Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Basic Japanese cooking ingredients PART I - what they are and where you can find them

Over the last few years Japanese ingredients have become more and more available in countries outside of Japan. In Ireland you can easily find Japanese ingredients in larger supermarkets, health stores and Asian supermarkets scattered across the country. I buy most of my ingredients in the Asian Market on Drury St in Dublin (they also have another store in Merrywell Business park, Ballymount, Dublin 22). It has a great selection of Japanese ingredients at reasonable prices.

If you want to start cooking Japanese food at home you'll need some basic ingredients in your kitchen cupboard. I made a short list to begin with to keep it simple. You can always add other items to this as you start to cook more Japanese food at home. 

Most Japanese people eat rice at least once if not three times a day. So it's important to know how to prepare and cook Japanese rice in order to be able to enjoy a proper Japanese meal at home. Click here to go to my post "How to prepare and cook Japanese rice". 

I buy the Sun Clad Shinode brand of Japanese white rice. It's a large 10 kilo bag and costs just under 20 euro which is very reasonable. If you don't eat a lot of rice then you can buy a smaller bag which they started to stock recently. Superquinn also stock the smaller bag of Shinode sushi rice.

I prefer to use Japanese soya sauce when I'm cooking Japanese food. I buy Kikkoman Japanese soya sauce with less salt. It's ok to use other types of soya sauce however for authentic Japanese taste I'd recommend using Japanese soya sauce if you can get it.

Again, I prefer to use Japanese rice vinegar when cooking Japanese foods. Rice vinegar is mostly used to make sushi, Japanese salad dressings and some sauces.

The Japanese use sake the same way as we use wine when cooking in the West. Sake is an alcoholic drink made from rice and adds a nice taste to Japanese dishes. It's not necessary to buy an expensive bottle if you're only using it for cooking.

This is a sweet rice wine with a lower alcohol content than sake. It's used for cooking in Japan and adds a nice sweet balance to Japanese dishes. 

This is Japanese cooking stock. You can buy instant dashi granules like the one pictured below or you can make dashi from scratch. It's worth making homemade dashi if you have time as it tastes better and is healthier than the instant dashi. Click here to see my recipe for Japanese homemade fish stock.

Miso is made from fermented soya beans. There are many different types of miso and the miso colour can vary from light brown to dark red/brown. Generally the lighter the colour the milder the taste. So if you're new to Japanese food then I'd start off with a lighter colour one. Once miso is opened it should be stored in the refrigerator and can be stored there for a long time (I'm not sure how long exactly but a year anyway!). Click here to see my recipe for "Miso Shiru - Japanese Miso Soup".

Friday, 16 March 2012

Tempura - deep fried vegetables and seafood in a light crispy batter

My sister came over for lunch on Saturday so I thought I'd cook one of my favourite recipes for her. She loves her Irish grub so sometimes it's hard to get her to try different types of food. But I knew she'd love this as it's an easy transition into the world of Japanese food! She devoured it all so I can safely say that this dish will be enjoyed by all, both the conservative and the adventurous type. She has a prawn allergy so I included some cod fillet pieces in the tempura mix too. I love this recipe because it's versatile. You can use your favourite vegetables, seafood or even meat for this recipe. The options are endless!

I remember my Japanese homestay mother taught me how to make Japanese tempura. She said that the secret to a light and crispy tempura batter is to make sure that the water is ice cold and the mixture is not over-beaten.

1 aubergine - thinly sliced (1cm thick)
1 sweet potato - peeled and thinly sliced (1cm thick)
Red or green pepper - cut into square pieces
Cod fillet - cut into square pieces (skinned and boned)
Large king prawns - remove the head and the shell, leave the tail and devein using a tooth pick. Then, make a few little cuts with a sharp knife on the belly and back of the prawn and pull the prawn to straighten.

Tempura dipping sauce
1 cup of water
1 tsp instant dashi stock (Japanese cooking stock) or homemade dashi*
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1/4 cup soya sauce
Grated ginger or Japanese radish called daikon (optional)

Basic tempura batter
1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup plain flour

vegetable oil for frying (oil temperature 180 degrees Celsius)

*Click here to see my recipe for homemade dashi.


