Another sushi bowl

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Everyone around us is sick. People at my office, kids at school – it seems the flu is going around. It’s in times like this that it’s so important to eat whole foods and veggies in every colour of the rainbow. I’m convinced that the extra servings of veggies helps us fight off infection.

This bowl was inspired by sushi – it’s not the same as my previous sushi bowl recipe – this one has roasted tofu, sweet potato, bok choy and king mushrooms. I’ve included the veggies from all our favourite sushi rolls. We crumbled nori on top but only remembered after I took the photos and we had dug in. These are the flavours we love so the meal disappeared quickly!

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My son’s bowl has cubed roasted tofu, sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, grated carrots, avocado and sesame seeds over white rice.

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My daughter’s bowl has the same but also includes bok choy. The tofu was marinated in a couple tablespoons of white miso, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of sesame oil. I let it sit in the marinade while the oven preheated to 350 F and then just poured it all on a cookie sheet and cooked it, flipping once, for about 20 minutes. They’re savoury and delicious.

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The grown-ups had spicy king mushrooms as well. The recipe is from The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East: 150 Asian-Inspired Recipes–from Soba Noodles to Summer Rolls. They had a spicy sauce that was really nice with the rest of the meal.

This kind of a meal really works well with kids who like to keep their flavours separate. Everything may be touching (this can be an issue) but it’s easy to pile in only the foods you know your kid will eat. It’s nice to encourage new foods but every meal doesn’t have to include a challenge to overcome. This meal has lots of variety and points of entry with kid-friendly foods (cucumber, shredded carrots, avocado, sweet potato, white rice).

Miso ginger eggplant with braised brussels sprouts, squash and edamame

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Yesterday’s okonomiyaki didn’t quite satisfy my craving for Japanese food so here’s another meal with the familiar flavours of Japan but with local ingredients. The only thing authentic on this spread is the eggplant so we’ll classify this as a dinner inspired by Japanese food.

Miso eggplant was one of my favourite menu items in Japan. The eggplant is buttery smooth and the miso sauce is salty and full of umame flavour – it’s another one of those meals that I tried many times to make at home without quite getting it right. It’s also one of those dishes that often came with fish flakes as a topping. And though I wasn’t vegan when I lived in Japan, I was always quick to scrape those off the eggplant if I hadn’t managed to communicate my desire to have my eggplant without them.

This is a popular dish in Japan – and it’s really easy to make at home and you don’t have to worry about whether the waiter understood your request for no fish flakes.

Two long Japanese eggplants are halved, scored and brushed with oil before being baked, face-down at 400 for about 20 minutes. I should mention that it is important to use Japanese eggplants for this meal. I haven’t tried to make it with Italian eggplants but the cooking times would be completely different and I don’t know how it would work. It’s best to save the Italian ones for eggplant parmesan.

While the eggplants are cooking, mix the following ingredients into a smooth paste:

  • 1/4 cup of white miso
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • grated ginger (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp water

When the eggplants are done, flip them over so the interior is face up and brush the tops with the miso paste. Put the eggplants under the broiler for about four minutes until the paste is caramelized. Sprinkle the top with black sesame seeds.

These are really salty and flavourful so they’re best served with white rice. On the side, we had braised brussels sprouts (I baked them in the oven with 1/3 cup of water, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp mirin, and a minced clove of garlic). Squash (the kids had theirs with vegan butter and brown sugar because that’s the only way my son will eat it). And edamame.

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My kids love edamame. The little green spread is an edamame spread with ginger, miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and a bit of water to help the blender out. The kids didn’t like it as much as I had hoped so I’ll be tweaking the recipe or just giving them their edamame plain. Why mess with something that works!

Okonomiyaki and teriyaki tofu with rice

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My husband and I met in Japan when we were fresh university graduates looking for adventure and well-paying jobs. I lived in Osaka for the better part of the year but when the choking heat of summer came, I didn’t want to live in the dry, dusty city anymore. It’s not just in Osaka that I feel this way in the summer, in Canada, the summer heat feels like a punishment to be endured until the weekend comes and I can escape to the countryside.

