When one thinks of Japan and the best things to do while there, three things are top of mind; Cherry blossoms, elegant kimonos and uniquely traditional food. With such a variety of unique flavours that will suit any palate, a taste of Japan at a Japanese dinner evening will not only impress family and friends but also put Japanese cooking on your list of achievements!
Cooking in the kitchen is one of the best ways to relax and pass the time when you stay at home, especially with these four popular recipes that will bring you as close to a taste of Japan as you can get without leaving the house.
Japanese dumplings are not only a Kung Fu Panda’s favourite snack, but also make a great starter. Gyoza can be pan-fried crispy on the outside and juicy and savoury on the inside, gyoza is best served with a side of soy sauce for dipping. Fillings vary depending on your preference but usually consist of ground pork or chicken, cabbage, spring onion, garlic and ginger. Try replacing meat with shiitake mushrooms for the vegetarian option.
4 Spring onions, ends trimmed off and roughly chopped (about 60 grams)
2 medium cloves of garlic (chopped)
3cm piece of ginger (grated)
250ml hot water (hot water makes dough easier to work with)
400g all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
*For convenience, Gyoza wrappers can also be store-bought.
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
Start with the wrappers.
Sieve the dry flour into a bowl to remove any lumps.
Add the salt to the warm water to dissolve.
Add the warm water to the flour bowl of flour, stirring as you pour until it forms a gooey texture.
Knead the dough with your hands and form a ball.
Cover with plastic wrap for 45 minutes.
Dust a flat surface with flour and knead the dough for 5 to 6 minutes until you have a smooth texture.
Roll the dough into a cylinder and start cutting into 2,5 to 3cm sections.
Quickly lay the sections out and dust with flour.
Proceed to flatten sections with your hand or a roller until at a width of 6 – 9cm (don’t make them too small as you want to put sufficient filling in the middle and fold).
Once flattened out, cover with plastic wrap to avoid drying too quickly while you prepare the filling.
For the filling:
Remove the core of the cabbage and dice finely.
Dice the spring onion equally fine.
Mince the garlic and grate ginger.
Add all to the ground meat (alternatively to diced mushrooms) and mix well.
Uncover the wrappers and place a conservative tablespoon of the filling into the center of the wrapper.
Fold in half and pinch the wrapper together in the centre. Work your way outward pinching it closed to the edges of the folded circle.
Flatten the wider end of the half-circle slightly.
Heat the sesame oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Place the folded wrappers in the pan (flat side down) and let them fry until they turn golden brown on the bottom (about 3 minutes).
Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and cover with a lid and steam for about 3 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.
Remove the lid and let the remaining water evaporate.
Add ½ a tsp of sesame oil around the side of the pan.
Final, final step:
Let cool and serve with the mixed soy sauce and rice vinegar dipping sauce!
Side Note: The trickiest part is the preparation of the gyoza wrappers. Humidity and temperature may require a bit more or a bit less water when mixing the dough.
Japanese Beef steaks:
Japanese dishes are often small portions crafted with precision, but sometimes you just want a steak! No fear, Japan boasts some of the best beef in the world, and preparation is easy while maintaining unique cultural ingredients and flavour. Opt for a pristine cut of the infamous wagyu beef or prepare your favourite lean steak cut in a distinctive miso marinade.
2. Wagyu beef
Any true meat connoisseur will know Japan for the best steak in the world. Wagyu beef (or Kobe steak) is the most well-prepared cuts from a delicate cattle farming procedure (reducing cattle stress with open pastures, daily massages and a diet of carefully selected grains and sometimes beer!). It is however very pricey, so you want to prepare it perfectly.
Tips on preparing wagyu beef:
If frozen, thaw slowly from a fridge first, then out in the open for it to reach room temperature.
Wagyu beef has its own marbling (fat) and should be the only fat that it cooks in so as to prevent any conflicting flavours from butter or oils.
Cut any extra fat and use the fat to coat a frying pan (ideally a skillet to lift it above the hot surface a bit).
Add sea salt to the pan, place the cut of meat in the pan and sprinkle a conservative pinch of salt onto the exposed upper layer (not too much salt to maintain the natural flavours).
Sear the outside of the steak only on each side. The goal is to sear but not cook the cut right through as the marbling melts and maintains the uniquely rich flavours.
Searing should take around 3 minutes for both sides.
Remove from the pan and let it rest for twice the time it took to sear.
Serve with small pinches of wasabi and green salad.
