26 August 2007

Simplicity at its best

Beef Tataki - A deceptively simple dish that P prepared, quick and delicious.

When a Japanese-crazy friend calls for a dinner party with an East Asian theme, I'd have to be crazy to think that he'd make anything other than Japanese. I was more than happy to go with the flow, but like my previous post, there is a whole lot of cuisines that I've never tried my hand at and Japanese is definitely one of them. That means that while I was eager to try my hand at Japanese cuisine, I was apprehensive and a little worried about the outcome, especially since it was for a dinner party.

Of course, I took the opportunity (read: excuse) to trawl through Kinokuniya's collection for a simple and reliable Japanese cookbook. Since it was my first attempt at Japanese, I was not going to risk attempting overly complicated recipes. Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen caught my eye with its clean and fresh cover photo, and then with the tres simple recipes.

They are organised according to common Japanese ingredients, cutting across the various kinds of roots, seeweeds, noodles, fruits etc...... A short and informative introduction is also included for each ingredient - 'How it grows', 'Appearance and taste', 'Buying and storing', 'Healthy Benefits', 'Culinary Uses', before several recipes are provided featuring the said ingredient. I find this style extremely useful, especially when I was pushing my trolley through Meidi-Ya supermarket (a very well-stocked Japanese supermarket at Liang Court). When I saw an ingredient I was unfamiliar with, I just had to look for the section on it to find out how I could possibly use it.

I decided to prepare appetisers, and since they were all so simple, requiring so little effort and ingredients, I chose 6 to make in small quantities per person.

Diced Tuna with Yam Sauce, Simmered Daikon with Grainy Mustard and Miso, Edamame with sea salt, Nameko with Grated Daikon, Asparagus with Vinegar Miso and Grilled Octopus with Sweet Miso Sauce. Since there were so many items on the menu, I had to make the effort to be very organised with my mise en place. All the ingredients were grated, chopped, simmered, boiled and sliced beforehand. The sauces were also mixed to the exact proportions required in advance. They were all placed in neat rows to be put together on the dishes just before serving.

The two items which surprised me (with recipes later) were the Diced Tuna with Yam Sauce as well as the Nameko with Grated Daikon. I had initial reservations about the yam sauce, as it comprised raw grated yam dunked in a light dashi stock-based sauce and served with cubes of raw tuna. I was not sure how raw grated yam would taste, and frankly the texture of the grated yam was a little off-putting. However, the flavours and textures came together in a very surprising harmony.

As for the Nameko with Grated Daikon, the description of Nameko was not at all appealing to me. 'Nameko grow in clusters. A bright orangey-brown, they have a tight little button cap measuring 1-2 cm across that is covered with gelatinous slime... [they] are particularly appreciated for their slipperiness on the tongue, which is unique and worth experiencing.' After a truly horrific experience with Japanese fermented soy beans - Natto, I have become wary of 'unique' food, and have developed a greater aversion to all things naturally slippery (I still don't really fancy okra/lady's fingers). However, dipped into the sauce and served with very finely julienned (my grater could not yield the fine matchsticks of daikon I had envisioned for the dish), I actually found it yummy and could truly appreciate its smooth and slippery texture, which I realised should not be confused with sliminess.

In addition, as a result of my usual tendency of wanting to send guests home in an 'oh-my-god-I'm-so-full-I'm-going-to-explode' state, I also rustled up Chilled Soba with Salmon Roe and Avocado. All it took was some very quickly cooked soba (overcooked soba is quite terrible to stomach), avocada cubes tossed in a wasabi-soy sauce dressing, fresh salmon roe and a small drizzling of soba dipping sauce. As a modern take on cold soba, it was yet another great combination, which my guests also enjoyed thoroughly.

The dishes exceeded my expectations and now I cannot wait to try other recipes from the book, using more foreign ingredients like Gobo/Burdock and Kampyo/Dried Gourd Strips. I've taken chances with other cookbooks before and have been let down numerous times. But this book has renewed my faith that as long as I perservere, I will definitely uncover a few gems once in a while.

Simplicity at its best

Maguro no tororo ae / Diced Tuna with Yam Sauce

Serves 4


275g yam, peeled and grated

450ml dashi stock

5 tbspn soy sauce

1 tbspn sugar

1/2 tbspn mirin

400g fresh tuna, cut into bite-sized cubes

1/2 tsp salt

To Garnish

2 tsp wasabi powder mixed with same amt of water

2 spring onions, finely sliced into rings

1 sheet nori (dried seaweed), finely shredded (which I omitted)


Put the yam into a large mixing bowl.

Add the dashi stock, soy sauce, sugar and mirin and mix well.

Put the tuna in a separate bowl, sprinkle with the salt and pour int the yam mixture. Stir to combine.

Divide the tuna and yam mixture between four serving dishes and garnish with small mounds of wasabi, chopped spring onions and shredded nori.

Nameko oroshi/Nameko with Grated Daikon

Serves 4


110g nameko

200g daikon (Japanese radish), peeled and grated


2 tbspn rice vinegar

1 tbspn sugar

1 tbspn light soy sauce

a pinch of salt (optional)


Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, season and serve with a little of the dressing on the side if preferred.


Stephen said...

Wow, that meal looks amazing!

Anonymous said...

boss need any extra ingredients?=)

Anonymous said...

stephen> Thanks! I thought it was a beautiful meal made more beautiful by the company. =)

Slave> Yes! I'll email you the list of groceries for you to buy and put into my fridge ya. Since you're at it, clean my fridge too. Good slave.

clumsy said...

I just tripped onto your blog and it is gorgeous! The meal is especially mouthwatering too. I will be sure to be back often. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Hope you'll try some of the recipes I've posted too and let me know how it goes. =)