Not just sushi

Kosher Japanese cooking? Not as difficult as you might think.

Japanese food 311 (photo credit: KINUE IMAI WEINSTEIN)
Japanese food 311
(photo credit: KINUE IMAI WEINSTEIN)
Making Japanese food kosher is easier than you think. When I lived in Jerusalem in the 1970s, my friend Mariko Tsujita and I wrote a Far Eastern cookbook based on ingredients available in Israel. In those days, there were no sushi restaurants or Japanese food markets.
When we couldn’t find Japanese foods, my friend and I adapted or substituted local ingredients to simulate Japanese cooking. For example, we substituted turkey for pork, carrots for bamboo shoots, and sherry and sugar for mirin (Japanese cooking wine). Our reliance on local ingredients made it easy to observe the rules of kashruth, and in Japan, as in China and Korea, there isn’t much dairy in the cuisine.
Here in the United States, where I have lived since 1980, there are many Japanese food stores in the large cities and an abundance of ingredients imported from Japan. However, the nearest Japanese supermarket to the New Jersey suburb where I live is 45 minutes away.
Accordingly, I have been improvising Japanese cooking with ingredients that are available from near-by supermarkets.
Quite often, as a matter of convenience, I find myself using the same recipes I used in Israel.
As a result, I have realized that my friends who keep kosher kitchens can cook perfectly kosher Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dishes without special ingredients and the extra expense. So don’t be discouraged by the fact that there aren’t many kosher items directly imported from the Far East at the local Oriental food market.
All you need to cook kosher Oriental meals is kosher soy sauce, which is readily available. I am delighted to see many more kosher Japanese ingredients available today, such as tofu, miso, nori (seaweed), wakame, kombu, hiziki (all dried sea vegetables), agar, soba (buckwheat pasta), udon (wheat-and-rice pasta), and even mirin (rice wine for cooking).
These recipes will add exotic variety to your dinner table. If you wish to create a touch of an Oriental atmosphere to go along with the menu, there are a number of changes that you might make in your dining style. For instance, you can use Japanese utensils and serving dishes. You can also try do-ityourself table cooking, such as sukiyaki, on your room table.
Chopsticks and small pottery dishes with sauce and pickles also add authenticity to the table. Or you can prepare several main dishes of Chinese-style Japanese cooking and place them in the center of the table or on a lazy Susan so that guests can help themselves.
The recipes in this book can be put to a variety of uses, ranging from a simple lunch to a multicourse dinner. By controlling the portions, many of the recipes can be used as main dishes, appetizers, or snacks.
Some of the recipes can be combined with Western dishes.
Sukiyaki in Japanese means “cook what you like,” and it is fun to sit around the sukiyaki pot on a chilly winter’s evening, cooking, talking and, of course, eating.
You’ll need either a cast-iron skillet a few inches deep on a portable electric or gas stove, or an electric frying pan placed in the center of the dinner table.One option is to cook in a frying pan in the kitchen and serve the pan on a hot plate on the dining table.
Serves 4
✔ 1 kg. boneless rib eye steak
✔ 2 leeks
✔ 4 scallions
✔ 4 white mushrooms
✔ 4 shiitake mushrooms (or a quartered portobello mushroom)
✔ 1⁄3 head of cauliflower or broccoli
✔ 1 carrot
✔ 2 Tbsp. rice oil or vegetable oil
✔ 1⁄2 cup soy sauce
✔ 1⁄3 cup sugar
✔ 1⁄2 cup water
✔ 1⁄2 cup white wine or sherry
✔ 4 eggs beaten (optional)
Slice the beef as thinly as possible (or ask your butcher), and cut into bite-size pieces. It is easier to slice the meat while it is slightly frozen. Slice the leeks and scallions on the bias into 5-cm.-long pieces. Trim the edges of the mushroom stems.
Cut the cauliflower or broccoli into bite-size pieces. Slice the carrot into 1⁄2-cm.-thick bits.
Arrange the meat and vegetables attractively on a large platter, and place on the dinner table.
Place the cast-iron skillet on a portable gas or electric stove, or electric frying pan, in the center of the table. Heat the oil in the pan, and put some of the meat and vegetables in the pan. Pour a corresponding amount of sauce into the pan.
Use a medium to high heat to prevent water issuing from the vegetables.
When the food is done, diners take meat and vegetables from the pan with chopsticks and put them in their own small bowls. Traditionally, Japanese dip the food in a slightly beaten raw egg placed in an individual bowl.
Fill the skillet with more meat, vegetables, and soup that can cook while everyone is eating.
Serve with plain rice.
serves 4
✔ 4 matzot
✔ 1 large onion
✔ 1 green pepper
✔ 4 eggs
✔ 21⁄2 Tbsp. soy sauce
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ Sour cream to top
Boil 6 cups of water in a pan.
Break the matzot into pieces, and soak in the boiled water for a minute or two to soften, and drain.
Cut the onion in half, and slice it very thinly. Cut the green pepper into thin strips.
Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and mix well. Heat the oil (1 Tbsp. at a time) in a frying pan, and sauté the mixture like a pancake.
Serve hot with sour cream.
 serves 4
✔ 600 gr. chicken breast or boneless thigh meat
✔ 2 leeks or 1 onion
✔ 1 green pepper
✔ 8 white mushrooms
✔ 8 cherry tomatoes Sauce:
✔ 2 Tbsp. sugar
✔ 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
✔ 3⁄4 tsp. salt
✔ 1⁄4 cup white wine Cut the chicken meat into 3- 4 cm cubes.
Cut the leeks into pieces 4 cm. long. (If an onion is used, cut into 8 sections and then separate each into 2 pieces.) Cut the green pepper into 8 sections.
Prepare 8 skewers. On each skewer, alternately place chicken pieces, pieces of leek (or round onion), sections of green pepper, and mushrooms.
Grill all the skewers at the same time while basting them with the soy sauce mixture at least 5 times during the grilling. (If you run out of sauce, make more using the same proportions.) When the chicken and vegetable pieces are almost done, add cherry tomatoes on each skewer and grill briefly (only 1–2 minutes).
Serve with the rice.