Monday, October 1, 2012

Hiyayakko (Chilled Tofu with Soy and Ginger)

Hiyayakko (cold silken tofu with ginger & scallions)

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

This is a very popular and classic Japanese side dish that is very simple to make as there is no cooking involved. It's one I personally often crave because it's so light, healthy and clean in flavors. The key is finding good silken tofu; Do not make this recipe if you cannot find any. 
(serves 2-3 people)

  • 1 package (12 oz) silken tofu
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • 1 small thumb size ginger, peeled and grated
  • bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
  • light soy sauce

Cooking Directions

Take tofu out of the package and drain.

Cut the tofu in 1/2 or 1/3 (depending on the serving size you wish to have). Plate the tofu and add some scallions, a little freshly grated ginger and sprinkle some bonito flakes. 

Pour a little soy (too much will over power the delicate flavor of the tofu) and serve.

Spicy Garlic Fried Rice

garlic fried rice with tobanjan, celery, onions, garlic and fish sauce

I love these Japanese fried rice mix packages! They are so good to have around the house for days when I don't feel like spending more than 20 minutes in the kitchen. If you've never tried them, I urge you to go to your closest Japanese grocer and try all the different flavors, they are delicious! One flavor I often use is garlic. It's mild but still gives the fried rice a good, almost smoky base. To that I add a few more ingredients, serve it and watch my husband deliriously happy devour his bowl of fried rice. This recipe is his favorite because it encompasses two flavors he adores: fish sauce and tobanjan paste. The result is spicy, salty and smoky garlic fried rice. Yum!

Can't find Japanese fried rice mix packages? Look at the end of this recipe for 3 basic, tasty fried rice recipes.


- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 medium size onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 tsp tobanjan
- 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
- garlic fried rice mix
- about 2 cup pre-cooked rice (you can use any type of rice for this)
- 2 tbps oil
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup, finely chopped mushrooms
- salt and pepper to taste


In a medium/large size pan, add oil garlic, onions and celery. Cook for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add rice and slowly break it down with a wooden spatula, and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish sauce, tobanjan and fried rice mix, and stir well for another minute.

Lower the heat, push the fried to one side of the pan and break the 2 eggs on the other. Whisk the eggs with the spatula (like you would if you were making scrambled eggs) and once the eggs are almost cooked, slowly incorporate into the fried rice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

If you don't have pre-packaged fried rice mix, you can try this simple vegetable fried rice, Japanese fried rice or garlic fried rice I also created. They're all very similar but with a slight change of ingredients.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shishito peppers stuffed with tsukune (ground chicken)

Shishito Tsukune

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Shishito Tsukune (Japanese peppers stuffed with chicken meatballs)

I discovered this yummy dish at Yakitori Totto, one of my top 3 Japanese spots (Izakaya) in the city. Skewered and grilled on a brazier, and served with a raw quail egg that's broken and used as a dipping sauce, it's a beautiful and fun dish to eat. Since I don't own a grill I've instead used an oven and skipped the quail egg, though I highly recommend you try it if you come across some. Shishito peppers can be spicy with the seeds attached but aren't when you remove them. They're sweet and pair well with the teriyaki like flavor of the chicken meatballs. (makes a large plate, enough to serve 4-6 people)

  • 2 tbsps vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 lb ground chicken
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 thumb size ginger, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sake
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)
  • Shishito peppers (about 20-25), cut in half, seeded and membranes removed
  • For the Dipping/Brushing Sauce:
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 3 tbsp mirin
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar

Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a pan over medium/high heat, add oil, ginger, garlic and onions. Cook until onions are transparent (about 3 minutes). Transfer mixture into a bowl and let cool (put in fridge or freezer to speed up the process.) When the mixture is room temperature, add ground chicken, sake, soy and salt . Mix well with your fingers (not for too long.) 

shishito peppers stuffed with ground chicken

With a knife, spread a generous amount of the mixture on each piece of shishito pepper. Discard the rest or save for later (if I have any left, I'll usually make mini burger patties or eat it on top of Japanese rice with ichimi and soy sauce). Lay each piece on a tray covered with aluminum foil (or parchment paper). Bake for 15-17 minutes, until chicken has cooked through. While shisihitos are cooking, make your sauce. 

