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The Ballad of Narayama film posterOn Wednesday I made my first bento in almost two months… I had a movie date in Amsterdam with my friend Loes. We went to a special viewing of the classic 1983 Palm d’Or winner The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama bushikô), a film by Shohei Imamura. Last week was the Dutch première -yes, after 30 years!- and there are only a handful of screenings.

The film tells the story of Orin, a 69 year old woman in a rural hamlet of late-1900s Japan. It’s tradition, or rather law, that inhabitants reaching the age of 70 go to the top of the mountain (Narayama) to commit obasute: death by starvation, to limit the amount of mouths to feed. The eldest son is supposed to carry his mother on his back to her resting place. But Orin is still very strong and healthy…

The Ballad of Narayama is an unusual movie: at the same time pretty much “in your face” as well as burlesque — the latter possibly to soften the hardships of life that are shown. But it’s also something I’ve come across before in Japanese cinema. Isn’t the sometimes caricatural play not reminiscent of kyōgen theatre and kabuki? Anyway, I enjoyed myself regardless of the slow pace. The many images of nature are gorgeous and it’s interesting to witness how life in a poor Japanese country village may have been in another age. I was touched by the way Orin’s son was torn between his unwillingness to let his mom go, and not wanting to shame her by refusing to go along. His difficult journey into the mountains felt like a period of mourning and Orin’s first-born carrying her to her death mirrored the process of her giving birth to him. The cycle of life.

Title roll Ballad of NarayamaThe title of the film refers to a song about Orin’s life stage made up by her grandson in the beginning of the story (wintertime), recurring several times until The End, on the threshold of another winter.

Contemplating this I seem to have a theme going in my life at the moment. My current book is Wild by Cheryl Strayed, relating of her experiences hiking the Pacific Trail Crest (PCT) in her early twenties, a few years after her mother died. I’m totally absorbed in the story and can’t wait to read on.

But first it’s time to get back to the subject of this post. I was travelling to the cinema at dinner time so I’d eaten a hearty lunch earlier that day and made myself a simple dinner bento to have on the train.

Ballad of Narayama Bento (06-03-2013)

From top to bottom

  • Aubergine caviar with corn kernels, Italian crackers and walnut spread.
  • Lemon macadamia cupcake with lemon frosting (recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), more crackers, dried apricot and baby fig.
  • Cucumber salad with mini plum tomatoes, olives, radishes, chives, a cheezy dressing (recipe from Bryanna Clarke) and hemp seeds sprinkled over.

It was GOOOOD! I hope to have more bentos and nights like this. :)

Submitted to What’s for Lunch Wednesday #145 and Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking.

Cover Dromen van China / The China Lover (Ian Buruma)

Last week I promised to share my thoughts on my first read of 2012: Dromen van China by Ian Buruma, or The China Lover (‘Dreaming of China‘) as it’s originally called. This edition is translated to Dutch by Eugène Dabekaussen & Tilly Maters.

I prefer the Dutch title to the English because more than anything, The China Lover seems to be a story about feeling at home in a place that isn’t — and may not even exist. I think all book lovers can relate to that?

It’s a historical novel in three parts, all set in different time periods, revolving around Yoshiko Yamaguchi a.k.a. Ri Koran/Li Xianglan: a beautiful, Manchurian-born Japanese screen star. She is not the main character of the book, but a centerpiece in the lives of three male protagonists. These men share another love: cinema, turning The China Lover also into a story about film.

Strangely enoug the book is not really about China but about the development of Japan and the country’s positioning in the world throughout the decades of the mid 20th century.

It starts in the 1930s with Sato Daisuke, a Japanese ‘information broker’ in Manchukuo. Manchukuo was an under ‘The Last Emperor’ Pu Yi established Japanese puppet state in Manchuria — really an aggressive occupation of Chinese territory. Daisuke falls in love with China (and its women) and believes in creating an ideal state through cinema as he feels more at home here than in the ‘straightjacket’ Japan.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi is his protege: by his hand she starts working as an actress & singer. The movies in Manchukuo are mere propaganda, meant to help give Manchukuo its shape and to sway the Chinese in favour of their Japanese occupiers. Therefore Yoshiko Yamaguchi must keep her Japanese nationality top secret and pretend to be Chinese under the stage name Ri Koran, or Li Xianglan.

