In talking about Japanese food culture, we cannot just simply reduce everything to the discussion of food. Placement, harmony within the home and the entire experience surrounding the meal all play an important role.
In Japanese culture, orchids represent refinement. In the past, they were considered to be rare and generally reserved for the wealthy and privileged few, and therefore, even today, are considered a symbol of things that are rare and precious. White orchids are seen as being especially auspicious, because white is the color of purity and cleanliness, the color of the gods.
This is one of two orchids that hold a special place on our kitchen window sills. It has been in full bloom for several weeks and we wanted to share it with you.
‘An evening Orchid
Hidden in its scent,
The flower’s whiteness.’
A haiku by Yosa Buson (1716-1783), translated by R.H. Blythe
Since we introduced the principles of Washoku in our last post, we wanted to experiment with a couple of recipes, seeing how easy it would be to adhere to these guidelines. We do admit to loving most Asian foods, with the possible exception of raw fish and some seafoods, but do not lay claim to being experts in Japanese cuisine. As a result, this necessitated a trip to our local libraries, pretty much emptying all the resources available on anything Japanese. We found several treasures hidden among the stacks, but Harumi Kurihara’s book on Japanese Cooking (Harumi’s Japanese Cooking), stood out from the rest. We are told that in Japan, she is considered the national equivalent of ‘Martha Stewart.’ She pretty much runs a cooking and lifestyle empire, appearing on television shows, owning house ware shops and a chain of restaurants throughout Japan. She is a modern Japanese woman, but her cooking is rooted in traditional Japanese cuisine, with an an easy to duplicate method for anyone in the rest of the world.
We selected one of her recipes to share with all of you, since it appeared to us to include some of the Washoku guidelines. The recipe is for Steamed Chicken Salad with Sesame Sauce (Mushi Dori no Gomadare Salad), and is very easy to make. Don’t let the seemingly complicated references to Washoku scare you off. Not only does it address the five tastes of sweet (sugar), sour (rice wine vinegar), spicy (chili paste, ginger), salty (gluten free tamari), and bitter (garlic, daikon), but also the five colors of red (chili paste), yellow (ginger), green (green onions, cucumber), black (sesame seeds, peanut butter), and white (sesame seeds, garlic).
Three of the five ways of cooking are included in this recipe; the raw element by the inclusion of fresh cucumbers and green onions, simmering of the chicken, and boiling of the noodles, as well as the marinating of the chicken and green onions in the sauce.
The five senses involve the texture of the noodles, the crunch of the raw cucumbers, the soft chewiness of the chicken, the harmonizing flavors and the nutty aroma of the sauce.
We should note, that we did make some changes to the recipe. Gomadare, means “dressed with a sesame sauce” and is very common in Japanese cooking, used for both meat and vegetables. It can be made with either ready-made sesame paste, or more traditionally by grinding toasted sesame seeds to a rough paste in a suribachi (mortar and pestle). The author points out that the Greek-style sesame paste tahini can make a reasonably substitute, although it is not made from toasted sesame seeds, altering the flavor slightly. She also recommends the substitution of unsweetened peanut butter, if you are unable to find sesame paste, which we chose for our version of her recipe.
Traditionally, this recipe is served either as an appetizer, or over cold noodles, as part of a Bento-style lunch, or dinner. Since we prepared this for dinner, we included a recipe for Ginger Bok Choy, which was not included in the above-referenced book.
You will need the following ingredients to make these recipes:
Ginger Bok Choy and Steamed Chicken Salad with Sesame Sauce:
- 1 packet of gluten free brown rice spaghetti (Peacock brand). You can also use gluten free glass noodles.
- 5 green onions
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- approx. 1 inch. piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup cooking liquid from the chicken
- 4 Tbsp. of unsweetened peanut butter, or tahini (we used peanut butter)
- 2 Tbsp. gluten free tamari
- 1 Tbsp. evaporated cane juice
- 1/2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tsp. chili paste
- 1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp. white sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped green onions
- 2 tsp. finely chopped ginger
- 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
- 2 medium-sized Persian cucumbers
- 2 bunches organic bok choy
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. tamari sauce
- Finely chop the green onions, diagonally, setting aside the green parts to be cooked with the chicken. The white parts will be included in the dressing.
- Finely chop the ginger and garlic, setting aside 2 tsp. of ginger for the sauce, the rest to be used for the chicken.
- In a frying pan, heat 2 tsp. of toasted sesame oil, add the ginger and the chicken breasts and top with the finely chopped green onions. Brown on both sides. Add 1/4 cup of water. Cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Once the chicken is done, cut into bite-size pieces and set aside to cool.
- Cook the pasts according to package directions, and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the sauce, as well as the the chicken, green onions and the remaining cooking liquid. Mix well and allow to marinate for a few minutes.
- Wash the cucumbers and cut into thin spears, sprinkling them lightly with salt.
- Rinse the bok choy, and cut into diagonal strips. Heat the sesame oil in a pan. Add the ginger and top wit the bok choy, sauteing both for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are just wilted. Remove from heat and add the tamari sauce. Toss to coat.
- Serve the chicken over the cooled pasta, accompanied by the cucumber spears and the Ginger Bok Choy.
We loved these recipes. They were simple and easy to make, full of flavor and very tasty. Give these a try and let us know how you enjoy them. These dishes have inspired us to include the ideas of Washoku in future recipes, and we will definitely make these recipes many more times in the future.