O NASU and SHIO KOJI ( Eggplants cooked with shio koji)

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When I go to the grocery store, there are certain vegetables  I always purchase.

Lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, broccoli, peppers and sometimes mushrooms and green beans.

I always see big eggplants sitting next to zucchini, but I seldom reach them.

WHY?

Because they are too big!

I think they are really good in lagsania or eggplant parmesan, but when I think about Japanese dishes, I only come up with one dish, BEINASU no DENGAKU.

We call big eggplants  as BEINASU, literally means “American eggplants”.

This dish is “cooked eggplants with sweat miso sauce”.  It is delicious!

Maybe I would introduce that someday!

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Today I will introduce a dish using Japanese eggplants.

When I go to the farmer’s market, I sometimes find them, but it is difficult to find at regular grocery stores.

Japanese eggplants are relatively small like Italian eggplants, but the shape is thinner than Italian’s.

Japanese eggplants have thin skin, so you don’t need to take off peel.

The eggplants I got this time are from Suzuki Farm, and they are gifts with purchase.

When you purchase value pack at Suzuki Farm, you could get OMAKE (small giveaway)!

How nice!

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They have some scars, but they are as delicious as the regular ones.

By the way, I read an article about ugly produce.

The farmers used to compost them to landfill since  they don’t look perfect and not qualified as grocery stores’ produce even though they are as delicious as the regular ones.

Some farmers started donating those ugly vegetables, or selling to the restaurants where chefs don’t care what they look because they eventually turn into soup or mashes vegetables.

I am glad to know that they are saved!

Today I would like to save this a little ugly but  delicious vegetables in Japanese style.

I found this recipe in a Japanese magazine, and modified a little.

Here are the ingredients.

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  • 2-3 medium size of Japanese eggplants
  • bonito flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of shio koji
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 small piece of ginger
  • sesame oil

Let’s preparing!

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Cut eggplants in half in lengthwise.

Then,,,

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give slits diagonally, but not cut through.

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Eggplants have some strong AKU (harshness), so once you cut them, they get easily darken and they give dish bitter taste, so put them in water for about a few minutes to get rid of AKU.

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Then save them from water, and towel dry them.

Next prepare the condiments we use.

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I have already introduced SHIO KOJI several times.

They are salt with fermenting koji mold, and they have lots of UMAMI.

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It smells sweet and also it has a SAKE flavor.

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Also we need bonito flakes to get more UMAMI into the dish.

Let’s start cooking!

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Heat the pan and put generous amount of sesame oil.

As you know, eggplants absorbs oil well, so don’t hesitate ( forget about calories!).

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Put eggplants.

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Then flip over and cook both sides well.

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Meanwhile mix shio koji  and mirin with water.

Then, when eggplants are cooked,

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pour the shio koji mixture and,,,,,

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bonito flakes into the pan.

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Then cook this for a few minutes.

THAT’S IT!

How simple is that!

Take this from heat and cool it down.

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Put them in a container, and keep it in the refrigerator.

They are delicious in cold.

When you serve this, grate ginger, and put it on top of eggplants.

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Eggplants and ginger are a good match.

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Just grilling eggplants with soy sauce and grated ginger is also a delicious dish!

Next time when I go to the grocery store, let’s reach BEINASU (American eggplants) and cook in Japanese way.

Japanese Curry from RINTARO recipe

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I have already introduced Japanese curry rice  here.

I could repeat saying that CURRY RICE is one of our national foods, and many of us love it.

My husband is not an exception.

As I showed how to prepare before, it is very easy and simple to make CURRY RICE.

I believe many mothers rely on this magical food which every body loves when they can’t come up with any dinner ideas.

One day when I browsed magazines, I happened to find Japanese curry rice recipe.

To be honest, I have never made CURRY RICE from scratch since we have so many varieties of good curry roux.

The recipe was from a restaurant in San Fransisco, Izakaya Rintaro, and the restaurant was selected as one of the best new restaurants this  year.