3. Miso Marinated Steak
Wagyu beef may be difficult to get to or pricey, but you can still enjoy your steak with the flavours of Japan with a miso marinade.
3 tablespoons red miso
3 tbsp. dry sherry or sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tbsp. sugar
2 garlic cloves (minced)
2 tsp. fresh ginger (grated)
300g lean steak
1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Mix the miso, sherry (or sake), soy sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger and a generous grinding of black pepper in a shallow bowl (alternatively, you can use a sealable food bag).
Add steak and massage the marinade into it until both sides are coated.
Cover the bowl with cling wrap and put it into the refrigerator to marinade for at least an hour. Ideally, leave it overnight.
Heat a frying pan or skillet until smoking.
Add and distribute the oil evenly over the surface of the pan.
Add the steak and seal both sides for about three minutes, depending on how well you like your steak done.
Remove from the pan and let rest for about five minutes.
Serve with a green salad of cucumber, baby spinach, radish and toasted sesame seeds.
Ramen may be on par with sushi in terms of popularity and the quintessential Japanese takeaway. Preparing authentic ramen flavours takes a bit longer than shop-bought 3 minute options, but is well worth the attention and care in preparation.
Here is a guide to preparing ramen noodles, but actual ingredients can vary depending on your preference and creativity!
700ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
3 garlic cloves, halved
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 piece of ginger, sliced
½ tsp Chinese five spice
pinch of chilli powder
375g ramen noodles
400g sliced cooked pork belly or chicken breast
2 tsp sesame oil
100g baby spinach
4 tbsp sweetcorn
4 boiled eggs peeled and halved
1 sheet dried nori, finely shredded
sliced green spring onions
sprinkle of sesame seeds
Eggs and marinade:
4 large eggs
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
¾ cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
Heat sesame oil and/or olive oil in a medium-large saucepan over moderate.
Add garlic and ginger, and simmer until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Do not brown the garlic, or else you’ll get a bitter flavour.
Add the carrots and mushrooms if you’re using them, and simmer until they soften, about a minute, stirring frequently.
Add the broth, Sriracha sauce and rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Stir, and bring to a simmer for about five minutes.
Add the Ramen noodles into the pot of simmering broth and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until cooked and tender.
Carefully transfer the soup and noodles to bowls, and allow to cool.
Preparing the eggs
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a rolling boil.
Make a pinhole in the round end of the eggs and place into the pot
Lower eggs into the water and cook for about five to seven minutes.
Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and let cool for 2 minutes Remove eggs from ice water and peel.
In a medium saucepan bring garlic, chili flakes, soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and two cups of water to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.
Remove from heat and place eggs in the marinade for at least one hour.
Drain the eggs, cut in half and add to ramen serving bowls.
Side Note: The tantalising flavours of ramen lie in the broth, referred to as Tare (the soul of ramen). The longer the eggs are marinaded the more flavour. Eggs can marinate for up to two days.
5. Ichigo Daifuku
Ichigo daifuku is essentially mochi (Japanese rice cake) with a bit extra in the strawberries and red bean paste. Mochi is one of the must-try favourite foods of Japan made from ground rice flour and sugar. Adding the additional freshness of strawberries ensures a light, uplifting after-dinner treat!
80g sweet rice flour
6 medium-size strawberries
180g red bean paste
2 tbsp katakuri ko starch powder
Start by mixing the shiratama rice flour with water for the dough.
Continue to stir adding the sugar before pouring the mixture into a microwavable bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and microwave it for 2 minutes.
When done, remove from the microwave and mix the dough with a spatula. You can add a teaspoon of water if the dough is too solid but too much water won’t make the dough stick.
Prepare the strawberries by removing the stems, rinsing and drying them with a paper towel.
Wet your hands and make six small balls with the red bean paste.
Flatten each of them out and mould them around each strawberry.
Microwave the dough for another minute.
On a baker’s tray or flat dish, sprinkle some starch powder and flatten the dough.
Gather the dough into a ball and separate into equal pieces. Flatten them as you did the red bean paste and use each of them to cover your red bean paste and strawberries.
Once moulded around the red bean paste and strawberries roll each strawberry creates an even-shaped ball.
Serve as a sweet and fruity dessert snack
Side Note: Quick, simple mochi can be enjoyed on its own as the dough instructions above.
So, there you have it – 4 possible dishes for your Japanese dinner at home! If your dinner’s success makes you crave a trip to Japan – take a look at the best time to visit Japan for your future adventure.