Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Japanese Dinner at Home

Tonight I decided to make a full traditional Japanese dinner, making everything myself except for the pickles and the dashi stock. I always feel so satisfied after eating a Japanese meal. Everything feels balanced and there is never too much of any one dish to make you feel like you need to go on a diet for a few weeks. I wanted to stick to tradition somewhat, so I made a typical meal of steamed rice, miso soup, some vegetable dishes, and then some teriyaki salmon and a bit of sushi.

(Note: normally you would probably not serve both sushi and the salmon teriyaki together in the same meal, but I just felt like having some.)

Inside Out California Rolls
(1 roll, 6 slices)

wasabi paste (optional)
pickled ginger (optional)
about 1 cup steamed sushi rice, at room temperature
rice wine vinegar (mixed with a pinch of sugar)
a few strips of avocado
a few strips of seeded cucumber
1 small crabstick, cut into thin strips
1 sheet of Nori (sushi seaweed)
sesame seeds

Ah the ubiquitous California roll. I absolutely love these. I have been making them for years and really, they are a lot less complicated than you might think. I am at the point where I think I could make these while half asleep, they are really that easy.

Squirt a tiny bit of wasabi paste onto a serving dish, add a slice or two of pickled ginger beside it. Set this aside for now.

Sprinkle the rice with a little bit of rice vinegar and toss gently to combine, spreading it out on a small plate. If your rice is still warm, let it cool a bit, unless you like soggy Nori.

Set out a small dish of cold water and lay the sheet of Nori onto a cutting board. Dip your hands into the water to moisten them (this helps keep the rice from sticking to you) and spread the rice over the nori in one flat layer, re-dipping your fingers as needed. The amount of rice is a guess - I usually just steam a bunch of it, and portion out a small amount to make a sushi roll with, saving the rest for fried rice the next day. Leave a tiny strip of Nori showing at one end (this will make it easier to seal the sushi into a log later).

Take some sesame seeds and sprinkle them over the rice. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the rice and then carefully flip the whole thing upside down. Now the plastic wrap should be on your work surface, and the bare side of the Nori should be staring at you, all green and crispy looking (unless you were impatient and didn't heed my earlier warning to let the rice cool down first; if you did, don't worry - I did my first try too and did I learn my lesson!).

Take your thin strips of avocado and lay them about 1 inch from one of the edges. It doesn't really matter which edge - choose the long edge if you like thinner slices, a short edge for fatter slices. Next lay the crab in a line, right next to the avocado, followed by the cucumber. (If you like, you can add a squirt of Kewpie mayo here or a little wasabi, I usually don't use either for this).

Lay another sheet of plastic wrap on top of a sushi rolling mat, or - if you have managed to misplace your mat like I managed to do today - just lay the plastic wrap on top of the sushi roll. It is a lot easier to use the mat and they usually are very inexpensive and pretty easy to find. In fact, consider buying two of them so you too can misplace one and still be able to make effortless sushi rolls. Remember that tiny strip of Nori you left exposed earlier? Dip your finger into the water and lightly dampen that strip. Using the plastic wrapped mat as a guide, start rolling up the sushi roll, staring with the side where you lined up your fillings. Just roll it over once, pressing gently but firm enough to make it stay in place. Continue rolling and pressing until you get to the end, resulting in a log shape. Remove the mat and all of the plastic.

Take a very sharp knife, get the blade wet to prevent sticking, and carefully slice the log into rounds. Place the cut sushi pieces onto the plate you set up earlier with the wasabi and the ginger. Serve immediately, or as soon as possible.

One more important note: I was all out of sushi rice today since I have been cleaning out my pantry of all ingredients before I move back to the US. I had to use Jasmine rice today and although I love the flavor, it really is not an ideal choice for making sushi, as it is very difficult to work with. I really recommend using sushi rice, it really makes things so much neater and easier.

Salmon Teriyaki

(2 servings)

2 salmon fillets
1 Tbsp sake
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin
1 pinch sugar
1-2 tsp oil

I was supposed to be following a recipe from the book Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat but I really didn't pay careful attention at all. I had already accidentally mixed the mirin into the marinade and said the heck with it, closed the book, and went with what I knew. It isn't as if teriyaki is all that hard in the first place. You make a marinade, let the fish marinate in it for about 15 minutes while your pan heats up, then cook the fish in a hot, lightly oiled pan for about 6 minutes, flipping once. You can cook it longer if you prefer, but I like my salmon to be only just cooked through, even a bit undercooked.

The book suggested making a marinade and then a separate sauce as well, but I just combined all of the ingredients into the marinade and cooked the marinade along with the fish. I thought this gave the fish a lovely color.

Quick Miso Soup
(serves 2-4)

400 ml dashi stock (or 1/2 tsp instant dashi powder mixed with 400 ml boiling water)
dried wakame, soaked for 10 minutes in cold water, then drained and squeezed dry
a few chunks of fresh tofu
1 spring onion, chopped finely, as a garnish, optional
1/2-1 tsp miso paste

Simply heat some dashi stock then whisk in the miso until blended. Just before serving drop in the wakame and the tofu, and garnish with some spring onions. Sometimes I don't bother with the wakame, or I add some cooked fresh baby spinach instead or some mushrooms. I have even been known to toss in a cherry tomato.

I don't usually bother to measure this terribly accurately, so I used the measurements from this video demo, since it is essentially the same recipe I use.

Some steamed rice to serve on the side, simply made in a rice cooker.

Wakame, Cucumber & Tofu Salad
(1 serving)

~1 tbsp dried wakame
1/4 cup English or Japanese cucumber, in wafer thin half moons
a pinch of salt
cold water
a few slices of fresh tofu, drained
sesame seeds

1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar

Place the wakame in a small dish and cover with cold water, allow to soak for 10 minutes. Place the cucumber slices in another small dish and sprinkle with pinch of salt, rub the salt into the cucumber lightly with your fingers, then cover with cold water. Let this soakd for 10 minutes as well. Drain each well, squeezing gently to remove the excess water. Set the cucumber, wakame and tofu slices neatly in a bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Mix together dressing and spoon over the salad right before serving.

Note: I very loosely followed a recipe in the Yo! Sushi cookbook for this salad.

Some Japanese pickled vegetables, from the Japanese market. Sorry, it isn't very pretty but it does taste good. It is nice to have a bite of pickle as a palate cleanser between each dish.


  1. What a deliciously refreshing looking meal Heather! I am impressed that you did all this for yourself! That salmon looks especially good!

  2. It looks complicated, but really everything is very easy to make, it just takes coordination and laying out everything in advance helps too. The only new thing I made was the salad, everything else I have made before and just try slight variations on.

  3. Wow- What a combination. That tofu salad sounds amazing. I love anything with tofu and Japanese food is one of my favourites. Always light and refreshing! Thanks for your comments- I look forward to following you! :)

  4. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, Sanjana :) I think yours is really good - so many things I'd like to try. This is one of my favorite meals to make, or at least, a variation on it. The tofu salad is really good - sometimes I just have that and some miso soup for a nice lunch.