Obento(Lunch Box)

Spinach and Pine nuts with Honey Soy Sauce

I love spinach because of its lively green colour. It’s super nutritious, so I always want to eat lots of it! Blanching leaf vegetables is an easy way to eat them in quantity without losing its nutrition. I added pine nuts which is said to be great for fatigue recovery and nutrition supply. It’s a healthy treat for your body.

The spinach and pine nuts are seasoned with simply soy sauce and honey. There are only four ingredients to make this side dish, however the natural sweetness of the honey makes it something special.

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Key

  1. Do not over boil the spinach. It loses its colour and nutrition when overboiled. Squeeze any excess water out from the spinach.
  2. Adding a little bit of salt in the boiling water will keep the spinach (and any other green vegetables)  bright and green while cooking.

Topic: Pine nuts

In China, pine nuts have been regarded as a super healthy food for a long time. Legend has it that, about 2000 years ago, a Chinese man called Akuzen who ate pine nuts every day became immortal. No wonder Chinese medical cooking often has pine nuts as an ingredient!

In recent Japan, pine nuts have come under the spotlight as a beneficial food, especially for women. Firstly, they are rich in iron, zinc and folic acid, therefore are expected to prevent or improve anaemia symptoms. Secondly, they also contain a good amount of vitamin A which is essential in keeping your skin and hair looking radiant and healthy. Last but not least, recent studies have revealed that Pinolenic Acid, a fatty acid exclusive to pine nuts, helps your body to produce a hormone called CCK which tells your brain to turn off ‘hungry mode’. It’s said that pine nuts make you feel full therefore are great if you’re trying to lose weight. Well, the researches are still ongoing, but we might hear good news pretty soon!

However, don’t gorge yourself on pine nuts! They are high in calories after all and sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth. Remember, a moderate amount is always the best.

Teriyaki Chicken Tomato and Vinegar Sauce

I love chicken thigh for Teriyaki chicken dish because it’s succulent and flavoursome. Once you debone them, they are easy to cook and can be enjoyed with many different sauces.

This recipe doesn’t require any special ingredients. You probably have them all in your fridge and cupboard.

You should pan-fry chicken thigh skin down. The oil from the skin is enough to fry themselves, and the skin becomes crispier. The sauce for this recipe is a good old teriyaki sauce with a twist. Add lots of tomato and spring onion to this tangy yet refreshing sauce.

Serve with boiled cabbage, which refreshes your palate and goes really well with the chicken. Obviously, the dish goes well with rice, making it a great obento dish.

If you prefer chicken breast to thigh, dust a fillet with a little flour at direction 1 below. This makes the chicken fillet soft and moist when cooked.

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Key

To check if the chicken is cooked, poke it with a wooden skewer or a paring knife. If the juice runs clear, it is cooked. The cooking time varies depending on the size of the meat, however they’ll generally be in 4 to 5 minutes.

If you prefer chicken breast fillets, dust them with flour after you sprinkle salt and pepper. This process will lock the moisture in the fillets. Don’t overcook as they tend to become dry.

For an obento box, cook the sauce further until it thickens to prevent leakage.

Topic: Is chicken thigh fattier than breast?

I’ve heard some people prefer chicken breast to thigh because they are low in calories. But, is it true?

Well, 100g of chicken breast fillet has 108kcal whereas thigh has 200kcal. It looks like game over, doesn’t it? However, this is because breast is usually sold without the skin. Let me check thigh meat calories without skin. It’s only 116kcal, so there is not much difference in calories between breast and thigh.

Chicken fat is mainly present between the skin and meat, which makes separating fat and meat easier compared to other meats, like pork and beef. This recipe uses the chicken’s own fat to fry it and no added oil. So, wipe away any excess oil from the chicken and you can have a succulent chicken thigh dish relatively low in calories.