When I find any JAPANESE LIKE recipes, I don’t buy it, but I though I could trust this recipe.

I read the recipe, and I decided to try it.

Here is the recipe from Rintaro.

Looks so delicious, don’t you think?

Even though we have many brands’ curry roux,  I believe this one is more Japanese, that’s why I wanted to make it.

What makes this curry recipe very Japanese then?

In Japan, some soba noodle restaurants serve curry rice, and their curry rice is very Japanese because in the most cases, they use DASHI ( fish stock ).

Then is this recipe using dashi?

NO.

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This recipe doesn’t require dashi, but they use very Japanese ingredients such as mirin, soy sauce, kuro sato ( picture above), and it is obvious they are the key.

Also they use a specific curry powder from S&B.

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I usually stock MY CURRY POWDER, but to make this curry very Japanese, I followed the recipe, and used this S&B curry powder.

S&B is a Japanese spice company, and this red tin curry powder was made in 1923!!

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The left is my powder and the right is from S&B.

When I smelled, even though they both are curry powders, they are distinctively different!

I love unique spices, so mine has more cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, fennel.

The powder from S&B is milder.

Their basic ingredients are turmeric, cumin, black pepper, orange peel, fenugreek,and coriander.

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About this recipe, I would like to mention one more thing.

They use potato starch to thicken the soup.

I thought I had to make roux with white flour at first like making gumbo.

Instead I made flour and potato starch mixture paste and put that at the end.

This method is very easy and very Japanese.

The curry gets lighter texture.

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Looks good!

Then let’s eat!

WAIT!

Sorry, I forgot to tell you one more important thing!

Rintaro put RAITA with this curry as relish.  I also made it and loved it, but that is not Japanese style.

What is Japanese style?

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RAKKYO and FUKUZINZUKE!

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Rakkyo is small onion pickles, and it is sweet rather than sour.

Somehow we always have this rakkyo with curry rice.

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Fukuzinzuke is also one of the Japanese pickles, and commonly used as a relish for curry rice.

t has daikon radish, cucumber, and lotus root and it also has sweet flavor rather than sour.

I think we only have fukuzinzuke when we have curry rice.

OK, so much for the information.

Then let’s eat!

HOW WAS IT?

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Of course, my husband enjoyed this very Japanese curry rice.

This is sweeter than the one using store-bought roux.

Next time I could add more spices in here. Maybe shichimi?

If you are interested in making very Japanese curry rice from scratch, try that recipe!

My advice?

I used extra lean meat for our health, but of course some fat makes this curry more delicious.

KABOCHA SQUASH! -KABOCHA NO NIMONO-

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In Japan, we often use the word “MIKAKU NO AKI” for describing the autumn , literally means “the season of the flavor”.

YES! 

The autumn is the season of the pleasure of the table!

I am sure nobody won’t disagree with that.

We have  sweet potatoes, chestnuts, matsutake (expensive flavorful mushrooms), ginkgo, grapes, pears,,,,

I repeat saying every season has its special flavor, but  I think the food of the autumn has more smell of its own ,and besides their warm colors make me nostalgic.

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I could say the same thing here in the US.

I think people’s minds might already go to Thanksgiving, but before that we have a fun event, Halloween!

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PUMPUKIN TIME!!

I was so amazed when I saw all the varaieties of winter squashes in front of grocery stores several years ago.

We don’t have that many varaieties in Japan.

However, I couldn’t find winter squash for me ,KABOCHA , in regular grocery stores 5 years ago.

I had to go to Asian grocery store to get one.

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Nowadays thankfully KABOCHA squashes are well-known, and I can find them everywhere!

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In Japan the word PUMPKIN indicates KABOCHA, and KABOCHA is the only winter squash we could purchase easily.

That is why they often appear on the table.

Today I will introduce very basic Japanese dish, using KABOCHA.

It is called KABOCHA NO NIMONO, simmered KABOCHA squash.

This is my mom’s regular, and hers is the BEST.

When I came back to Japan, I peeked of my mom’s cooking KABOCHA, and tried to steal her technique.

