20 February, 2007

Safe product of the week: Anew Beans

Red Beans/ Soy beans (with nori)

Red beans from the Anew organic grocery stores. A little sweet, but perfect for making a quick chili and great for people in those little one-burner stove kitchens. And Anew soy beans, not so sweet, a little firmer and packed with protein. The picture above has Nori seaweed, but I recommend getting the ones without for this recipe. (They look the same without the dark bits. I'm putting this picture up because I couldn't get a picture of the plain ones and wanted to give an idea what to look for.) So grab a couple of packs and as quick as you can say One Burner Chili, you will be chomping on something tasty, hot, and up there pretty high on the comfort food list.

One-Burner Chili

Chop up an onion and saute it in oil, Olive oil if you have it, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped. Add a green pepper, cut up in small cubes and any other veggies you like. Saute until the veggies are a little soft, drifting on a little (sea) salt and pepper. Put in a small can of whole tomatoes, Italian style preferably, and smush in the pan with a fork or slotted spoon. Cook a bit and season with about 2Tb chili powder or so. Add about a tablespoon of a good grainy, or any, mustard and a few shakes of tobasco sauce. Add one pack of cooked red beans and one of soy beans (the cream coloured ones without the seaweed) in the cello-packs. Stir and cook until the flavours blend, a few minutes. Serve with french bread, biscuits or my favourite, toasted mochi, for dipping. Good, fast, and a heck of a lot better for you than conbenie food.

15 February, 2007

Italian Breakfast mochi

I've eaten mochi before at New Years, either fresh with sweet bean paste inside as a snack, or in miso soup and o-zoni, the traditional New Year's soup made a little differently in each prefecture, and maybe even each family, in Japan. I always liked it pretty well, but I wasn't jumping up and down, since it's pretty pasty and chewy when it's wet. But today I finally tried toasted mochi, prompted by an end of season sale at my local Anew organic grocery. Mind you they weren't cheap, at 1260 a package, reduced by only 3 per cent. But now I'm thinking I will buy another if they're still there next week, because toasted they are delicious. They puff up like like little balloons and the outside turns crispy with the taste of toasted rice while the inside is nicely chewy, resembling a chewy pizza crust, or maybe a cooked pizza with chewy cheese. Now the young woman who speaks English and helps me with ingredients translation at the store recommends putting on cheese or soy sauce. I can't eat cheese, because of a milk allergy, but think it sounds great for those of you who can, and soy sauce just doesn't hit the spot for me for breakfast, so this morning I invented a topping that would probably have them crying foul in the "traditional tastes of Japan camp" but I thought it was just great. I predict it will just be the first of many experiments with mochi, though, since I got a big package.

Italian Breakfast Mochi:

Take about two smallish mochi and put them in the toaster oven on the rack. You can eat more but you might puff up like a balloon, too; they're very calorie dense. Watch them and turn them over a few times as they start to soften up. This is not strictly necessary but it seems to help if you are anxious to get them done and fidgity. When they soften up enough and have puffed up like kids with 20 sticks of gum in their cheeks, probably about 10 minutes, take then out and try to cut, stretch, and pull them open in the middle, so they are a bit "butterflied". Then put them back in for a further 5 minutes of so until you think they look okay. Put them on a plate and sprinkle with a bit of fresh ground black pepper, salt, and the best extra virgin olive oil you can muster. Eat while they are still warm for a chewy and wonderful breakfast or snack. A good cup of deep dark coffee would go down great with these. Maybe next time I'll add a little garlic.

I know I'm probably the last person in Japan to try toasted mochi, so if you have a favourite way to eat them please leave a comment. And let me know how you like these if you can still get hold of mochi. I think the season is almost over.

11 February, 2007

Guest Column by "6810"

A Vegetarian's Guide to Combini Foods

So you are vegetarian and in Japan. You have by now read online, in forums and articles, about the challenges you will face, from the explicit (yakiniku) to the hidden (katsuo dashi). How you adapt your diet to these circumstances will depend on a number of different factors. For example:

What kind of vegetarian are you (lacto/ovo/pesco/vegan and all other varieties)?
Why are you vegetarian (ethics/diet/taste/health/religious)?

Then there is the factor of why and how long you are in Japan. For some, such as Eikaiwa instructors or tourists, who are only here for a short time knowing what is in what you are eating might be quite frightening. Not unlike the cliché - ignorance is bliss. Short term visitors or vegetarians who are vegetarian for health/diet reasons are likely to have less trouble than long term visitors, immigrants and those people who are vegetarian for ethical and religious/spiritual reasons.

Why? Short-term and dietary/taste vegetarians are probably more likely to make compromises in their eating choices and patterns. Long termers, immigrants and philosophical/spiritual vegetarians tend be less likely or less willing to make similar compromises. Vegetarianism varies across cultures and even individuals and this article is written with the latter group in mind.

I am what I would call a part of the long term, philosophical/spiritual vegetarians in Japan. In practical terms this means that I do not eat anything that has/had a central nervous or (however primitive) muscular system. I do however eat products that are derived from animals that do not require the animal to be killed, such as milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, eggs, yogurt etc. Why I am vegetarian? What are my ethics? No room here, so stay tuned for a future article on the ethics of being vegetarian.

