Japanese cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world. Many of the dishes are easy to make at home. The most famous, such as yakitori, or grilled skewers of chicken, are easy to puree. They are delicious, but to get the authentic taste you need the right ingredients. Below, I give you an excellent link by a noted Japanese food writer; your own guide to the Japanese pantry.
I lived in Japan for a year and went to school to learn Japanese cooking. I am a huge fan of the cuisine because it is light. I also learned to shop for the ingredients for Japanese cooking in the big fish market in Tokyo, perhaps the largest in the world. There, I learned the grades of food items that the Japanese consider as honored foods.
Most Americans know that the Japanese revere tea. It is the focus of the magnificent tea ceremony. Other foods, such as those made traditionally or as delicacies, are also honored. Among these revered foods are tofu, rice and sea vegetables. The latter is sometimes called seaweed. Don’t be alarmed. Sea vegetables are plants that grow in salt water. They are high in minerals from the sea. As such, they are an important nutrient. A piece of kombu, or kelp, is often used to flavor the broth of a miso soup. Powdered kelp is sometimes added to rice. It is said that this is the reason that the Japanese have such magnificent glossy hair.
In the big market in Tokyo, there are streets lined with many stores devoted to traditional foods. Tokyo has many specialty food shops in the basement floors of the best department stores. The stores at the fish market are like the gourmet food shops of Japan. Many are elegantly designed with natural wood, especially the tea shops. The tea purveyors inform the customer of the specialties, even those that are extremely expensive. There are dessert items that have no parallel in the West, delicious items made from a paste of azuki beans, the red bean beloved by the Japanese. Though we in the West do not often think of it, it happens that many Japanese desserts are made with gelatin and are easy for the swallow. They have a good flavor and color, and they are rarely explored in the dysphagia kitchen.
I will be writing recipes for miso soup, shabu shabu, some forms of cooked fish wraps with sea vegetables and Japanese dipping sauces, as well as some grilled Japanese items and steamed rice puree. In previous blog posts, I have written about tofu as a thickener for Western soups, and a source of protein as an addition to the Essential Puree line of smoothie recipes, as healthy snacks.
I will not be writing any recipes for fugu, or blowfish. During my year in Japan, my husband was a student at a very prestigious program for the study of Japanese language in Tokyo. One night he informed me that his whole class was going to a restaurant devoted to the dish of fugu. He dressed very carefully, and I must say, he looked quite handsome. He was so cheerful that I wanted to strangle him. The reason is that he might have made me a widow that fateful night. I was so worried, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Danger was lurking in the form of the blowfish. The sushi chefs who make fugu are specially trained, because blowfish is poisonous. The restaurants that specialize in this delicacy hang a banner outside advertising their genius. They need a special license to serve it. If it is not properly prepared, one can die of the poison.
My husband smiled and gave me a hug as he went off to eat the dreaded fugu. I was not invited on the class outing, nor did I wish to go, but I was worried, thinking that the man I married might not be coming home after dinner. He thought I was being silly. He did wind up in a Japanese hospital on a different night, not because of fugu, but that is a story for another blog post.
Here is a rundown of ingredients for the Japanese pantry, with explanations.
Note: Seeds are not recommended for the dysphagia kitchen unless you have a high-speed blender capable of rendering them into a paste. I mention this because of the sesame seeds in this rundown. For the dishes that use sesame seeds, I use sesame paste, either Middle Eastern or Chinese. Sea vegetables, sometimes called seaweed, are very high in minerals. This is important, because studies have shown that many mature people in the U. S. are deficient in minerals. I like the way sea vegetables taste, particularly nori. This is the sea vegetable that comes in shiny black sheets.
In order to make this food, you have to have the right ingredients. Thus, this blog post on the pantry, from an expert. In my future blog post on Japanese wraps, I will show you how to soften the sea vegetables that are used to wrap sushi. My recipes do not call for raw fish, as many home cooks or institutional cooks are not trained to handle this ingredient safely. I will also tell you how to make miso soup and thicken it for the puree. I will tell you how to make chilled soba noodles for summer with little flakes of toasted nori pureed into the dish.
The Japanese are an island people, and they have made excellent use of the bounty of the sea. As readers of the Essential Puree blog know, the broth is the medium of flavor in the dysphagia kitchen. In a future blog post, I will show you how to make a broth with katsuoboshi, or shaved tuna flakes. Shaved tuna flakes are a way of adding flavor to a broth. You do not eat the tuna flakes. You strain them out. Think of it as bullion for fish stock. As any good cook knows, the making of good fish stock is an art. I believe that one of the Beatles, John Lennon, had a solo album entitled Shaved Tuna. He was, after all, married to a Japanese woman, Yoko Ono.