Autumn Heaven

Anyone who has ever lived in Japan for even a short time knows that Japan is a country of 4 seasons. Every season is completely different – not just in terms of the weather, but also in terms of what food is eaten. For me, Spring is mountain vegetables like zenmai; Summer is white peaches; Autumn is matsutake; and Winter is mikan.
Now, it is officially Autumn. The Autumn Equinox is today, and my husband and I were feeling especially seasonal when we spotted some matsutake for sale at a small grocery store. I first ate matsutake when visiting Kyoto, and fell in complete love with a dish known as dobinmushi, a type of soup made with matsutake and served with mitsuba, ginkgo nuts, and sudachi. Heaven, indeed!
Well, unfortunately matsutake are very expensive! We got 4 for 2500 JPY, about $25.00. These came with 1 sudachi. Not enough citrus for me! That’s okay, we visited another grocery store and got the other ingredients. So, here we go. Our recipe was:

Matsutake mushrooms. We only used one mushroom for the soup. We used another to make matsutake rice, and stored the last two wrapped in paper for the next day.

Konbu. This is essential for the broth, especially if you want to make a good vegan broth.

Our broth wasn’t vegan, as we added Katsuobushi. I know, not even vegetarian! But we only used it for the broth, and I am okay with dashi – it is sort of a requirement in Japan.

Mitsuba. Chopped finely – a key ingredient to make the flavor of the dobinmushi.
Ginkgo nuts – we bought them in a clear plastic bag (this many were about 700 JPY) and repackaged in a Ziploc as they go bad quickly. We used 6 nuts for the soup.
Sudachi. One per person is how we do it – we both love citrus!

Dashi Recipe:

800 ml water
12 g konbu
10 g katsuobushi (if you are going vegan, try shitake mushrooms instead, maybe…)
-Wipe konbu with a wet cloth, but don’t wash
-Put konbu into cold water and heat
-Just as the water comes to a boil, remove konbu (if you leave longer, it will taste bitter)
-Over weak heat, add katsuobushi
-Boil lightly until katsuobushi begins to float
-Filter katsuobushi from dashi
-Cool
Dobinmushi Recipe:
3 cups dashi
1 matsutake mushroom, cut into small slices – DO NOT WASH! Wipe with wet cloth.
2 tablespoons cooking sake
3/4 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ginkgo nuts
2 tablespoons mitsuba, chopped
2 sudachi
SERVES 2
-Boil dashi, soy sauce, salt, and cooking sake, then add ginkgo nuts.
-Pour into pre-heated dobin pot
-Add matsutake, cover, and heat about 7 minutes
-Remove from heat, add mitsuba, and serve with cups and halved sudachiClick here for a great video of matsutake no dobinmushi preparation. (Not me!)
How the matsutake should look. Make sure you cut off the bottoms, too.
Our konbu strips, before cooking.
Katsuobushi, in the strainer, being weighed. That’s a lot!
Straining the dashi after cooking.
Cracking the ginkgo nuts – they are hard to crack!
After cracking/shelling, before cooking.
We boiled the ginkgo nuts for a while (about 2-3 min in water – until the brown/white membrane peels off and you are left with the green nuts) – we froze the ones we didn’t use.
We sadly don’t have dobin pots. Instead, we used our tea pot. I know, pathetic!! Also, we had no way to directly heat the pot, so we improvised by using a vegetable steamer in our biggest pot and steaming the tea pot and dobinmushi that way.
Our finished – and DELICIOUS dobinmushi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In a tea cup to sip, with a sudachi on the side. We got about 2 cups each, so I used a whole half of a sudachi in each serving. YUM!
Usually, you eat the stuff from the soup first. Our tea pot didn’t allow for that because the opening was too small. We put our delicious matsutake, mitsuba, and ginkgo nuts into the tea cups and ate this way. YUM!!!
Advertisements

Obento

With the economy as bad as it has been lately, I decided that I would start making my own lunch to take to work. Obento are Japanese style lunches, and are ever popular in Japan. Moms compete to see who makes the cutest bento lunches for their kids and even adults take their own lunches, neatly made up into healthy and attractive portions. Apparently, having five colors in your meal is ideal – it means your meal is more balanced. Even in America, bento-style is catching on.