I moved to the West coast of Japan to a smaller town steeped in historical tradition called Kanazawa. The climate in Kanazawa was quite different than what I had grown used to in Osaka. It was wetter and cooler so that a common saying we heard from our students was though you may forget your lunch, don’t forget your umbrella.

In summer, it was very hot and humid and in the winter, there was often slushy snow that could stick around for a couple of days. In Osaka, if it snowed, it was a rarity and would most likely melt with the rising of the sun.

My husband and I taught at the same language school and it turned out we both had Mondays and Tuesdays as our days off. We also had a wanderlust and were up for trying just about anything new. We explored the region and its cuisine on bikes, would take short train trips into the mountains for picturesque hikes or longer train rides to destinations known for their hot springs or more challenging hikes.

As I said, Kanazawa is known as a town where the population loves its traditions and I took classes in whatever was available to a foreigner with a weak grasp on the language. I learned about ikebana (the art of flower arrangement), took lessons on the koto (a Japanese string instrument), used traditional methods to guild chopsticks in gold leaf, visited the wooden houses where Geisha used to live, visited the samurai district, attended tea ceremonies, learned paper crafts and visited the famous Kenrokuen regularly (which has been ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan).

Not ones to stay in the same place for long, we moved back towards the Osaka region after having lived in Kanazawa for several months. We settled in the countryside in Nara prefecture. Once again we had a hub from which to explore parks, onsens (hot public baths) and hiking trails.

We lived in a very small town this time surrounded by rice paddies and we encountered few foreigners in this isolated region. I worked for a company that supplied native English teachers to the school board so every working day was an adventure. I was given a new school or destination every day. I didn’t know how old the kids would be that I’d be teaching or how many classes I’d teach that day. By this point, I had learned enough of the language to get by without a translator.

I’d hop a few different modes of transportation and either someone would meet me to take me to a school or I’d find my way on foot, and being blonde and blue eyed, they knew why I was showing up at their door. Someone at the school (probably the vice-principal) would usher me from class to class where I would play games and read stories to the children. It was a fun job without much responsibility.

The whole point of this trip through my memory is that yesterday, my son said he’d like dinner pancakes for dinner. And so, I thought of okonomiyaki. Something special about Japan is that it’s a country with so much culinary history. In cities that are so close together it’s hard to know when you’ve left one and entered another, each city is known for its unique cuisine.

Here in Canada, everything is set apart with wide open spaces and cities are distinguishable more for their landscape than their culture. We share similar cuisines and culture across the wide country with only subtle differences. (Maybe other Canadians would disagree?)

In Japan, each city has its flavour. Literally. So if you want the best okonomiyaki, you go to either Osaka or Hiroshima. Okonomiyaki are savoury pancakes (also referred to as Japanese pizza since you can change the toppings). They are made with cabbage and an eggy dough, covered in a sweet brown sauce, topped however you like it and often drizzled with Japanese mayo (I could write a whole post about Japanese mayo – I’m not a fan) and heaped with fish flakes (I also never liked the flakes).

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We’ve made okonomiyaki many times at home but not for many years. I’ve recently tried a few recipes but they weren’t authentic. Last night, I tried this one. It was good but I’ll be tweaking it a bit next time to come up with one that is a closer match to my memories of the okonomiyaki we ate regularly.

In my mind, it should be thicker, heartier and they need toppings. I made these small and thick to ensure they cooked properly and because I wasn’t ┬ásure if the kids would like them. It was only when we went to eat them that I remembered what was missing. I’ll keep you posted if I’m able to come up with a good match now that my memory has been stoked. And I know the kids are on board! The next batch will be the size of our plates and won’t require anything on the side.

The okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is quite different and includes noodles. But for me, real okonomiyaki is the Osakan variety.

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We had the okonomiyaki with white rice and tofu teriyaki – which was nice. We skipped the mayo, didn’t have any toppings and didn’t even try to replicate the fish flakes – ewww!