Archive for the 'Vegetables' Category

Hummus with Pine Nuts on Homemade Pita

May 14, 2006

pita hummus sandwich

Perhaps I should re-title this blog Cooking with Chopsticks: A guide to cooking for one occasionally homesick foreigner in Japan. With a strange array of ingredients available at the grocery stores and markets and familiar ingredients only sold at out-of-the-way and over-priced import stores, the old favorites can be hard to find and unaffordable on a single income. But that is where the challenge begins.

In most import stores, perhaps the only thing I've found that's sold for reasonable prices are canned beans of kinds not found in the normal grocery store (which only carries azuki, large black beans, and white beans that might be white kidney beans). I would prefer dried beans that don't float in that strange liquid, but they're at least twice as expensive. Recently after being enticed by my friends' conversation about hummus, I bought some canned garbonzo beans at Meidi-ya on Shijo Ave.

The resulting hummus was most fulfilling, and since my former host mother is a marvel at bread-making, I asked her to make some pita bread to go along. Although I was nervous if this dish would appeal to the Japanese palate, it was a success! Even my host brother who dislikes beans gobbled up his pita dipped generously in hummus. Read the rest of this entry »



May 2, 2006


Any guesses what this is? I’m not asking the Asians or the world travelers now. Having only eaten this plant from a can or cooked into a stir fry in the states and Europe, always in unrecognizable rectangular-shaped, thin slices, I never imagined it looked like this in real life. It’s a bamboo shoot. They’re in season now, and being a Kyoto specialty, Nishiki market’s shops have mounds and mounds of them for outrageous prices. Why the high prices? Because they are most tender and have to be dug up while still underground before they reach the sunlight in the early early morning, and bamboo can grow a meter in one day. I never thought I could afford one…

Until one fine day last week, I was walking through Nishiki market on my way home from work and I happened to see a small basket containing three at a small vegetable shop. The price tag said 525 yen, and I could hardly believe I could get even one much less three of them for that price. I incredulously had to reaffirm by asking the shopkeeper. Yes, they were 525 yen, and although they were a bit smaller than the giants at some other stores, they were being sold for less than half the normal price. I bought them without thinking twice and far from regretted it.

As I was packing my treasure away, the shopkeeper gave me a small bag of sawdust-like powder and gave me a bunch of instructions on keeping them for up to a week. Being far too ecstatic with my find, I hardly listened and didn’t ask him to explain again. Half way home my dream bubble burst and I panicked. How was I going to cook these things?!? Read the rest of this entry »

Taco Rice

April 26, 2006

taco rice 2

Although I had never even heard of taco rice before I had it in Japan, this dish can easily cure the I-want-food-from-home syndrome. It is a concoction created on the southern Japanese archipelago of Okinawa, where a large population of American military personnel still controls half of the main island. I can just imagine a homesick US military guy wanting some tacos, but not having the right ingredients for it, sticking the taco fillings on top of some rice, which like in all of Japan is abundant.

I remember the first time I had it on a trip to Okinawa over Christmas with three friends who were studying with me in Kyoto. On Christmas Eve, we arrived in Naha on a warm day and stretching our legs, found our stomachs to be in need of sustenance. On the main street of Naha, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and obvious American influences, the first place we saw offering food was a small cafe or bar with a sign out front "Taco Rice." After polling the group, we decided to go inside and ate a large hearty meal that was simple, delicious, and reminded us of home.

Recently, however, I rediscovered it in Kyoto in a cafe that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Sarasa on Tominokoji somewhere between Oike and Shijo. Their taco rice is much more delicately done than the simple one I remember having a few years ago in Naha. What I like most about their dish is the cheese baked over the rice and the chili powder dusting the top of the lettuce.

My variation is a close approximation of Sarasa's, with the addition of fried onions and garlic mixed into the steamed rice. The result is pure taco, with a subtle reminder that I'm still in Japan. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine-aji no Na no Hana

March 25, 2006

na no hana wine

Brocolli rabe in wine sauce

With the first huge load of vegetables from my former host mother's overabundant garden out in Kameoka came a bunch of na no hana (broccoli rabe), which I have never seen before coming to Japan. I guess I was stuck in a hole for years (aka college dining). The first time I cooked na no hana (with the sesame saba), it was too bitter to finish. I thought I would never have it in my kitchen again… until Okasan gave me a plastic bagful along with spinach, green onions, mizuna, etc. from her garden.  I hardly gave it a second glance and put it in the back of my fridge.

But such fresh, beautiful vegetables need to be eaten! They can't just rot in the fridge! And I also like to think of myself as capable of facing my food fears, so the na no hana came back out of cold storage after half a week. It was still crisp and the flowers in perfect condition. I really wonder how long this vegetable can last.

However, I wasn't about to follow Okasan's directions of boiling and putting a bit of soy sauce over them, because A) boiling takes out all the nutrients and makes vegetables limp, grey, and dull, and B) salt, which soy sauce has plenty of, seems to just enhance bitter flavors. Instead, I followed Julia Child's advice for all green vegetables… blanche them (boil very quickly) to bring but the vegetable's color and not to overcook them. And instead of soy sauce, I made a wine sauce based on Alanna's wine-glaze recipe, that has honey and soy sauce in it, the perfect balance of sweet for the bitter rabe, and a nice note of Asian flavor to make the dish work with dinner, a meal of ochazuke (tea poured over rice, recipe at a later date). Read the rest of this entry »

Ume no Hanami Salad

March 23, 2006

tomato fresh mozarella salad

"Plum Blossom" Salad

It's plum blossom season in Kyoto, but the rain graces the hills surrounding the city and drenches the streets. Being so busy, I haven't been to see the blooming trees at Kitano Tenmangu shrine yet. So perhaps to tempt the gods to give us some sunshine and me some free time, I made this salad yesterday.

Last summer in Hamburg, I made a variation of this almost every evening to make use of the delicious fresh mozzarella and tomatoes I could get at the neighborhood Turkish fruit store. And a few days ago, I found fresh mozzarella at my neighborhood supermarket. Yay Fresco for being so metropolitan!

So I made these little “scattered plum blossoms" on a field of red leaf lettuce. This variation of bite size pieces creates a wonderful compactly flavored version of the traditional recipe, and I used the fresh herbs of the season, dill and chervil and definitely not basil. Read the rest of this entry »