This is very simple dish, that is why a little technique matters.

I will try to reach her level.

Here are the ingredients and instruction!

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  • 1/4 medium size of KABOCHA squash
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of sake
  • 1 teaspoon of shiro dashi* (or salt)
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin

*what is shiro dashi?

Shiro dashi is a clear dashi soup stock concentration, made from light soy sauce.

The taste is more subtle than soy sauce, and since it usually made with dried bonito, round scad, sardine, and kelp, it has complete UMAMI flavor.  This is very convenient if you have one in your fridge.

You could dilute this with water, and you can have soup stock for udon noodle instantly, or you could use for variety dishes as an accent.

Now let’s cooking KABOCHA NO NIMONO!

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Oh, I didn’t like cutting KABOCHA.

It is so hard, and requires lots of power, don’t you think?

However, now I am excited in front of this hard skin vegetable because my friend introduces me KABO CHO!

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I purchased this special knife for KABOCHA in Japan.

The handle has soft grip and it fits my hand.

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According to the instruction, it is built for us not to need to use full power.

To make the most of it, I have to practice more, but ,,,

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it is much easier!

Thank you, KABO CHO!

OK. Keep going.

Today I only use 1/4 of a whole KABOCHA, but…

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scrape the all seeds.

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Even if you are not going to use a whole, it is better to take all the seeds once you cut because seeds are the reason the left gets spoiled fast.

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You could rinse the seeds and roast them for healthy snack,but today I say good-bye to them.

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Wrap tight with plastic warp (I double wrapped), and  keep it in the fridge.

You can use this in other time.  ( I like them in miso soup!  )

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Here is 1/4 KABOCHA.

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Cut off the head and the bottom, and,,,

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peel the skin , but not all of it.

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Like this.

I like the skin, and it has more vitamin and carotene.

However for KABOCHA to absorb the soup well, I need to peel part of it.

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Like this.

Each family has their own KABOCHA NO NIMONO recipe, and if you want very clear soup or you don’t like the inner soft part, you may want to wash, but I like that part because it absorb dashi soup well and tastes really good.

Besides like skins and seeds, it has more nutrient than the body.

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Then cut lengthwise by 2 inches thick.

Then,,,

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Dice them by 2 inches.

OK, we prepared them, let’s cooking!

NO!

There is one important thing left before cooking.

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Can you see the sharp edge?

We have to take this edge.

WHY?

Because when we simmer, the sharp part cooks fast and softens easily.

It makes soup thick and cloudy.

We say that NIKUZURE.

To prevent NIKUZURE, we need to cut the edges.

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Like this.

Of course,

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all the edges!

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This is a trivial work, but very important.

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All done!

Now we put them,

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in the shallow pot, skin side down.

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Then add water, just it covers 80-90% of each dice.

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Cook this in the medium heat, and when it starts boiling,

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add the sugar.

I use brown sugar, but you could use granulated sugar here.

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When we simmer anything, we need to add sweetness first.

If you add salty staff first, they don’t absorb the sweetness.

So add the sugar, and,

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sake first.

Then,if you have shiro dashi,

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add shiro dashi.

If you don’t have this, add salt.

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Close the lid, and simmer about 7~8 minutes until KABOCHA gets soft (insert the pick and make sure the softness).

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I think they are ready for the next step.

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Add mirin, and then,

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add soy sauce.

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Simmer without the lid, trying for KABOCHA to absorb all the soup.

As I mentioned above, each family has their own recipes.

Some of them like to leave some soup with KABOCHA, but my mom’s one doesn’t leave any soup.

That’s way they have strong flavor, and also even if they get cold, they are delicious.

Besides they are really good in a lunch box!

So, I take my mom’s way.

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I  used to be afraid of getting them scorched, but we have to be patient here.

A little more,,,,,

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A little more,,,,

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Almost there!

When you could see just a little bit liquid, turn off the heat.

The pot has residue heat, so the liquid will go.

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Smell so good!

