Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Myoga flower clear soup 花茗荷のお澄まし

I am trying to come up with more recipes using the myoga flowers ミョウガのはな we harvested the other day. Since the myoga flower is rather delicate in appearance and flavor, I made a simple clear soup. It is important to start this type of clear soup from a good broth. Since this was a lunch and I did not have much time to prepare (we were hungry), I used a dashi pack (mixture of bonito and kelp). I made about 2.5 cups of broth. I seasoned it with a splash of mirin (you do not want to taste real sweetness) and light colored "usukuchi" soy sauce 薄口醤油 . I tasted it and thought it was ok but if you prefer more saltiness and don’t want to make the clear soup too dark (even using light colored soy sauce), you could just add salt. I had some silken tofu from Japan (which is meant to be eaten "raw") so I made some small cubes and put it in the soup. I also added a small amount of myoga buds finely julienned and scallion (in retrospect, I should have omitted the scallion. It was a bit too strong; the myoga flavor alone was sufficient). After I put the soup in individual serving bowels (or "owan"  お椀), I garnished with several myoga flowers in the center.

This soup was an accompaniment for a marinated tuna rice bowl or "maguro-zuke-don" 鮪ずけ丼.

This soup was very good. The tofu was nicely silken. The soup made with good "dashi" was flavorful and mild. The myoga flowers had a subtle and distinctive myoga flavor. My wife is usually not a fan of Japanese soup but she drained the bowel and asked if there was any more.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tuna ”zuke” bowl 鮪漬け丼

My “emergency” frozen block of yellowfin tuna needs to be consumed every-now-and-then since it does not improve with age in the freezer. Since we harvested myoga, I made a variation on marinated tuna rice bowl 鮪ずけ丼.

I topped it with a onsen egg 温泉卵, nori, perilla and a myoga flower.

Keeping the theme of myoga flower, I made a clear soup with tofu and myoga flower.

Since this was a lunch over the weekend, I used frozen rice to make sushi rice by simply microwaving directly from the freezer and seasoning it with sushi vinegar. I placed strips of nori, perilla, scallion and myoga (not too much) on the rice.

I then placed marinated tuna on the rice (I should have sliced it a bit thinner). This time I marinated the tuna in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake (2:1:1) with the juice from grated ginger and ground sesame seeds (I dry roasted the sesame seeds in a frying pan and then ground coarsely using a Japanese mortar (suribachi). I marinated the tuna over night which is longer than I usually do.

I then placed an onsen egg in the center and more nori and perilla and topped it with a myoga flower (the first picture). Since the myoga flavor is rather strong, you do not want to over do the myoga.  I served the remaining marinade on the side.  For an impromptu tuna zuke donburi, this was quite good and filling. We successfully resisted  having sake.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Myoga flower ミョウガの花

This year we were a bit late in harvesting myoga (myouga) ミョウガ.  The area of our backyard where the myoga is growing is solidly in the domain of mosquitoes and requires some resolve and protective gear on our part to enter their territory without paying inordinate “blood tribute” (literally).  Usually, my wife bravely volunteers for the task but that was slow in coming this year (I do not blame her).  This year, we kept postponing the harvest until my wife pointed out she could see little white flowers surrounding some of the myoga plants (meaning that the myoga, which is best used before it flowers, was moving past its prime). So, one weekend we donned protective clothing and together we harvested the myoga. Of course, my wife is a much better myoga harvester than I am (it is not easy to find the myoga buds that have not yet-flowered since they are buried below the surface of the soil and the soil can be almost hard as rock). Many of the ones we (especially "I") found had already blossomed. In previous years we discarded those. This year, however, my wife advised that once we had suited up and were scrabbling with our noses in the dirt we should retrieve every myoga we could find regardless of its condition and we could sort them out later. As we sorted through our haul we realized that even if the myoga has blossomed, we could eat it as long as the bud was still solid; once the bud becomes "hollow" or soft, it can not be used. Since we usually discarded the myoga with blooms, we never really paid any attention to how the flowers might be used. Although the flowers generally wilt quickly, this year we had more flowers than usual and many of them had just opened so we decided to eat them rather than discard them.

Here I used myoga flower to garnish my cold simmered vegetables. This time the cold veggies included daikon, carrots, renkon (lotus root) and konnyaku (devil's tongue). I garnished it with blanched haricoverts  and myoga flower.

Here are two flowers open from a single bud.

We removed the flowers and washed them in cold water.

The below are "good" myoga before blossoming.

The myoga flowers are usually not available in stores even in Japan since they are very perishable and probably not worth harvesting or selling. The flowers do have a nice ethereal quality. They have a distinctive myoga taste but are very delicate in texture without the somewhat hard or fibrous texture of the buds. They may also be slightly bitter. They can be used as a garnish or just eaten as a part of a salad.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Grilled sanma さんまの塩焼き

During this DC summer, we happened to have a rare low-humidity-not-too-hot couple of days. Since mosquitos on these days were less aggressive, we decided to have sanma 秋刀魚 (Pacific saury) grilled outside. I have pontificated about sanma previously so I will not repeat myself. I got frozen sanma from our Japanese grocery store but I am not sure if this came from Japan or somewhere else. It was still early in the sanma season in Japan (the catch had just started in Hokkaido) and these may not have come from Japan.