So now, onto the guide. I have taken a fairly broad approach to compiling the following list of ingredients and strategies for eating “kosher” (not necessarily in the Jewish sense, one could even substitute “pukka” or “proper”!) vegetarian food widely available in convenience stores and supermarkets in Japan. The list is not exhaustive so updates are welcomed. Since I do not have the time or resources at present to make up a “Vegetarian-Safe” list of products (another future article?), what I have tried to do is to create a list in Japanese and English of commonly used ingredients in processed and prepared foods. This way you can decide for yourself, according to your own habits/conscience what is right for you.

– shio – salt.

砂糖 – satou - sugar

水飴 – mizuame – glucose syrup

アミノ酸 – aminosan – amino acid(s)/MSG/hydrolysed protein or some other form of flavour enhancer produced through fermentation and break down of proteins into constituent amino acids. Many of these amino acids are similar in constitution to MSG (monosodium glutamate) or are produced in similar ways. The MSG debate is a tricky one, so go and investigate it yourself if you have questions.

チキン/チキンエキス – chikin ekisu – chicken extract – may or may not actually contain chicken. I don’t know exactly what this is made out of and how/why it is different 鶏肉エキス. My assumption is that labeling it “chicken” instead of鶏肉 has different legal implications/responsibilities. For example, it may be made of the off-casts and unusable parts of chickens (bones, beaks, claws, organs etc) and therefore cannot be technically called鶏肉. This is only conjecture. If you know more, please get in touch.

鶏肉 – toriniku – chicken.

ビーフ/チキンエキス – biifu ekisu – beef extract – see entry under chicken extract for more discussion.

牛肉 – gyuuniku – beef.

ポーク/チキンエキス – pooku ekisu – pork extract – cf. chicken/beef extract.

豚肉 – butaniku – pork/pigmeat. Also includes ハム(ham)・ベーコン(bacon)

魚 – sakana – fish – note that there are innumerable fish used in various products and listing all of the kanji is beyond me. However, many if not all of these fish contain this kanji in slightly modified but recognizable form. If someone wants to contribute an extensive list of fish names kanji it would be appreciated (I am originally from a beef and dairy producing community inland and seldom ate fish as a child so even now have little interest or experience with fish).

鰹/かつお – katsuo – katsuo dashi/fish soup stock – the vegetarian’s nightmare in Japan. It pops up in many places, especially soup stocks and so on.

海老/えび – ebi – shrimp. Sometimes labeled in katakana as シュリンプ. Again, see discussion under chicken extract for more details.

小麦粉 – komugiko – wheat – if you are gluten intolerant – watch out!

牛乳 – gyuunyuu – milk – the second kanji – 乳 – is used frequently to denote products which contain milk products such as lactose, full fat milk powder and skim milk powder. A list is given below.

調製粉乳 – chouseibunnyuu – modified milk powder

脱脂乳/脱脂粉乳 – dasshinyuu/dasshifunnyuu – skim milk powder

加糖粉乳 – katoufunnyuu – sweetened milk powder

全脂粉乳 – zenshifunnyuu – whole milk powder

乳糖/ラクトース – nyuutou/lactose – derived from milk.

ホエイ – whey – from milk (as in curds and whey)

大豆 – daizu - soybean

大豆乳 – tonyu – soymilk

パウダー paudaa – powder – attached to many words such as cheese, chicken,:whey powder, chicken powder etc.

チーズ – chiizu – cheese

豆 - mame - beans

昆布/こんぶ – kombu – a type of seaweed used in various dashis as a flavour enhancer

卵・玉子・たまご – tamago – egg. Vegans be careful with soy milk as many calcium fortified soy milks in Japan are often fortified with calcium derived from egg shells

Remember, this list is incomplete, so if there is something missing or something you would like to add, get in touch.

10 February, 2007

Vegetarian Rice Patties ("burgers") and Sukiyaki

Surfing around looking for recipes which are vegetarian but use ingredients easily found here I happened upon Global Gourmet with two recipes that I haven't tried yet but that look promising. How about rice "burgers", available at all sorts of places including Mosburger, but here is a homemade and therefore purely vegetarian version. Called Sesame Crusted Rice Patties, they sound good enough for me to be making them really soon, maybe for tonight's dinner. And for a second choice, how about a tofu and vegetable version of the old favourite, Sukiyaki?

06 February, 2007

English Teachers' Vegetable Curry

There's nothing like a vegetable curry with rice for starting the day off right. Yes, it makes a great breakfast or brunch as well as a supper or lunch. The advantage of making it for breakfast is that you probably have more time for cooking in the morning, if you're on the same schedule as most language teachers here. And it's a great way to warm up the kitchen in the morning. Then, when you come home late from work, there's something great to eat with just a quick heat up.

And it tastes just as good warmed up as when it's first made, maybe even better. You can put it in a plastic tub on top of rice for lunch at work. But you probably won't need to worry much about leftovers because with its nice balance of spices, inspired by a curry from Madhur Jaffrey, this one is difficult to stop munching.