The second part of the novel is set in post-war Tokyo. The story is told from the perspective of an American GI, Sidney (‘Sid’) Vanoven, who falls in love with Japan. He becomes a film reviewer and befriends Yoshiki Yamaguchi in that capacity. The starlet even goes to the US where she reinvents herself as Shirley Yamaguchi.

In this part the big screen is again used for propaganda, this time by the American occupiers: to impress democratic values on the Japanese people. Feudal samurai stories are no longer allowed. But cinema is also an escape from reality; not because of glamour, but by looking at folks in similar situations. There is no need to wallow in unhappiness when you can cry freely for the misery of fictional characters.

Photo of Ri Koran (Yoshiko Yamaguchi)The book closes in the 1960s-1970s with Sato Kenkichi, a soldier of the Japanese Red Army fighting the Palestinian cause, imprisoned in Beirut. Starting out as a ‘pink’ (porn) movie assistant he later gets to work for a TV show with.. Yoshiko Yamaguchi as presenter. Even after their paths take different directions, Yoshiko still travels the world bringing news of oppressed peoples and their leaders. Film is used in this section as a medium for atonement, as well as propaganda.

All three men tell their story looking back from an uncertain time in the ‘present’. That their names are similar cannot be a coincidence and it probably means that this isn’t really about them, but about the growth of Japan as a nation. It can also explain why this book is called The China Lover, after its first protagonist: Sato Daisuke. He’s the one infatuated with China, and his surname, Daisuke, can even be translated as ‘favourite’ or ‘I love it’. At first I didn’t understand why this book would be called after him but now I understand that although the separate narrators are different (showing consecutive phases in Japan’s evolution), they are also the same.

Besides, he is not the only one who loves China above all places.. that also goes for Yoshiko Yamaguchi.

Embracing The China Lover?

So, did I love The China Lover?

I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story. Buruma takes his time explaining the setting of the first part (which was needed as the history of Manchukuo was completely unknown to me), introducing many characters — some of which have more than one name.* I’m not familiar with Chinese names and places and for the first time I understood a complaint I heard several times about David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I’ve read quite some JLit and at the time I couldn’t accept that people had trouble keeping the Japanese characters and places apart… Now I can. ;)

But the most serious drawback of this section was that the narrator didn’t really sound Japanese or Asian to me.

* Just like Yoshiko Yamaguchi a.k.a. Ri Koran, Li Xianglan, Shirley Yamaguchi and a literal translation of her Chinese name that I forgot. She’s even got more names that aren’t mentioned in the book!

So ‘the China part’ was giving me most trouble. But in the following pages I also felt at times that the author wanted to include everything into the story; even Idi Amin, Ghadaffi and Yasar Arafat got covered. Isn’t that a bit too much?

About the second part of the novel I like how you know immediately there’s an American speaking by the use of a military acronym in the first sentence (GOMIP = Geen Omgang Met Inlands Personeel). This character is probably closest to the author, who’s been an American in Asia for several years. That’s probably why the narrator of this section felt much more true.

In regard to the translation I was sometimes bothered when sentences were confusingly long and would have been better constructed in a different order. It may not be a major issue, but it disturbed my ‘flow’ and increased the already present flaw that the story was at times was hard to follow because of all the information to absorb. Next time I hope Buruma takes the trouble to narrate a story in Dutch himself. ;)

Considering my interests in Asia (specifically Japan), cinema, feminism and globalism, and the fact that the book is broad and quite entertaining, it seems strange I was not swept of my feet by it. So I guess reading another novel by Ian Buruma is not high on my priority list (though his book about the Theo van Gogh assassination piques my interest). But I came to learn new things about Asian and Western history and was triggered to look up facts about Manchukuo and Yoshiko Yamaguchi, now Yoshiko Ōtaka. Did you know she’ll turn 92 in 3 weeks?! During her active years she took up politics and was a member of parliament for 18 years.

What I am really excited about is the fact that my favourite movie director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, is said to be planning a feature film about the life of this many-faced woman. Now that’s something to look forward to!

