Fig Leaf Rice

fig leaf rice, Have you ever used fig leaves in cooking? I hadn’t. From the always inspiring Heidi Swanson’s site 101 Cookbook, I found that fig leaves can be used to flavor rice. We have a fig tree in the yard and now it’s full of young leaves, so I went out, picked a couple of leaves, and made this wonderfully aromatic and tasty brown rice. Heidi made Coconut Rice with a fig leaf and coconut milk (which I’d definitely try), but I just cooked rice with a couple of fig leaves; and it turned out great. The aroma reminded me of cherry leaves often used to wrap Japanese sweets; in fact, the scent is quite similar. The only thing you need to do is to pop a leaf or two in a pot and cook rice as usual. Highly recommended! Fig Leaf Rice Ingredients:

  • Short grain brown rice – 2 cups (400ml)
  • Water – 550ml
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon
  • Fig leaves – 2

1. Wash the brown rice, drain, and put it in a pressure cooker. Add water and salt. 2. Place the leaves on top of the rice, cover, and heat on a medium-high heat. 3. When you have the right pressure (check the valve), turn down the heat to minimum (use a heat-diffuser if you have one) and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. When it’s decompressed, open the lid, mix the rice lightely, and serve.

Steamed Asparagus with Miso Mayonnaise

asparagus with miso mayonnaise,

Steamed asparagus, or any vegetables in season right out of the steamer, are more than good enough to eat as they are, without any condiment.

asparagus with miso mayonnaise,

But if you have miso and mayonnaise, you can make ‘miso mayonnaise’ and the steamed veggies get even better. It is simply miso and mayonnaise mixed together–I don’t even know if I should call it ‘a recipe,’ but it’s worth a try!

asparagus with miso mayonnaise,

Steamed Asparagus with Miso Mayonnaise

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

  • Asparagus – one bunch
  • Miso – 1 teaspoon
  • Mayonnaise/Soy Mayonnaise – 1 to 2 tablespoon

1. Combine mayonnaise and miso and mix well. Set aside.

2. Peel the bottom part of the asparagus. Cut the asparagus in half.

3. Boil some water in a po. Set a steamer, put the asparagus and heat 3 to 5 minutes.  When the asparagus is cooked to your liking, serve with the miso mayonnaise.

Agretti with ginger sesame dressing

agretti with ginger sesame sauce,

Some things I believed to be ‘very Japanese,’ I was surprised to find them here: wisteria, mandarine, iris, persimmon.

Agretti is one of those things. Strictly speaking, Japanese ‘okahijiki’ and Italian agretti are not exactly the same plant; the latin name of okahijiki is ‘salsola komalovii’ and agretti is ‘salsola soda.’ But they are both in ‘salsola’ family, and the texture and the taste are quite similar.


What’s great about agretti is it’s texture that ‘pops’ when you eat. So the key is to cook to the right texture that is not over- nor under-cooked. To check, just pick one up while cooking, cool it under running water, and taste it. That’s always the surest way.

The ginger sesame sauce works great with other vegetables, too.

agretti with ginger sesame sauce,

Agretti with sesame ginger sauce

Ingredients (for 2):

  • Agretti – 1 bunch, roots trimmed and washed well
  • Toasted sesame seeds – 1 tablespoon
  • Ginger – a knob
  • Soy sauce – 2/3 tablespoon
  • Lemon juice – 2/3 tablespoon

1. Grind sesame seeds with a pestle and mortar. Grate the ginger. Squeeze the lemon. Mix them all and set aside.

agretti with ginger sesame sauce,

2. In a pot, boil some water and cook agretti for a few minutes. Pick one, cool it under running water, taste it to check if it’s cooked to your liking. Drain,
‘shock’ in a bowl of cold water, drain again. Squeeze out excess water and cut into bite-sized pieces (1 inch).

3. Right before serving, combine the agretti and dressing. Mix well and serve right away.

Green Pea Rice: “Mame-Gohan”

I found the green peas for the first time this year at the weekly open-air market, and I “had to” make green pea rice, or ‘mame-gohan.’ One of the most typical spring rice dishes, the sweet and fluffy green pea rice screams “the spring has come!”

There is a dilemma, though, when making green pea rice: which is more important, the flavor or the look?

green peas rice, mamegohan,

The thing is, green pea rice is tastiest when you cook rice and peas together, as the rice absorbs the flavor of the peas. However, during the cooking, the pea pods lose their bright color and turned rather dull.