I went to the dollar store (actually, the 100 yen shop) and got myself a sandwich box, a bento box, and a pair of portable chopsticks (much more eco-friendly!). Total cost: 330 yen (about $300). As you see, it is very plain, but cute, too!

I aimed for 5 colors, with protein, carbs, and a little fat. My choice for carbs was genmai onigiri coated with gomashio instead of the more traditional nori. On the side, I added two little umeboshi. So far: white, black, red.

For the rest of the meal, I wanted lots of veggies and a little protein. Genmai does have protein, of course, but I added tamagoyaki (hubby made this for me, as I have never made it before) for extra protein and some fat. I cut up some fresh cucumbers and washed some cherry tomatoes (both red and yellow ones, but they are hidden by the grapes) and added a small bento-sized Kewpie as the “dressing” for my salad. I lightly steamed some sliced carrots. For dessert, some fresh grapes finished my meal. So here I add: green, orange, yellow, and purple. I had 6 colors! Yay!

The meal was yummy – not bad for my first attempt at making bento! Plus, altogether it was way cheaper than buying something at the local conbini or going to a restaurant. Hopefully I will be able to make better looking obento in the future.

Pasutakan

Okonomiyaki – the stuff dreams are made of! I LOVE this Japanese dish, but I didn’t know that I loved it until my French friend was planning her visit to Tokyo and mentioned how much she loved Okonomiyaki. My husband and I went that very night to Pasutakan in the MyLord’s Department Store in Shinjuku and I learned just how scrumptious this dish can be! I didn’t take pictures on that visit, but I did this time around. Of course, we had to take my French friend, and did so on August 27. We went to Pasutakan again, because they let you cook at your own table and you can “build your own” okonomiyaki.
PLEASE NOTE: Okonomiyaki/Monjayaki both contain katsuodashi – dried fish broth – so it is NOT strictly vegetarian. Pasutakan does offer many “mostly vegetarian” okonomiyaki, though (meaning, nothing except the dashi is non-vegetarian.)  But make sure you tell them “niku nashi, ebi nashi, ika nashi”

Before mixing, okonomiyaki looks like this. This one was for my husband and friend – it had shrimp, squid, and pork in it, so I didn’t eat it! Primary ingredients for okonomiyaki are flour mix, broth, egg, and cabbage. This one also had pickled ginger, a popular ingredient. Mine (not pictured at this stage) had corn, potato, cheese, mochi, and pickled ginger. Not all mixed in one! We had two, but I forget which had corn and which had potato…

After thorough mixing, you put the mixture onto the hot frying surface with some oil. The okonomiyaki should be about as big as the width of a normal adult hand fully spread. You then cook with a cover for 4 minutes on each side.

The finished okonomiyaki! We top with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. My husband and friend added nori seaweed and dried fish flakes to the top, but I like mine just like this!

Here is a type of dish served at Pasutakan that is more native to Tokyo – monjayaki! It may look similar to okonomiyaki at first glance, but they actually evolved separately. Monjayaki came about in Tsukishima in Tokyo. First, the ingredients are cooked on the hot plate and a “levee” is made from them to contain the liquid parts. Then, the liquid is added slowly. The first picture is after the “levee” has been made and about half the liquid is frying away. The monjayaki is then spread over the whole hot plate and the monjayaki should get really fried – crispy = delicious!!! The bottom picture is the near end product. YUM! But watch out – it is salty!

Pasutakan:
Address: Shinjuku MYLORD 8F; 1-1-3 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0023
Phone: 03-3349-5611 (MYLORD main switchboard)
Hours: Sun-Sat 11:00 AM-11:00 PM

Nuun Again

My French friend visited from August 25, and we took her to our favorite Tokyo restaurant on her first night. Since I have posted about Nuun so many times, I will only post pictures of the dishes that I haven’t yet shown.

