Underrated Japanese Dishes for the Health Concious

Like any keen cook, I’m constantly learning when it comes to food and dishes from different cultures. My current trip to Japan has made me want to share some of these, especially as most of them contain ingredients that aren’t that difficult to get hold of, for my western readers. They have an added benefit of being extremely healthy, (not that I’ve ever had the self discipline to choose food based on it’s health value!) Anyway, here we go:

1. だいこんおろし (Daikon-oroshi)

This isn’t a dish in it’s own right, but is a side dish made of raw grated icicle radish. It’s white and quite wet in texture, and has a spicy/peppery taste. Try eating it with fish.

2. Spinach with Sesame.

This dish is so refreshing yet so easy to prepare. For the tradition version, you will need three ingredients; spinach, a small cup of sesame seeds, and soy sauce or salt to taste. Grind the sesame seeds with a pestle and mortar, to make a paste, adding a little water if it is too solid. Add soy sauce or salt and check the taste is to your liking. Boil the spinach for a few minutes, drain, and leave to cool slightly. Squeeze the spinach with your hands, to get most of the water out. Now, all that’s left to do it introduce the sesame paste to the spinach, and mix loosely. 

3. Green Vegetables with Tofu

This dish was new to me when it was served up the other day. It looked like a cold dish of mangetout beans, broccoli and spring onions mixed with cottage cheese, but apparently the white covering was tofu that had had the water squeezed out of it. I have to say it’s not the best thing I’ve eaten so far, but I’m sure vegans and tofu fans will like it.

4. きんぴら (Kinpira)

This dish is a classic, though I’ve never seen it served in Japan restaurants abroad. To make it, chop carrots and burdock into thin matchsticks. Chop enough to fill a cereal bowl, and stir fry with a tablespoon each of soy sauce and mirin (Japanese cooking wine). Add a small teaspoon of sugar along with enough chilli powder to give it a kick, but not blow your head off. Ta da!

5. お好み焼き (Okonomiyaki)

This is known as Japanese pizza but I think of it more as a pancake. By definition, you can put what you like inside, which is probably why it’s so popular. Prepare a batter of flour and water. Fry your chosen vegetables and pour some of the batter on top when they are cooked. When the bottom of the okonomiyaki is cooked but the top is not, lay thin slices of raw pork or beef on top, then flip the whole thing over until fully cooked. 

It is usually drizzled with a sauce like BBQ sauce and mayonnaise, then sprinkled with fish flakes and nori (dried seaweed).

6. 冷やし中華 (Hiyashi Chyu-ka)

Do we Asians stop eating noodles when summer comes along and the weather gets hot? Of course not! The following dish if one of the many cold noodle options that are available. Cook you noodles, drain and run them under cold water, then pour a few tablespoons of sauce of soy sauce and vinegar over the top. Garnish with cucumber, egg, ham-whatever you like!

7. Miso Marinade

In Japan, Miso isn’t just used for soup. Mix Miso and cooking wine, and spread this paste over white fish before grilling.

8. つけ物 (Tsukemono)

Pickled vegetables are a permanent guest at the dinner table. Fill a bag with chopped cucumber, add rice vinegar and sugar, then keep this in the fridge for up to 5 days.


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