Mix all the ingredients and microwave for 20-30 (to melt the sugar). Take shishitos out of the oven and with a basting brush, dab the sauce over each piece. Put leftover sauce in a small bowl and serve next to shishito tsukune (people can use is as a dip).

10 Japanese Izakaya Dishes for Beginners

japanese fried chicken kara age
Japanese fried chicken (tori no kara age)

Japanese food can be intimidating if all you know about the cuisine is sushi
and miso soup. Take a trip there and you'lI quickly see that more Americans
eat sushi on a regular basis than Japanese people. True traditional Japanese
food is so much more than that and unlike popular belief, not everyone over 
there likes raw fish (in fact, I have 3 cousins in Japan who are so repulsed by 
the thought of raw fish, they refuse to try it even just once). A good way to 
discover the many different facets of Japanese cuisine is to visit an Izakaya 
(Japanese drinking establishment where they serve a myriad of appetizer size
dishes) and try as many different plates as you can. This is a great way to get 
your feet wet into one of the world's most colorful and complex cuisines. 15 
years ago you would've had to have been in Japan to find Izakayas but thing
have changed; nowadays Izakayas are becoming more popular in the western
world and can be found in big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A, Toronto and 

Izakaya menus are great because they're filled with pictures which makes it easy to
understand and see what you're about to order.
Japanese izakaya menu pictures
A typical Izakaya menu looks like this
 But this can still be a challenge if you're not familiar with this type of food and can quickly get confusing as Izakaya menus are large and incredibly varied, offering everything from a simple tomato
salad, to oddities like fermented firefly squid.

I love the fact that more and more people are interested in Japanese food and
wanted to help by giving a list of 10 basic can't go wrong dishes to order for
beginners. Nothing too out there in texture or taste, popular dishes I've seen
groups of friends and English teachers ordering frequently in Tokyo and all over
Japan. This list is for all of you out there (including the lovely couple at Sake bar
Hagi who so eagerly wanted to expand their knowledge of Japanese food and
were brave enough to ask for our help) who want to discover what the world has
to offer, who want to become more adventurous and add new notches to your
culinary belt.  

okonomiyaki  japanese pancake pizza
1 - Okonomiyaki
(also known as Japanese Pizza)  meaning "what you like" or "what you want", this is a classic savory pancake made with flour and eggs, and mixed with veggies such as cabbage, onions, carrots, meats like pork, bacon, or seafood like squid or shrimp. It's topped with bonito flakes, mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce (sweet sauce, similar to worcestershire without the smokiness).

japanese bershire sausages dijon mustard
Berkshire Sausages

2 - Berkshire Sausages 
Yes sausages! What makes these sausages special is the casing;
thicker to bite into, the sausage pops into your mouth and lets all the juices out. Served with a little Japanese hot mustard, these sausages are available regular or spicy. Once again the Japanese have taken something that wasn't theirs and made it better.

japanese pasta naporitan or napolitan spaghetti
Spaghetti Naporitan

3 - Spaghetti Naporitan (Napolitan)
So simple; It's spaghetti made with ketchup, tabasco and butter, and it tastes GOOD! This easy pasta dish is topped with sliced onions, green peppers and ham (or sausage).

yakisoba are japanese stir fried noodles

4 - Yakisoba
Similar to ramen noodles but stir fried, yakisoba comes with pork, cabbage, onions and carrots. The yakisoba sauce is mainly made of soy, rice wine vinegar and a dash of worcestershire. It's topped with seaweed powder and pickled ginger. 

japanese cream croquettes mashed potatoes miixed with meat or seafood.
Cream Croquettes

5 - Cream Croquettes (korokke) 
Deep fried balls of creamy potatoes and white sauce mixed with chopped meat, seafood or vegetables, these are incredible! The
outside is made of crispy deep fried breadcrumbs, while the inside
oozes out fluffy creamy deliciousness as you break your chopsticks
into it. Croquettes are often served with tonkatsu sauce and shredded cabbage. 

agedashi tofu deep fried silken tofu dusted with potato starch bonito flakes
Agedashi Tofu

6 - Agedashi Tofu
Deep fried silken tofu cubes (dusted with potato starch or cornstarch) served in a hot tentsuyu broth (mirin, soy sauce and dashi) which tastes a little sweet but more on the savory side. It's topped with grated daikon (radish), bonito flakes and scallions. One my absolute favorites.

mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and ume (pickled plum) onigiri rice balls japanese

Triangular or round shaped rice balls with the middle filled with salmon, pickled plum, kombu, mentaiko (spicy cod roe), or okaka (bonito flakes with soy sauce), wrapped with nori (dried seaweed sheet). 

