命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya

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Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook

While by no means a vegetarian, several times a year as Orthodox Christians we go vegan during the fasting periods. Given the prevalence of dashi in everything I have usually relied on western vegan recipes during this time. As we come up on the Nativity Fast I decided to look into some Japanese Vegetarian cookbooks and try out something new.

First I tripped upon Kansha by Elizabeth Andoh. I have one of her other cookbooks Washoku, and while I really like her research and her writing it just doesn’t cut the mustard with my “inspiration index”. Basically, nowhere near enough photos.

So I fell back on my old favourite inspiration, Nobu Matsuhisa with Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook. Very much styled on his other recipe books which have provided me with great dreams over the years it is filled with great recipes and delightful photography. There are a myriad of interesting dishes to try, most of them not difficult at all with access to the right ingredients. Different recipes for Dashi that are very vegan are included and used throughout most of the dishes.

Many of the dishes use the vegetarian stock for cooking or marinating in a traditional Japanese approach. There are also variations on classic Nobu twists such as using the “New Style Oil” approach, that he pioneered with sashimi to make it more palatable for the raw fish skeptic, to attack beautiful fruit tomatoes. There is a variation one of my favourite asparagus dishes, previously with egg sauce and salmon roe (Ikura) this time with a more healthy approach as well as vegan using a miso based sauce and long onions as garnish. The front cover surprised me when I got to the recipe, vegetable sushi (sure) but vegetables are “cured” with konbu.

There are some unfortunate recipes that no doubt are inspired by his clients; a proliferation of truffles used in many recipes are great but a little off the radar for many of us. Sure, they are vegan but incredibly expensive (and while legal in my fasting regimen defy the spirit of why it is done).

Overall a great inspiration book; many solid recipes but underlying techniques that can be migrated to other vegetables and ingredients. Oh, and he dips fruit tomatoes in chocolate, fabulous!!!!! Highly recommended and I hope to show you some of the recipes and techniques as I try them over the coming months.


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Return of Iron Chef Sakai

Reading around the traps it appears that Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai will make an appearance on this weeks episode of the new series of Japanese Iron Chef. Sakai will introduce a “nominee” – challenger to the Iron Chef. Hopefully, as with Michiba’s appearance in episodes 2 & 3 he will be on the commentary panel and get to taste and judge.

The culinary critic, Asako Kishi, from the original series will also be back this week on the judging and tasting panel. Kishi always had quirky things to say in the original series but until this is overdubbed or subtitled it wont help those of us without Japanese language skills. She can be as quirky as she likes in Japanese but it will be all Greek to me!

Watch out on the Iron Chef Fans site on late Friday night or Saturday morning for the new episode.

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shiso update – 1

Well, for a start it’s still alive!!!

We have managed to keep this baby alive now for over a week with simple watering every day and adding a small pile of grains of slow release fertiliser. Overall has perked up since its liberation from the Japanese Grocery Store I purchased it from. The older leaves look ready to pick and the new growths have sprung to life and are more visible as shiso rather than small pointy green things

Like a pair of lunatic new parents we also ran to the local hardware store and purchased it a “crib”. For a mere $30 we grabbed a simple greenhouse structure which sits on the dormant brick barbecue structure in our yard. We have also planted some seeds for a further experiment in ingredients which I will report on later.

So now the two larger leaves are going to end up being used in tonight’s dinner and I am going to pick one of the most healthy leaves and try my hand a raising another plant from a clipping. Sounds a little complicated to me; the things you do for rare ingredients!

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Edomae Sushi: Art, Tradition, Simplicity

I have always been a little on the fence about cookbooks, mostly due to the fact that I have not had a great history of following recipes; Japanese Cuisine and anything that resembles baking are the two notable exceptions. My preference is for books that give inspiration not just a list of recipes for one to blindly follow. This means that the books must have plenty of good pictures, pretty much as a minimum one for each finished recipe and some step by step shots where useful.

When I look for books on Japanese cuisine I tend to be even more picky. Given the intricate presentation awarded even to the simplest sushi plate I feel you want more and more to sea the beauty in order to learn from that.