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Simple and delicious!

This is the AUTUMN.

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Mom, I think I am reaching you a little bit.

I wish I bring this to my mom now.

Instead someone enjoyed this a lot.

OISHI!!  (DELICIOUS!)

I am going to put some in your lunch box then!

YAKITORI & Japanese seven spices

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Japanese food is getting popular now , so you might have known or even had YAKITORI already.

For some of you who don’t know what Yakitori is,  Yakitori is a Japanese style  skewered chicken (and sometimes vegetables).

After it is grilled, it is dressed in a traditional Japanese sauce which base is soy sauce, or salt.

If you have a chance to visit Japan, you could enjoy street YAKITORI  at the stands with SALARYMEN in suits after 5,6, 7 or 8 o’clock.

In Japan the workers sometimes don’t go back home straight, and hang out with colleagues, grumbling about their companies, drinking and eating Yakitori.

That is their relaxing moment.

I am not MEAT person, but I miss YAKITORI in Japan. Maybe I miss the smoke and its grilling smell.

They use SUMI (charcoal), so they are so flavorful like BBQ here.

TEMPTING!

So I can understand the men end up eating Yakitori at stands even though their families are waiting.

Sadly I don’t have a yard, so I can’t do grilling Yakitori with charcoal, but I do sometimes grill it in the oven.

Today I will introduce my in-home Yakitori.

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Here are ingredients you might want to prepare.

  • 1 deboned chicken thigh (please don’t replace with chicken breast)

In Japan we use chicken thigh with skin.  It is up to you.

  • assorted vegetables such as thick green onion, regular onion, green or red pepper, or shishito pepper.)

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(for sauce) (for 3-4 skewers)

  • 1 tablespoon of mirin
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • shichimi – Japanese seven spices

First soak the bamboo skewers in the water at least for 3-4 hours not to burn them during the grilling.

Cut the chicken thigh by bite-sizes, and prepare any vegetables by bite-sizes as well.

Then mix the ingredients of sauce together, and set aside.

If you want to have THICK sauce, you could cook them for a while until it gets thickened, but I use it as it is.

Skewer the meat and vegetables alternately.

OK, I confess.

Today I didn’t have enough time since my husband was coming back straight home (there are no Yakitori stands here!), I cheated.

I pan-fried a little before grilling to cook through fast, BUT please grill them from the beginning.

That is the right way.

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Now they are on a sheet pan. (It is better to use oven rack!  Again I cheated..)

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Then put the prepared sauce on skewered chicken and vegetables.

If you live in Japan,  every kitchen has a tiny oven for grilling fish, so we could use that oven for Yakitori.

We don’t have that convenient thing here, so put and broil them in the regular oven with the oven door ajar.

YES, the door needs to be ajar.

Here are the reasons of that.

1) Keeping the door ajar helps vent steam, so the oven environment stays dry and hot .

2) Keeping the door ajar  prevents an excessive heat up of the oven.  If the door isn’t ajar, the food gets burned before being cooked completely.

However there is another opinion.  Some people say if we open the oven door during broiling, the smoke comes out of the oven and we will  be in trouble ( I hate that loud siren noise for my four legs kids.)

When I broil skewers from the beginning in the oven, I put some water in the pan sheet under the rack, so even if the fat drops from the meat, it doesn’t cause smoke.

Today I cheated and pan-fried beforehand as I told you before, so I don’t need to worry about uncooked meat.

All I want is just some smoky flavor, so I keep the oven door ajar, and  I put the sauce every 1-2 minutes and finish grilling them.

THEN,

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TA-DA!

Can you see the red powder on them?

That’s SHI CHI ME!

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Literally it means SEVEN FLAVORS.

Like Chinese five spices, it is Japanese seven spices.

A typical blend may contain, coarsely ground red chili pepper, ground sansho (This spice is so tasty.  If you have had UNA JYU (Eel with rice), you may know this flavor.), roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger, and aonori (a kind of seaweed).

