Dashi is a type of cooking stock used as a base for soups and other dishes in Japanese cuisine. It is surprisingly easy to make compared to stocks here in the West. The secret to a good Japanese stock/broth is to use ingredients filled with umami – ‘the fifth taste’.
Traditionally, dried fish flakes called ‘katsuobushi’ and kelp seaweed are the basis for Japanese stock. Since katsuobushi is quite difficult to get outside Japan and expensive to buy, I tend to use kelp seaweed only or a mix of kelp seaweed and shiitake mushrooms, as these raw ingredients are also filled with umami and are widely available. We have an abundance of kelp seaweed here in Ireland, which can be bought in health stores, large supermarkets and fishmongers, so Ireland really is the ideal place to make dashi!
Dashi no moto: instant stock
Instant stock (also called instant dashi) is a dry ingredient that comes in granules and can be used to replace home-made dashi. Using instant dashi in Japanese cooking is similar to using stock cubes for cooking here in the West. Outside Japan it can be difficult to source so, depending on where you live, it may be easier to make home-made dashi. The most popular type of instant dashi granules available is called ‘hon-dashi’, made by a company called Ajinomoto. To use instant dashi granules for any of the miso soup recipe add 1 teaspoon of instant dashi granules to 1 litre of water. I recommend making dashi from scratch if possible, as nothing compares to the depth of flavour in home-made dashi and you also have the comfort of knowing exactly what’s in the stock. What follows are three recipes for home-made dashi.
Edamame are young soybeans in a pod. I loved this popular snack when I first moved to Japan as a student, as they are really cheap to buy and tasty, and go surprisingly well with beer. Generally, edamame can be found in the frozen section of Asian speciality stores or larger supermarkets. They are sold in the pod and also out of the pod. I prefer using edamame in the pod when serving as a simple snack or finger food and then using edamame out of the pod for when I’m making a dish with them.
To cook frozen pre-cooked edamame, place them in a large bowl and completely cover with boiling water. Leave for a few minutes, then drain. Fresh raw edamame should be cooked in a saucepan of boiling water for about 5 minutes and then drained.
Serve edamame with an empty bowl to dispose of the pods. Remember you can’t eat the pods! Check to see if the edamame have been pre-salted or not and then season to your liking with freshly ground sea salt.
To eat edamame simply pop the beans out of the pod using either your hands or your mouth. To add a nice kick to your cooked edamame sprinkle with shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) or just cayenne pepper.
If I’m completely honest, this recipe came about with a little luck using ingredients I had at home to make a last-minute lunch. Generally dumplings would be added to this type of noodle dish, but the meatballs work really well. The light soy broth works well in month summer and winter months.
4 bundles or portions of udon noodles
1 spring onion to garnish
shichimi togarashi and/or chilli oil to garnish
For the broth
1 litre chicken stock
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
salt and pepper to season
For the meatballs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
salt and pepper to season
250g good quality pork mince
For the toppings
100g pak choi leaves, washed and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut julienne style
4 eggs, hard-boiled, deshelled and halved
1 Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the soy sauce and sake, and season. Mix well and reduce to a very low simmer.
2 Meanwhile, for the meatballs, in a large bowl, mix the soy sauce, sake, egg, salt and pepper together. Then add the panko and pork mince. Using your hands mix well together.
3 To make the meatballs, measure out a heaped teaspoon of minced pork mix. Then, using dampened hands, roll into the shape of a small meatball. This should make about twenty-five meatballs, depending on the size.
4 Heat some oil in a heavy-based pan on a medium heat. Place the meatballs into the hot pan and cook, turning every few minutes until they are browned on all sides.
5 Cook the udon noodles according to the pack instructions. Then toss into the broth, bring back to the boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer again.
6 Divide the udon noodles and broth between four bowls, and add the meatballs, raw vegetables and eggs if using.
7 Finally garnish with finely sliced spring onion and shichimi togarashi or chilli oil.
This is so easy to make, uses very few ingredients and is filled with flavour.
