Watercress Salad

Kureson Sarada クレソンのサラダ

Watercress was originally introduced to Japan in the 1870s and first called oranda garashi (Dutch mustard). These days it is generally referred to as kureson (from the French cresson).  In recent years this semi-aquatic plant has gained popularity, and is now found in soups or as a boiled and seasoned side dish. Thanks to cultivation and the growing benefits of slightly alkaline water, Japanese watercress has become a milder variety that many children enjoy. Children living in the countryside are often surprised to learn that this plant grows wild in many of the nearby mountain streams. Often, during spring field trips children wade knee high in icy spring runoff to gather bunches to take home or cook in the classroom. It is best when eaten in the late spring before it flowers and becomes bitter. This slightly spicy and vinegary dish helps to cleanse the palette from the richer components to this school lunch.

Ingredients:

3 bunches watercress
Bonito flakes or sesame seeds for garnish

Dressing:

¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 teaspoons sugar

Directions:

          Make the dressing: combine the vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a bowl. Cool in refrigerator for later.

          Cut the watercress into 3-4 cm-long pieces. Divide the stem and leaf sections.

          Boil the stem parts first, and then add the leaves. Be careful not to overcook. Drain and chill the greens in cold water. Drain again and squeeze out excess water.

          Add the watercress to the dressing and mix. Cool in refrigerator for about 10 minutes.

          Serve and pour the remaining dressing over the top. Garnish with bonito flakes.


New Potato Potage

Shin Jagaimo Potaaju 新じゃが芋ポタージュ

The potato is probably one of the most popular and appealing foods for children the world over. It is mild, savory and satisfying. The Japanese have a love of new potatoes- the small varieties harvested early in the season. They are usually prepared simply; boiled or roasted with generous amounts of salt and butter. One of the most popular cooking methods is potatoes boiled in soy sauce and dashi. The Japanese know that simple is best with this delicate ingredient. Similarly, the Japanese have a fascination with the creamy taste and texture of French-style potato soups. You can find them as canned or powdered soup, in rustic flavors like pumpkin, corn or potato. They are often consumed as “cup soup” as an accompaniment to a meal in lieu of the traditional bowl of miso. Soups are included almost every day on the school lunch menu, but this type of creamy potage is considered a special treat. Warming and homey, this mild and light dish is perfect for the cool spring days. 

Ingredients:

1 cup new potatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup scant, white or yellow onions, choppe
1 tablespoon butte
1 cup water
1 teaspoon
1 cube chicken consume soup stoc
½ cup milkA dash of salt and black pepper
Parsley (fresh or dried) to garnish (optional)

Cookware:

Bowl, blender, soup pot

Instructions:

          Peel the potatoes and thinly slice into “half-moons.” Set aside in bowl full of cold water

          Peel, and thinly slice the onion. Lightly sauté with butter in a saucepan until softened.

          Put potato moons and sautéed onions into a medium sized pot.

          Add enough water to cover the potatoes, and then add the soup stock. When it comes to the boil, turn down heat and simmer until the potatoes have softened.

          Once tender remove the pot from the heat and let cool to warm. Then, pour the mixture into blender, add a dash of milk, and switch it on high or puree. (you may need to do this in two batches, depending on your blender)

          Return the puree to the pot, and add the remainder of the milk. Heating the soup slowly on a medium-low flame. Cook until the soup reaches the desired degree of thickness. Froth to finish.

          Adjust the taste with salt and pepper, pour into serving bowls, sprinkle the parsley, and it's done!

Green Bean Cheese Fish Cake

Ingenmame-Chizu Chikuwa 海苔チーズ竹輪

Do not be afraid of chikuwa! It’s actually quite delicious, nutritious and affordable. Chikuwa is a tube-shaped fish cake (its name actually means bamboo sphere) that is featured in all manner of dishes. In the school lunch repertoire, it is usually served stuffed and fried or stewed and simmered. When fried, the batter is often flavored with a more robust seasoning – sometimes curry or dried shiso (perilla)—and from time to time stuffed with cheese or cucumber for a savory surprise. Our fish cakes are stuffed with cheese and fresh green beans which provide a contrast between creamy savory cheese and fresh crunch and zest. Visually, the chikuwa tubes are brightened as well, reminiscent of bamboo forests awakening after a long sleep.

