Friday, May 22, 2009

Buri To Daikon No Nimono (Simmered Japanese Yellowtail and Daikon)

Japanese yellowtail (buri) and daikon simmered in mirin, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. The garnishings are Japanese parsley (mitsuba) and slivered ginger.

After a bit of a hiatus from the blogosphere, which may be extended due to other commitments, I want to share a really tasty recipe that brings back to me vivid memories of Japan. In Japan there is a kind of yellowtail fish called buri, which, oddly enough, I seem to remember being introduced to in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, about fifteen years ago -- impossible, probably, and yet whenever I have buri I flash back to the Vietnamese countryside and the woman at the campus canteen with whom I had a meal plan of sorts. Maybe I'm finally losing it...

In any case, buri to daikon no nimono is a great recipe for any time of the year, but it's particularly an excellent wintertime dish. Perhaps I say this because I remember having it in Japan as snow drifted past the windows like pure white macaroons, and to keep warm everyone huddled around the kotatsu surrounded by cups of hot sake. There's really no better atmosphere for this dish, but hey, we can't always be so lucky, right?

This is truly an amazing dish. The daikon becomes tender with cooking, absorbing the mix of flavors like nothing else can, and pairs extraordinarily with the sweet, deeply flavorful yellowtail. This is also one of those dishes that tastes even better on the second day, after the daikon has had additional time to be transformed by absorbing more of the sauces and yellowtail juices.


3 yellowtail (buri) fillets

2 medium daikon

4 slices ginger root


Water from washed rice

Ginger, cut into long strips

Mitsuba leaves (Japanese parsley), chopped

This dish uses two sauces, which are similar to each other but not identical.

Sauce #1

1 teaspoon dashi powder

1/2 cup sake

3 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

Sauce #2

1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoons sugar


1. Cut fish into large bite-sized pieces. Salt pieces lightly on both sides and let sit for 30 minutes.

2. Pour boiling water over fish, then rinse with cold water.

3. Peel daikon. Cut into 1 or 2 cm wedges. Boil in enough water (from the washed rice, preferably) to cover daikon, adding a tablespoon of rice if you'd like, for 15 minutes. After boiling, drain daikon. Let it cool, then pat dry with paper towel.

4. Pour into a pot the sliced ginger and sauce #1 and bring to a boil. Add fish and cook for 15 minutes.

5. Add sauce #2 and simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Add daikon. Cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until light brown. (At this point, taste the daikon to make sure it has absorbed the cooking flavors.)
7. Serve with ginger strips and chopped mitsuba.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Okara Chicken

Homemade tofu and grated ginger with a side dish of okara chicken

Cooking with okara -- the pulpy byproduct of tofu and soy milk -- is a great way to make your meals more nutritious. Okara has been used in many Asian cuisines for centuries, and vegans and vegetarians in the West have recently started to embrace it as a source of protein and calcium.

There are a variety of ways to cook with okara. If you have access to it, or if you make your own tofu and aren't sure what to do with this byproduct, there are lots of dishes you can either supplement with or base on this foodstuff. For anyone interested in cooking with okara, make sure to visit Here you'll find great ideas for using okara in your breakfast (okara cherry almond muffins anyone?), lunch (how about smokin' okara chili?), dinner (how does okara lasagna sound?), and even for snacks and appetizers (e.g., okara hummus?).

The following okara recipe is normally made as a side dish rather than a main course. There's a grittiness to the okara, and while it's generally a flavorless addition, some people find it a little bitter. In this dish, it definitely changes the texture of the cooked chicken and vegetables.

You can sometimes find okara at Asian markets, but it's often hard to find because its shelf-life is so limited. Okara is best used on the same day you make it, though it should be okay to cook with for the next couple of days as well.

1 stick gobo (burdock root)
3 shiitake mushrooms
4 whole carrots
1 lb boneless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 cups okara
1/4 cup sake
1 1/2 teaspoons dashi powder
2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons soy sauce
Green onions, chopped

1. Wash gobo about 5 times, then peel and cut into small slivers. Soak in a bowl of water for 15 minutes. Drain.

Slivered gobo soaking in water

2. Soak shiitake for 30 minutes. Chop finely.

3. Peel carrots. Cut into narrow strips and then chop into small pieces.
4. Cut chicken into bit-size pieces.
5. Heat oil in wok. Cook chicken until you can smell the meat cooking (should be slightly browned).

6. Add carrots, mushrooms, and gobo. Cook for 3-5 minutes.

7. Add okara, sake, dashi powder, and water. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

You can use as much or as little okara as you like. We used the entire amount that was produced from making tofu.

8. Add sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender.

Okara chicken, ready to serve and eat!

9. Garnish with green onions. Season to taste.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Homemade Tofu, Soy Milk, and a Vietnamese Ginger-Tofu Dessert

In Honolulu, I regularly pay more than I can stand for 12 oz. blocks of tofu and half-gallon containers of soy milk. After tax, the former usually costs around $3 and the latter around $6. I easily go through this much tofu and soy milk in a week, which means that in a month I pay around $40 for these two products alone. I decided to look around Honolulu for tofu molds but came up empty handed. After my fruitless two-week search I headed online, and in a matter of seconds I found a Connecticut-based company that carries what I was looking for. Although the mold cost $40, and shipping an extra $20, I figured that if the product wasn't a scam I could recoup that total in a couple of months.

