Japanese Cooking for Health and Fitness
One of the first cookbooks I ever received was from my mom's friend, Lei-san. It is called Japanese Cooking for Health and Fitness and, according to the note in the book, I got it on Christmas of '84........23 years ago........YOWZA. I can't believe I'm even old enough to own something that long (!) much less something that I vividly remember using on a regular basis.
Despite the title, the book isn't really a diet book at all. It's simply a well formed collection of recipes that are healthy......but most of the dishes in the book are things that the average Japanese person eats very often so it passes on the message that Japanese cuisine, in general, is healthy. The book is divided into meat, vegetable, tofu/egg and rice/noodle dishes and each recipe is very clear, concise and always successful it its subtle seasoning. I've never had a dish from the book that I didn't like.
So my sister C and I would use this book often on the once-a-week nights that we were in charge of cooking dinner. Our absolutely favorite dish to make was Vegetables Rolled in Beef. It was one of those dishes that looked very impressive but was actually easy to make, and combined with rice and a salad, would make a complete meal.
While I was flipping through the book the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn't made that dish in years.....decades, perhaps (eek). And I knew for certain that I'd never made it for my dear J, who is one of the biggest non-Japanese fans of Japanese food I know. A quick trip to Mistuwa was all I needed to get the few ingredients that I didn't already have- the thinly sliced beef sold for sukiyaki or shabu shabu, fresh gobo (burdock root) and some carrots. I was ready to revisit one of the first dishes I ever mastered!
First you clean the gobo- the skin is easy to remove by scraping if off gently with the back of a spoon- then slice into six inch lengths and keep them in cold water with a touch of vinegar so they won't turn brown. Slice the carrots in the same size, then blanch both in a mixture of water, sugar and soy sauce. Take some green beans and blanch them in hot water, then put in an ice bath to cool. Set it all aside.
After I had my vegetable mise en place, I just carefully pulled out each paper thin slice of beef, dusted it with a bit of potato starch, then rolled two each of the gobo, carrot and green beans up to form a cylinder. After securing the end with a toothpick, I repeated until all of the beef was used. I love the thinness of the beef, and even though it's nicely marbled with fat, there is so little meat that you're barely getting a quarter of a pound of beef in the ENTIRE dish. Amazing, no? Talk about cooking for health and fitness;).
The rolls get browned on each side in a pan and then doused with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, mirin and sake and left to stew just a bit until the sauce reduces and gets slightly thickened. Cut each roll in half to reveal the pretty veggies inside, and you're done!
I had seen these enormous shimeji mushrooms at the store, so I just pulled each apart to make smaller pieces and put them in a foil packet with a bit of butter, soy sauce, sake and a couple of thin slices of lemon. After about 15 minutes in the oven, they were piping hot and ready to be cut open! Cold tofu topped with a mixture of ground sesame seeds, soy sauce, green onions and grated ginger was another addition, as well as some brown rice mixed with multigrain seeds and some spicy pickled cucumbers.
We poured ourselves some ice cold sake and enjoyed the Japanese supper. It really brought back a lot of memories for me, and J wondered why I hadn't made it for him before. We both really loved the combination of the tasty beef, slightly al dente vegetables and sweet sauce. I'll make sure to put this dish back into our dinner rotation from now on.
I was shocked to see that you can still purchase this book at Amazon, so check it out if you're interested in Japanese cooking. It's a great place to start!