If you want to keep the color, you can cook rice and peas separately. But then it’s just rice and peas mixed together–not as flavorful as the first method.

green peas rice, mamegohan,

Cooks have come up with the ways to solve this dilemma; in Japanese restaurants, some cooks make green pea rice with the first method, with the pea pods wrapped in cheese cloth. When the rice is done, they throw away the peas (!), then mix in bright green peas cooked separately. This must be delicious, but discarding the peas?  I don’t think I can dare to do that.

green peas rice, mamegohan,

The other way is to use pea shells. Wrap the shells in cheese cloth (or make a broth with the shells and cook rice with the broth), then mix in the peas cooked separately. The shells can give the flavor of the green peas, nothing is wasted, and it looks good, too. I did this in Japan in the past, and it works. But I think we can only do this when we are sure the green peas are organic or pesticide-free.

green peas rice, mamegohan,

So, this time I did it this way: I cooked the green peas with the amount of water I need to cook rice, cooked the rice with this broth, then mixed in the peas at the end. The rice did have the flavor of the peas, and it was pretty good-looking as well.

Green pea rice

Ingredient (for 3 servings)

  • Green peas – shelled, 150g
  • White, short grain rice – 2 cups
  • Water – 2 and 1/2 cups (to cook peas. 2 cups of cooking water will then be used for cooking rice)
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon
  • Konbu – 5 x 5 cm (optional)
  • Sake – 2 teaspoons (optional)

1. Wash rice, drain, and set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, boil the water and cook the green pea pods for a few minutes. To check doneness, just pick one up and eat it. When cooked, conserve the cooking water, drain, and set aside.

3. In a pot or a rice cooker, put rice, konbu, and salt. If using sake, put it in a majoring cup, then add the pea cooking water to make two cups of liquid, and add this in the pot (if you don’t have sake, just add two cups of cooking water). Cook the rice as you would do with regular white rice.

4. Right after you turning off the heat, open the lid, quickly add the cooked peas, and close the lid right away. After the 10-minute resting period, open the lid and mix the peas and rice gently, being careful not to squash the peas and rice. Serve immediately.

Radish Tataki

radish tataki, used to use radishes only as garnish.

When I stayed in a zen temple in France, they taught me to eat them with butter and salt.

Later, I got the idea of making ‘tataki’ with them from culinary artist Itsuko Makita‘s recipe in the Croissan Bio magazine (Japanese cooking magazine on macrobiotic-style recipes). Now when I find plump radishes, this is what I often make.

radish tataki,
The name ‘tataki,’ when used in a vegetable dish, is a technique of cracking vegetables (it comes from the verb ‘tataku’ which means ‘punch’ or ‘knock’). It’s a technique often used with cucumber and burdock. Cracked vegetables absorb condiments better, and have a nice texture that makes them more pleasant to eat.

radish tataki,

radish tataki,
It’s also fun to do; I usually use a wooden spatula, but you can also use a rolling pin (which Ms. Makita suggests). After that, just a pinch of salt, then a splash of lemon, which brightens up the color of the radishes.

radish tataki, tataki, tataki,

The garnish is made with lemon peel. In Japanese cooking, there are various styles of cutting garnish; the one I did here is one of the easiest ones, called ‘kumi-matsuba,’ or crossed pine needles. You can make it by cutting out a small rectangle, cutting two slits to make an “s,” then crossing the two ends together.

Radish Tataki


  • Radish – 1 bunch (leaves and root ends cut off)
  • Salt – a pinch
  • Juice of half lemon
  • Lemon peel – a small piece (garnish, optional)

1. Crack the radishes with a wooden spatula or rolling pin. Add the salt and the lemon juice and mix well. Set aside for a few minutes.

2. Cut the lemon peel, make ‘crossed pine needles’, and put it on the radishes as garnish (optional).

Olive Tree Pruning

potatura dell'olive,

Just like last year, we asked the master pruner Mr. Natale to prune the olive trees, and he came over the other day.

He’s told me he has been pruning since he was 15 years old; I see those years and tens of thousands of trees in his sureness and preciseness–he leans a ladder on a branch, climbs it up, cuts off the brunches with a handsaw and pruning shears, climbs down the ladder–then he moves the ladder to the next branch and continues, one branch at a time.

potatura dell'olive,

The purpose of pruning is to take away unnecessary branches so that the trees bear as many fruits as possible. He’s not doing it to make the trees look pretty; he’s doing it because he knows the olive.

But when I see the trees Natale has worked on, I forget that purpose. I feel as if I just wanted to see something beautiful.
potatura dell'olive,

His work of art never remains, though. The trees will grow brunches, leaves, flowers and fruits, and in a year, they will be needing Natale again.

The people in the village passed by and they all admired his work and said what a great job he always does. I agree. Thank you, maestro.

potatura dell'olive,

Dandelion tempura with curry salt

dandelion tempura,

Ever since learned that dandelion flowers are edible, I’d been looking for them; this morning I found the flowers in the yard, so I decided to make tempura.

Tempura is the simplest and tastiest way to eat bitter vegetables.  In Japan, the wild herbs in the spring, such as Fuki (butterbar shoot) and Tsukushi (horsetail), both of them quite bitter, are often eaten as tempura.

dandelion tempura,

Tempura batter is usually made with flour, water, and egg yolk, but in Shojin cuisine (Japanese vegetarian), the batter is made without an egg, and it’s light and easier to prepare.