English Teachers' Vegetable Curry Serves 6 (supposedly)

5 Tb vegetable oil
3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
A 1-inch (2.5 cm) stick of cinnamon
6 whole cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
6 oz. (175 g) onions, chopped
6-7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1" ( 2.5 cm) fresh ginger, minced
pinch of hing ( if you have it)
1 lb (450 g) fresh tomatoes, finely chopped (tinned are okay)
1/8-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garam masala powder (or to taste)
Firm tofu cubes (1 package) if desired (or chick peas,
soy, or red beans, cooked )

Vegetables, cut up in chunks, a few cups.
I use vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet red and green peppers, almost anything with some firmness, and last time I used cubes of firm (the one with the seared brown top) tofu.

Coconut milk or powder-- a few big spoons, if you like it creamy. (If you eat milk you could substitute yoghurt, but in that case add it to the spice and oil mixture after it becomes brown before you add everything else.) Alternatively,if you don't mind a slightly crunch texture, you can use fine dry unsweetened coconut, such as is available from Indojin.com.

Heat the oil in a wok or large pan over a medium high flame. When hot put in the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Stir once and then put in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir this mixture around until the onion picks up brown specks. Add the vegetables and give it a few stirs, just to caramelize a bit. Then put in the tomatoes, salt, tofu or beans and a cup or two of water and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes until the veggies are tender but not mushy, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Take off the cover, turn up the heat to medium and add the garam masala and cook about 5 more minutes. I always add water as needed during the cooking period (to cover the vegetables) as I like a bit of sauce, and I usually use up to about a Tb. of garam masala.

I use the food processor to mince the ginger, garlic and sometimes onions 'cause it's easier. I like it with Basmati or brown rice. Don't forget to look for and pick out the whole spices.

04 February, 2007


A unique food think tank with the aim of improving nutrition and relieving our reliance on junk food. There are a lot of things to explore on this website, but maybe some of the most relevant to Vegetable Japan are the traditional food pyramids. There are Asian and vegetarian ones that illustrate what makes up a healthy diet and they are available for download from Oldways.

03 February, 2007

History of Sustainable Farming in Japan

I was just repairing the link to Warabe Mura, an organic cafe, store, and ordering service in Gifu, when I happened on a page with several articles in English. One I found especially interesting is a short history of sustainable farming in Japan, along with a short discussion of the few certified organic acres. There is no government support for these farmers and only about 4o square kilometers are in production. Some of the farmers can't support themselves and have to take other jobs in the winter.

At the same time, the government heavily supports rice farmers who are generously applying pesticides to the land, and eventually to us, the consumers, and trickling into our drinking water. If you live in Japan, it's hard not to notice that cancer rates are way up lately. I feel that pesticides and the pollution from cars and factories, along with an enormous amount of burned garbage, are contributing factors.

Many of these small organic farmers can't afford the heavy costs of JAS certification. It's a pity that the government doesn't measure the costs to human health from pesticide use and the contribution that these farmers are making to health and offer them free certification. That might do something to encourage more farmers to switch to sustainable methods.

Here's a link to the article: Sustainable Farming in Japan

01 February, 2007


Down with a bit of a cold but soothing my throat and sending a bit of sweetness to my brain is wonderful chai, inspired by a recipe from the new book, Hope's Edge: The New Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter, Anna. They travelled around the world to find people developing their own solutions to the problems of putting food on the table for themselves and their families, including a visit to the Grameen Bank. A great book that helps fight that helpless feeling many of us have -- we know we want to do something but don't know what, and what's the use of fighting the big corporations choke hold on the money and food supply anyway? The book has lots of stories of people cooperating to help themselves. Inspiring!

From some of these people they collected recipes and this is the best chai I have ever tasted. Adapted from Indra and Sylvie's Chai, this recipe uses soy milk, but you could rice milk or regular milk. You can buy the spices in bulk from Indojin.com or your local store. The Flying Pig has bulk peppercorns. It uses loose black, not brown, tea available here often under the Twinings label. Irish Breakfast tea is delicious, and of course, tea from India. I use Vanilla Silk soy milk but think it would be fine with unflavoured tonyu from the store.

Nirvana Soy Chai

5 cups water
15 whole cloves
2o cardamom pods, crushed (Try the brown cardamom if you like it aromatic, and use 10. Or 20 green) I take a big knife and chop through the centre of the pods on a cutting board.
35 whole peppercorns
5 sticks cinnamon (in chunks if you get from Indojin)
16 slices fresh ginger ( just wash, no need to peel)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tablespoons whole black tea, loose
1/4 cup honey ( or substitute sugar)
3 cups soy milk

In a pot simmer the spices in the water for about 30 minutes until the water reduces to about 2 cups. Turn off the heat and add the black tea and steep for 3-5 minutes (or to taste --it gets strong quickly). Strain out the spices with a tea strainer as you pour the chai into a bowl or carafe. Return the strained tea to the pot and heat again gently, stirring in the honey and soy milk. This makes quite a lot, 5 to 6 cups, so you can halve it if you like. A little sip of Nirvana .