Japanese deep fried squid ika geso no kara age
Ika Geso Age

8 - Deep Fried Squid (Ika geso age)
Simple and delicious; deep fried squid served with lemon wedges. Japanese people use potato starch or cornstarch to fry the squid, giving it a much lighter texture than the typical deep fried squid you'd find in a pub or greek restaurant.

tori no kara age japanese style fried chicken
Tori no kara age

This is Japan's version of fried chicken. Prepared the same way as deep fried squid and also served with lemon wedges and fresh grated daikon, you'll want some more.

yakitori f tsukune of ground chicken with fresh ginger and onions.
Skewers of grilled chicken patties (ground chicken mixed with onions, sake, ginger, garlic) brushed with a sweet soy sauce, it's a classic yakitori (grilled chicken) dish not to be missed. I don't know one person who doesn't like this!

I know I said I'd give 10 recommendations but I had to add one last that should never be skipped!

zaru tofu, fresh made silken tofu in water
Homemade Tofu

I've always said "you don't know what real tofu tastes like until you've had fresh home made one". This statement still holds true as I've converted many of my friends into tofu lovers after taking them to the best tofu spots in NYC. Believe me, it's worth it, fresh home made tofu melts in your mouth and almost tastes like soy milk. 

Chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard)

Chawan Mushi

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Chawan Mushi (Steamed Egg Custard)

This light and delicate egg custard is a wonderful appetizer to prepare if you're looking to wow your partner or dinner guests. It's both beautiful and fun to eat, is extremely simple and easy to make, and require few ingredients. This Japanese dish is often served in omakase meals and in traditional Japanese restaurants. The flavors are mild, eggy and earthy, with a texture very similar to silken tofu.

  • 1 1/2 cup low sodium chicken or beef broth (room temperature)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • Sauce:
  • 4 tbsp low sodium chicken or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Cooking Directions:

Bring the water in your  steamer to boil, cover and lower the heat to simmer.


In a large pan, add the oil and cook the mushroom for a few minutes until they become slightly caramelized. Set aside and let them cool down to room temperature.Your chicken or beef broth should also be room temperature. 

Whisk the eggs and add broth. In 4 small separate bowls, equally divide the mushrooms and pour the egg stock on top. Add a few scallions in each cup and briefly stir. Put the cups in the  steamer, cover and steam for 12-14 minutes. 

mushroom and egg custard in steamer

Meanwhile mix all the ingredients of the sauce together and set aside. When the custard cups are ready, take them out of the steamer, pour a little sauce on top and garnish with scallions.

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi Tofu (Deep-Fried Tofu with Bonito Soy Broth)

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Agedashi Tofu (deep-fried tofu with bonito soy broth)

When prepared properly, agedashi tofu is one of the best things you can have. The outside is lightly fried while the the tofu inside almost melts in your mouth. The warm broth added to the dish is full of umami and a little sweet, while the grated ginger on top brings freshness, rounding up all the flavors beautifully. This recipe is taken from Harumi Kurihara's Harumi's Japanese cooking
(Serves 4)

  • 2 - 12.3 oz boxes soft silken tofu
  • potato starch or cornstarch for dusting the tofu pieces
  • oil - enough to deep-fry the tofu
  • 1 cup dashi stock or fish stock
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • a little superfine sugar (about 1/2 tsp)
  • a little salt (1/4 tsp)
  • grated daikon
  • grated ginger to taste
  • shiso leaves, chopped into thin strips or a mix of fresh basil and mint (optional)
  • myoga (optional) minced
  • green onion or chives, minced

Cooking Directions

Drain the tofu and then wrap it in paper towels and place in a strainer for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture. Cut the tofu into four pieces, dry again with paper towels, the coat with the potato starch. 

Heat the oil to a suitable temperature for deep-frying (around 340 degrees). Carefully put the tofu pieces in to fry and when they turn golden, remove and drain on paper towels to remove excess oil. In a small pan heat up the dashi stock, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Bring to the boil, ensuring that the sugar has dissolved. 