When I make Shojin tempura, I often add some rice flour, too. This helps to lighten the batter as rice flour does not create gluten.

dandelion tempura,

For condiment, I mixed a bit of curry powder and salt to add some spiciness, but it’s also good to eat simply with just a little salt.

The dandelion flowers and leaves were great as tempura.  We can try it with other edible spring herbs, too.

Dandelion tempura with curry salt

Ingredients (per 2):

  • Dandelion flowers and young leaves – a handful
  • All purpose flour – 3 tablespoons
  • Rice flour – 1 tablespoon
  • Water – 80 ml
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt
  • Curry powder

1. Mix the salt and curry powder, and set aside. Wash the dandelion flowers and leaves, and pat dry with a cooking towel or paper towel.

2. Start heating the oil. Meanwhile, combine the flour and rice flour and mix well. Add the water and mix roughly with a whisk, being careful not to mix too much so that it does not create gluten.

3. To check the temperature of the oil, fry a small drop of batter. When the drop barely reaches the bottom of the pot and comes up to the surface soon, it’s about 170 °C (340 °F), which is the right temperature.  If  it touches the bottom and is slow to come up, the oil is not hot enough.  If the batter splashes on the surface, it’s too hot.

4. Dip only the bottom of the flower in the batter and flower for about 10 seconds. To fry the leaves, dip the entire leaf in the batter, scrape off the excess at the edge of the mixing bowl, and fry for a few seconds. Serve immediately with the curry salt.

Grilled Rice Balls with Leek Miso (Negi-Miso Yaki Onigiri)

yakionigiri,, or grilled rice ball, to me, is for grown-ups. It’s something you order in Izakaya restaurant (a sort of Japanese pub).  After you have eaten, drunk and talked enough, in order to “finish” the dinner, you order a small rice or noodle dish; yaki-onigiri is one of such dishes.

When lightely grilled–over glowing coals, open flame, or in a frying pan–rice balls become crunchy on the outside, soft in the inside, and add the nice, roasted look and smokey flavor.

Yaki-onigiri is often seasoned with soy sauce, but miso is also used. You can just spread some miso over rice balls and grill them.


But today I made something even tastier: Negi-Miso, or Leek Miso. The leek, cooked slowly, becomes wonderfully sweet and flavorful; when you mix it with umami-packed miso, it turns into a versatile condiment that is perfect for yaki-onigiri.

I cooked the rice balls in a frying pan, but if you have a toaster oven, it’s even easier–lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil, place the rice balls, and just pop them into the heated toaster oven. This way, you don’t need to turn the rice balls to cook all sides.

To make rice balls, the easiest way is to use a sheet of plastic wrap and a small bowl. With the plastic wrap, you don’t need to worry about handling hot rice, or rice sticking to your hands, etc.

Although it used to be something that I would eat after drinking sake, yaki-onigiri is great for lunch as well. Prepare some green tea or roasted green tea, and buon appetito!


Negi-Miso Yaki-Onigiri: Grilled Rice Balls with Leek Miso


For negi-miso (makes about 1/2 cup) :

  • Leek – sliced thinly, 2 tightly packed cups (150g)
  • Oil – 2 tablespoons
  • Miso – 2.5 tablespoons

For rice balls

1. Negi-miso: Put the oil and sliced leek in a frying pan. Turn on the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the leek wilts and gets reduced to about 1/3 (5 to 10 minutes). Turn off the heat, add miso and mix very well. Turn on the heat again (medium low) and heat for 1 minute or so, mixing. Turn off the heat and set aside.

2. Rice balls: Place a sheet of plastic wrap on a rice bowl (or any small bowl). Put about a half cup of rice on it, wrap it with the plastic wrap.  Using both hands, make a triangular shape. Open the wrap. After you finish making the rice balls, spread the negi-miso on one side.

3. Heat a frying pan, lightely oil it, and cook the rice balls on medium low heat until the surface dries and has slightly golden color. You can cook only one side, or all sides (that do not have the negi-miso on). Lastly, cook the side with negi-miso about 10 seconds.

“Wild Herbs in Gastronomy” at Carsulae Archeological Park

carsulae, Sunday I went to Carsulae Archeological Park in Umbria for the event called: Wild Herbs in Gastronomy.

The workshop was guided by Mr. Enrico Bini, a mycologist and the president of Associazione Centro Iniziative Ambiente Valnerina.



We strolled on the park meadow, passing through the ruins of Roman empire. Every time Mr. Bini spotted a plant, edible or poisonous, we gathered around him and listened to his lecture on how to find and recognize them; which parts are good to eat and how; different names locals use to call them (what a variety, in each town!), etc.



I’m glad to learn about the herbs I had never known, but also about the herbs I thought I knew but actually didn’t: Did you know dandelion buds are good to eat? Mr. Bini suggested cooking the buds with the mixture of vinegar and white wine, dry them, conserve them in oil and eat them as appetizers. I can’t wait to try that.