Chinese Literature

Chinese Literature Challenge 2011 button

The China Lover has been in my possession since its year of publication (2008) but I never got around to it, even though I stacked it on my readathon pile several times. Thanks to Chinoiseries’ Chinese Literature Challenge I finally picked it up!

I was surprised to find that a book with this title wasn’t really about China. Only the first section of the book is set in Manchuria, or Manchukuo at the time. It is an important section of the book but as I related above, I had a little trouble getting focussed with all the unfamiliar names, places, political and historical setting. I’m still not sure whether that (small) problem lies with me, or with the author. I have learnt something about a time and place I had no knowledge of whatsoever and feel wiser now. ;)

With this review I just managed to accomplish my goal for the Chinese Literature Challenge. Next time I’ll try to aim a little higher!

Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction Challenge portrait buttonThat I had started 2012 with a historic novel made it easier to enter the Historical Fiction Challenge on Historical Tapestry and Eclectic Reader Challenge on Book’d Out. It is not a genre I’m much used to, and being able to cross off one daunting book from the challenge list is always a good feeling.

As I mentioned with the Chinese Literature Challenge, I have learnt some interesting facts about historical people and places. I like that very much and look forward to reading more historical fiction. Although I wasn’t convinced that the first narrator was Asian, all the characters felt true to life — and alive. I could not differentiate between truth and fiction, which seems a good thing?

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2012 button

Now I’ve got one more historical novel to go for the ‘Out Of My Comfort Zone’ level in the Historical Fiction Challenge, and 11 more (other genres) as an Eclectic Reader…

To Be Continued!

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. November’s mission is to share ‘Five Japanese Favourites‘.

I guess we’re all sorry that this will be the last mini challenge for a while. But we have a fun time to look back upon and as I joined in the first challenge, I couldn’t miss the last! As a ‘tribute’ I decided to list my five favourite Hello Japan! topics for this task!

5 Favourite Hello Japan tasks!

Hanami 2009 in Japanse kersenbloesemtuin

The Hello Japan! mini missions started in 2009, shortly after I stumbled upon In Spring it is the Dawn. Tanabata’s blog struck a chord with me and has been one of my favourites ever since. I consider her a friend, even if she lives far away and we’ve never met. ;) Now that she’s moving, I missed the chance of meeting her in Tokyo — but no doubt there will be another chance somewhere else in the future! ;)

Looking back, I really feel like sharing my five favourite Hello Japan! mini challenges.

Looking at this list I seem to like challenges that A. fit exactly in my comfort zones (dôh) and B. leave room for interpretation. I regret that the topics actually relating to Japanese culture didn’t make it into my top-5. It doesn’t mean I don’t like these, because I do! Like Temples and shrines of Kyoto and Japanese flora.

There are also four (nope, not five ;) challenges I desperately wanted to do but didn’t get around to.

If you’re interested, here are all the Hello Japan! mini challenges I participated in!

I’d like to end with a huge THANK YOU!!! to our generous host Tanabata who thought up this challenge and kept it going for so long. Each time she awarded a fitting prize to one of the participants — and althought the missions would have been just as much fun without them, I’d be lying if I denied these were an incentive. ;) So kudos Tanabata!!!

November 1st Bento #161
Here’s the bento I had on November 1st to celebrate World Vegan Day. Apologies for the bad pic: quinoa seems to be camera shy.. ;)

Left tier
Quinoa salad with tomatoes, cucumber, spring onion, corn, bell pepper and more on a bed of lettuce. Cute red paper container with orange-basil tempeh as salad topping.

Right tier
Radish, fig, half a kiwi fruit, another kawaii container from Japan (sakura print) containg nutmix for salad (sunflower seeds, pepitas, pinenuts and pecans), apple bunny (usagi ringo) and cinnamon almonds.

The almonds had sweated and gave my apple a sweet spicy taste — nom!

Lots of proteins in quinoa, tempeh and nuts! :)

Now where did I get those nice new paper foil containers? My friend MaaikeB and her family went shopping for me in Japan! Here’s a picture of the goodies they brought back. I’m one happy grrl!

