A Japanese salad recipe

I always knew it would be a priority to initiate my son to
the pleasures of the palate, that his “education of taste”, as we call it in
French (éducation du goût), was
something dear to my heart. For many reasons. Because we just love good food so
much. Because it’s the way I was raised. Because it’s good for his health.
Because it’s a big part of his French culture.

 As I started on this journey and
writing this blog, I realized that it went beyond that. Food and everything
about it (cooking it, growing it, shopping for it, eating it, learning from it,
approaching it from the five senses, among many other things) have become a
golden learning opportunity. For me and for him. I have talked about how food
can be a bias to practice patience and anticipation. And learning to be in the moment. And
appreciating the process. And experiencing human connection, friendship.

It’s also a way to experience beauty.

Our society tends to
have a very limited, narrow-minded vision of what beauty is nowadays. Yet, here’s
what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

beauty – the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that
gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit

Beauty is in the soul and mind, the wide-open mind, of the
beholder.

In this sense, young children know how to see beauty, almost
everywhere. Their mind is completely open to things of amazement and interest,
unspoiled by expectations, preconceived notions, prejudice, judgment.  To Pablo, a garbage truck is a thing of
beauty. Or a worker painting a window. Or ducks and squirrels. Or the ocean.
The snow. A guitar. A voice.

Or an artichoke, a carrot, a gratin hot out of the oven. A
colorful salad.

Knowing how to see beauty around us, sometimes having to pry
our grown-up minds open to do so, our senses on alert, fully connected to our
world body and mind: now there’s something worth living for. 

And very dear to me is the desire to preserve and nurture my
son’s open mind, share with him how rich life is when we can see beauty. When
we see it a lot, every day, particularly in the little things. That’s where
it’s the juiciest and most delicate. In the little things.

We expect children to get excited about garbage trucks and
ducks on a pond. Grown-ups, myself included, tend to pump them up about such things,
anticipating their thrill.

And perhaps the best tip to parents out there wanting their
children to enjoy eating well, the best “education of taste” tip I have, is to
apply that same excitement to food. I get excited about food because it is a
thing of beauty.  And that excitement is contagious. And I am happy to report that after 21 months of lots of food-related excitement, Pablo gets it.

The definition above could very well be the definition of
good cuisine. Eating and sharing a delicious food is experiencing beauty with
body and mind.

Food is a rich way to experience beauty from a very young
age. With all five senses.  

See the beauty of an endive, for example. Oblong and smooth,
pale nuances of green and yellow. Its smell fresh, almost like rain. When you
squeeze it, you hear it crack a little. After you feel it crunchy on your
teeth, you taste its light bitterness.

Yes, an endive is a thing of beauty.

(This, by the way, is an “exercise” of sorts I like to do
with Pablo and will be doing a lot more.)

Now. Let’s travel together.

I have been in love with Japanese cuisine and culture for
many years. I was lucky enough to visit Japan a few years ago, and realized
how kindred in spirit the French and Japanese are, particularly in regards to
food. Great care is devoted not only to the flavors of the foods (and how to
combine them artfully and deliciously), but also presentation, color and
texture.

Subtlety – or the ability to see the value in the little things – is
embraced. The sushi chef, like a painter adding touches of paint and
brushstrokes of color to his work, adds a pinch of special sea salt on a
scallop, a leaf of shiso, a dash of pickled plum, a few seeds of sesame over
rice that is in itself a work of art, just the right texture, just the right
temperature. Those things make a difference. Their sum is the experience of
beauty at every bite.

I am no expert at Japanese cuisine. I know I love it.
(I have learned so much about it thanks to the wonderful Nami at Just One Cookbook, I highly recommend her easy and delightful recipes.)
So I just improvised this ridiculously simple Japanese salad just
combining different ingredients I like. It’s a nice little “visit to Japan” the time of a meal, so if
you get a chance to stop by a Japanese grocery store in your area and pick up some of these
ingredients, give it a try (if you are unfamiliar with raw seafood, this is definitely a salad for the fearless and open-minded!)

