One in the Eye of the Cyclops - or is that Godzilla?

Tuesday 22/3/2005

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Diary and Notes

As I wrote a week or two ago (see 28/2/2005), I am not an expert in Japanese food. I did promise that in order to expand my horizons I would have a serious attempt at cooking some and today was my second attack. I am lucky in that some months ago I was given a Japanese cookery book (in English) by my friend Richard Sullivan, who had been teaching English in Japan for the last few years. Unfortunately for me, the book is aimed at people living in Japan and contains ingredients that are completely unobtainable here in Exeter (and probably most of Britain outside of London). Although the book has only 30 recipes, this is enough to give you a sense of what is cooked and eaten by the upper echelons of Japanese society (it's not a simple 1-2-3 cook type book, more the sort of thing you would use for dinner parties if the prime minister were coming over to discuss the Japanese fiscal defecit and get blown by a geisha). The recipes often call for things such as kamaboku (fish cake), kuchinashi (gardenia berries), shisho leaves, yuzu citrus and squares of kombu (whatever that is). As a recipe book it is as useless asking Tony Blair to lighten up, but as a concept album, this is as enlightening as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (by Genesis of course, you Philestines).

So I have something to inspire me and the web to aid me in finding substitute ingredients. I had a look and decided that as I had some steak in the fridge I would make sukiyaki (something I've eaten before in a restaurant and it was pretty damn tasty as I remember) but for love nor money I could find no tofu anywhere so that was out of the window. (The people of Exeter are not famous for being vegetarian nor eating tofu). There was another beef recipe that was possible, nikujaga - beef and potatoes, so I decided that was the one for me. Now you are probably thinking this doesn't sound very Japanese, but check out, and which all describe the dish as mother's cooking (ofukuro no aji) and give simple recipes for a beef and potato stew with some Japanese style stock.

My recipe book is a little more upmarket than these websites and has a few more ingredients than their basics, although the only one I can't get is Dashi stock (which is made from katsuobushi or long konbu, both of which are as well known to me as an evening's pleasure with Björk - unfortunately) so on this account I had to make do and used vegetable stock instead. I also added some shitake mushrooms (not on the original list) and as I didn't have any snow peas used frozen peas instead (though one of the internet recipe sites does this as well). The recipe book also called for Japanese trefoil which doesn't grow wild hereabouts, but after a bit of reading I discovered that the leaves from the centre of a celery have almost exactly the same taste so subsituted these. Of course I didn't have any Japanese rice wine (sake) nor Japanese sweet cooking wine (mirin) but everyone knows dry sherry is just as good and another minor problem was overcome.

So how authentic was my 'Japanese meal'? I have no idea. It certainly tasted Japanese and was a warming combination, which if it had been served to me after carrying water all day, from the top of mount Fuji, on the orders of my Bushido Sensei (to build character of course) would have filled me with strength for the next day. The miso soup was fantastic and just involved boiling water and stirring and the steamed glutinous rice was easy to make and went well with the main course.

For a second Japanese style meal this was also a damn fine success. When will I have a disaster you ask? When will he fall?

We shall see, but it wasn't today.

Cake Blog

Apple Puff: Came in a packet of four from Sainsbury's. I ate two and gave some away. Share the love my goodly chums, share the love (and have a good portion yourself of course).


  • Miso Soup
  • Japanese Style Beef and Potatoes (Nikujaga)
  • Steamed Glutinous Rice
  • Minced Ginger
  • Wasabi


    100g Sirloin Steak
    1/2 Onion
    1/2 Carrot
    1 Medium Potato
    3 Shitake Mushrooms
    A Few Frozen Peas
    2 Spring Onions
    Celery Leaves
    150ml Vegetable Stock
    Peanut Oil
    Shoyu Sauce
    Dry Sherry
    Miso Paste


  • Miso Soup: I used pre-prepared Blue Dragon miso soup, which is all you can get here in Exeter. It comes in little sachets and 1/2 is just enough to mix with boiling water to make a really delicious bowl of soup. Save the rest for the main course.
  • Beef and Potato: Peel the potato and cut into 1.5 cm cubes, place in cold water to remove excess starch. Slice the beef very thinly and stir fry in a little peanut oil. Add the sliced onion and carrot. When the onion has gone translucent add the (drained) potato and fry for a minute of two longer. Chop the shitake (I used dried shitake so plumped them by soaking in hot water for 30 mintues) and add to the pan. Add a dash of shoyu, the stock, a dash of sherry and a squirt of pre-prepared miso paste. Bubble on a high heat for 10 minutes, skimming off any fat/scum that forms on the surface. Put a lid on the pan and simmer until the potatoes are soft and edible. Stir in the peas and chopped spring onions. Cook for a further minute or so. Garnish with the celery leaves (still whole).


    *All quantities are very approximate and for a single person