Goodies from Japan!

Find more bentos at Shannon’s What’s for Lunch Wednesday  (week 75).

This food-related post is also submitted to Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking!

Spring birthday gift with origami flowers

In april I wrote about getting reacquainted with origami. Remember I made some flowers to decorate a present?

Some of you asked how I did it and I decided to make a video… Let me tell you: that’s easier said than done! ;) But I’m going to present my 7-minute amateur film anyway, since this month’s mission for Hello Japan! is to create some origami. And who wouldn’t want to be eligible for that awesome prize consisting of kawaii origami paper and droll geisha bookmarks?

If you’re familiar with the art of paper folding, you may want to know that we’re starting of with a bird base (of which the well-known origami crane is created), folding it into a ‘small kite’.

And if you’re an origami newbie and I’m working too quick for you — or the video is too vague, knowing this will enable you to search for additonal instructibles on the web. ;) But try and watch this first!

I have also scanned the instructions I originally used myself. They’re in Dutch so I will redirect you to some English sources and roughly translate the part I couldn’t find online.

It’s best to choose some flamed origami paper for this flower.

  1. Start with a square base with the coloured side of your paper down.
  2. Continue to make a bird base.
  3. Follow the instructions accompanying the picture below.
Instructions for Origami flower
  • Hold your bird base in front of you with the open point downwards.
  • Fold the ‘wings’ down to make a small ‘kite’ shape.
  • Now unfold the whole figure!
  • Using the same creases, fold the coloured part inwards and flatten the paper. You’ll get a 33° pyramide shape; I guess you’ll really have to watch my video for this to understand.
  • Slightly open all four sides and curl the leaves outwards with a chopstick or pencil.
  • You’re done!

Have fun!

Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task relating to some aspect of life in Japan.

Hello Japan! mini challenge logoHello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan.

MAY‘s mission was ‘Mystery and Mayhem‘: to enjoy a Japanese mystery story. And I did, but never got around to telling you about it. Until today! :)

My reading comfort zone is literary fiction. But every once in a while I’m in the mood for some suspense. A bookcrossing copy of All She Was Worth, by de Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe (translated by Alfred Birnbaum), dropped into the mailbox to meet my needs at exactly the right time.

Cover All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe)All She Was Worth can be read as a straightforward detective story about the beautiful office girl Shoko Sekine who goes missing the night after her fiancé informs her the bank has turned down her request for a credit card. Police inspector Shunsuke Honma, single parent of a 10 year old boy, is asked to conduct the search.

But this book contains more than just the solving of  a mystery. It’s an intelligent tale about [this is a spoiler so you will have to check out the remark below if you want to know], contemporary Japan and life in a big city (Tokyo). I learned about how different it still is today being male or female, and about the pressure on women to marry before their early twenties — or you’ll be considered a spinster and not worth much. Hm, rather sounds like the age of the Brontë sisters! But we’re in 1992, after the money bubble exploded. The story unfolds linearly from January 20th on.

To be honest, all the background on the credit-based economy of Japan was the only thing that made me zone out every once in a while. Miyabe does a good job explaining but I just wasn’t interested. For the rest All She Was Worth is a real page turner and I would love to read more about Inspector Honma; an imperfect but likeable human being to whom I could really relate.

There’s just one more thing I feel I should add. Although the crime(s) described in this book may be horrible, the narration doesn’t contain any ‘gore’ like one might expect from a Japanese thriller. So don’t let that keep you from reading All She Was Worth! And don’t just take my word for it. ;) It won the prestigious Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize, which is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

Original title: Kasha (火車)
ISBN: 0-395-96658-2
Publication date: 1999 (first publication 1992)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
I learned a lot about identity theft — how scary: it sounds so easy!
[back to where you came from]

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task relating to some aspect of life in Japan. This month’s mission is ‘Back to School‘: to learn something, anything, about Japan.

I’ve been getting reacquainted with origami. In my early teens it was one of my biggest hobbies that started when I discovered how to fold a butterfly on an Asian open air market. It was probably the first Japanese thing I really got into — not counting my father’s enthralling stories about his childhood in a World War 2 Japanese prison camp… :\

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in the art of paper folding, but I never stopped using my golden paper fir trees as Christmas decoration! Unfortunately I can’t show you ’cause they’re stowed away in the basement. You’ll have to wait till X-mas time! ;) Or ask Mr Gnoe whether it’s true.