The little daisies that covered the entire park meadow, I learned, are also edible; both the flower and the young leaves.


carsulae, As we continued, more and more people started to look for the herbs we just learned about. Now the ground is not just a ground–it’s a place full of tasty herbs.  A new world!


We also learned about the Carsulae’s archeological sites from Manila Cruciani

Following the walk, we had a lunch based on the menu created by Chef Vittorio Fiorucci.  Here’s the menu:


  • Frittata (omelette) with aromatic herbs
  • Crostino (toasted bread) topped with radicchio and stracchino cheese
  • Bruschetta with wild mint and cherry tomatoes
  • Frittata with zucchini and potatoes
  • Finocchiona toscana (Tuscan salumi with fennel seeds)
  • Fresh cheese with merangole (wild orange) jam

Primo piatto
Penne with arugula pesto, cherry tomatoes and petals of calendula

Secondo piatto
Herb-roasted pork shoulder

Cooked and stir-fried greens

Nettle cake


Chef Fiorucci explaining the menu to curious participants

I liked that each dish used herbs and greens; for example, the wild mint, which grows everywhere around here, went very well with cherry tomatoes.


The Nettle Cake was something surprising; I’d had nettles in savory dishes, but never as a dessert. The key, according to Chef Fiorucci, was the crushed almond mixed in the filling of cooked nettle. I had two pieces.

After the lunch, there was a sit-down lecture on edible and poisonous plants.


A little book of wild edible herbs and Chef Fiorucci’s recipes compiled by Centro Iniziative Ambiente Valnerina.

It was an educational, entertaining, and relaxing day out in nature. From now on, when I walk outside, I will always be looking down, searching for the edible herbs I learned about.

Potato Mochi with Shichimi Togarashi Pepper

potato mochi shichimi togarashi, nanamikitchen.comWhen I was a teenager, one day my mother ‘discovered’ a new potato recipe: grated potatoes, cooked in a frying pan, that quickly turned into mochi-like pancake.  She got so excited about her discovery she made it for dinner for 3 days in a row.

potato mochi shichimi togarashi,

Her recipe was straightforward: grated potatoes, salt and pepper, nothing more.  I like her minimalist recipe, too, but today I added some flour to give it more shape and softness, and finish it with a brush of soy sauce and Shichimi Togarashi pepper.

potato mochi shichimi togarashi,

Shichimi Togarashi (“seven flavor chili pepper”) is a Japanese spice mix made of the following  (not necessarily 7 ingredients are always used):

  • ground red chili pepper
  • poppy seed
  • dried orange peel
  • black/white sesame seed
  • Japanese ‘sansho’ pepper
  • hemp seed
  • shiso (Japanese basel)
  • nori or aonori (sea vegetable)
  • ginger
  • rapeseed

Japanese cooking is not so spicy in general, but shichimi adds refreshing spiciness to the dish.  You can find it in Asian grocery stores.  If it’s not available, you can use cayenne pepper instead.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and make it 3 days in a row, too!

potato mochi shichimi togarashi,

Potato Mochi with Shichimi Togarashi Peppers

Ingredients (for 15-20 pieces):

  • Potato – 3 small (350g)
  • Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
  • All purpose flour – 3 tablespoons
  • Oil for frying
  • Soy sauce – 1 tablespoon
  • Shichimi Togarashi peppers – 1/4 teaspoon

1. Peel the potatoes.  If you have a food processor, cut the potatos in small pieces, and grate them in the food processor.  Otherwise, grate the potatoes with a cheese grator.  Add the salt and the flour, and mix well.

2. Heat the frying pan on medium heat.  Pour about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Scoop the mixture with a spoon and gently place it on the frying pan (Don’t press it).

3. When the edges are cooked (after about a minute or so), flip and cook the other side.  Meanwhile, with a pastry brush, spread some soy sauce on top.  Plate, sprinkle Shichimi Togarashi, and serve.

Broccoli raab with mustard sauce: Karashi-ae

broccoli raab with mustard sauce, I made the clam soup, I used only a few pieces of broccoli raab as garnish, but I cooked the whole bunch, and I stored the rest in the fridge.

Then the next day I made this. The dressing is a mixture of mustard and soy sauce, which goes perfectly well with broccoli raab. It’s another typical Japanese dish for spring.

In Japan it’s made with “wagarashi” or Japanese mustard, but I use Dijion mustard (as the wagarashi is not available here) and it works as well.

broccoli raab with mustard sauce,

Broccoli raab with mustard sauce: Karashi-ae

Ingredients (for 2)

  • Broccoli raab – a small bunch (a handful), washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Dijion mustard – 1 to 1.5 teaspoons
  • Soy sauce – 1.5 to 2 teaspoons
  1. Put a cup of water and the broccoli raab in a pot. Cover, turn on the heat to medium, and let it come to boil. Steam-boil it for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, let it cool down, and squeeze out the water. Set aside.
  2. Mix the mustard and soy sauce in a bowl.
  3. Right before serving (otherwise it becomes soggy), add the broccoli raab in the bowl and mix well with the sauce.