Well, my tofu mold arrived yesterday afternoon. I was taken aback by how small it was, but was pleased that it came with several packs of nigari -- a coagulant derived from sea water and also known by the unappetizing scientific name of magnesium chloride -- and two cheesecloths for straining. (The mold, incidentally, is made from hinoki, or cedar wood, and its fragrance is like an early spring walk in the woods.) In the evening I went shopping for organic soybeans. (For those living in Honolulu, I found these at Kokua Market, 2643 S. King St.) A pound of these hard little yellow beans went for a mere $2.19. I splurged for a pound and a half and then raced home to soak my fresh new beans in water overnight.

I awoke at 6:30, and bam, it was tofu time! I unfolded the directions that came with my tofu mold and in 90 minutes I'd made two slabs of fresh tofu. What's more, it was delicious! Admittedly, it was too soft to cook with, but its softness made it perfect for a dessert I learned to love in Vietnam that uses hot ginger syrup (see below). There are many Japanese desserts that use soft tofu as well, so you can guess what I'll be eating after my meals for the next week or so. And not just that, but one byproduct from tofu-making is okara, which can be used in various dishes, too. (But more on that in a different post.)

With my second batch of beans I made soy milk. And one reason I'm sharing this is because I want people to know that they, too, can make soy milk without a tofu mold, and it's very easy to do.

Homemade Soy Milk Directions

1) Soak about a pound (400 g) of soybeans in water for at least 8 hours. (In the winter, soaking times are almost twice as long.)

2) Put soaked soybeans in a blender along with 3-4 cups of the soaking water.
3) Blend until the soybeans and liquid have reached a smooth, milkshake-like consistency.

4) Boil 7 1/2 cups of water. (I might recommend more water than this, as the soy milk that results tends to taste fairly strong.) Pour blended soybean mix into water and stir constantly until boiling again. Turn off heat and let mixture cool for about 3 minutes. Then simmer mixture for 7-8 minutes on medium heat.

5) Pull cheesecloth over colander and set colander in a large bowl or on a deep pan.

Pour mixture into cheesecloth and strain soy milk from solids. Keep the solids (okara) for use later in cooking.

A colander isn't necessary when you strain out the soy milk. I used
one in case I inadvertently spilled anything.

This is the okara, or the solids that remained after I squeezed the soy milk from the cheesecloth. Okara is incredibly nutritious and should be used within about two days.

If you only want to make soy milk, pour the liquid into a container and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Since the taste will be a tad bitter, you may want to dilute the milk with water, or add sugar, or both.

A cup of fresh hot soy milk

If you want to make tofu, however, continue on to step 6.

Directions for Making Tofu (continued from steps 1-5)

6. Add nigari coagulant (or substitute with 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice) to soy milk and let sit for around 30 minutes. You will immediately see the soy milk curds separate from the whey. The more you stir it at this stage the firmer your tofu will end up. (I need to remember this for next time...)

7. Pour mixture slowly into your thin cheesecloth-lined tofu mold.

Fold the cheesecloth over the tofu and fit the top of the mold over this. Distribute between 2-5 pounds of weight over the top and let it sit for 15-30 minutes until the water is pressed out of the tofu.

Remove the weight and top of tofu mold, then unfold and peel your cheesecloth from the tofu.

Agh! It's hideous, I know...but it tasted good. I'm hoping that future
attempts will teach me how to make it turn out looking better.

Place tofu into bowl or Tupperware container and cover with cold water.

For whatever reasons, homemade tofu doesn't last nearly as long as the store-bought variety.
Ideally, you should use fresh tofu within just a few days of making it.

Mine turned out quite soft, which meant that I really couldn't use it for cooking. With the soft tofu that I had, I decided to make a simple dessert that I used to enjoy straight from the pots of sidewalk vendors in Vietnam. It's called đậu hủ gừng, which is basically soft tofu with a sweet and spicy ginger sauce served warm. You can make this with any soft tofu available at your local store or market.

Đậu Hủ Gừng

2 cups water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into 1/4-inch wedges and crushed
12 oz. soft tofu

1. Add water, sugar, and ginger to a small pan, stir to dissolve sugar, and boil for 12 minutes. You can add more ginger and boil longer to give the sauce more of a kick. You may also want to include more water to dilute its sweetness.
2. Pour sauce hot over tofu and enjoy.

A bowl of soft tofu in a sweet, hot ginger sauce

Many of you have probably heard of recent studies indicating that tofu eaten in middle age may increase the likelihood of dementia or even brain shrinkage in later life. This may or may not be true. And until scientific research definitively bears one or the other truth out, I'll continue to eat tofu and drink soy milk, the more so now that I'm able to make it at home.

For anyone interested in the tofu mold I bought, the product can be found at

And for a video on how to make tofu (or soymilk), this may prove useful:

As a final word, I just want to mention something about the cost savings I'm expecting to enjoy with my new tofu and soy milk making capabilities. Without looking into this all that carefully, I'm guessing that I spend close to $450 a year on these foods (roughly $9/wk), but I should be able to get by spending less than $150 (less than $3/wk) for the soy beans necessary to make them myself. Saving $300 isn't going to change my life, but it is a nice way to save a little money. And what's more, in a year I'll end up with close to 100 pounds of uber-nutritious okara to cook with, all as a byproduct. I'm not sure if so much okara is a good thing or not, but I guess I'll find out soon...

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