Even though I lived in Japan for three years, it sometimes seems odd to me that I don’t crave Japanese food more often than I actually do. I can go a long time without wanting it or making it, but then there will be a trigger and that’s all I can think of for days.
It usually happens around movies. When my little art house cinema shows a Japanese movie, if they show them eating anything, I usually leave the theatre obsessed with something either in the movie or suggested by the movie. It happened on a plane once, but luckily it was on the way to Japan so I had a lot of time to indulge my cravings.
Last weekend I went to see the film “Our Little Sister.” In it, three mostly adult daughters attend the funeral of their father who left their mother years ago and began a family with another woman which resulted in a daughter. At the time of the movie, he has now been with a third woman and the daughter of the second woman is kind of left in limbo. The older daughters invite her to come live with them, even though it’s a bit scandalous given she’s the product of a union that ended the marriage of their parents.
It’s a lovely film in tone and it’s worth seeking out or renting. Along the way, they eat a variety of things but the one that caught my eye and my hunger was tempura and cold buckwheat noodles in the summer.
Ironically, I had a plan to make chili but chili was the last thing I wanted to eat. But I needed to make chili because I had the stuff and didn’t want the vegetables to go to waste. So, I did intend to still make chili. But first I would make tempura to satisfy myself.
In my refrigerator I had small eggplants (a little bigger than Japanese eggplant but still small enough to work), red sweet peppers (small), and broccoli. I decided I could make myself a nice appetizer from what I had.
My basic batter:
- 1 c. flour
- 1 egg
- 1 cup liquid (1/2 cold water, 1/2 vodka)
- a generous pinch of salt
I had read once that vodka evaporates faster than water so it can be used effectively in pie crust. I decided to give it a try in my tempura batter with the hopes it would make my batter lighter and less heavy in the coating.
I mixed this together and it was still pretty thick. I then keep adding more water until I have a batter the consistency of thin pancake batter. It was probably almost another 1/2 cup by the time I was done.
I got impatient and started cooking too early when the oil wasn’t hot enough. Sadly, as I knew it would, it makes for an oily result. You need hot oil to keep the food from absorbing too much oil and for making the tempura coating light and crunchy. Sadly, I wasted some broccoli with my impatience.
Finally, the oil was hot enough. I was happily cooking the broccoli and the peppers. As they came out of the oil, I added a bit more salt. For the eggplant, I kept the top on it to hold it together, but I cut it into strips and then cut across those strips to create what looks like “fingers” or the tentacles of an octopus. I dipped it into my batter and pushed the fingers apart and then added it to the oil. The hot oil helps it to open up and cook evenly and when it comes out it’s lovely and dramatic.
I had a little cold buckwheat noodle dipping sauce in the fridge for an Asian market so rather than making a dipping sauce, I used that as my cheat. It was a lovey little appetizer and satiated my immediate craving. I did make my chili, but most of it went into the freezer for eating on another day.
Later in the week, I still had a craving for Japanese food. Because I had a couple of weeks of carrots and potatoes from the farm, I decided to make a big pot of Japanese curry. The traditional way is pork or chicken and then a combination of onion, potato, and carrot. I had onion, potato, carrot, sweet red peppers, and eggplant and I had intention to use them all with just a little pork.
I always take the short cut of Japanese roux sold at the store. Each box is diluted with 2.5 cups of water so depending on how much stuff you want to use, you either need one or two boxes. I typically have more vegetables than one box can handle so I always get two boxes so I can assume 5 cups of water which is plenty of room for all of the vegetables I want to use. The technique is easy: cook your meat and onion cut into chunks, add in your vegetables of choice and the water and cook until your vegetables are nearly tender. At that point you add in the roux and cook it another 5-10 minutes or so until it gets a bit thickened and stew-like.
I always put in too many carrots, especially, since that’s my favorite part of the curry — sweet curry and big slices or chunks of sweet, flavorful carrot.
Although not traditional in terms of my vegetable combination and the fact that I served it with brown rice instead of sticky white rice, I loved it. It felt good going into autumn with THE Japanese comfort food.
For now my cravings are satisfied.