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My husband will get excited again when he sees Yakitori on the table, and won’t regret heading straight from the work to this table!

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By the way, I sometimes prepare Yakitori in OBENTO,

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to prevent him from stopping at stands beforehand.

Enjoy Yakitori at home!

HOME MADE CURRY POWDER!

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OK.

We Japanese, or at least my husband, love Japanese Curry Rice, but I think curry flavor itself attracts us.

I  use curry powder for anything such as stir-fry, egg salad, tuna salad, or even for seasoning for Japanese style fried chicken.

It goes well with anything, and some spices in curry powder are really good for health,too!

The proportion of spices is different in each (store-bought) curry powder, so when I purchase it, I sometimes don’t like the balance of the blend of spices.

THEN,,,,,

WHY NOT MAKE YOUR OWN?

It is quite easy if you have spices in your pantry.

You can make it as you like!

There are many curry powder recipes, but I will introduce mine today.

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Here are the ingredients for the blend.

(yield about 2/3 cup)

WHOLE SPICES

  • 3 1/2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • 4 teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 3 inches cinnamon stick (crushed)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of  cardamom seeds (without pods)
  • 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 12 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper (crushed)

POWDER SPICES

  • 1 teaspoon of fenugreek
  • 5 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons of thyme
  • 3~4 bey leaves (tore)
  • 3/4 teaspoon of paprika

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  1. Put all the powder spices in a bowl together and set aside.
  2. Set the oven at low and roast the whole spices in a small pan.
  3. When it gets aromatic, put the powder spices in a pan at once and mix them and turn off the heat.
  4. When it gets cool enough, put all the spices in a mill and grind.
  5. Put the curry powder in an air tight container and keep it in a dark cold place. (You can use the powder soon after you make, but the flavor settles well after 2-3 days.)

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If you like heatness, you could increase the amount of cayenne pepper.

Depending on the dish I make, I put some spices additionally each time.

ENJOY YOUR OWN FLAVOR!

YUZU KOSHO , another Japanese traditional seasoning

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Condiments and seasonings are very helpful for making everyday’s OBENTO.

Even though I only have one kind of meats in the fridge, I could make various types of OBENTO by the help of condiments.

Starting from Shoyu (soy sauce) Miso, Rice Vinegar, Shio Koji, sometimes going to Chinese flavor, such as Chinese five spices or oyster sauce, I can expand the possibility to entertain my husband.

Today I used one of my favorite traditional condiments, YUZU KOSHO.

I think many of you know what YUZU is.

YUZU is recently recognized by many chefs as a citrus which has a distinguished flavor.

Many Japanese people love this unique flavor.

However I can’t find YUZU here, so instead I use YUZU KOSHO to get YUZU flavor.

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YUZU KOSHO is normally sold in a glass jar or in a tube like this.

KOSHO usually means ” black or white pepper” in Japanese、but YUZU KOSHO doesn’t contain any black or white pepper.

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It is a paste made from chili pepper, yuzu peel and salt, which is then allowed to ferment.

It is usually used as a condiment for hot pot dishes in winter, or some people put this in miso soup.

It is also delicious with sashimi.

Just a little bit of YUZU KOSHO works good (be careful!  It is very salty!), so I put a little inside the chicken I used for OBENTO today.

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I put  YUZU KOSHO on the chicken thigh, and then put some veggies such as green onion and orange color pepper.

Rolled it and sautéed and steamed it with Sake to make sure the heat went though the chickens.

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If you could find YUZU KOSHO in any Asian grocery stores, just try it.

If you like YUZU flavor, I believe you love it!

In this chicken recipe, you could put MISO paste instead of YUZU KOSHO.

I think that would be also delicious!

ONIGIRI

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I showed how to cook white rice in the previous post, and now I have rice in front of me, so I could make rice balls for my husband’s lunch!

A rice ball is called ONIGIRI in Japanese and it is very typical lunch or picnic foods like sandwiches in here.

I enjoy preparing any lunch for my husband, but I specially like making ONIGIRI because I feel like I put all my heart and spirit to this tiny ball when I am rolling rice in my both hands.