Red pickled ginger: Beni-shoga

red pickled ginger, week’s recipe, the Omelette with Wakame on Rice, was topped with “red pickled ginger,” or “beni-shoga.” Today I’ll show you how to make it.

Beni-shoga is ginger pickled in plum vineger (ume-zu), the brine produced when making umeboshi (pickled plum). The red color comes from red shiso (perilla) leaves added in the brine.

red pickled ginger,

My mother would make beni-shoga after she finished making umeboshi. Using the brine from umeboshi-making, she would marinate armful of fresh, young ginger in a big tub.

The tub was stored in the storage space outside of our house, and when I was a child it was my job to go get the beni-shoga. As I would open the lid, I was always mesmerized by the color of the brine and the ginger in it—the deep, almost purple, red.

red pickled ginger,

Store-bought beni-shoga, with vivid red color, often has artificial coloring (and additives, too). Plum vinegar is easily available in health food store, making beni-shoga is not complicated at all, and it tastes so much better and ‘real’ when you make it yourself: I recommend you to try it.

red pickled ginger,

In Japan it’s usually made with young ginger that is softer and has milder flavor; if it’s available, it would be great if you could use it (in that case, you don’t need to peel it). But regular ginger can be used as well, and that’s what I use now.

red pickled ginger,

Red pickled ginger – Beni-shoga


  • Ginger – 70 g (about a cup when julienned)
  • Water – 2 cups
  • Plum vinegar – 1/2 to 2/3 cup
  1. Start boiling water in a pot. Peel the ginger with a spoon or knife.  Thinly slice the ginger with a slicer or a knife, then julienne it.
  2. Put the ginger in the boiling pot of water for 10 seconds or so, then drain (the hot cooking water is now ‘ginger tea’). Spread it and let it cool down and dry in a colander, or on paper towel (about 10-15 minutes).
  3. Put the ginger in a container and pour the plum vinegar to cover. It can be eaten after a few hours (it tastes better after a day or two, though). Store in a fridge.

red pickled ginger,

Workshop at Kanshoji in France, April 23-27

cooking class in Kanshoji,

I will be doing a 5-day cooking workshop at Kanshoji zen buddhist monastery in France from April 23 to 27.  It is part of “The Marvelous Everyday Activity” session led by master Taiun Jean-Pierre Faure.

We will learn to cook Shojin (Japanese vegetarian cooking) dishes, using the vegetables from the organic garden in the monastery.   The workshop will be in English, with French translation.

The session also includes the following workshops:

“Sashiko: The Art of Mending” led by an artist Kiyoko Sago Virginet

“Kesa Sewing” led by a nun Yashô Valérie Guéneau.

Kanshoji is a beautiful Japanese Soto zen monastery situated in a village near Limoge.

If you are interested, here’s the detail on Kanshoji’s website.

Omelette with wakame on rice – Wakame Tamago-toji Donburi

omelette with wakame on rice, wakame tamago-toji donburi,

This is one of the first dishes I learned to make when I began to cook for myself in college.

In the newspaper I was subscribing to, there was a short daily column: ‘Today’s Recipe,’ humbly placed near the bottom of the ‘Life’ section; no photo, just a simple, economical recipe in a paragraph or two. It was one of the first things I would look for when I opened the newspaper in the morning. Sitting on the floor in my studio apartment, I would cut the column with scissors, glue it on an index card, and add to my box of recipe collection.

omelette with wakame on rice, wakame tamago-toji donburi,

I made this egg dish countless times in the tiny apartment kitchen. It takes only a few minutes to make, it’s filling, it has a comforting ‘sweet and savory’ taste, and it’s “kind to the purse” (Japanese expression meaning ‘low-cost’)–ideal to the young and hungry student that was me.

The technique of pouring beaten eggs to the seasoned broth to make loose omlette/scambled eggs is called “Tamago-toji,” or “closing with eggs.” It is one of the typical Japanese ways of using eggs.

omelette with wakame on rice, wakame tamago-toji donburi,

The original recipe had more ingredients, such as shirasuboshi (small salted sardines) and katsuobushi (cured skipjack tuna flakes) but over the years, as I lived abroad where I could not find them, the recipe got simplified, and I like it this way now.

“Donburi” has two meanings: 1. big bowl; 2. a dish of rice with something savory on top, served in the big bowl.

Wakame is typically used in miso soup, but if you have a bag of wakame sleeping in a cupboard, you might want to try this.