“Edomae Sushi: Art, Tradition, Simplicity” by Kikuo Shimizu fits into that sweetspot of good information and great photography. The pictures are huge, particularly the shots of the individual sushi items with just a splattering of text on the page to classify the dish. Even many of the accompanying text pages have photos interspersed with them.

The introductory section of the book provides great insights from the author about “Edomae”, the beginnings of sushi in the area around Tokyo Bay between the 17th and 19th centuries, the life of a sushi chef and shop owner and the philosophy behind making sushi; not to mention some beautiful photographs of ingredients and the authors restaurant.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the sushi itself, presented in a kind of “reverse-engineered” style. Most items have a double page devoted to them with a large picture of a completed piece of sushi on the left with basic naming and preparation details and to the right detailed discussion on the ingredient itself, appropriate seasons and preparation background. Here is the greatest value in the book; even if you never want to get your hands stuck into the rice you will never again be an uneducated diner. The flipped to this is, that unless you go Japan or a very good sushi restaurant in your country you may be more educated than those running the place. Use this power wisely and humbly as with all things, and importantly keep yourself from being chased from your local sushi train by an unhappy chef with a very large knife ;).

Nicely rounding off this tome are some general instructions on making sushi and preparing some ingredients and for the freaky like me who have dreams (nightmares ;)) about running their own restaurant a short memoir of the authors sushi journey. Overall a well written well produced book for any lover of sushi.

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dashi – the broth of vigour

Dashi is the basis of almost everything in Japanese cooking. This is a very strong statement which until recently I would have slightly chuckled at. Sure, the majority of basic cooking stocks build upon dash, but so do most sauces and even batters for Takoyaki (octopus balls) and Okonomyaki (Japanese Pancakes).

The recipe below is the standard I use as a basis for my dashi. I have seen a plethora of different variations using the same ingredients just tweaking the amounts, more on that later on. For a vegetarian stock I would substitute 50g of dried shitake mushrooms for the bonito flakes.


  • 1 Litre of water
  • a piece of konbu 3″ x 3″(dried kelp)
  • 30g katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)


Put the water and the konbu in a saucepan and start up on a medium heat. Just prior to the water coming to the boil, pull out and discard the konbu and put in the katsuobushi, leaving until the water comes to the boil. When boiling begins turn off the heat and allow to  cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the katsuobushi has sunk to the bottom of the pan. Then strain through a fine sieve or colander lined with muslin or paper towels.

From this base you can easily grab 200ml or so with a tablespoon of miso paste and your favourite garnishes (seaweed, long onions, tofu, etc) for a very delicious miso soup. It is so easy to through together (even if you make the dashi from scratch) you will wonder why you used the packet mixes in the first place (except maybe to take to work!!). Another variation that is a favourite of mine is to add a handful of frozen seafood (from a marinara mix or similar) as the dashi is being brought to the boil for a more filling soup.

The finished dashi will keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. I have some jumbo cubed ice cube trays which are great for this. You may want a more condensed dashi if you are going to freeze it (to take up less space in the freezer); my approach for this is to double the amount of konbu and katsuobushi and leave it to steep for longer. That way you can add an equal amount of water to the melted ice cube and get a similar flavoured soup.

Other regular uses in my kitchen include:

  • Cooking rice – replace the water you would use in your rice cooker with dashi
  • Vegetables – turnips, daikon raddish, cabbage , eggplants or other vegetables to be used as part of a japanese dish can be boiled in dashi to add extra flavour before the rest of the dish is added
  • Add to rice – one of my favourite lunches is to make some rice in a rice cooker, add some bits & pieces (long onions, any leftover or frozen seafood (defrosted of course) and other garnishes) and pour over hot dashi to make an almost porridge like consistency

Michiba’s Broth of Vigour

One of the key inspirations for this site, and hence the honour of the name comes from the original Iron Chef series (surprise). The first Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburo Michiba, had a trademark Dashi which was labelled “the broth of vigour” (in Japanese “Inochi no Dashi” or 命の出汁). He prepared this at the beginning of almost every battle, bringing water to the boil with Konbu in it then putting an absolute bucketload of katsuobushi into the pot.

