ‘see a bright future’.

I suggest you serve the salad alongside wine-based meat stews (think stewed beef in demi-glace sauce).

Lotus and burdock root salad

Lotus and burdock root salad

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 150 – 200 g lotus roots
  • 100 g burdock roots
  • 50 g kidney beans
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon of miso (barley miso)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of pounded white sesame seeds
  • 2 – 3 pinches of white sesame seeds

Method

Rinse the lotus root in a bowl of cold water.

Rinse the lotus root in a bowl of cold water.

Fill a bowl with 500 ml of cold water, and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Peal the skin off the lotus roots, cut into 1 mm thick slices, then soak in the bowl for 10 minutes to remove any bitterness.

Fill a second bowl with 500 ml cold water, and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Wash the burdock roots with a brush, then cut it into long thin strips, shaving each root as though sharpening a pencil with a knife. Soak the roots in the water for 10 minutes, again to remove any bitterness.

Place a pan with 1 liter of cold water on high heat, and when it comes to boil, add a tablespoon of vinegar. Add the shaved burdock and boil for 1 minute, then add the sliced lotus roots and boil them together for another 1 minutes (2 minutes in total).

Drain then and cool them down in a colander. Place a pan withe 500ml of cold water on a high heat. When it comes to boil, add a pinch of salt, boil the kidney beans for 2 minutes. Soak the kidney beans in a bowl of cold water till the kidney beans cool down to stop the color change. Once they cool down, slice them 2 mm thick diagonally. Place a bowl and mix the following ingredients to cook the dressing: 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise 1 teaspoon of miso (barley miso) 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 tablespoon of pounded sesame seeds.

Add the lotus roots, burdock and kidney beans to the bowl of the dressing and mix the them entirely. Serve the salad with 2 – 3 pinches of sesame seeds on.

Recipe: Snow pea salad with black sesame dressing

Snow peas coated in a tangy, spicy dressing

Here’s another dish that compliments the warmer weather. The peas provide the texture, while the dressing gives the dish it’s flavor.

To prepare the dressing, use a suribachi (Japanese mortar) to grind the sesame seeds. It’s also possible to do this in a food processor – just be sure not to overdo it. Ideally, you want to keep some of that rough texture.

If you feel the dressing is too strong, add another 100 g of snow peas (or until there’s a good balance between the flavor of the peas and the dressing).

You can also use snap peas, which are thicker and rounder than snow peas but have much the same flavor.

Finally, the type of vinegar used for the dressing will determine how much sugar to add. Here, I chose grain vinegar and mixed in 1 tablespoon of sugar. If, however, you use rice vinegar you’ll need to reduce the amount of sugar. Start with half a tablespoon and little by little add more until you’re happy with the taste.

Snow peas with black sesame sauce

Snow peas with black sesame sauce

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 300 g of snow peas
  • 3 tablespoons of finely chopped ginger (roughly 30 g)
  • 2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds (half glazed)
  • 3 tablespoons of grain vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of doubanjiang (Chinese chilli bean paste)
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Method

Raw snow peas

Raw snow peas

Place a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds on a low heat. Warm the seeds until they give off an aroma.

Now, grind the black sesame seeds in a suribachi or mortar.

Having done this, string the snow peas and wash them in a bowl of cold water.

Place the peas in a pot containing 1.5 – 2 liters of cold water on high heat and add 2 – 3 pinches of salt when it comes to the boil.

Boil the snow peas for 1.5 minutes. Spread them on a basket and allow them to cool until they reach room temperature.

Mix the ingredients of the dressing and then add the snow peas. Mix roughly, coat the snow peas evenly with the dressing and serve.

Recipe: Kajiki to natsuyasai no ponzu sarada (swordfish with summer vegetables)

A light dish, perfect for the last days of summer.

Swordfish has a delicate flavor and works well tomato, mustard or teriyaki sauces.

Here we’re going to coat the swordfish with a sauce blending the refreshing citrus of ponzu and the spiciness of wholegrain mustard.

In order to reduce the smell of the fish, sauté with garlic and rosemary. You can add any vegetables you like, but take into account the overall texture and the vegetable’s affinity with the dressing. Personally, I prefer mild-flavored vegetables such as zucchini. It’s also important to cut the ingredients into pieces of the same shape and size.

Swordfish with summer vegetables and ponzu

Swordfish with summer vegetables and ponzu

Ingredients (serves 2 – 4 people)

  • 150 g of swordfish (two slices of swordfish )
  • 50-70 g of red pepper (red paprika )
  • 50-70 g of yellow pepper (yellow paprika)
  • 50-70 g of string bean
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 branch of rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Salad dressing

  • 3 tablespoons of ponzu
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of mustard (with seeds)
  • ½ tablespoon of olive oil

Method

Mix the salad dressing ingredients in a bowl.

Cut the string beans into 5 cm lengths and boil them for 2 – 3 minutes. Drain and allow them to come to room temperature.

Next, slice both the red and yellow peppers into strips roughly 5 cm long.

Now cut the swordfish into 1 x 5 cm slices.

Peal the garlic and then squash it. Together with the rosemary and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, gently heat the garlic in a frying pan.

When they begin to give off a strong fragrance, increase the heat to medium and sauté the swordfish until it becomes lightly brown then add the fish (except garlic, rosemary and extra olive oil) to the dressing bowl.