One of our appetizers – steamed seasonal vegetables steamed served with rock salt and green pepper miso for dipping. I showed this in my Nuun Dinner post, but as you can see, it does change with the season! Here we had portions for 3 – asparagus, okra, broccoli, a type of gourd/squash (not sure which one, but yummy!!), baby corn, and delicious baby carrots. So fresh tasting!

This is the dinner-sized portion of a lunch I had at Nuun once. It is the tofu cutlet, served with two dipping sauces. Read the link above for more info on this too-yummy-for-description dish!

 Last “new” dish we had: new potatoes with 3 toppings: red miso (see closeup), butter and salt, and soy sauce. All three were delicious as expected, but the red miso was so good that I could have eaten all three! I highly recommend this dish to everyone.


Nuun:
UPDATE: NUUN HAS CLOSED!!

Azabu Shigezo

A good friend of mine visited from France from the end of August through the first few days of September. This restaurant, Azabu Shigezo, was visited on September 1, after we returned from Kyoto. We were really interested in this restaurant because tofu is their speciality. It was a truly great experience!!!! The food was exquisite. I highly recommend that everyone try this restaurant – even people who think they don’t like tofu! You haven’t really tried it until you’ve eaten here!

Most Japanese izakaya-style restaurants serve little starter dishes if you order drinks, and this was no exception. These dishes were remarkably fresh and good. Nasu with shoyu, topped with negirenkon and gobō lightly mixed with sesame oil. Delish!
We started with their fresh yuba, served with a dollop of real wasabi. They make the yuba at the restaurant, and there are a limited quantity of orders each day. I am soooo glad that we were able to get one! This may not look so yummy, but the taste was… phenomenal! Very rich texture, and the taste is incredibly subtle. I ate a small piece just by itself, and was moved by it’s fresh taste.


They had three types of salt available, as well as a very nice soy sauce. We dipped the yuba in these – just a touch of salt is needed! The three salts are (from the left): salt with seaweed extract so it has a lot of minerals; coarsely ground sea salt; and finely ground sea salt. Each had a distinct flavor and they were all great.

Next we had the seasonal homemade tofu dish. Again, orders are limited. This was… indescribably scrumptious! So tender, and the green color and sauce is made from fresh seasonal beans. It was shockingly sweet – good shock! The taste of summer was clear in this dish.

Then we had fried yuba rolls with cheese and nori. I’m not 100% sure what type of cheese this is, but it was a really good combination. The cheese was very creamy and gooey – just like hot cheese should be! The fried yuba was very nicely crisp. The nori added some salty flavor to the mix, so it was really good.

Next was agedashidofu. I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of agedashidofu usually, but this was very good. Lots of flavor, and the breading was just right – not too thick or too thin!

We then ordered a salad. This is shredded daikon on a bed of red leaf lettuce with some kaiware daikon sprouts on top. The dressing was goma – very rich and lots of vitamins! This salad gets a top rating from me – the daikon was very crisp and fresh and the dressing was perfect for the cold, sharp flavor of the daikon.
 Final dish: reimen – cold noodles with cucumbers, negi, kimchi, and half a boiled egg as topping. The sauce was slightly spicy, but cold and oh-so-yummy!
Now – the TRULY get part of this restaurant!! They speak good English (or the waiter who waited on us did) AND they were willing to put any meat on the side! My husband and friend of course gobbled up the meat. None of the dishes we got had meat in them – the ones with meat were “topped” with some meat – ham or chicken, mostly. They willingly just put these into extra dishes and I got to enjoy the food without the thought that it had touched meat! Everything is made as you order, so they are able to do that. What a wonderful restaurant!! We will definitely be returning – sooner than later!!
Azabu Shigezo:
Address: Crest Azabu 2F, 2-13-9 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045
Phone: 03-5765-9180
Hours: Mon-Wed 5:00 PM-12:00 AM; Thurs-Sat 5:00 PM-1:00 AM; Sun and holidays 5:00 PM- 11:00 PM
Note: RESERVATIONS SUGGESTED!