I must tell you that 100g chicken breast meat contains a mere 4.2g fat whereas thigh contains 11g – more than the double amount of breast. Therefore, it can be said that ‘chicken thigh is fattier than the breast’ is true. However, chicken fat is not all bad as it contains more unsaturated fat, especially monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid which helps to lower bad cholesterol, compare to other meats. Chicken thigh is rich in B Vitamins and powerful antioxidant selenium as well.

Chicken thigh and breast are both delicious and healthy if cooked properly. Choose whichever you prefer for this recipe, without having to worry too much about calories!

If you want to know the secret power of chicken breast, read topic 2 on This page

References:

http://www.j-chicken.jp/museum/arekore/01.html (Japanese)

http://www.matsuzaka-steak.com/nikurikata/meat/007467.php (Japanese)

Butter and Soy Sauce Flavoured Cod

Cod is unarguably everyone’s favourite fish, because of its delicate taste and soft texture. It’s also adaptable to varieties of cooking methods and flavourings.

We all know fish dishes are good for us, though ways of cook them tends to become monotonous. This recipe uses a sauce made from butter and soy sauce, which gives an interesting Japanese-ish twist to crispy pan-fried cod. I serve with sautéed leek, which adds sweetness to the dish.

The flavour of the soy sauce, the richness of butter, and the sweetness of the leek make the difference to ordinary pan-fried cod.

You could also try my other Japanese influenced flavour, miso and butter sauce for fish recipe here. This sauce is also fantastic with cod.

 

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Key

Adjust cooking time for cod depending on the thickness of the fillet. For instance, if your fillet is thinner than the cod in the picture, reduce the cooking time.

If your fillets don’t brown, quickly pan-fry them over a high heat until browned at the end of cooking.

Serve the cod with rice or mashed potato as a main. It’s also nice on salad leaves to serve as a starter.

 

Topic 1: Butter and Soy Sauce Flavour

Butter and soy sauce flavour is one of the most popular flavourings in Japan. We even have butter and say sauce flavoured snacks, including crisps and popcorn. Everyone loves the charred aroma of the soy sauce and rich butter taste.

Butter and soy sauce are great with light and delicate ingredients, such as white fish and chicken breast, as they accentuate their tastes. Adding soy sauce to butter sautéed vegetables is equally tasty.

 

Topic 2: Cod

Cod is an excellent source of protein and, as it’s much lower in calories and saturated fat, a healthier substitution for meat. It’s also rich in health beneficial properties, such as omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.

Unfortunately, cod is currently classified as ‘at risk’ due to overfishing in the UK, Canada and most other Atlantic countries. You can use haddock, hake, coley, or pollock instead of cod.

In Japan, cod is called tara and its Kanji character is ‘鱈‘. It’s a Japanese-made Kanji, and the left side signifies fish, and the right side signifies snow. The character was created because of its snow-white meat. Cod is said to taste nicer during winter because they keep more fat against coldness. Salted cod roe is called tarako, literally meaning ‘cod’s children’, and is one of the most widely available side dishes in Japan. Shirako, meaning ‘white children’, is milt of male cod and prized as a seasonal delicacy by many Japanese. I must warn you that shirako is not for everyone, but only for those people who are adventurous enough with food.

 

References

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/cod/

https://www.sustainweb.org/sustainablefishcity/top_ten_swaps/#cod

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=133

 

Kinpira Stir Fried Carrot

Do you know that one small carrot supplies nearly three times of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A? What’s more, carrots are more beneficial when they are cooked briefly with oil. So, this is the perfect recipe to enjoy the benefits of carrots! This is a vegetarian and vegan friendly recipe with full of nutrition.

Kinpira is a traditional Japanese cooking style of stir frying and simmering to enjoy the flavours and crunch of root vegetables. Add plenty of sesame seeds, which is another superfood.

