Japanese flavors

Make a traditional Japanese meal in your own kitchen.

Chef Laura Weinman making glazed salmon salad; with Valerie Hwang. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Chef Laura Weinman making glazed salmon salad; with Valerie Hwang.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
At the Japan Food Showcase, a series of cooking demonstrations designed to introduce new Japanese products to American food professionals, we sampled a variety of delicious dishes.
One of our favorites was eggplant with spicy-sweet miso sauce, which was taught by chef Laura Weinman at the New School of Cooking in Culver City, California. To make it, Weinman roasted eggplant pieces with oil so they would lightly caramelize. She then finished baking them with Miso Teri-Spicy, a teriyaki miso sauce flavored with hot red chili peppers, garlic and ginger (See recipe). The representative of the 90-year-old company that makes the spicy sauce, Kawakami, told us that due to the American influence on Japanese tastes, people in Japan now like food that is spicier than before.
“Teriyaki sauce,” wrote Debra Samuels in My Japanese Table, “is the Swiss Army knife of Japanese sauces.” The sauce, which Samuels makes from mirin (sweet rice wine), sake, sugar, soy sauce and ginger, “makes anything on which it is used as identifiably Japanese" (See recipe).
Valerie Hwang, who assisted Weinman and translated the comments of the Japanese presenters, told us that she makes the sauce for Japanese-style eggplant from one part miso, one part sugar and one-and-a-half parts soy sauce. To this mixture, Hwang – who is Chinese and has lived in Japan – adds chili paste; she garnishes the dish with green onion. If she were to make the dish the Chinese way, she would stir-fry the eggplant pieces and make a sauce from the same ingredients, except the miso.
When making dressings and other sauces, said Weinman, teriyaki sauce can replace some of the acid and some of the oil. She used teriyaki sauce flavored with yuzu (Japanese citron) to season a dressing for baby greens made with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and fresh ginger, and to glaze grilled salmon that was served atop the salad.
It’s not surprising that rice and products made from it were important to the menus of the Japan Food Showcase.
“The Japanese meal is balanced around rice,” wrote Samuels. “One of the many Japanese words for a meal is gohan, which also refers to cooked rice, indicating just how central rice is to the Japanese diet.”
At another class, chef May Hennemann served sautéed mackerel on sushi-style rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar and salt and wrapped it in lettuce leaves. For her salad of charred green beans and toasted almonds, she prepared a reduced tomato-juice vinaigrette flavored with shallots, rice vinegar and mirin (See recipe).
To make the savory Japanese pancakes known as okonomiyaki, Hennemann added brown rice flour to the usual wheat-flour batter for extra flavor and a slightly crisp texture. She made two kinds of pancakes – one with seafood, the other with green onions embedded in the batter – and served them with a spicy dipping sauce made of ketchup and chili paste. Japanese pancakes can be flavored with meat, fish or a variety of vegetables, and are popular in Japan as street foods and in restaurants specializing in them (See recipe).
Anyone who likes sushi is familiar with wasabi, a piquant, green, horseradish- like flavoring. At one class, the instructor used wasabi paste to add zip to buttery mashed potatoes. In her book, Samuels makes a dressing of wasabi and soy sauce to serve over simply cooked vegetables.
To accompany our tastings at the cooking classes, we sipped matcha tea – sometimes hot, sometimes chilled. Weinman used the aromatic green tea powder to flavor chocolate-glazed gluten-free doughnuts made from rice flour. At other classes the Japanese tea added a green hue and good flavor to other sweet treats with universal appeal – shortbread cookies, panna cotta (a creamy Italian pudding) and milkshakes.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
Laura Weinman made the sauce for this dish using spicy miso teriyaki sauce. To duplicate the sauce’s flavor, she suggested mixing miso, teriyaki sauce and chili paste. Eggplant is perfect for this dish, said Weinman, because it is “a luscious kind of sponge” that absorbs the flavor of sauces well, but the same sauce would also be good on fish or beef.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
■ 6 small eggplants, or about 900 gr. (2 pounds)
■ 1/3 cup vegetable oil
■ 2 Tbsp. miso
■ 1 Tbsp. chili paste flavored with garlic
■ ½ cup teriyaki sauce (bottled or see recipe below)
■ 5 green onions, cut into 4-cm. (1½-inch) pieces
■ 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Cut off the eggplant caps, halve the eggplants lengthwise and cut them in 2.5-cm (1- inch) pieces. Put them in a roasting pan and toss with the oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the miso and chili paste in a bowl. Stir in the teriyaki sauce. Add the sauce and the green onions to the eggplant and bake for 10 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature, garnished with sesame seeds.