Now that I’m having some kind of burnout, I’ve been looking for activities that are less intense than computer stuff, reading or watching movies. Enter: cooking, ‘gardening’ (on our small balcony), hiking & my old pastime origami. My brain is SO hazy I can’t remember a thing, not even how to fold the butterfly that I must have made a thousand times. So I started from scratch again by buying second hand copies of the instruction books I owned back in the days. Of course I had hung on to my multiple cute papers! :)

I’ve been learning how to do some of the old fav figures, but I had to learn something new for this month’s Hello Japan! challenge. Since I’ve also been looking into origata, the (related) art of gift wrapping, I here present the combined result: a spring birthday present with origami flowers I’ve never made before.

Spring birthday gift with origami flowers

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Edited to add: there’s a post up on Graasland explaining how to make these fancy origami flowers!
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As the gift is a book (Crossroads, by Niccolò Ammaniti), I also taught myself how to fold a crane bookmark. In Japan cranes are a symbol of longevity.

The mark is made of gold & blue paper: both colours symbolizing wealth. The feminine blue also represents self-cultivation, calmness and purity and pale blue is specific for April. The warm gold & cold blue tint are in harmony (yin & yang).

A present: novel & origami bookmark

But that’s not the only thing I’ve been learning this month… I also set my mind to learning how to count to ten in Japanese. I already knew how to get to eight, but now I’m trying to recognize the characters, know the digits out of order and to sum up to ten. And yes, I’ve got some proof! Listen to this. :)

1 t/m 4 in Japanese

I hope you’ve also contributed to April’s Hello Japan!? For each and every participant our host Tanabata is donating $6 (¥500) to either the Japanese Red Cross or — even more up my alley — Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue Support (JEARS)! No need to have your own blog, commenting on the challenge post is fine too.

I’ve already donated to JEARS but their work is so important that I hereby pledge to follow Nat’s example with the equivalent of €4,- per person. So please join us if you’ve got a chance!

Here’s why.

Shunbun No Hi

I don’t think people in Japan are feeling very celebratory after the disasters that struck the country this month (earthquakes, tsunami and serious trouble with the Fukushima nuclear power plants), but yesterday was a national holiday in honor of spring equinox, called Shunbun No Hi. It is a moment to reflect on our relation with nature, which seems only natural in light of the current events.

Stemming from Buddhist tradition, it is also a time to visit the resting places of ancestors, cleaning their graves and offering ohagi, sweet rice balls covered with red bean paste — it’s believed spirits prefer round food. :)

So when my plans got canceled yesterday morning while it was such wonderful weather, I picked up the Spring Equinox Bento I had quickly made the night before, packed my bag and put on my hiking boots. Destination? My father’s family grave. I hadn’t been there in a while so it felt really good to tidy up (yes, even scrub) and leave some spring flowers — in my country we usually don’t offer food to the gods or deceased. ;) And there was even someone there to greet me..! #MurakamiMoment

Murakami Moment: my ancestors' spirits coming to visit?

Afterwards I had planned to take a long hike but there wasn’t much time left, so instead I went in search of a small lake nearby to wait for Mr Gnoe. Together we went to the North Sea shore for a walk on the beach and to see the sun set. The sea is my mother’s resting place (sort of), so I had the most perfect day contemplating both nature & my ancestors. What a great way to start springtime! :)) But of course my thoughts went out to the people of Japan too.

Quick Spring Equinox Bento (#136)

Quick Spring Equinox Bento, 21-03-2011

As you can see there isn’t anything resembling a ball in my Monday bento, although there is some circular movement going on. ;) The only real round food I had were cherry tomatoes, but they had to make room for their tiny plum tomato siblings because these are smaller.

The main aspect of this lunch is my sunny tofu scramble in a night-blue cup symbolizing equinox: the day being exactly as long as night. It was my second time making tofu scramble and I ‘adventurously’ added some cumin and veggie BBQ sauce that was given away for free at the Asian store (nearing its expiration date). Nice.