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Key

  1. Prepare all the ingredients before you start cooking, so you can cook the dish in good speed to preserve the flavour, crunch, and most importantly, the beta-carotene of carrots.Preparation for Kinpira Carrot
  2. You can find the directions for toasted sesame seeds on this post in the preparation section 3. Pre-toasted sesame seeds can be find in any oriental grocery stores. It’s fragrant and handy to use. You also can find them online.

Topic 1: Carrot, the most underrated superfood

Carrot is so underrated and an inexpensive superfood. They are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, which turns into vitamin A in our body. In fact, the name beta-carotene derived from the Latin word ‘carota’ which means carrot in English.

In general, vitamins escape while cooking. However, since beta-carotene is more resistant when cooked and fat-soluble, cooking carrots with oil actually helps us to absorb beta-carotene.

Vitamin A gives a lot of benefits to our body, such as maintaining healthy skin, enhancing our immune system, and much more.

References

Topic 2: What is Kinpira ?

Kinpira is a traditional Japanese cooking style and one of the most prevailing side dishes in Japan. You’ll definitely find one in a pre-packed obento lunch box in a shop. Root vegetables including burdock, carrot and lotus root are stir fried with a salty, sweet sauce, which is the best way to enjoy their unique flavour and crunch. Burdock and lotus root are rarely found in the UK, though you can find them in oriental grocery stores. Burdock contains lots of dietary fibres, as well as calcium, potassium. Lotus roots are also a great source of dietary fibres, as well as vitamin B6, copper and iron. Try cooking kinpira if you manage to find them.

The name kinpira is derived from a son of unarguably the most popular hero in Japanese folktale, Kintaro. Sakata Kinpira, the son of Sakata Kintoki, also known as Kintaro, was, like his father, tough and strong. The dish was named after him because of its crunch and nutritious benefits.

pork tsukune meatball

Pork Tsukune Meatballs with Miso Flavoured Sauce

At yakitori eateries, tsukune, minced chicken meatballs on skewers, is one of the popular choices. Here I created a tsukune style meatball recipe with pork mince, as it’s easier to find pork mince in the UK.

For the sauce, I used miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soy beans, which goes really well with pork. You can find a jar of miso at major supermarkets and grocery chains nowadays. This sauce gives an umami packed flavour to the tsukune meatballs.

Why not skewer cooked tsukune meatballs in Japanese yakitori style for your party? They are still delicious even when they have cooled down, which makes fancy finger food at parties as well as a great side dish for a bento box.

obento with pork tsukune

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Key

  1. It’s important to mix the mixture for the tsukune meatballs by hand very well until it feels sticky and becomes slightly pale in colour.
  2. There are several types of miso on shelves, but you can use any type for this recipe.
  3. Check whether the tsukune meatballs are cooked by poking one of them with a skewer. When the juice runs clear, it’s cooked.
  4. Toasted sesame seeds are called iri goma, and a popular garnish in Japan. Sesame seeds taste and smell better when toasted, and gives an extra richness and flavour to dishes. You can use them for a variety of Japanese dishes as a garnish.

Topic: What’s Tsukune?

The word tsukune derives from an old Japanese word ‘tsukune-ru’, which means ‘to knead’.  Now you know why it’s important to mix the mixture very well. Tsukune is made from minced meat and usually shaped into a ball or a baton. Chicken mince is most used for tsukune, however pork mince tsukune is equally popular.

Tsukune is loved by all age groups because it’s soft and juicy, therefore easy to eat from children to the elderly. It’s also versatile to cook, as you can mix other ingredients including herbs and spices, or even soft bones to enjoy a crunch.

Tsukune is often served in izakaya where people can enjoy a variety of food each in a small quantity with drinks, just like Spanish tapas. Each izakaya has their own tsukune dish using different parts of the meat and original recipes. You’ll be asked if you want to eat tsukune with tare or shio in izakaya. Tare is a sweet and savoury sauce similar to teriyaki sauce, and shio means simply just salt. You might think seasoning with only salt is boring, but actually some tsukune recipes taste better with just salt. Furthermore, in recent Japan, many salt products from various areas are available. For instance, a salt shop in Tokyo sells 400 varieties of salt from Japan and overseas, and a profession called salt meisters are on the rise.

