All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Tom cooks 9: Sakana to yasai no sotee gaarikku remon soosu (fish and vegetable saute with garlic lemon sauce)

All of a sudden, I got sick. My nose was stuffed up and a fever was cooking my head. I apparently looked and sounded truly ill, and Tom agreed to cook fish for dinner.

His first response was, “I will cook if you prepare everything.”

Huh? If I were to bring out all the ingredients and cut them up, I might as well cook them. Nope, it shouldn't be this way. Not long ago, Tom clearly said he would make a Japanese meal for me with at least three dishes. So he must still be motivated deep down, and it is just one dish, after all.


Saishin to kani, shiitake, tamago no itamemono / yu choy sum, crabmeat, shiitake mushrooms and egg saute

A simple vegetable saute seasoned with salt, pepper and aromatic soy sauce. Shiitake adds an earthy note, the egg deepens the taste, and the crabmeat provides an extra boost.


Saishin / cai xin / yu choy sum

Brassica parachinensis

Sometimes called “flowering cabbage,” the yu choy sum on store shelves often has yellow flowers in the center. Unlike cabbage, yu choy sum’s leaves (and stems) are tender, darker green, and are always cooked rather than eaten raw, as far as I know. As with many other Chinese vegetables, there seem to be endless variations of the name, including yu choy, choy sum and choy sim. No matter how it is called, this vegetable is known for excellent nutrition. Carotene, iron, potassium, calcium, Vitamins B and C, folic acid and niacin are the nutrients often mentioned for yu choy sum. What all these nutrients can bring is beautiful, radiant skin; they also reduce active oxygen and control cancer cell proliferation, increase immune strength, prevent colds, control high blood pressure, and strengthen bones, teeth and nails, and so on. While the nutritional data I’ve found is sketchy on details, let's just say it is a valuable vegetable full of health benefits.


Kaki furai / panko deep-fried oysters

A typical oyster dish in Japan. Juicy panko deep-fried oysters served with julienned cabbage used to be one of Tom’s favorites at a neighborhood restaurant near his work in Tokyo.


Sumooku saamon to shungiku no mazegohan / steamed rice with smoked salmon and garland chrysanthemum

Dry, hard type smoked salmon (typically smoked with alderwood in our area) works nicely here, as does grilled salted salmon. Blanched and sliced shungiku stems add a softly bitter, refreshing note to this mazegohan mixed rice.


Natto no tenpura / fermented soybean tempura

Softly sweet and fluffy natto tempura. At my parents' home, we made this with tempura batter that was left over after frying other vegetables. Natto tempura is great when eaten piping hot.


Breakfast, January 15, 2013

Having rice porridge with azuki beans for breakfast is an old custom for koshogatsu, or “little New Year.”


    Koyadofu no fukumeni / freeze-dried tofu simmered in light broth

    Koyadofu freeze-dried tofu releases the broth in your mouth as you bite in. The softly flavored little squares may seem bland, but this dish is a nice, refreshing addition for change of pace when paired with strongly flavored dishes or ingredients.


    Ozoni / New Year's Day soup with rice cakes

    Ozoni or zoni varies by region and family. Soup ingredients reflect regional specialties. Mochi rice cakes can be grilled squares (more common in Eastern Japan) or boiled rounds (more common in Western Japan). The ozoni I grew up with in Uozu in Toyama Prefecture consists of gobo burdock root, carrot, konnyaku yam cake, kamaboko fishcake, yakidofu broiled tofu and grilled fukuragi young yellowtail. My mom also added iwashi no surimi, or ground sardines. The rice cakes were round when we got them from my grandmother in nearby Unazuki (she also made miso and umeboshi pickled plums for all her kids and grandkids until her health deteriorated), then changed to squares after we started to buy mochi from shops, and they were boiled with a large sheet of kombu kelp.

    Yellowtail is one of shusseuo [lit. "fish that moves up through the ranks"] which change (Japanese) names as they grow; shusseuo are thought to bring good luck. The Japanese names for yellowtail at different stages vary by region, except for the name of the fully grown fish, buri.


    Shungiku to atsuage, benibana no yuzu-remon-ae / garland chrysanthemum, deep-fried tofu and safflower petals in yuzu-lemon dressing

    Slightly bitter shungiku goes well with citrus. In this dish, the oil from atsuage softens the sharp edge of citrus somewhat while the soft tofu inside atsuage adds a tender note.


    Warabi to ganmodoki no nimono / bracken and deep-fried tofu patties simmered in broth

    A slightly strongly flavored comforting food of salt-preserved bracken and juicy tofu patties. It tastes good as is and also as part of a takiawase assortment of other simmered items.


    Gujeeru / gougère

    Cheese puffs, anyone? A great appetizer and snack for wine imbibers and milk drinkers alike. Gougère also freezes well, making it a convenient party and potluck food.


    Shiokoji salted rice malt

    A traditional seasoning made of rice malt and salt from the northern part of Japan, where it was mainly used to marinate fish or make vegetable pickles. A few years ago shiokoji started to receive lots of media attention all over Japan as a versatile seasoning full of umami. Shiokoji hydrolyzes carbohydrates and proteins into sugars and amino acids, thus boosting the umami in other food when used as a seasoning. Because of this property, chicken breasts marinated in shiokoji, for example, will be moist and supple – not dry -- when cooked. Shiokoji also tenderizes proteins, and tough red meat marinated in shiokoji will turn out very tender. Because of the salt added to preserve finished shiokoji, it can be used as a full or partial replacement for salt or soy sauce. When a small amount is added to ordinary scrambled eggs, they become super fluffy. It is truly amazing.


    Tataki gobo / burdock root in sesame soy sauce vinegar dressing

    A crunchy addition to everyday meals. The combination of relatively strong soy sauce flavor, rich sesame taste and mild sourness of rice vinegar gives this small dish a punch. Also a common item found among New Year's osechi dishes.


    Ninjin to horenso no shiraae / carrot and spinach in tofu dressing

    Here is a slightly sweet, creamy tofu dressing for everyday vegetables. Coarsely ground toasted sesame seeds add a soft rich taste and faint aroma to the dressing.


    Breakfast, January 1, 2013

    The first meal of the year is big.

    Along with ozoni, the New Year’s special soup with rice cakes, we had our usual dishes but with slightly different ingredients and fewer variations than in other years. As I started preparing most osechi New Year’s dishes on December 29th (I usually start on the 28th), I could not finish making some of the things we usually have. But I did make kuri kinton -- mashed satsumaimo sweet potato with sweetened kuri chestnuts, both colored with kuchinashi dried gardenia fruit to symbolize gold -- for our financial luck and prosperity this year!