Other foods:

  • Mixed salad with La Dolce Vegan!‘s Sesame Miso Vinaigrette
  • Switchback cut banana
  • The last bit of creamy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (recipe also from La Dolce Vegan!)
  • Italian scrocchi crackers
  • Grilled vegetables: zucchini & green bell pepper
  • Dried cranberries & apricot (sliced)
  • Cauliflower fox, oak-leaf lettuce & garden cress

On the side I also brought an apple, vegan sammy and a bottle of water.

Spring Equinox Sunset at Noordwijk aan Zee

Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. February’s mission is ‘Cooking Japanese’!

A while ago I promised you the recipe for Japanese sesame-crusted rice patties from The Vegetarian Table: Japan cookbook by Victoria Wise. They’re easy to make and you can do that from scratch — or use leftovers like I did. Don’t you just love leftover cooking? It feels like spring cleaning! ;)

Ingredients

This is what you need according to the recipe.

  • 1.5 cups basic steamed rice, warm or reheated
  • 1 tbs flour
  • 0.5 ts salt
  • 1 large or 2 small scallions, trimmed and minced
  • 1 tbs sesame seeds, preferably black
  • vegetable oil for frying

And here’s what I used instead. ;)

Ingredients for Japanese rice patties

As you can see I took some wilting leek, a mix of black & (toasted) white sesame seeds and ordinary cooked (not steamed) leftover Surinaamse long-grain rice.

Preparation

  1. Place rice, flour salt and scallions (= everything except sesame seeds and oil) in a medium bowl.
  2. With wet hands, mix until well blended.
  3. Form the mixture into ca. 6 patties, rewetting your hands as you go to keep the rice from sticking. But if you’ve ever made sushi you know that, right?
  4. Sprinkle both sides of the patties with sesame seeds, set them on a plate, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour. I put them in the fridge and continued the next day.
    Japanese sesame-crusted rice patties resting before processing
  5. When ready to cook, pour a small amount of oil (more than enough to coat the pan but not so much as to float the patties), into a frying pan and heat until beginning to smoke.
  6. Place as many patties as will fit in the pan and fry over medium heat until lightly golden; about 1 minute. 
  7. Turn and fry until golden on the other side, about one minute more. Note: the frying took a little longer on both sides in my case and I actually turned them over twice.
  8. Transfer to a platter and continues until all your rice patties are fried.
  9. Serve right away.

Appreciation

Experimental Bento, 27-01-2011Now it’s important to look at the last remark. Serve right away. That’s not what I did: I left them to cool and put them in the fridge for next day’s lunch. So I have no idea what they taste like warm… Pretty dumb, I know. :\ And when I had them in my bento the following day, well, I admit they were a bit dry. This may have been caused by either one or all of next three options:

  • that I didn’t serve them right away,
  • refrigerating the patties, both before and after frying (refrigerating is known to dry-out rice, you shouldn’t really put sushi in your fridge either),
  • the use of Surinam long-grain rice instead of Japanese, which is supposed to be more sticky i.e. more moist.

Although the recipe didn’t call for an accompanying sauce I made a spicy soy-lemon sauce from the same cookbook for a dip. Alas, that was no real solution since it was too strong for the patties and took away their subtle flavour.

Will I make this recipe again? Yes, but only when I’ll be eating the sesame-crusted rice patties right away and/or have some Japanese rice to use up. I rather like Victoria Wise’s cookbook, so the fault probably lies with me. ;)

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New recipe(s) tried for the Whip Up Something New! Challenge!

Whip Up Something New! button

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Join Beth Fish’s weekend cooking with a food-related post!

Beth Fish Weekend Cooking logo

Oh nooooos! Reading up on some of the Weekend Cooking posts I stumbled upon a new challenge Margot mentioned: Whip Up Something New! *SIGH* I just updated my Challenge Page & sidebar yesterday and now they’re not up-to-date any more. Behind again! Yeah well, I had to join, right?