This would make such an incredibly intense stock. I have overloaded my dashi a few times (no where near this extent) when I wanted to make a rich sauce base but I find you end up with a little too smoky a flavour for my liking using it this way just for a soup stock.

Anyway, dashi is easy and quick to put together from long life ingredients. Try it, you’ll never want to go back to the packet mix and it will never go to waste.

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shiso (not the japanese word for green plastic)

For years I was amused by the little green pieces of plastic that were put in take away boxes of sushi and sashimi, often used to separate items. Once I had visited Japan I realised that this was meant to be a substitute (?!?!?!) for a Japanese leaf known as Shiso (紫蘇 or シソ in Japanese).

Shiso is used as a separator in dishes, a receptacle for wasabi or other condiments as well as used in dishes themselves. When used in dishes I have experienced it rolled as part of sushi, chopped up as a garnish for everything from soups to noodles. It is claimed to be a relative of the basil plant and it does have a delightful peppery taste.

Firstly, I don’t know what the crazy plastic making people were thinking, but a rectangular piece of green plastic with one serrated side looks nothing like an actual shiso leaf. Secondly, it doesn’t taste anywhere near as good ;). It is one of those ingredients (like the Japanese citrus Yuzu) that I have found out of reach until recently. On the weekend I went to Tokyo Mart to get some supplies and they were selling little seedlings of Shiso near the registers. My wife thought it would be a great idea to get one and it was added to the basket along with 4 litres of Shocho and some miscellaneous items we had run out of.

This might seem reasonable but we are both notorious “black thumbs” when it comes to anything growing. It is thought that my wife can kill plants using only her mind. The truth lies somewhere in between and probably more to do with neglect than anything. So it will take some serious thought processes to try to keep this thing alive.

Looking around on the internet, my worst fears were realised. While it is apparently quite a hardy plant, it does die off once it flowers so for us to keep a constant source of shiso there will need to be cuttings taken and seeds harvested. Oh bugger.

Let’s see how our new little friend lives over the coming weeks. It will be worthwhile if I can keep it alive to have one of the rarer Japanese ingredients available from the back garden!

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iron chef returns to japan

One of the biggest surprises out of my recent trip to Japan was seeing this billboard while walking down a side street in Shibuya.

Some intense googling on my return to where I was staying exposed the return of the Japanese version of Iron Chef. I was fortunate enough to see the double episode premiere while I was in Japan (most fortunate as my friend could tell me more of what was going on). Fans of the show outside of Japan can get them from this site, along with varying quality versions of the original series.

I have mixed feelings about the three episodes I have seen so far. It is wonderful to see the original format mostly retained; the overseas versions never really kept the theatrics and awe of the original version. Some of the new Iron Chefs will be familiar to fans as at least one has done battle in the old kitchen stadium. The new Chairman hasn’t inspired me yet, it is tough to match the impressive Chairman Kaga. The first problem with him I think is he has worn the same clothes in the first three episodes which seems to be like a uniform. Kaga would always wear something crazier each episode and I was convinced for many years that he had purchased the wardrobe from the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Photo shoots. The new Chairman also is a little lacklustre on his introductions to the challengers and the ingredients for my liking.

Keeping a link to the original has been done very well, with Iron Chef Chen Kenichi presenting the “Nominees” (challengers) for the first two battles in the premiere. One of these was his son who gave it a good showing even though he lost the battle. Also, Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba (now 81 years old) appears in the second two episodes as a commentator, judge and taster. He has that kind of Sean Connery / Japanese James Bond look going, particularly with the light brown kimono, cravat and big glasses. The king of commentary, Dr Yukio Hattori returns as commentator also. Once again the poor man doesn’t seem to get the chance to taste the food.

These are not overdubbed into English, currently straight from Japan. Hopefully Food Network in the US will take it on board and do their magic as in the original series (cooking show treated like something from the wide world of sports, awesome). My Japanese is limited to hello, thank-you and food ingredients but I still find it very entertaining. It is amazing how, with many languages, much english has slipped into the vernacular.

You can keep tabs on what is happening on the Fuji TV Iron Chef Facebook Page and I will no doubt blog more on this revival as the series progresses.

Until next episode “Good Gastronomy!!” (OK, I think that Allez Cuisine was sexier too)