Today was my first day back at work after the Xmas/New Year Holiday.
Seven days after the new year Japanese people eat okayu, a kind of rice porridge, flavoured with seven herbs. The dish is called nanakusagayu, or Seven Herbs Okayu.
It’s not delicious. It’s traditional. It’s a way to count the progression of the year — one week has already passed. Like Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, onwards and forewords we travel through the year until we’re back where we started one year further on. Nanakusagayu. It’s that time again.
To make okayu you’ll need a ratio of 1:5 rice:water, though some families add up to 1:10. My host family made it with 1:5 and thinned it out with two cups of fresh hot green tea, but those are recipes for another day and the point of this post is something else:
One week into the new year, are you on track with what you want? Stop. Think. Adjust.
I definitely wouldn’t eat this everyday, but once a year it’s a good reminder that spring is coming, time move quickly, and that a new year has begun.
I’m joining my first cooking challenge — I didn’t know these existed, if you know of any please, please, please pass along the information.
The challenge is to make a Whoopie Pie. With so many recipes already online I’ve decided to create a savoury whoopie pie. My idea, so far, is to make the cake portion no sweeter than a hamburger bun and the filling with a flavoured béchamel or a savoury marshmallow.
I have a project now! Time to break the Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose F50, Carrageenan, and egg whites. 🙂
A few years ago I had the honour to study cooking at The Culinary Academy of India (CAI). Chef told me that teaching regional Indian cooking is impossible as every 20 kilometres from wherever you are, the food is prepared differently: What X connotes in one city can be very different just one town over. To teach me Chef printed out recipes from the web and taught me why tomatoes are used here but fenugreek there, and we cooked and tasted at every step. This was my base education. Indian Food: A Historical Companion by K.T. Achaya filled in the historical gaps.
Back home I took my notes and went through each of the recipes online and through my (large of collection of electronic) cookbooks, looking for the common ingredients in a dish, what combinations of other things were added, and what different regions preferred. With practice I learned what combinations of spices and how much spice — there is no fixed measure — I like. Voila! I’ve become part of the evolution in Indian cuisine.
I chose my first recipe for here to be Murgh Methi because it’s delicious, easy to make, good for you and is maybe easiest to demonstrate how I want to present the Indian recipes I know. With some feedback from you I’ll be able to improve this kind of content, so please talk to me about formatting and my writing style.
Murgh Methi (Chicken and Fenugreek)
Mise En Place
Ingredients in parenthesis are not common to each region and so are optional. My suggestion when cooking Indian food is to add one spice at a time and taste. Over time you’ll get a sense of what each spice does.
The key is to caramelise the onions so their sweetness will balance the sourness in the yogurt and/or fenugreek.
The average is one cup fresh fenugreek leaves or 1/4 dried per pound of chicken.
Marinade the cut up chicken in enough yogurt to cover; add green chilli, salt (ginger, red pepper, chill pepper powder)
Mince 1/2 – 2 whole onions. The more onions you caramelise, the sweeter the dish.
Step One: In a large open pan like a karai or wok add a measure of oil or ghee turn the flame up to high and add Indian bay leaf, 5 green cardamons, 3 – 5 cloves, a piece of Indian cinnamon, peppercorns, (2 black cardamon). Through osmosis the flavour oils within the spices will season the cooking oil. Add the minced onions to stop the spices from cooking and fry the onions until they caramelise, which will take about half an hour.
Note: Restaurant quality Indian food uses a technique of cooking the onions until they release the oil at which point you add in a ladle of water and cook it down again until it releases the oil. You’ll do that five to seven times. Each time you’ll notice the paste gets darker and darker as caramelized residue in the pan dissolved back into the mix. This technique also breaks down the cell walls of the onions to give the end sauce a better texture.
Step Two: Add garlic/ginger paste and cook one to two minutes to take away the sharp notes then add turmeric, coriander powder, slit green chilies and cook one minute more to incorporate.
Note: You can take this off the stove and run it through a food mill or food processor for an even smoother texture.
Step Three: Add all of the liquid from the marinade, mix, then add the chicken and cook for ten minutes.