As this sauce cooks, “it thickens slightly to a glossy mixture,” wrote Debra Samuels. “Brush this sauce on chicken, beef, fish, vegetables and tofu for a lustrous glaze.” Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several months.
Makes 2½ cups
■ 2 cups mirin (sweet rice wine)
■ 2 cups sake (rice wine)
■ 6 Tbsp. light brown sugar
■ 1 cup soy sauce
■ 6 slices ginger, smashed
Combine mirin and sake in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. (This will cook off the alcohol.) Add sugar and cook until dissolved. Add soy sauce and ginger and boil for 1 minute. Turn heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce will begin to thicken. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 25 minutes, until sauce thickens to a light syrupy texture.
This recipe is adapted from My Japanese Table. At festivals, wrote Samuels, “vendors mix piles of shredded cabbage, green onions, neon-red ginger and other tidbits into a batter and onto giant gas-fired griddles.” They top the pancakes with a piquant sauce and mayonnaise, and shower them with smoky-briny bonito flakes and shredded seaweed. She serves the pancakes with Japanese bottled Bull-Dog Sauce or with quick tonkatsu sauce (See Note). At the Japanese cooking demonstration, we enjoyed the pancakes with a spicy sauce that May Hennemann made by mixing 3 tablespoons ketchup with 1 tablespoon sambal oelek (a chili paste).
Makes two 15-cm. (6-inch) pancakes
■ 1 cup (150 gr. or 5.3 ounces) all-purpose flour
■ 1 cup water
■ 1 egg white, beaten until foamy
■ 2 cups (150 gr. or 5.3 ounces) shredded cabbage
■ 55 to 85 gr. (2 to 3 ounces) chicken breast, thinly sliced into 7-cm. (3-inch) lengths (optional)
■ 1 Tbsp. pickled red ginger (optional)
■ 4 green onions, cut in half lengthwise and then into 4 pieces
■ 2 large eggs
■ 2 Tbsp. oil
■ 2 Tbsp. dried seaweed shavings (aonori)
■ 2 Tbsp. dried shredded bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
■ Quick Tonkatsu Sauce (see Note)
To make the batter, combine the flour, water and egg white in a large mixing bowl; divide the batter between two medium bowls. Put half the cabbage, chicken, ginger and green onions into each bowl. Make a well in the center and break an egg into the well.
Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until just hot, about 45 seconds. Lightly mix the egg and filling of one bowl together until just blended. Pour the entire batter into the skillet to make one pancake. Cook on low-medium heat for 3 minutes, until the bottom is golden. Flip the pancake and press all around to flatten; cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the pancake 2 more times, cooking it for 1 minute on each side or until done.
Repeat with the remaining bowl.
Serve the pancakes cut in wedges, with sauce, seaweed and bonito flakes.
Note – Quick Tonkatsu Sauce:
Combine ½ cup Worcestershire sauce with 2 Tbsp. tomato paste, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. grated apple (skin on) in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 1 minute. Simmer over low heat 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/4 cup water.
For this salad, Hennemann flavors the dressing with tomato juice that she simmers with sugar until concentrated, then blends with shallots, lemon juice, rice vinegar, mirin and oil.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
■ ½ cup tomato juice
■ 1 tsp. sugar
■ 2 shallots, minced
■ ¼ cup lemon juice
■ 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
■ 1 Tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)
■ Salt and pepper to taste
■ ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
■ 225 gr. (½ pound) green beans, trimmed
■ ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
In a small saucepan, simmer tomato juice with sugar until reduced by half. Let cool. In a bowl combine shallots, lemon juice, rice vinegar, mirin, reduced tomato juice and salt and pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in ½ cup oil. Heat a grill pan to high. Toss green beans with 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper. Grill beans, turning occasionally with tongs, until tender and charred in spots, about 8 minutes; if they are browning too much before they are tender, reduce the heat. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Serve sprinkled with almonds.