Tempura dipping sauce
I like to prepare the dipping sauce first so everything is prepared when the tempura is ready. If you do not have time or the ingredients to prepare the dipping sauce then you could just serve the tempura with soya sauce or sprinkle with salt (preferably sea salt).
  1. Pour a cup of water into a small saucepan. 
  2. Add the dashi stock and the mirin and then bring to the boil. 
  3. Reduce the heat and add the soya sauce. Remove from the heat after a few minutes. 
  4. Put the tempura dipping sauce in a serving bowl and add the grated ginger or grated Japanese radish (daikon) to taste.
Basic tempura batter
  1. Place the egg in a medium size bowl and beat using chopsticks or whisk.
  2. Pour the ice cold water into the bowl and mix with the egg.
  3. Sieve the plain flour and add to the water and egg mix. Mix lightly leaving small lumps in the mixture (at this stage you could sit the medium sized bowl filled with the batter into a larger bowl filled with ice to keep the batter cold).
How to cook the tempura
  1. Place all prepared vegetables, prawns and cod pieces on a large plate and dust lightly with sieved flour on both sides.
  2. To check the oil is hot enough, drop a small bit of batter into the oil and if it comes up right away then the oil temperature is ok. 
  3. Gently dip a few pieces of the vegetables or seafood into the batter, shake off the excess batter and place in the oil (try to fry the vegetables first and then the seafood).
  4. Only fry a few pieces in the oil at the time to ensure that the oil temperature remains hot. The pieces should be turned only a few times until they have a nice light golden colour. This usually takes a few minutes.
  5. Place the fried tempura on a plate lined with kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.

How to eat:
This dish is better served immediately because the tempura will become cold and soggy very quickly. If you really need to delay serving then you could put them in a preheated oven for a little bit. I normally serve the tempura on a large serving plate along with the dipping sauce so everyone can help themselves. Then, I give each guest a bowl of Japanese white rice.

  1. Add a dash of sake (Japanese rice wine) or even Guinness for an Irish twist to the batter mix to add taste and also to make the batter more crispy. 
  2. Place the water in the freezer until it is very cold before mixing with the egg. This helps make the batter light and crispy.
Why not:
Try tempura with a bowl of soba noodles or udon noodles instead of rice.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Edamame - a Japanese healthy snack

When I mention Japanese food to people they are always curious to know exactly what Japanese food is, how I cook it and where I get the ingredients.

So I'm going to use this blog to help everyone out there who'd like to try cook Japanese food at home but haven't yet because they think it's too complicated or too difficult to get the ingredients.

When I returned to Ireland from Japan, I use to get my Japanese friends to send me ingredients as it was relatively difficult to find ingredients at that time here in Ireland. However, today there are Asian markets scattered across Ireland with a bigger selection of Japanese ingredients to allow me to cook authentic Japanese food. 

Today, I'm going to introduce you to EDAMAME which is green soya beans in a pod.

Trust me if you try this healthy snack once you'll be hooked! It's filled with nutritional value, tastes great, is easy to prepare and low in calories. At home, I tend to eat them when I'm peckish instead of a sugar filled high calorie snack that I'll regret the minute I've eaten it. Edamame is also a great appetiser or party food and goes well with wine or beer. And kids just love edamame, my nieces and nephews have great fun popping the beans out of the pod!

You can buy frozen edamame in most Asian supermarkets (I buy them in the Asian Market on Drury Street in Dublin, Ireland). 

Birdseye also sell frozen edamame out of the pod in most big supermarkets in Ireland.

How to prepare frozen edamame:
  1. Put the frozen edamame in a pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Drain the edamame in a colander and run them under cold water to cool.
  3. Sprinkle with salt (preferably sea salt) before serving. 

How to eat:
Suck the soya beans out of the pod. Do not eat the pod which is the outer skin. I always serve an empty bowl with edamame so the pods can be thrown in this bowl.

  1. Try not to overcook the edamame. While the edamame is boiling in the pot just pick one out and try it. I think they are better crunchy and not overcooked. 
  2. You can also add salt to the pot of boiling water before adding the edamame. 

Why not:
Sprinkle cayenne pepper over the edamame just before serving if you like spicy food.

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