A lot of Occidentals have issues with the textures of raw
fish and seafood, but toddlers can be very open-minded on this front as well.
Pablo adores raw oysters, fish, clam, urchin and salmon roe. Perhaps your child, or yourself,
will see the beauty of it too?

Japanese tofu seaweed salad

Makes 2 servings

Age for babies: I started giving raw seafood (once in a while) to Pablo past 12 months. Check with your pediatrican. You can of course make a vegetarian version of this salad, skipping the seafood.

Note: All quantities are really up to you and can be adjusted to your taste.

Half a package of soft tofu

4 tbsp salmon roe (ikura)

2 shiso leaves

1/4 cup soy sauce (or Ajipon sauce if you can find it)
Juice of one lemon (omit the lemon if you have Ajipon)

Assorted pickled vegetables – eggplant, daikon radish, plum.

Cut up the tofu in bite-size pieces. Dispose in each plate or bowl. Drizzle half the Ajipon over it (or the soy sauce and lemon whisked together).

If you are using yamaimo: cut a thick slice. Peel it quickly and run it under cold water, chop finely and as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get too slimy. (Yes, I know, it sounds gross, but it adds a nice crunch to this salad. For more information on yamaimo, go here. Some people with sensitive skin get itchy after manipulating yamaimo, so if you are, you might want to wear gloves to cut it up, or wash your hands well right after.)

Add the chopped yamaimo over the tofu  (if you were hardcore enough to give it a try!), and the seaweed salad on top.

Chop the shiso leaves and sprinkle over the salad.

Spoon the salmon roe over the top of the seaweed salad, and finally a couple of pieces of sea urchin.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Drizzle the rest of the Ajipon and serve with some pickled vegetables on the side.

Rainbow brandade… and the beauty of food

Sharing an adaptation of a classic French dish today: the brandade. It has many variations, but
typically it is a mixture of cod fish and potato. To add a healthy twist with
some leafy greens, I mixed in Rainbow Chards.

Photographing produce and foods for this blog, I have been amazed to see how beautiful they can be.  I think it is an important part of the enjoyment of food and cuisine: the appreciation of the aesthetics, the beauty, the perfection of what nature has to offer. I heard on NPR / Splendid Table a fascinating interview with a man with no taste. In order to enjoy eating, he has to enjoy its other components, such as the aesthetics and the texture. Still thinking of food as a means to nurture other areas of development for our children, looking at the amazing colors of these chards with Pablo, at their veins, marveling with him at the intricate work of Mother Nature, was one sneaky little lesson in aesthetics, and in the value of seeing the beauty in the little things around us.

This is a dish I don’t freeze, it’s best made right before
serving. It’s about half an hour total prep time, with 20 minutes of free time
while it cooks. Well worth it though! This was so tasty we made some for
ourselves as well! The fish taste is very subtle, so it’s a good way to get a
toddler to eat fish if he/she has been resistant to it before.

Bon appétit!

Cod &
Rainbow Chards Brandade

Age : 8-10 months

Makes one portion.

1 medium potato, peeled, washed and diced.

4 leaves of Rainbow Chards, washed and cut-up

3.5 tbsp milk (whole or formula)

Black Cod (wild caught and fresh preferably) – a piece of
0.7 to 1 oz

2 tsp of butter

Place the diced potato in a pot, add the chards and ½ cup of
water. Cook covered on low heat for about 20 minutes (make sure to add a bit of
water if it evaporates).

Add the piece of fish and cook for another 5 minutes.

Drain, and place the chards, fish and milk in the food
processor. Mix to desired consistency.

Optional step: Put the brandade in an broiler-safe ramekin,
sprinkle some breadcrumbs, place the pieces of butter on top, and put in the
preheated broiler for a couple of minutes, until golden brown on top.

Variations:

– You can replace the Rainbow chards with any leafy green of
your choice: spinach (you can use frozen, then add a bit less water when
cooking), Swiss chards, kale, etc.

– You can also experiment with other fish: Dover sole, tilapia, or salmon.