Japanese curry: Gluten-free, low-FODMAP version

Japanese curry with riceCurry is one of Japan’s great comfort foods. Does that sound strange? I know curry is normally associated with South and Southeast Asia. Japanese cuisine, by contrast, doesn’t tend to use a lot of spices, especially not curry-like spices. Also, while I love Indian brinjal curry, red Thai curry, Malaysian penang curry, etc., they’re not foods I would want to curl up with on the couch on a cold winter’s day or eat by a campfire while camping.

Japanese curry is different. In fact, you might not want to consider it curry at all. It’s more of a hearty beef and potato stew that happens to be curry flavoured. Some Japanese curries contain ingredients that would make any self-respecting Indian or Thai chef want to cry. Ketchup, soy sauce, dashi, yogurt, honey, apples, raisins… Sound gross? You’re wrong. Virtually every Japanese person, from toddler to centenarian, loves karei. And so will you if you forget your ideas about what a proper curry should be and think of Japanese curry as another beast altogether. Continue reading

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Okonomiyaki – Japanese savoury pancakes

Stack of cabbage pancakesIt was ‘Pancake Day’ on Tuesday, which I’d never even heard of before coming to England. I’d vaguely heard of Shrove Tuesday but thought of it as an uninteresting religious day. Pancake Day sounded much better, especially because I decided it was going to be an excuse to make okonomiyaki for dinner during our Japanese-themed week.

Okonomiyaki means “as you like it cooked” and really, you can make it with just about anything you like. It’s one of those brilliant recipes in which you really don’t have to measure anything. I’ll give you some rough quantities but feel free to estimate, substitute and generally do what you want with this recipe. That’s the spirit of okonomiyaki.

I used to make okonomiyaki a lot but I hadn’t since I discovered the low-FODMAP diet. The reason? One of the main ingredients is cabbage, which is high-FODMAP. However, up to a cup of savoy cabbage is considered low-FODMAP. I wasn’t very familiar with savoy cabbage, as it’s not common in Canada, and I wasn’t sure how it would work in okonomiyaki, since it’s not what’s normally used. I’m now happy to report it works great. Continue reading

Chocolate strawberry daifuku

Strawberry daifukuFor a long time I thought there was nothing better than strawberries dipped in chocolate. I was wrong. Because now I know there are strawberries dipped in chocolate and wrapped in mochi. The succulence of the strawberry and the sweetness of the chocolate combine perfectly with the chewiness of the mochi to create a taste and texture experience like no other.

Ichigo daifuku (“strawberry great fortune,” which I think is the perfect name) is often eaten in spring in Japan and is particularly associated with Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Festival). Normally people use sweet bean paste as the middle layer, not chocolate. However, to be honest, I don’t much like sweet bean paste. Besides, it’s high in FODMAPs, so now I have an excuse not to eat it. It’s not very often that low-FODMAP is convenient, so I’ll take it!

Mochi is normally pounded glutinous rice, AKA sweet rice, AKA sticky rice. (“Glutinous” does not mean it contains gluten; don’t worry.) Traditionally, people put a lot of sticky rice (which is not the same thing as the slightly sticky short-grained rice eaten with most meals in Japan) into an usu, which is a huge wooden platform of sorts with a depression on top. Then they take big wooden mallets and pound the heck out of it. (You can see a dramatic rice-pounding performance here. The men in the video are making a coloured mochi.) Don’t worry; I’m not going to make you do that. Continue reading

Chirashi sushi

Chirashi sushiHinamatsuri, or Girls’ Festival, is in Japan something of a spring festival as well as a celebration of girls. Though I know my friends in Canada are still shivering and shovelling, spring is starting to show its face here in England. I saw my first open daffodil today as well as a bunch of little white blossoms, so I’ve been getting into the mood for some springy food.

Chirashi sushi (translates as “scattered sushi;” it’s pronounced chirashi zushi in Japanese) is basically just a layer of vinegared rice with toppings. The toppings generally include sashimi, though it’s certainly possible to make an all-cooked version. Chirashi sushi is one of the traditional foods of Hinamatsuri. These are others too, but clam soup is out in my family because my husband is allergic to shellfish, and I didn’t think it was realistic to obtain the ingredients for sakura mochi (pounded rice cakes coloured pink and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves). Chirashi sushi, however, I could do, and easily.

Chirashi sushi is, in my mind, one of the world’s most perfect dishes. It’s super easy, healthy and incredibly delicious. It’s impressive enough to be used for entertaining or just to make a family dinner feel like a special occasion. The possibilities are endless in terms of exactly what ingredients you use and how. It’s virtually impossible to screw up. Continue reading

Happy Hinamatsuri!

Hina matsuri dolls made of paperIn Japan, March 3 is Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Festival. It’s a time when families with girls display dolls dressed in kimono, often a large number of elaborate and expensive dolls perched on a set of steps covered in red cloth. The top figures are an emperor and empress. On lower steps sit all kinds of ministers, musicians, and I don’t know what else – probably grape-peelers and bum-wipers. Each doll can cost hundreds of dollars.

We weren’t going to do that.

I did, however, want to celebrate Hinamatsuri, since my heritage is Japanese and we have two girls. So we decided to make some of the simpler Hinamatsuri food as well as emperor and empress dolls. Here’s how my four-year-old and I made the dolls. Continue reading