Step Four: Add the fenugreek leaves, garam masala powder, fresh coriander, and enough water to bring it to the consistency you like. Cook at about ten minutes so the chicken and sauce exchange flavours. When the sauce reaches the consistency you like salt it. Serve.
Today’s assignment is to describe the genesis of our blogs, so I need to tell you about my Quiche Epiphany.
For very specific reasons I was cooking for myself in grade school. When I was about fourteen my father had a quadruple bypass. That visible impact of diet on health concurred with my health classes and long story short, I became a vegetarian and stayed so until about twenty.
Being raised in Los Angeles health food was always a visible part of many lifestyles around me and felt, at the time, more sophisticated. So the transition from vegetarian was to Fusion, Macrobiotic, Organic, or healthfully altered versions of pretty much anything you can think of with propaganda to read on the side.
Eating meat opened up new menus and happened to coincided with the new washboard male vanity. Obsessive muscle training and diet transformed me. I studied recipes as formulas, learned how to substitute, and experimented, experimented, experimented plateauing at six percent body fat. I could have given up food for shakes, but I reasoned that I needed to go back to my recipes source — and so I discovered Escoffier; and to understand him I used Julia Child as a bridge.
“Julia is my lord and savour, my mother goddess, my divinity!”
You see, I was trying to make fat-free, low to no carb quiche but every variation was a failure. With Mastering The Art of French Cooking under thumb I made Julia’s quiche to see how the recipe should behave. One slice. One thin sliver of quiche made with cream and bacon and my life changed: I had not eaten an egg yolk since I was fourteen and had never had cream to my memory, nor crust made from real butter. I remember the flavours spreading from my palette into my mind and so came the epiphany:
My approach to food was wrong.
That day everything about how I approached food changed — as did my body. My fat ratio climbed steadily to and past 15%. My weight and body shape have increased every year since and now it’s no longer for the better.
In my first post I said I wanted to balance my Quiche Epiphany. And so my reason for starting this blog; the reason why after so many years of people telling me to become a food blogger that I joined WordPress; the reason I’m writing this post today is to tell you there is an equilibrium between real food and healthy food and that I’m going to work it out in this space.
Though I’m from southern California, Japan is my home now.
Since this blog starts just after the New Year I’ve been thinking to show you what a year in the life is like here through food.
This is toshikoshi soba. Soba, a noodle made from buckwheat, is rolled very long and eaten in a simple soup just before midnight on new year’s eve to symbolise long life, luck and prosperity. There are lots of add-ins. (I like thinly sliced leeks and tempura.) This year we went with jumbo shrimp. Personally, I prefer to make everything from scratch but soba requires too much time and energy. Though it’s only made from soba flour and water, the kneading goes on for hours by hand.
I served it with green tea.
Before midnight half of Japan is watching a yearly TV show called Kohaku in which celebrity singers, divided into two groups, red or white, compete to be this years winner.
It ends at 11:45pm, so my household skips over to Johnnies Countdown which is boy band after boy band after boy band in musical melodies till the ball drops — Happy New Year! — and another hours of pretty faces
I have wanted to create a website about food for years. My friends have asked me, pushed me, threatened me but, always the bachelor, my instinct is to avoid getting tied down.
This week my friend, Sen, posted a Facebook challenge to create something new each week, which I’ve taken as a opprotunity to start a blog about food and perhaps my life here in Japan.
I’ll explain in an upcoming post, but my goal this year is to balance my Quiche Epiphany with my fitness goals. To do that I’ll be reimagining, reformulating, making and remaking my favourite foods. This is a space to think aloud and, hopefully, think with likeminded people.
To give you a sense of what I do:
On my veranda are three large storage units in which I keep my Chinese, Indian, and oversized cookware along with the homemade foods I’ve preserved or fermented like kimchee, Japanese pickles, green tomatoes, brined eggs, meat pies, root beer, ginger ale, kombucya. My pantry is stocked with molecular gastronomic whatnots, south American this, European thats, and African I-don’t-know-whats. In the back of my closets I keep pounds and kilos of various beans, grains, flours, sugars; and scattered here and there are more than 150 herbs and spices.
In short, I love playing in the kitchen. If you do too, let’s be friends.
My goal is (at least) one blog post a week and one new friend.