Use a sheet of kitchen paper to clean up the oil in the frying pan then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the string beans, red pepper, yellow pepper on high heat for 1 minute. Add to the bowl.

Mix all the ingredients in the bowl carefully and cool them down in the refrigerator for 30 – 60 minutes. Serve.

Recipe: Spicy soboro salad

Soboro is an ideal topping for rice, noodles or even salads.

Soboro is seasoned ground meat that’s usually eaten on rice (soborodon) or in noodle dishes such as tantanmen. It has a salty-sweet flavor, with some recipes calling for the addition of chopped ginger to balance the flavors.

For most Japanese, the word soboro conjures images of torisoboro, made from chicken which is then spread over rice and served as part of a bento. However it also makes an excellent addition to salads, particularly when they contain sprouts like those of radishes, broccoli or kale. The sprouts add a sharpness which cuts through the flavor of the seasoned meat. The following recipe uses pork and a seasoning that includes both soy sauce and doubanjiang, a Chinese paste made of fermented fava beans.

It’s important to cook the soboro immediately before preparing the salad. Mix into the salad when the soboro is still warm. It will slightly soften the leaves of the vegetables and help bind the ingredients together.

Soboro Salad

Soboro Salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 200 g of red cabbage
  • 50 g of red-leaved chicory
  • 50 g of red radish
  • 100 g (1 package) of radish sprouts

Soboro

  • 100 g of pork mince
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon of doubanjiang (Chinese chili bean paste)
  • 1 teaspoon of douchijiang (blackbean chili paste)
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce

Dressing

  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons of sesame oil

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of roughly crushed peanuts

Method

First, prepare the vegetables. Rinse the red cabbage and red-leaved chicory then slice into pieces 1 mm thick (cut against the grain). Rinse the red radishes and slice them thinly. Cut off the root part (sponge bed) of the radish sprouts, the cut them into half, leaf and stem. Use leaves later as a garnish.

Fill a large bowl with enough ice water to cover the red cabbage, red-leafed chicory, red radish and radish sprout (only the stems) and rinse the vegetables for 5 – 6 minutes before draining.

While you are refreshing the vegetables, prepare the soboro. Place a frying on the stove with a tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic.

Turn the heat to low and saute for 1 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of doubanjiang (Chinese chili bean paste) and 1 teaspoon of douchijiang (paste) to the pan and saute till they give you the spicy aroma. Then add pork mince and turn the heat to medium, fry them till they cooked and crumbly. Finally, add ½ teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and mix thoroughly.

Now for the dressing. Mix ½ teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar in a cup, then add 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and mix again. At the end of this process, add 3 teaspoons of sesame oil. Stir thoroughly.

Prepare the garnish by placing a frying pan on a low heat and roasting the sesame seeds slowly for 5 minutes.

Place the vegetables in a large serving bowl, then sprinkle the roasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts over the leaves. Next, place the soboro and radish leaves on top the vegetables. Finally pour the dressing over the vegetables. Mix the whole salad evenly before eating.

Recipe: Asian chicken salad

This coriander-packed Thai salad makes a great appetizer, but it’s just as good as a spicy sandwich filling.

To give the salad a fresh, crispy texture, it’s important to rinse the sliced vegetables in ice water. It’s also best eaten within 24 hours.

When you mix the ingredients in the bowl, use both hands. The taste will be much better than if you mix using utensils (wood, metal or otherwise).

Asian chicken salad

Asian chicken salad

Ingredients (for 4 – 8 people)

  • 500 g of chicken breast
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 200 – 250 g cabbage
  • 120 g cucumber
  • 50 – 60 g red onion
  • 40 – 50 g celery
  • 20 g of roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint

Dressing

  • 2 red peppers (dried and finely chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
  • A pinch of salt

Garnish

  • Roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons of crushed peanuts

Method

First we’ll prepare the chicken. Remove any excess moisture with a paper towel then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and black pepper onto all sides of the chicken breast. Place the chicken on a plate then rest it for 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons of sake over it then wrap the plate with cling film (2 layers) before cooking it in the microwave for 5 ½ minutes. Take the plate out of the microwave and allow the chicken to rest until it is cool enough to touch.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the dressing. Mix all of the ingredients other than the peanut oil and salt in a large bowl. Now add the peanut oil. Do so slowly stirring the dressing with your other hand. Check the flavor and add salt to taste.

As the chicken cools, prepare the vegetables. Rinse the cabbage then slice into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick. Rinse the cucumber and cut into slices approximately 1 mm thick. Peel the red onion then slice thinly, following the grain. Remove the strings from the celery and slice the stems diagonally into 1 – 2 mm pieces. Cut the leaves into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick.

Fill a large bowl with ice water (enough to cover the cabbage, cucumber, red onion and celery) and rinse them for 5 – 6 minutes before draining.

Once cool, break the chicken breast by hand into bite-sized pieces (follow the grain). Add this together with the liquid on the plate into the bowl containing the dressing.

Now add the vegetables to the chicken/dressing mixture.

Add 20 g of roughly chopped coriander and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint to the bowl. Combine all the ingredients by hand.

Decorate the salad with fresh coriander and crushed peanuts before serving.

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.