Omlette with wakame with rice – Wakame Tamago-toji Donburi

Ingredients (for 1):

Dried wakame flakes – 2 teaspoons (if it’s long, cut it in 1/2 inch pieces with scissors before soaking)
Water – 4 tablespoons
Soy sauce – 2 teaspoons
Mirin – 2 teaspoons (or 2/3 teaspoon sugar and 2 tablespoons white wine or vodka)
Egg – 2
Steamed rice – 1 and 1/2 cups
Red pickled ginger (beni shoga) for garnish – 1 teaspoon (optional)

1. In a small pot or milk pan, soak the wakame in water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
2. When the wakame is rehydrated, add soy sauce and mirin, turn on the heat to medium and cook until it starts to boil.
3. When it boils, add the beaten eggs and cook until the egg is mostly cooked (but not completely). Turn off the heat, cover, and let it rest for a minute or so until the egg is cooked to your liking. Serve it on top of steamed rice and red pickled ginger (optional).

Teriyaki Tofu “Hambaagu”

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu,

My friend Naoko requested this recipe. She and I used to be classmates and neighbors in Hawai’i; now she lives in Australia, 28 hours and opposite-season away. I have chilblains on my toes; she is getting nicely tanned.

So here’s a season-free recipe I came up for my globe-trotting friend–far away, but close.

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu,

‘Hambaagu’ is a Japanese dish made of ground meat. The name obviously is related to ‘Hamburg’ and ‘Hamburger.’ It’s sort of a thicker and softer hamburger patty, eaten with a variety of sauce on it. It’s a typical ‘Yòshoku,’ or western-style Japanese dish.

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu,

This is its meat-and-egg-free version, with Teriyaki sauce. The sauce is cooked in a frying pan along with the patties, so all you need for cooking is one frying pan.

Happy Hambaagu to Naoko and all of you in both hemispheres!

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu

  • If the tofu is ‘hard,’ meaning the water is already squeezed out (here in Italy, most tofu available is like this, as shown in the picture), you can just follow the instruction.  Instead, if the tofu is on the softer side, crumble the tofu with a hand to small pieces, cook it in a boiling water for a minute or so, drain and let it cool down in a colander (this method is called “water cutting,” or “mizu-kiri”). This way, the tofu loses excess moisture and becomes easier to handle.

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

For the patties

  • Tofu – 2 pieces (250g)
  • Onion – 1 small (100g), finely chopped
  • Button mushrooms – 3 large (100g), finely chopped
  • Potato starch – 3 tablespoons
  • Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Pepper – a pinch
  • Oil for frying – 1/2 tablespoon for onion and mushrooms, 1 tablespoon for patties
  • Salad greens with Lemon Soy dressing (optional)

For Teriyaki sauce

  • Soy sauce – 1 tablespoon
  • Mirin – 1 tablespoon (or 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 tablespoon white wine or vodka)
  • Sugar – 1 teaspoon
  • Water – 4 tablespoons
  • Potato starch – 1/2 teaspoon

1. In a small cup, mix all the ingredients for the Teriyaki sauce very well, and set aside. Put the tofu in a mixing bowl, mush it with a hand and set aside.

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu,

2. Put the oil and chopped onion in a frying pan. Turn on the heat to medium-low and cook until it becomes translucent (about 3-4 minutes). Add the mushrooms and stir fry for another 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add to the bowl of tofu along with potato starch, salt and pepper. Mix very well with a hand. When it’s well mixed, make 6 patties.

Teriyaki Tofu Hambaagu,

3. Heat the frying pan again on a medium heat, add the oil and fry the patties until they have nice golden color (about 3 minutes). Flip and fry the other side as well. Lower the heat and add the sauce mixture to the pan, swirl it to cover the patties. When the sauce boils, turn off the heat (be careful not to cook the sauce too much as it could burn). Serve with salad greens and lemon soy dressing (optional).

Konbu Ginger Soup

ginger soup, nanamikitchen.comI believe in ginger.

Life happens, and so does a cold, a flu, a stomachache, low-energy … but ginger is there for us.

ginger soup,

Here’s a simple ginger soup that warms you up in these cold winter days.

Ingredients (for 2 cups):

  • Ginger – 1 knob (30g), peeled and sliced
  • Water – 2 cups
  • Konbu – 1 x 1 inch
  • Soy sauce – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt – 1/4 teaspoon

ginger soup,

  1. Put all the ingredients in a pot. Turn on the heat to medium.
  2. When it boils, turn down the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10–15 minutes.
  3. Remove the ginger and konbu (the konbu can be used for cooking), and serve.

Goma-ae: Kale with sesame sauce

Kale with sesami sauce,

“The colder it gets, the sweeter the vegetables become,” told me a young daughter of a family of farmers the other day at a farmer’s market.  In fact, their vegetables were so sweet I could eat them raw.


It also means, though, that the family is working under the freezing weather.  My bow to them all.


With their sweet kale, I made “Goma-ae.”  The Goma-ae (literally, “sesame-mixed”) is one of the most basic and versatile Japanese dishes.


If you have soy sauce, sesame seeds and a bit of sugar, you can make the sesame sauce in no time, and it goes well with varieties of vegetables, in any season.  Buon appetito!

[Read more...]



I’ve been making miso myself, using made-in-Italy soy beans and Sicilian sea salt, but the problem is, here in Italy, I cannot find the most crucial ingredient in making miso, Koji.