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
cooked Japanese white rice (1 rice-cooker-measured cup of uncooked rice, 160g)
soy sauce to season
sesame oil to season
shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) to serve
1 In a non-stick frying pan heat a generous amount of vegetable oil over a medium to high heat and add the garlic.
2 Fry the garlic until slightly browned and crispy, then remove from the pan, place on a small plate and set aside.
3 Add the cooked rice to the garlic-infused oil still sitting in the base of the frying pan and fry until the rice is evenly covered in the oil and hot. Add the garlic.
4 Drizzle a small amount of soy sauce and sesame oil over the rice and mix well. Take off the heat and divide between two plates.
5 Using the same frying pan, add more oil if necessary and put over a medium to high heat.
6 Crack the eggs into the frying pan and cook to your liking (preferably leave the egg yolk runny).
7 Place one fried egg on each plate on top of the rice. 8 Sprinkle shichimi togarashi over the egg and rice to
Ramen is one of the ultimate comfort foods. Although ramen is now part of the Japanese culture, it came originally from China. In Japan each ramen restaurant will have their own secret stock recipe and this is guarded from one generation to the next. You can find ramen stalls on street corners and these are popular places to visit on the way home after a night out.
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper to season
1 chicken breast, butterfly cut
1 litre chicken stock
1 tablespoon dried seaweed
2 packs of egg or ramen noodles (about 400g)
3 tablespoons white miso paste
100g beansprouts, washed handful of pak choi leaves, washed and roughly chopped
spring onion to garnish shichimi togarashi and/or chilli oil to add a little spice
To serve ramen you’ll need;
2 large bowls 2 spoons 2 sets of chopsticks
1 To make the marinade for the chicken breast, in a small bowl mix together the sake, vegetable oil, salt and pepper.
2 Using your hands, completely cover the chicken in the marinade and leave to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
3 Once the chicken is ready, heat a heavy-based pan on a medium to high heat and seal the chicken on both sides. Then reduce the heat and continue to fry until the chicken is cooked through and set aside.
4 Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and immediately reduce to a simmer.
5 Place the dried seaweed in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Then squeeze out any excess water and set aside.
6 Place the noodles in a bowl of boiling water and gently untangle using a fork or chopsticks. Drain in a colander and rinse under a running cold tap to remove any excess starch.
7 Toss the noodles into the stock. Bring the stock back to the boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.
8 In a small bowl, mix the miso paste with a few tablespoons of hot stock from the saucepan, dissolving any lumps. Add the miso paste to the stock and mix well together.
9 Divide the noodles between two large serving bowls. Then divide the seaweed, beansprouts and pak choi evenly between the two bowls, arranging carefully. Slice the cooked chicken breast and place on top of the ingredients as shown in the picture.
10 Finally, fill the bowls about three-quarters full with the miso stock and garnish with spring onion and shichimi togarashi or chilli oil.
I remember collecting buckets of persimmon fruit (also called sharon fruit) with the elementary school children behind the local school where I worked in Japan. It reminded me of how we pick apples here in Ireland. In the past few years I was delighted to see this beautifully coloured fruit in my local supermarket. It is best eaten ripe otherwise it will be hard and bitter. To check if it’s ripe just press on the skin and it should be soft to touch. A really ripe persimmon can be eaten by slicing the top off the fruit and scooping out the flesh with a spoon. The persimmon and white chocolate cream in this recipe are a marriage made in heaven!
puff pastry, shop bought and pre-rolled (320g puff pastry makes 9 servings)
5 persimmon fruit (about half a persimmon fruit per serving),
brown sugar to dust
100g good quality white chocolate
250ml fresh cream, whipped
icing sugar to serve
1 Unwrap the pastry and roll out on a chopping board. Using a sharp knife cut the pastry into rectangular pieces large enough to serve one person for dessert. For 320g of puff pastry I divided the pastry into nine servings.
2 Peel the persimmon fruit, cut in half and then into thick slices.
3 Place four or five pieces along the centre of the pastry. Dust with brown sugar.
4 Bake at 200°C in a fan oven for 10–15 minutes until the pastry is slightly browned and crisp.
5 Break the white chocolate into small squares and place in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water on a medium heat. Allow the chocolate to slowly melt while stirring.
6 Once completely melted set aside for a few minutes to let cool a little, then add to the whipped cream and mix well together.
7 Serve the persimmon tart with a spoonful of white chocolate cream and dust with icing sugar.