It’s been a busy half year - this dinner occurred January 6th and I’m just now getting around to writing it up. Admittedly, my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details, but here goes.
This dinner was in honor of the birthdays of my son Josh and daughter-in-law Emily – coincidentally, both were born on January 10! It was a smallish gathering – Josh, Noah and Emily, Davida, and Hannah. The dinner was held a few days before their actual birthdays because Davida and I were heading to the Galapagos that Monday. That was a fabulous vacation – as you can see from some of our pictures and videos (I especially like the video of swimming with the sea turtles).
There are not too many “J” countries – I had done Jamaica the first time through the alphabet (the jerk chicken was fabulous – have made it several times since) and I thought that Jordan would be too similar to the Israeli food with which we are very familiar. That left Japan, which is not at all a bad choice. I decided to forego making sushi, though, since I didn’t want to risk getting food poisoning right before our big trip. None of the dishes needed to be adapted in any special way for kashrut, but I did need to adjust several of the recipes to make them gluten free (especially making sure to use gluten-free soy sauce!)
I love Japanese soups – they are very flavorful, but subtle. I wanted to make something more interesting than standard miso soup, though. Fortunately, I found this lovely recipe for Tofu No Ankake – dashi soup with tofu and mushrooms. The best way to make sure that the dashi was gluten free was to make my own dashi broth. It was a bit time consuming – mostly in my search for a Japanese grocery store where I could get the kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). If I remember correctly, I cooked the dashi for longer than the recipe suggested to get more flavor out of the kelp and tuna flakes. The aroma was quite earthy, mainly from the seaweed. The rest of the soup was straightforward, just combining all the ingredients. While the recipe calls for “mint leaves/sweet sherry,” similar recipes that I looked at use mirin, which is what I used instead (getting it at the same Japanese grocery store).
The soup had a salty, earthy flavor – subtle, but distinct. The mushrooms (I believe I used shitake) had a wonderful texture, but the tofu didn’t add much to the dish, in my opinion. Most of the guests rated the soup a 6, with one giving it a 5 (I’m guessing it was someone who was not partial to mushrooms). I have to go along with the majority – it was a very nice soup, but not spectacular. That was pretty much the theme of the night – tasty dishes, but nothing that was really a keeper.
The Main Dish:
I wanted to avoid any of the standard Japanese main dishes, such as teriyaki chicken. I found, instead, what looked to be an elegant, yet simple, grilled fish recipe. The recipe calls for a strong-flavored, oily fish. When I went to buy groceries for the meal, the only fish that they had that fit the bill was whole mackerel. The worker was nice enough to fillet two mackerels for me and sent me home with some beautiful fillets and all the bones, heads, and tails. Given such a bounty, I decided to make fish stock, and the aroma of boiling fish was in the apartment all afternoon. I froze the stock and have yet to do anything with it, but I’m sure it will be fabulous when I finally figure out how to use it.
Of course, in order to make grilled fish, I needed a grill pan. I didn’t have one before, but now I do! It was a lot of fun grilling the fish – getting just the right sear marks. I remember it looking very pretty being served, although looking now at the picture, I’m afraid there might have been a bit too much charring. Despite the grilling, the fish had a very subtle flavor – too subtle, for my taste. It seemed to go over fine with the guests, though – everyone rated it a 6.
Here I fell back on an old favorite – tempura vegetables. Fortunately, I found an easy gluten free recipe that uses rice flour. Preparing the tempura itself is quite easy – the time-consuming parts are slicing all the vegetables and then frying them just a few at a time. I used sweet potato, carrots, green beans, and Japanese eggplant. Personally, I thought that the sweet potato came out the best – it was sweet and still firm; the carrots were not as successful – they didn’t cook enough and were too crunchy for my taste. Overall, the majority of the guests rated the tempura a 6, with one 5 rating.
My notes indicate that I made a dish called Maze Gohan, rice with vegetables, but I cannot find anything online that matches the recipe I used. I may have taken the recipe from an actual cookbook, but I cannot find it in any of my cookbooks. Regardless, it is fairly obvious from the picture what was in the dish – rice, of course (I recall using sushi rice), sliced carrots, diced celery, edamame, and I seem to recall using shitake mushrooms, although none are visible in the picture, so I may be mistaken. I also think soy and mirin were added to the dish. I definitely remember that I had bought a package of frozen edamame and, right before making the rice, was surprised to find that they were not shelled, so we frantically shelled the beans as the rice was cooking (and the fish was grilling, and the tempura was frying!) It probably is not too bad that I can’t find the recipe – it was not a great hit, with an average rating of 5.5 – and this from a crowd that loves rice!
Despite my better judgment, given how relatively unsuccessful my country desserts have been, I decided to make castella, a traditional Japanese cake. This apparently popular cake is like a sponge cake – lots of eggs whipped up frothy. I substituted gluten-free flour and did not have the traditional wooden baking pan, but the cake looked like it came out fine. It was just dry and fairly tasteless, and the guests all rated it a 2.
Fortunately, I also made my standard chocolate birthday cake for Josh’s and Emily’s birthdays. While I could have made a dairy cake, the recipe I’ve used for 15 years is pareve, and I figured I shouldn’t mess with tradition. In that vein, I used regular wheat flour, so Hannah couldn’t partake, and was stuck with the castella – sorry, Hannah! Happy birthday, Josh and Emily – have a great year!
Up next: Kazakhstan!