Dried Koji made by Kumiko

Koji is fermented rice (with funghi called Aspergillus Oryzae) that becomes the basis for most of Japanese staple condiments such as soy sauce, miso, sake (rice wine), and mirin (sweet rice wine).


You can find Koji in supermarkets and natural food stores in Japan, but not here.  My family bought some and sent it to me once, but I used it up last spring when I made miso.


Then my friend Kumiko told me she successfully made Koji the other day. [Read more...]

February cooking class in Narni

Japanese cooking class, nanamikitchen.comI will have a cooking class in Narni, Umbria, on February 2nd (Sun). [Read more...]

Soy mayonnaise

maionese di soia, nanamikitchen.comOne of my friends is allergic to raw eggs, and he had never eaten mayonnaise in his entire life. So one day I showed his then-fiancée (now wife) how to make this soy mayonnaise in their kitchen. [Read more...]

Seven-herb Rice Soup (Nanakusa Gayu)

zuppa delle sette erbe, nanamikitchen.comJanuary 7th is “Seven-herb Seasonal Festival” (nanakusa no sekku) in Japan. There are five seasonal festivals in a year (March 3rd, May 5th, July 7th, and September 9th), and the “Seven-herb” is the first one.

zuppa delle sette erbe,

Every seasonal festival has specific dishes. What do we eat on the Seven-herb festival? Seven herbs, of course, mixed in steamy hot rice soup.

zuppa delle sette erbe,

[Read more...]

Year-End Soba (Toshikoshi Soba): Soba noodle soup with carrot tempura, arugula and leek


At the end of the year in Japan, we do yearly thorough cleaning.  It’s the “spring cleaning” but done in the middle of winter.  At schools, in offices, and at homes, we clean the dust and junk accumulated during the year and prepare to start anew.  My family, that had a rather relaxed attitude about regular tidying up of the house (=we were messy), had no choice but to adhere to this tradition because we had to get ready for three days of new year’s celebration in which our relatives and guests would come visit and stay with us.


[Read more...]

“Cat” cookies with sesame and olive oil

sesami olive oil cookies,

My mother hated cats.  When she would find a cat near our house, she would jump up and scare it away, hissing like a boiling kettle.  I would ask her why she hated cats so much, and she would always reply, “Cats have kittens, they pee, and it stinks.”  So my sister Takako and I never had much contact with cats as we grew up.  We had a dog, a rabbit, hamsters, squarrels, parakeets, turtles, and gold fish.  But never a cat.


Now I live with three cats, adopted from our former neighbor.  They are my first cats, and they converted my former self as a dog person into a cat person right away.  When Takako visited me here, her first night in the old, squeaky couch bed, one of the cats slept beside her, and the next morning, the first thing she said, beaming with utter joy, was:  “I slept with a cat beside me!  A dream come true!”  We both can clearly see our future as crazy cat ladies.

sesami and olive oil cookies,

Yesterday, I received a small package from Takako, who is a vegan chef in Tokyo. It was a Christmas present: a set of cat-shaped cookie cutters.

So today I made cat cookies, adopting Takako’s vegan cookie recipe. Her original recipe uses maple syrup and canola oil, but I used brown cane sugar, soy milk and olive oil, and added some sesame seeds.

sesami and olive oil cookies,

The result surprised me. The taste and crunchiness reminded me of Japanese “Asparagus Biscuit,” stick-shaped sesame-flavored cookies that I loved as a cat-less child back in Japan.

[Read more...]

Thunderbolt Tofu (Kaminari Dofu)

thunderbolt tofu, nanamikitchen.comThe name ‘Thunderbolt’ comes from the sizzling sound that happens when you add tofu in a heated pan.  It’s a quick and simple Japanese tofu dish that you can make when you are so hungry you have to eat right away.  Not just the sound but the speed of the cooking time deserves the name.  Also, you don’t even need a knife and a cutting board if you use scissors to chop the herb.

thunderbolt tofu,

It’s fun to break tofu into pieces with hands. Hands are the most basic, primary cooking tools.

[Read more...]

Steam-boiled Romanesco broccoli with lemon soy dressing

romanesco broccoli,

What a shape, ‘romanesco broccoli’!  How did this happen?  I felt a bit scared when I first saw it.  But now I admire the strange design.  I also like how crunchy it is.

romanesco broccoli,

I like steaming broccolis and cauliflowers, rather than boiling, to keep the flavor and nutrients.  But for a small quantity, I prefer “steam-boiling” it (“mushi-ni” in Japanese).  Steam-boiling is simply to steam without a steamer or steamer basket: put vegetables and a bit of water in a pot, cover, heat and let it boil and cook with the steam.  It’s quick, easy, consumes less, and one thing less to wash.

romanesco broccoli,

For the lemon soy sauce dressing, I used olive oil, but any neutral oil goes well. If you have roasted sesami oil, it’ll give the dressing instant ‘oriental’ flavor. [Read more...]