Divide the tofu among four bowls. Pour a little of the hot sauce into each bowl and garnish with the grated daikon, a dab of grated ginger, shiso, myoga, and green onion to taste.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Korokke (Japanese Beef Croquettes)

Japanese Beef and Potato Croquettes (koroke)

Recipe by Caroline Phelps
Japanese Beef and Potato Croquettes

My husband calls them 'the Japanese version of shepherd's pie' and it's easy to see why as the croquettes are made of beef and mashed potatoes. Coated in panko and deep-fried, these fluffy balls are usually served with tonkatsu sauce and a side of shredded cabbage. Not only are they fun to make, they're also a crowd pleaser for children and adults! This is an easy recipe your family will ask for again and again!

  • 2 large potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled and roughly chopped
  • 300 grams (a little less than 2/3 lb) ground beef (I use ground chuck)
  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Vegetable oil, or other neutral oil for frying
  • 1 large egg
  • panko breadcrumbs
  • all-purpose flour
  • shredded cabbage
  • Tonkatsu sauce

Cooking Directions

Bring a medium size pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and boil until they are cooked through. Drain and put them into a mixing bowl. Mash the potatoes and set aside. In a large pan on high heat, melt the butter then add onions and garlic. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, add ground beef and cook until beef is fully cooked. Add the beef mixture to the potatoes and mix well. Season well with salt and pepper.You can now begin to heat up the oil to 340F (cooking thermometers are easy to find and very useful).

Meanwhile shape the mixture into balls, mine are usually about the size of my palm. Dust them in flour, dip in egg and coat with panko breadcrumbs. Fry until golden brown and crispy (be careful not to overcrowd the pot as this will decrease the oil temperature). Serve with tonkatsu sauce and shredded cabbage.


gyoza chinese dumplings with chili oil and dip

The first time I had gyoza was at a Ringer Hut in Fukuoka. Served as a side dish to champon noodles, these pork and veggie dumplings were a revelation to me at the tender age of 7. Dipping these thinly wrapped pot stickers into a soy, vinegar and chili oil dip, became an obsession. We must have gone back to that restaurant at least a dozen times that summer since my brother (who's still as obsessed with them as I am) and I couldn't stop asking for more and more gyoza. To this day, these fluffy pillowy pockets of perfection are a snack I frequently crave to eat.

Here in New York, after eating at many different ramen and other noodle shop establishments, I found 2 really good spots for gyoza: Hide-chan Ramen and Menkui tei, both located in midtown. Crispy on the outside while tender and moist on the inside, with a wrapper that's delicate and thin, their gyoza are to die for.

But when I want gyoza at home, I buy them frozen. The first time I bought frozen gyoza I was skeptical; will they be any good? My first attempt at frying them was somewhat mediocre. The edges came out a little dry while the middle part was mushy and sticky. Still, I was happy to be able to eat them at home and I made it my mission to learn to pan fry gyoza really well. It took a few failed attempts but I eventually got the hang of it and found a way that works like a charm every single time. 

Here's how I do it:

The brand I buy is Ajinomoto Pork and Chicken Gyoza

frozen gyoza wrapping packaging

The trick is to wait until the pan is really hot, add 1 tbsp oil, coat the pan really well and lay each dumpling facing up, while still frozen. I use a timer and set it to 4 minutes. Check on the gyoza once in a while to make sure they're not sticking to the pan. When the bottoms are brown and crispy, turn them to the side, add just under 1/4 cup of water, put a lid on the pan and fry for another 3 minutes. Then turn them again on the other side for a minute. Serve. 

For the dipping sauce I buy pre-made gyoza sauce and mix it with chili oil.

I'm sure I'll try my hand at making gyoza from scratch one day in the future, but for now I'll stick to the frozen ones since they do the trick at satisfying my craving.