Ingredients:

1 package chikuwa (usually 4-6 per packet)
¼ cup cheese thinly sliced into matchsticks (a creamy white cheese works well
5-6 straight fresh green bean
2-3 tablespoons minced green onion
4 tablespoons white flour
1 tablespoon corn starc
3 ½ tablespoon water (or more as needed
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 ice cubes½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 pinch salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Toothpicks (optional)

Cookware:

Large bowl, cutting board, large plate, frying pan.

Instructions:

          Combine the green onions, flour, corn starch, water, mayonnaise, ice cubes, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and combine. Set aside.

          Cut chikuwa through on one side so that the chikuwa can be opened up and flattened into a narrow rectangle.

          Insert cheese and green bean paralleling the long end. From the cheese side, roll the chikuwa back into a cylinder.

          Once rolled, secure at opposite ends with a toothpick if needed.

          Cut the roll in two equal halves and set aside on plate. Repeat instructions 1-4 until all the chikuwa have been rolled in this manner.

          When all the chikuwa have been filled, coat the rolls with the green onion batter and set aside each piece on a plate.

          Heat a pan full of a thin layer of vegetable oil to medium high. Cook the chikuwa until crispy and golden brown. Be sure to let each side brown completely before flipping it to a different size. (Note: Cheese may melt out, but this makes it more delicious!)

          Let cool slightly and remove the toothpicks. Serve.

Green Peas Rice

Endo Mame Gohan えんどう豆ご飯

Growing peas and beans are a rewarding and simple activity for school children in Japan. This teaches them the importance of diligence and care, while also providing a tasty, quick-growing prize. I first encountered endo mame gohan during a chance visit to a local pre-school center. There, the children were harvesting and shelling the peas which the “school lunch ladies” then steamed them up into a big batch of endo mame gohan. It was so simple – but those fresh peas—the creamy green dotted with just a touch of black – was unlike anything I had tasted. For the children, it probably wasn’t anything revolutionary. But for me, well, I certainly over ate that afternoon! Following this experience, I became much more conscious of the pea and beans world in the Japanese culinary repertoire. Green peas are regularly incorporated into Japanese meals, although mainly as a source of visual contrast in stews and boiled dishes. In essence, they are seen as a garnish - not the main vegetable source. No plates full of peas here, as in British or American traditions. Endo mame gohan shows off the simple, sweet flavored vegetables in an easy to eat form that even the most finicky eaters will enjoy.

Main ingredients:

2 cups short-grain white rice,* soaked and rinsed
½ - ¾ cup fresh or frozen green peas (ideally, fresh
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
sesame seeds to taste

For rice balls:

Ingredients above
4 dried seaweed sheets
Plastic wrap

For grilled rice balls:

Ingredients above
Cooking spray

Cookware:

Pot, rice cooker, or cast-iron vessel. Optional: frying pan

Instructions for rice:

•          Combine ingredients in rice cooking vessel.

•          If cooking on the stovetop, bring the rice-mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. It should take roughly 30 minutes for the rice to cook. Once the bubbles have subsided and the surface of the rice forms a matte finish, do a quick taste test (don’t let too much steam out!) to see if the rice is done. If using a rice cooker, combine ingredients and cook at regular cooking time.

•          Let rice cool slightly before fluffing with a spoon or spatula.

For Rice Balls (onigiri):

•          Complete steps one and two. Turn off burner.

•          Let rice rest for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to steam and become tender. Allow cooked rice to cool.

•          Combine 1 cup water with the salt in a small bowl. Use this water to dampen hands before handling the rice. Divide the cooked rice into 4 equal portions. Use one portion of rice for each rice ball. Using dampened hands, shape the rice into a plump triangle.

•          Lay nori flat and place the rice triangle in the center with its point facing vertical towards the ceiling. Crease up either side of dried seaweed – so that the rice appears to look almost like a taco. Sprinkle the top of the rice with white sesame seeds.

•          Eat and enjoy!

For Grilled Rice Balls Rice Balls:

•          Create rice balls as instructed above. Do not wrap in seaweed or add sesame seeds.

•          In a frying pan, heat the sesame oil to medium-high and place the four rice balls in. Fry on each side until light or golden brown. Flip.

•          When finished, remove from pan and cool slightly before eating.

*For added nutrition and texture, consider blending ¾ cup white rice with ¼ cup brown rice. Another nutritious combination is ¾ cup white rice and ¼ cup barley. The barley will add a springy, pleasant texture.