New Year potluck
At New Year I invited some friends around and hosted a potluck lunch.
Three of them were Japanese women.
They all brought delicious food including sushi rolls – or norimaki.
One of them, Hiroko, was kind enough to bring Takikomi gohan – mixed rice and vegetables.
It brought back fond memories of my time in Japan.
I spent a year in Sukagawa – a small town in Fukushima – and another two in Nagoya – a big city to the west of Tokyo.
Now you can buy sushi in any British supermarket (although it often tastes like cardboard as the rice was never meant to be refrigerated but eaten straight away) but at the time I went to Japan – 30 or so years ago – it was unheard of.
Food is very seasonal
It is not an exaggeration to say that Japanese food and cuisine is one of the best in the world with it’s emphasis on fresh ingredients.
Lighter more cooling foods are eaten earlier in the year whereas autumn and winter see heavier more starchy and sweet foods being served.
At New Year symbolic foods are eaten that will bring good luck and fortune.
Restaurants in each region, city or town proudly boast of their specialities.
And a common interest in food kindles new friendships.
I will never forget the extraordinary hospitality I received in Japan – much of it centred around the homes and hearths of ordinary people.
Simple yet complex
This dish of rice, chestnuts and mixed vegetables is simple yet it has a great depth of flavour.
It is often made with a Japanese root vegetable called gobo or burdock – as we know it.
It can contain chicken and bamboo shoots or even lotus root.
But this is my version of it.
The hijiki sea vegetable can be bought in wholefood or natural food shops.
The other ingredients like mirin and shoyu or tamari or even sake can be obtained in the bigger supermarkets here.
The result is a kind of Japanese paella.
I hope you enjoy it.
And thanks Hiroko for inspiring me to make it.
My interpretation of a Japanese classic
- 190 g glutinous or sushi rice
- 300 ml water
- 6 g hijiki sea vegetable
- 100 g shiitake or button mushrooms
- 1/2 large carrot
- 1 inch fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp tamari or shoyu (soya sauce)
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sake or shaohsing rice wine
- 12 whole peeled chestnuts
Wash rice well in cold water and drain.
Transfer to a saucepan or rice cooker and cover with 300 ml cold water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Drain well and then place back into the pan or rice cooker and cover with water (an old Japanese tip - when your palm is flat on top of the rice the water should come up to the first crease in your wrist).
Meanwhile cover the hijiki seaweed with water in a small bowl and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Then drain.
Julienne the carrot into fine slivers.
Halve the mushrooms then slice thinly.
Finely grate the ginger (skin and all) and scoop up in your palm and squeeze the juice out into a small bowl or cup by clenching your fist.
Mix the tamari or shoyu with the mirin, sake and ginger juice in a cup or small bowl.
Open a bag or jar of vacuum packed chestnuts and count out a dozen or so whole ones.
Go back to your rice covered with water and add the other ingredients (carrot, mushrooms, chestnuts, hijiki, tamari and ginger juice mixture) evenly on top but don't mix.
Cover with tight lid and bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Then remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes.
Take off lid and with a wooden spoon gently combine or fold the vegetables with the rice and serve.
Each individual can add extra soya sauce or tamari to taste.