In any case, I charred the fish a bit too much. It tasted good, though. I served it with traditional grated daikon. This time I gutted the fish but left the head just for esthetics. I even found a long plate which accommodated sanma in one piece. The plate was made by one of the local artists which we got at one of their yearly sales.

I also grilled Japanese pepper "shishi-tou" 獅子唐芥子 (miraculously none was atomically hot) and fresh shiitake mushroom. I brushed the shiitake with olive oil and after I turned the gill side up, I poured a small mount of soy sauce on just before removing from the grill.

Using lump charcoal and Looft lighter, it is easy and mess free to prepare the fire in our yakitori grill.

Within 15 minutes, fire was ready.

I cleaned and gutted the sanma after thawing. I salted and placed them on a paper-towel lined  aluminum pan and kept them (uncovered) in the refrigerator for several hours before grilling.

The fire was a bit stronger than I intended and the skin charred rather quickly.

I brushed olive oil and then salted shishi-tou  before grilling.  It took only few minutes on each side to grill.

This was a definitely bonus day for us as we could grill sanma outside.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bulgur wheat salad バルガーウィートのサラダ

This is one of my wife's grain salads. She made some modification and added edamame. This is a nice salad which can be served as a snack. Bulgur wheat is the hulled kernel of wheat which has been parboiled and then dried. It cooks rather quickly and has a nice texture.

One of her secrets is to roast the bulgur wheat in the toaster oven. It adds a nice roasted flavor.

The dressing is simple. Finely chopped fresh mint really adds a fresh taste.

1 cup Bulgur wheat
1/1/2 cup chicken broth
Walnuts (toasted with the brown skin rubbed off  using a dish towel
Sweet onion (red or Vidalia)
Fresh mint

Rice vinegar/lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Toast the bulgar wheat in the toaster oven until it turns dark brown and exudes to sweet almost honey like aroma. Remove from the toaster oven and rinse in cold water. (At this point the wheat may be smoking a bit and steam will rise as it is rinsed). Put the chicken broth into a pan and bring to a boil. Add the rinsed bulgar wheat, put on the lid and remove from heat . Let it sit for about 20 minutes. Use a fork to fluff up the grains. If there is some liquid left drain the wheat and let it cool down.
Once the wheat has cooled add the other ingredients basically to taste. For example, add as much mint as tastes good.

This is a very nutty flavorful salad. The toasting adds a bit of sweetness.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Otoshi 3 kinds お通し三種類

These are another example of my otoshi appetizer threesome. Again these were made quickly from mostly leftovers.

The first  one is sort of Italian style octopus, a leftover part toward the tip of the tentacles after using thick portion for sashimi; Cucumber cut into small cubes, black and green olives, dressed in olive oil seasoned with smoked paprika.

The second one is my usual braised burdock root or "Kinpira gobo" 金平牛蒡, which I made the prior weekend.

The last one is leftover cooked salmon (broken into small pieces) dressed in mayo (mixed with Japanese one flavor pepper flakes 一味唐辛子 and light colored soy sauce 薄口醤油 garnished with ikura salmon roe.

Except for the Ikura, all these appetizers will go with either sake or wine. Instead of just one appetizer, having three is more enjoyable.

Friday, August 14, 2015

PA Dutch Wet Bread stuffing

This is another one of my wife's PA dutch dishes triggered by our recent trip to rural Pennsylvania. It is essentially, a hybrid of mashed potato and bread stuffing but it tastes more like mashed potatoes than bread stuffing. When my wife was growing up, she used to eat something called wet bread stuffing served in the school cafeteria as a side dish for lunch. She remembers it as a loaf cut into slices and heated with a gelatinous texture.  Not one of her favorites as a child (it was that gelatinous texture) but as an adult she was curious to try it again. After some searching she found this recipe and though this may be it.

Ingredients (for 8 servings):
2 1⁄4 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 slices white bread, torn into pieces (My wife used Pepperidge Farm flavored bread stuffing about 2 cups). Several of the recipes go into great detail on how to handled the bread such as toasting it, frying it, and other methods to dry it out.
1⁄2 cup diced onion
1⁄2 cup diced celery
Salt and pepper

  1. Saute the onions and celery until the onions are just translucent and soft
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes.
  4. Drain, mash, salt and pepper to taste. Add enough milk and butter to give the mashed potatoes a very creamy texture. They should be a bit more liquid than usual for mashed potatoes because the dried bread soaks up the extra liquid. At this point just the potatoes themselves are good. 
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Lightly grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
  7. In a large bowl, mix together the potatoes, white bread (or flavored stuffing), onion, celery, salt and pepper. (First picture below)
  8. Pour into prepared casserole dish, dot with pads of butter (second picture below) and bake for 1 hour. (Final picture below).
(Mix the seasoned bread stuffing with the mashed potato).

(Fill casserole and dot the surface with butter).

(Bake for one hour at 350F).

This was not exactly the dish she remembered from her childhood. For one thing, there was no gelatinous texture and it was very good. The bread stuffing completely amalgamated with the potatoes. The flavored stuffing really made the dish savory. It was like mashed potatoes but different. It must have been a great way for PA Dutch cooks to use stale bread and leftover mashed potatoes. The first day, it didn't hold together and we spooned it onto the plate as shown in the picture above but a few days later it could be sliced. My wife is still curious about the concoction she ate as a kid but from her descriptions of it, I'm glad this was not it.