Harvesting olives

olive oil, by Kyoko Ide,

When I was little, olive oil was something you bought at a pharmacy. I first learned about the existence of olive oil in a book on how to keep small animals. In the chapter on ‘birds’ illnesses,’ olive oil was introduced as a cure for a bird’s digestive problems. Never did I imagine at that time that in the future I would live in Italy, pick olives, and use ‘olive oil’ in… cooking!

harvesting olives, by Kyoko Ide,

Now, olive oil is used widely in Japan, Italian cuisine is extremely popular, the benefits of olive oil are well known, and you can find olive oil anywhere.

raccolta olive, Kyoko Ide,

Olives are cultivated in Japan as well. Shòdo-shima, or Shòdo Island, which has an ideal climate for olive cultivation, grows olives and produces ‘made-in-Japan’ olive oil.

olive oil, by Kyoko Ide,

Still, I was shocked to find how olive oil is really used in Italy when I first came here. First, the quantity!  Not a tablespoon, but glugs and glugs and glugs of it, poured in abundance. [Read more...]

How to use chopsticks

how to use chopsticks, by Kyoko Ide,

Don’t feel confident enough to use chopsticks?

There are two keys to using chopsticks:

1. You need to move only one chopstick. The other one works as a base and you don’t need to move it at all.

2. Hold the top third of the chopsticks. This way you have enough length to manage, and it looks more elegant, too.

Here’s how:


1. Place one chopstick at the base of your thumb and on the first joint of your ring finger.  Gently push down the chopstick with the lower part of your thumb so the chopstick doesn’t move.  This is called “the lower chopstick,” and it works as the base. [Read more...]

How to cook brown rice

brown rice,

When it comes to brown rice, I actually prefer Italian brown rice to the Japanese one. I loved it when I found out how Italian brown rice became so flavorful and nicely chewy when cooked, instead of becoming too soft. This discovery gave comfort and hope to my still-unsettled mind when I moved here in Italy.

I usually use organic “Ribe” or “Lungo Ribe.”  For Japanese dishes, the rice should be slightly ‘sticky.’  To get the right consistency, I suggest using a pressure cooker.  It’s nice to use a pressure cooker also because you don’t need to soak the rice beforehand like you do with white rice.


  • Brown rice 2 cups (400 ml)
  • Water 2 e 3/4 cups (550 ml)
  • A pinch of salt

1. Wash rice. Just like white rice, fill the mixing bowl with water, put the brown rice in the colander, and immerse it into the water. Wash it by moving your hand in a circular motion, change water and repeat two or three times.

2. Put the washed brown rice in the pressure cooker. Add water and a pinch of salt. Set on a medium-high heat (don’t put the lid yet).

brown rice,

3. Skim the foam with a skimmer or a big spoon. When it starts to boil, put the lid on.

brown rice,

[Read more...]

How to cook white rice

il riso in bianco,

As is the case with most Japanese families, in my family white rice was to be cooked in a rice cooker, and I always carried a small rice cooker anywhere I lived since I started living by myself.

But one day I stumbled upon “How to cook white rice in a pot,” tried it myself, and it was a revelation. I don’t need to depend on the machine or the electricity!  It also takes less time, and the rice turns out much tastier.

Here are the keys to the perfect white rice for Japanese dishes:

  • The ratio: 1 cup of un-soaked rice = 1 cup of water
  • Wash rice, then leave it for 30 minutes so that the rice absorbs the water.
  • Keep the lid on the whole time. You can open it to check until it starts to boil, but once it boils, don’t open the lid. You need the steam to cook the rice.
  • After cooking, give the rice 10 minutes of  ‘rest’ with the lid on. During this time, the rice finishes cooking to the core and turns out nice and fluffy.

With that in mind, let’s cook 2 cups of rice.


  • White rice 2 cups
  • Water 2 cups

Japanese rice is short-grain. You can use any short-grain white rice or the one indicated as ‘sushi rice’. In Italy, I usually use ‘riso originario’ or ‘riso ribe.’

1. Measure the rice. You can use whatever cup or glass or bowl. Just use that to later measure the water, so you can have the same amount of water.

2. Wash rice. The easiest way is to fill a bowl with water, put the rice in a colander that fits in the bowl, and soak the colander in the bowl. Move your hand in a circular motion, wash it just for a few seconds, lift up the colander and drain. This first water is full of not-so-pleasant smell of rice, so it’s important to discard the water right away. Fill the bowl with water, put the colander in it, and wash the rice again, this time longer, about 30 seconds or so. Repeat it one or two more times.

il riso in bianco, nanami kitchen

[Read more...]

Hi and welcome to Nanami Kitchen

Hi and welcome!  This is a blog of “Nanami Kitchen: Natural Japanese Food.”  I’m Kyoko.  I cook and teach Japanese cooking as a personal chef in Umbria and Roma in Italy.  The name of the site, Nanami (菜々味), literally means  “flavors of vegetables”.