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.

Japanese inspired soup

My mom was around last week so we were immersed in a tour de force of hamburgers, corn dogs, onion rings, chips, restaurants and all things very American. Result every time I cooked I cooked some really simple pasta dish and as soon as she left we decided to eat light and health things for at least a couple of days. We also decided to start out the light and healthy session with a warm simple soup. For some reason, lately I like Japanese style soups a lot. I found them comforting, very filling (I probably drink about a gallon of the broth every time) and the flavors are great: sweet and salty. So now I have been working on figuring out the broth and toppings.

Of course I am Italian and am not very familiar with Asian ingredients, so I never have anything more exotic than soy sauce at home. I am always worried I won’t know what to do with those and they will end up rotting in the fridge or on the shelf. Lately, however, I decided to try and get some dashi packet to experiment with Japanese soup and using Nami’s posts on noodles and the web to figure out substitutes, I set out to prepare my own version of a Japanese soup.
In reading the recipe, please consider I make no claim of authenticity and I am working with whatever I have in the house. As you probably have noticed I am a master of the open the fridge and cook whatever you find game…

Japanese inspired soup

Ingredients

  • 1 dashi packet + 4 cups water
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 dash tabasco
  • 3 tbspmiso paste
  • 1/4 cup marsala
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger powder or freshly grated ginger (I never have the fresh ginger around…)
  • Japanese noodles
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 turnip
  • 2 sheets roasted seaweed
  • 1 cup cooked greens

Directions

  1. I started out by preaparing the broth. To make the broth I simply warmed up 4 cups of water and added in a packet of dashi when it started boiling. After about 10 minutes of simmering, I removed the dashi packet and added a dash of soy sauce, a dash of Tabasco (no bean curd in my pantry), 1/4 cup of Marsala (to substitue Mirin), 1 spoon of sugar, 3 spoons of miso paste and a bit of ginger. I mixed everything and kept the broth on low heat to keep it warm but not boiling.
  2. For the toppings, I thinly sliced and quickly blanched (about 1 minute in boiling water) a sweet potato, I cut into tiny sticks a turnip and into strips 2 sheets of roasted seaweeds and I warmed up some greens I had cooked a couple of days before and that were resting in my fridge.
  3. I cooked some Japanese noodle in boiling water until they were tender and drained them well and then assembled the dish by placing the noodle in the dish, cover with broth and arranging toppings on top.
  4. The final result was not perfect but it was still pretty good. The topping were a bit weak, I will have to try my luck with other ingredients, but the broth is starting to taste close to what you get in Japanese restaurant…. I will keep trying and reporting!

Easy Japanese Potato Salad

Today, I should be somewhere between Cambodia and Thailand in a natural park where I will hopefully see elephants and other animals as well as beautiful waterfalls and vegetation.

And today I present you Nami from Just One Cookbook. I love Nami’s blog. All her recipes look and sound incredibly tasty! She presents mainly typical Japanese dishes and breaks them down perfectly, so that you have the impression it is easy to achieve her level of perfection, but I am sure it takes her talent to make such good dishes look so good.

For today Nami chose to prepare Japanese Potato salad, which is coincidentally one of my favorite Japanese dishes. I had no idea what made Japanese potato salad that creamy and now I know!

Japanese Potato Salad

Hello everyone!  I was so honored when Paola asked me to guest blog on An Italian Cooking in the Midwest!

I’ve mentioned in this post on my blog how much the Japanese love Italian food.  I’m no exception.  I truly adore Italian food and I can eat it every single day!  I was very happy that I found Paola’s blog so that I can learn authentic Italian recipes! There is nothing better than learning real Italian food from a native Italian right?!  While visiting each other’s blog, I learned that Paola likes Japanese food.  So today I’m excited to share one of my favorite home cooked recipes: Japanese Potato Salad.

What is Japanese Potato Salad?  The main difference between Japanese and American potato salad is that Japanese potato salad always use mash potatoes. The rest of ingredients include ham, cucumber, carrot, egg, and sometimes corn or thinly sliced onion. It requires Japanese mayonnaise which is made with egg yolks instead of whole eggs, and apple cider (or rice) vinegar instead of distilled vinegar.  Over all it is creamier in both color and texture and the potato salad is very mild and creamy.

I hope you will also enjoy Japanese version of Potato Salad.  Paola, thank you so much for having me over at your blog!

Enjoy!!!