Yasai Itame (Vegetable Stir-Fry)

Vegetable Stir-Fry (Yasai Itame)

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Vegetable Stir-fry (Yasai Itame)

Yasai itame is Japanese for vegetable stir fry. It's a relatively healthy dish that's simple and quick to prepare. Yasai itame is usually made with thinly sliced pork but since my husband loves spicy sausages, I made this one using small Berkshire links. There's very little cooking and seasoning involved other than chopping, stir frying the veggies and adding a little soy, and black pepper. This easy recipe pairs really well with a hot bowl of freshly cooked Japanese rice.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings

  • 1 medium size carrot, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 small cabbage, chopped bite size
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • about 2 cups, sprouts
  • 2 Berkshire sausages (optional. The traditional recipe is usually made with pork), thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Ajinomoto (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions
  1. In a large pan over high heat, add the sausages and cook for 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and both green and red bell peppers. Cook for about 5 minutes, until cabbage has soften and charred just a little bit. Add sprouts and cook for a minute. 
  2. Add soy, a sprinkle of Ajinomoto and cook for another minute. 
  3. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tori no Kara Age - Japanese Fried Chicken

JFC (Japanese fried chicken) or Tori no Kara Age

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

JFC (Japanese fried chicken) or Tori no kara age

Japanese fried chicken (also known as JFC :) ) is saltier than its American relative. Using a marinade of soy and sake, and dusting the nuggets with potato starch or corn starch puts this fried chicken recipe in a league of its own. It's VERY juicy and the light and crispy batter doesn't disappoint. (Makes 10 to 12 pieces)

  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs with skin, cut bite size
  • 1 thumb size ginger, grated
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 1/2 Potato starch (katakuriko) or cornstarch (if you have both, potato starch is better)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp regular salt)
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder (for a little kick) *optional*
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Cooking Directions

Combine grated ginger, soy sauce and sake in a bowl. Add chicken and toss well to coat. Marinate for at least an hour (no longer than 4 hours otherwise the chicken may lose moisture because of the salt in the soy sauce). 

In a medium size bowl, mix the potato starch, salt and chili powder. Heat the oil to 350 degrees using a temperature-controlled fryer or a thermometer. If you don't have one, test with a small piece of chicken. Coat each piece very well, shake off excess and fry in batches (don't put too many at once as doing so lowers the temperature of the oil). Cook for a few minutes, until golden brown. 

Lay chicken on paper towel and serve with lemon wedges, yuzusco or shichimi.

Chicken Katsu Don

Chicken Katsu

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Chicken katsu with rice and basil

Packed with sweetness and umami, chicken katsu is a very traditional and popular dish. Easy to prepare, it's the perfect comforting dish to share with your family. Another great dish men love to eat as well!
(4 servings)

  • 3/4 lb boneless chicken breasts, cut in half in thickness and in size
  • all purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • panko breadcrumbs
  • oil for deep-frying
  • 1/2 medium size onion, thinly sliced in half moons
  • handful fresh basil (or flat leaf parsley)
  • 1 cup dashi stock
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • cooked Japanese rice

Cooking Directions
  1. Dip the chicken pieces in the following order: flour, egg (use one egg) and panko.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan to 350 degrees (180c).
  3. In another large pan, put the sliced onions, dashi, sugar, sake, soy sauce and mirin, and simmer until onions are tender and translucent (about 5 minutes).
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 eggs.
  5. Fry chicken pieces until golden brown. Add the chicken to the onions, pour the eggs around the chicken, over the onions, and cook for a minute or two. Sprinkle basil or parsley on top, turn the heat off when eggs are cooked through.
  6. Serve with rice.

Japanese Potato Salada

Potato Salad (Japanese)

Recipe by Caroline Phelps

Japanese potato salad with pickled cucumbers and carrots

Japanese potato salads are a little sweet and tangy, which I love since every bite seems to taste different. I've pickled the cucumber for this recipe with a little salt and sugar. This softens the texture and gives it zing. The flavors blend really well together, making this a personal favorite. Serve as a side to chicken katsu and you have yourself and very traditional and homely Japanese meal.

  • 2 medium size potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium size carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 thumb size ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cut in 1/4 lengthwise, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Cooking Directions
  1. Boil potatoes and carrots until tender but still a little firm. 
  2. In a bowl, pour a little salt and sugar over the cucumbers (about 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp sugar), mix with your fingers and leave to marinate for about 15-20 minutes. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the cucumber, rinse quickly under cold water and squeeze again. 
  3. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots and ginger. 
  4. With a potato masher, mash about 1/2 of the mixture, add cucumber, mayonnaise, sake, sugar, salt and pepper and mix well with a spoon or spatula. 
  5. Adjust taste and texture (by adding more mayo) to your liking. Serve.