ONIGIRi is very easy and simple to make, but like cooking rice, there are some points to make good ONIGIRI.

Today I will show you how to make them.

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You could make just simple ONIGIRI with no stuff in it, but usually people put something in it.

Basically you could put anything you like, but the popular stuffing for ONIGIRI are bonito flakes, tuna, baked salmon, baked cod roe, or even Tempura and Karaage (Japanese style fried chicken) and SPAM!

Today I will put UMEBOSHI (pickled plum) which is also one of the popular stuffing for ONIGIRI.

I think most of the families in Japan have UMEBOSHI in the fridge all the time.

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This is UMEBOSHI.

UMEBOSHI is thought to have the effect of killing bacteria, so during the humid summer in Japan it often shows up in lunch box.

When we make ONIGIRI, we used to use bare hands, but these days we use plastic wrap for not spreading bacteria from hands.

BUT!! 

I don’t like using plastic wrap because I can’t feel I am making it. So,,,,,

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I use rice vinegar instead of just tap water.

YES, we need to wet our hands before making ONIGIRI.

For that water, we could put just a few drops of vinegar.

That wouldn’t change the flavor of ONIGIRI.

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Also we need to set salt in front.

There are special salt only for ONIGIRI in Japan, but you could any kinds of salt.

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Now you have cooked rice, some stuffs for ONIGIRI, vinegar water and salt.

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I mix UMEBOSHI and BONITO flakes together.

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When UMEBOSHI is too sour, I put a little bit MIRIN, honey or sugar, but this huge UMEBOSHI is not that sour, so I only add bonito flakes.

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Just a little bit of salt, ,,,

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put that salt on the wet hand,,,,

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YES, just a little bit.

Then rub your palms together to spread the salt evenly.

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Put the half of prepared rice on the palm, then make a small indentation in the middle of rice.

(Rice has to be a little warm.  Once rice gets cold, it is not easy to manipulate)

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Put UMEBOSHI mixture or other stuff in the middle of the rice, and

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cover with  remained rice, then,,,

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Now we need RHYTHM!

I am a right-handed person, so a base hand would be a left hand.

I use my right hand for shaping ONIGIRI to be triangle.

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Once you make triangle shape with both hands, then you have to roll ONIGIRI to make another top angle to be sharpen. Don’t grab rice hard!  Otherwise rice gets sticky.

We have to remain air between the grains of rice.

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Roll ONIGIRI in hands like dancing!

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I usually don’t look to my hands.

I look straight and just thinking about my husband (who is beside me this time for photograph)

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Quickly roll ONIGIRI.  Once it gets a triangle, it is done!

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TA DA – !

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Now if you have NORI (seaweed), it is better.

Nori is familiar for you these days thanks to Sushi culture here, but some of you may have not used it before.

You could find Nori in the Asian section of any grocery stores today.

This black seaweed sheet has a front and a back.

The smooth surface side is a front and the rough surface is a back.

When we wrap something with Nori, we have to use the rough side to come inside and always the smooth side is outside to see.

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So, on the rough side, I put ONIGIRI in the middle of Nori.

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Then just fold it.

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Nori’s flavor enhances when it attaches with ONIGIRI.

Ohhh,,, Now I want to eat this , not giving this to my husband.

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After it gets cold, we could wrap with plastic or aluminium foil.

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There sells various wrapping bags in Japan.

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We could make those kinds of Onigiri like Seven Eleven’s at home!

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When I go back to Japan and stay at my parent’s home, the last request to my mom during the stay is always to make ONIGIRI for me to have them in a train to the airport.

Also one or two more extra Onigiri for me to enjoy in the plane and for my husband to be able to enjoy in the US!

Making Onigiri is very simple step as you see, but every Onigiri tastes different depending on a person who makes.

The pressure the person gives to rice, the quantity of salt,,,,

My husband loves my Onigiri, but for me the best Onigiri is my mom’s.

I could never reach to my mom……