Tag Archives: appetizer

Japan: Of friendship and food

Back in 2001, I was fortunate enough to celebrate New Years in Japan with my friend’s family at her grandmother’s house in a small village near Himeji Castle. The whole family had gathered – caring and curious aunts and uncles, friendly cousins, and adorable little nephews and nieces. The kitchen was a beehive of activity with grandmother running the show. Being guests, we weren’t allowed to help and we’d probably only have been in the way anyway. As the evening got colder and the clock inched closer to midnight, we overcame the initial shyness with the couple of words of Japanese we knew, our hosts’ smattering of English, and lots of good cheer. When we finally sat down to dinner, we needed five tables to accommodate everyone. My friend’s mother, grandmother and aunts had prepared an amazing spread. I’ll confess that with the many years that have since passed, I don’t exactly remember all the dishes we ate. I do remember my favorite was the wild boar nabe. After the feast, my friend’s father took us to the family shrine to ring the bell and bring in the new year. I will never forget how lucky I felt to have been a part of a Japanese family for that celebration. Every new year, I crave nabe and many of the other Japanese dishes that we had on that trip and I think of my friend and her family. Once I even made okonomiyaki and gomae (spinach salad with sesame seeds) as part of the new year’s eve dinner.

So you can imagine my pleasure when I received a surprise package from this dear friend a couple of months ago. She sent me a book of Bashō’s haiku, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and the most encouraging note ever. It totally made my day. I’ve been meaning to use my new cookbook ever since. She also sent me The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, a compilation of haiku by Matsuo Bashō, a Japanese poet born in 1644. He wrote this haiku upon meeting an old friend he hadn’t seen for twenty years. It is one of my favorite.

A lively cherry
In full bloom
Between the two lives
Now made one.

Tofu with Hot Spring Egg ‘Onsen Tamago’ (Onsen Tamago Nose Dofu)

Adapted from Harumi Kurihara’s Harumi’s Japanese Cooking


1 lb Silken Tofu
4 eggs
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use Kikkoman Less Sodium)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
a couple of drops of fish sauce (optional)
roughly 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or to your taste)
roughly 10 stalks of chives finely chopped (or to your taste, can also use spring onions)


Carefully remove the tofu from its packaging while trying to keep it intact. Let excess water drain and cut into 4 big pieces.

Soft boil the eggs so the white is just cooked and the yolk runny. The cookbook says to use eggs that are at room temperature, place them in a glass container and pour boiling water to cover them and allow to cook for 10 minutes. (I screwed up and forgot to bring my egg down to room temperature and it was still uncooked. Fortunately I had a second egg but I screwed up again and overcooked it. Yup I make many mistakes. Next time I plan to place the egg in boiling water on the stove for 4-5 minutes.)

Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake and fish sauce in a mug and microwave for 45 seconds. (Book says to microwave for 2 minutes but my dressing ended up too thick)

Place a piece of tofu on each of four plates and scoop out about a wide tablespoon from the top of each piece.

Crack an egg and carefully empty the white and yolk into the hollow of each piece of tofu.

Arrange the previously scooped out tofu on the side. Place some grated ginger on top and garnish the dish with the chives.

Pour the dressing over the tofu before serving.

My verdict? The dish was simple, yet elegant, subtle yet smooth and flavorful.


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Filed under Japan

Red Onion Chutney with Crispy Papadum

So far this month has been all about catching up with friends. Friends new and old, friends who live a few blocks away in Seattle and from as far away as Japan. When we meet, I love cooking for them. I don’t usually have everything ready by the time they arrive. But I do really enjoy chatting while cooking.  There is something to be said for catching up on news while chopping vegetables, sipping a glass of wine while waiting for the curry to finish and setting the table together. It sets the stage (or should I say the table!) for a more intimate dinner. Since we have been through the process of cooking something “together”, the meal is that much more special.

I do however, always have an appetizer on hand. Something to munch on while catching up on the latest gossip.

If I’m cooking Indian, papadums are a great appetizer. They are crispy and savory and incredibly easy to prepare. You can buy a pack of them in Indian grocery stores or in the international aisle of many regular grocery stores. Just spread a few out on a plate and heat in the microwave for 1 minute on high. Let them cool for 2-3 minutes and they are ready.

I also like to have a dip that goes along with it. An Indian version of salsa is a great choice made by mixing finely diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cilantro, squeezing some lime juice and adding salt to taste. That simple.

The last time I made this, I decided to make a chutney instead. A chutney is an Indian dip or condiment. It was fantastic. Sweet and tangy, smooth and savory. It went perfectly well with the papadums.

Here is the recipe or what I can remember of it. The one bad thing about cooking while talking is that I can never remember the exact steps or how much of each ingredient I used. This is however a very forgiving recipe and you can easily adjust the taste as needed.

1 red onion – dice (roughly 3/4 cup)

1-2 dry red chilis – remove stems and roughly chop

1-2 green chilis – diced (optional for extra heat)

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp split black lentils (optional but highly recommended. Also called urud dal)

3-4 tsp vegetable oil

1 lime – squeeze to taste

salt – to taste

Heat the oil in a small saucepan or skillet. If hot enough, a mustard seed will sizzle when dropped in. Add the mustard seeds. When they start crackling, add the black lentils, green and red chilis. Stir (to prevent burning) for about 30 seconds. Add the onion and stir till the oniony smell goes away and the pieces are translucent. Turn off heat, remove from stove. Carefully spoon everything into a blender. Add 1/2 a cup of water (a bit more if necessary) and blend till the mixture is smooth enough that you cannot see individual pieces of onion or red chili. Squeeze the lime juice in and add salt to taste. If it is too spicy for you, add 1/2 a tsp of molasses (or sugar). Blend one last time before serving.

If you have leftover onion chutney, it stores well in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also try using it as a curry base or mixing it up with yoghurt for creamier dip!


Filed under India