 

Deep Fried Aubergine with Yuzu Kosho and Sesame Dressing

Yuzu Kosho is a Japanese condiment made with green chili and yuzu. It can jazz up any dish with its tart taste full of yuzu aroma.

Here, I use yuzu kosho to dress deep fried aubergine. It’s a simple recipe with few ingredients, which is the best way to enjoy yuzu kosho.  

If you don’t have yuzu kosho, you can replace it with wasabi paste. I recommend using a smaller amount than the yuzu kosho, about ½ tsp for this recipe, but it’s totally up to your tastes. Aubergine tastes superb when deep fried. This dish is delicious both when it has just been cooked, or chilled in the fridge. It’s great with rice, as well as a tasty nibble with a drink.

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Level: Easy

Ingredients for 4

揚げ茄子材料

1 large Aubergine (about 300g)

Oil for deep-frying

For dressing

1 tbs Soy Sauce

1 tsp Yuzu Kosho (or Wasabi Paste to taste)

30g Spring Onion or Salad Onion (finely chopped)

2tbs Sesame Seeds

Method

  1. Add the oil in a middle-sized pot about 7 – 10cm deep.  Preheat the oil between 180 – 200 .
  2. Cut the aubergine into bite-size chunks and deep fry in the pot. When they’re softened, place the aubergine on kitchen towel to drain excess oil.
  3. Add all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and mix. Place the deep-fried aubergine chunks into the bowl to dress them.

 Key

  1. Aubergine needs a higher temperature to deep fry. To check the temperature of the oil, put the handle of a wood spoon into the oil. If the oil is bubbling fast and steadily, then it’s hot enough to deep-fry aubergine. Make sure the handle is totally dry beforehand.
  2. You can pan fry the aubergine instead of deep-frying. Add a good amount of oil and stir-fry the aubergine chunks. When they are softened, add the dressing in the frying-pan and coat them evenly.

 

Easy Yakitori in A Pan

Yakitori is Japanese-style grilled chicken pieces on a skewer. It’s typical bar food and you can find yakitori bars luring punters with smoke and an irresistible smell from their grills.

If you want to cook yakitori at home, it’ll be a challenge. They often come out undercooked or overcooked. Burning the skewers is another problem. That’s why most of us eat out or take away yakitori in Japan.

Here, I’m going to show you an easy and fool-proof recipe for yakitori cooked in a pan.

Ingredients for 8 skewers

4 Small Chicken thighs (or 350g Chicken Thigh Pieces)

Spring Onion (cut into bite-size pieces)

8 Skewers

For Cooking Sauce

2 tbs Soy Sauce

2 tbs Sugar

2 tbs Mirin or Sweet Sherry

Method

Preparation: Debone the Chicken Thigh

Make diagonal slits on both side of the bone, and take the bone off.

  1. Cut the chicken thigh into bite-size chunks.
  2. Place the chicken chunks on a pan skin-side down. Cook them over a high heat. You don’t need to add cooking oil, as oil comes from the chicken skin as you cook it. Leave the pieces untouched until the skin becomes golden brown.
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the cooking sauce until the sugar is dissolved. Or even easier, put them in a small jar and shake.
  4. Turn the chicken pieces over and cook thoroughly. Once cooked, add the spring onion pieces and the cooking sauce.
  5. When the chicken pieces are coated with the sauce and become shiny, remove from heat. Skewer the cooked chicken pieces and spring onion, using forks or chopsticks.

Key

  1. To check whether the chicken pieces are cooked, poke the biggest chicken piece with a skewer. If clear juice runs out, it’s cooked.
  2. You can use cocktail sticks instead of skewers.
  3. If you use skin off chicken add a little oil to the pan.