Whip up something new! logo

Whip up something new! is a monthly challenge for the many of of us who promise ourselves that we’ll try new recipes and yet we end up cooking the same old things. Although it was inspired by organising those ripped/cut out recipes, if you don’t have such a pile of paper to sift through, feel free to make something from one of your cookbooks or from the hundreds of fabulous cooking blogs. The point is to try cooking new things!

As I try some new recipes each month (often even weekly) this really isn’t much of a dare to me. The hard part is blogging them! I’m hoping this challenge will help me do just that. Fits perfectly with the newly set blogging routine of 2×4 hours I decided upon; I might even need to make a monthly topic schedule! LOL

Anyway, as January’s Hello Japan! mission is to try Something New as well, I thought I’d share  the white miso soup recipe I tried yesterday.

Miraculous Miso Soup

Undeserving picture of white miso soup

I made this dish to bring along to a friend’s house, where we were going to watch Chef of South Polar, about a Japanese cook making marvellous meals for a small research team on Antarctica. It was just a small offering compared to the work she put in making us vegetarian sushi, which even turned out completely vegan. One of the maki rolls contained kanpyo: sweet pickled pumpkin which I had never had before and tasted wonderful! It’s on my grocery list ;) and I’m looking forward to making onigiri with it!

Cover The VegetarianTable: Japan (Victoria Wise)

But on to the White Miso Soup recipe I took from The Vegetarian Table: Japan cookbook by Victoria Wise (page 41). It is absolutely delicious! I don’t think I ever want to try another recipe ;) The picture above really doesn’t do it justice.

I had made some parboiled carrot flowers and small bundles of mustard cress for decoration — which unfortunately dropped straight to the bottom of the bowls… :( Well, lesson learnt ;)

Ingredients
Serves 4.

  • 1 tofu puff sachet (aburaage) cut in 8 thin slices; can be substituted by 115 gr / 4 oz soft tofu in cubes
  • 825 ml / 3.5 cups vegetable dashi (Japanese stock)
    Note: prefab dashi usually contains bonito, which is a type of fish. You can sometimes buy a vegan version in health stores or well-stocked Asian stores, but why not make it yourself? I’ve used the recipe from Victoria Wise’s cookbook, freezing portions for quick future use. I have no doubt Maki’s on-line recipe is quite as good. Since I’m now out of dashi stock I might just try it myself!
  • white part of 1 small leek, sliced into very thin rounds and well rinsed
  • 5-6 tbs white miso
  • 12 strands (about 4 cm / 1.5 inch each) of lemon zest ~ use organic!
  • personal addition (optional): thin slices of carrot (pre-cooked), any kind of cress or finely shredded cabbage

Preparation

  1. Place the tofu slices in a colander and pour boiling water over them to rinse off the oil. Set aside.
  2. Optional: prepare other decorative ingredients.
  3. Put the dashi in a medium pot or microwave bowl and bring to a boil.
  4. Place the miso in a small bowl, add 125 ml (0.5 cup) of the warm dashi and whisk to smooth. Set aside.
  5. Add the tofu puff slices, leek and optional carrot to the dashi an simmer very gently for about 2 minutes until wilted.
  6. Stir in the miso, taking care not to let the liquid boil again.
  7. Ladle into soup bowls, dividing the ingredients equally.
  8. Garnish with lemon zest (and optional cress).
  9. Serve right away. Itadakimasu!

The easy part

This soup is really easy to make and it only takes a little time when you have all the ingredients at hand.

The hard part

The hardest part was cutting my slices of lemon zest, even though I have a special tool for it — called lemon zester ;) I guess I’ll need to practice! Since the soup is cloudy and ingredients sunk to the bottom, it also wasn’t easy to share them equally.

White miso

I’m submitting this post to January’s Hello Japan! because I haven’t used shiromiso before. At least not to my knowledge — although Mr Gnoe disputes that. There are three major types of this Japanese fermented bean paste: white (shiromiso), red (akamiso) and awasemiso; which is a blend of both.

For many years we’ve only had red miso (like I said: solely, as far as I can remember), which is much saltier. I’m now dying to try miso tamago with the more subtle flavoured shiromiso — the way it’s supposed to be made! Better do that before my ExtraVeganza pilot starts next week ;)

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