Step into any Asian supermarket and you'll be greeted by shelf after shelf of enticingly packaged Japanese candies. Great, right? Well, despite our love for the category, the vast variety can be, at times, a bit overwhelming. So in the interest of separating the kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) from the catastrophic, we're tasting our way through the panoply of Japanese sweets available stateside.
Is sushi one of those things you're more likely to leave to the pros? If so, you're missing out, because homemade sushi's not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. Cut your teeth with a California roll, then start experimenting with different fillings; we'll show you our foolproof techniques for everything from seasoning and fanning rice to rolling both basic and inside-out rolls. On Brandi: Closed Top and jewelry by Edward Avedis.
Who says raw vegetables can't pack plenty of flavor? This vegetable sushi roll, made with creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber and carrots, has two secret ingredients: gomasio and umeboshi paste. Gomasio literally means "sesame salt" in Japanese. This condiment is sprinkled onto Asian cuisine like salt and is made from crushed, toasted sesame seeds and salt. Unlike salt, which only adds one dimension of flavor to a dish, gomasio gives food a nutty, roasted quality. Just be sure to keep your bottle in the fridge, because sesame seeds go rancid quickly, and nothing is worse than ruining a dish with rancid seasoning!
Also contributing to the saltiness of the sushi is umeboshi paste, or pureed, pickled Japanese plums. What does this bright purple paste taste like, you might be wondering? Umeboshi paste is at once extremely salty and full of savory umami flavor (the Western equivalent, in terms of texture and flavor, would be concentrated bouillon paste). Even just 1/4 of a teaspoon of umeboshi paste smeared on a sushi roll will give the sushi sufficient seasoning, so much so that you probably won't be tempted to dip the roll in a dish of soy sauce.
To see how this simple vegetable sushi roll is constructed, keep reading for the recipe.
Miso soup is a staple in Japanese restaurants, where the slightly cloudy broth is always a comforting, warming appetizer to enjoy before a meal. But did you know it's also easy to make at home?
The soup begins with dashi, a stock made from dried bonito fish flakes and the firm, flavorful seaweed known as kombu. For texture, tofu and wakame, another sea vegetable, are added to the dashi; finally, to make it miso soup, one must add miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented rice and soybeans. It's salty, it's filled with umami flavor, and it gives the soup its famous cloudy appearance.
The next time you plan to make sushi or another Japanese dish for dinner, consider starting the evening off with a traditional bowl of miso soup; while the ingredients may sound obscure, they can all be located at Whole Foods stores, health food markets, or Asian grocers. Or if you don't mind the smell of the sea in the morning, make like the Japanese, and eat miso soup with white rice for breakfast! Keep reading for the recipe.
Red lentil terrine might not elicit a delicious food reaction for you, so think of the vegetarian appetizer this way: it's like combining Japanese condiments with red lentils. The mixture is baked until it sets, which makes it a terrine; once it's cooled and served, the red lentil terrine spreads upon crackers like a pâté.
Unlike brown or French lentils, red lentils cook into a puree, so don't be surprised when the lentils transform into an orange mush. Caramelized onions and mirin, or Japanese rice wine, add a natural sweetness to the earthy spread, while umeboshi plum paste and miso contribute to the savory umami flavors. Toasted walnuts, processed into a nut butter, thicken the mixture, ensuring that the terrine bakes into a sliceable loaf.
For parties, opt to serve the whole loaf, or for smaller gatherings, cut a one- or two-inch slice and save the rest for another occasion. Serve the terrine with the crackers of your choice, although I especially love it with either Japanese rice crackers or Mary's Gone Crackers Black Pepper Crackers. Take a look at the recipe.
Common in Japanese cuisine, bento boxes consist of divided sections of vegetables, protein, and grains that are carefully arranged in an attractive way to amplify the allure of even the most simple food preparations. They make a tidy take-to-work lunch, too. This Japanese salad, organized in bento fashion, is a fresh take on a fast, easy, and portable lunch option.
The matcha dressing, which draws the flavors of the raw vegetables and tofu together, makes this salad truly memorable. Inspired by a Republic of Tea employee who experimented with The Republic of Tea U-Matcha ($18) in a salad dressing recipe, it was loved so much that the company decided to print the recipe on a pamphlet, which is included in each canister of the tea. I used U-Matcha Yuzu, a citrus-scented matcha green tea, to heighten the fresh, zingy tang of the dressing; however, regular matcha works well in this recipe too.
U-Matcha plays off of the Japanese term umami, the word used to describe the savory flavor in food. Even though matcha in tea form tastes grassy and earthy, when used in recipes like this salad dressing, it bursts with a flavor that is subtly fishy and sea-like (in a good way!).
The sweet carrots, spicy daikon, creamy avocado, tart cabbage, and crumbly tofu combine with the matcha dressing for a color- and flavor-rich salad that engages all the senses of the palate. Prep all the ingredients first, and place them in separate bowls or plastic containers to make it easier and faster to arrange the salad. Bonus: it's a cinch to store any leftovers for another day. Learn how to whisk a batch of matcha dressing for your next bento salad.
You may have heard of mochi, the Japanese cake made with sweet, glutinous rice. You may have even enjoyed it as the shell of mochi ice cream, a frozen dessert popular at Japanese restaurants. But do you know that mochi can be a sweet or savory component in just about any meal?
I recently discovered this when I spotted bake-and-serve packs of mochi next to tofu in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods. I did a little research and some experimentation in the kitchen with what I found and quickly learned that mochi lends a totally different textural component to a meal than, say, bread, potatoes, or even rice. There are a ton of simple ways to start out experimenting with this lesser-known product. Here are five of my favorite ways to do it.
I recently embarked on a search for Germany's so-called "king of cakes," or baumkuchen, a hollow, concentric cake that's made by applying layer after layer of batter on a rotating spit. I discovered the hard-to-find pastry at Lutz Bakery and Pastry Shop, an old-school Central European bakery in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood.
In the baumkuchen research that followed, I learned that the cake is not just a delicacy in its home country; it's also been one of the most popular pastries in Japan since it was first brought over to the country after World War I. Thanks to its ring shape, baumkuchen is also a popular Japanese wedding staple.
Keep reading for more on Japanese-style baumkuchen.
Packing your lunch in a bento box is an efficient way to create a wholesome meal in a compact package. But if froggy faces and cute bunnies are a bit too kawaii for your office environment, we've rounded up 10 pretty yet grown-up containers that get your lunch from here to there without looking like you're headed for the school bus.
Many of us wish we brought our lunch to work more often, and while leftovers and sandwiches are delicious options, sometimes we're looking for out-of-the-box ideas. Might I suggest you start searching in the box with a bento lunch? This Japanese boxed lunch has a long history, but these days it's a delicious, healthy, and convenient lunch option, perfect for Spring picnics or munching at your desk. Ready to learn more about bentos? Just keep reading.