Sheep are a big part of Irish culture and heritage. As a nation, we’re very proud of our lamb meat and it’s exported all over the world. I was brought up on a sheep farm, so needless to say I ate a lot of lamb during my childhood. So for these reasons I had to dedicate at least one recipe to lamb. I season the lamb meat with shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) and serve it with a natural yoghurt dip, as we have fantastic yoghurt producers in Ireland who make excellent quality yoghurt.
Makes 8 skewers
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
500g good quality lamb, minced
bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi
salt and pepper to season
8 skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes
Yoghurt and mint dip
5 tablespoons natural yoghurt
large bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lime juice
zest of ½ a lime
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to season
1 Heat the oil on a frying pan on a medium heat and add the diced onion. Slowly cook the onion, allowing it to sweat, and then fry until translucent (do not brown). Remove from the heat and let it cool.
2 In a large bowl mix together the minced lamb, parsley, shichimi togarashi and onion. Season with salt and pepper.
3 With dampened hands take a handful of meat and using a firm hand form a rectangular shape. Push a skewer through the meat.
4 Place under a grill on a high heat for 10 to 20 minutes (or until cooked to your liking). Place a cup of water on the base of the grill to stop the meat drying out.
5 Mix all the ingredients for the dip together in a bowl and serve on the side.
Gyoza originated in China and is a popular side dish in ramen shops and tapas-style restaurants called ‘izakaya’. It is served with a dipping sauce made of equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar with a few drops of sesame chilli oil. You can make these dumplings using different fillings such as minced pork, prawns or vegetables only. I usually make a large batch and freeze them as they cook well from frozen. Remember to steam cook the dumplings for longer if you’re cooking them from frozen. Makes 25–30 gyoza (dumplings)
25–30 gyoza skins
bowl of water for sealing the dumplings
80ml cold water for steaming
sesame oil to season
For the filling
200g minced prawn/ chicken or add more vegetables
100g cabbage, finely diced 1 spring onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
3 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sesame oil salt and pepper to season
2 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
a few drops of la-yu (chilli-infused sesame oil) to taste
A: How to make the dumplings
– Mix all the ingredients for the gyoza filling in a bowl together and set aside.
– Place the gyoza skins, a clean water bowl, teaspoon and large serving dish on the counter top before you start making the dumplings.
– Place a gyoza skin on the palm of your hand, take a heaped teaspoon of the filling and place it in the centre of the gyoza skin.
– Moisten the edge of the upper half of the gyoza skin by dipping your finger in the bowl of water and sliding it along the edge.
– Fold the bottom half of the gyoza skin over the filling so that it meets the moistened upper half
– Start to pleat by folding the edges (make one pleat in the middle and two pleats at either side)
– Press firmly on all pleats to ensure that the ingredients are secure within the gyoza skin.
B: How to cook the dumplings
- Heat oil on a non-stick frying pan on medium to high heat.
- Place the gyoza on the pan and fry until the base of the gyoza is slightly golden.
- Pour cold water around the edges of the pan and cover with a lid. Leave cooking for 10 minutes or until almost all of the water has evaporated.
- Remove the lid and continue to fry until the water is fully absorbed.
- Finally, drizzle sesame oil over the gyoza and fry until the base of the gyoza is golden brown.
- Serve with the soy sauce and rice vinegar dipping sauce.
The first thing to learn before you start cooking Japanese food at home is how to wash and cook Japanese rice properly. Click here to see my post on washing and cooking Japanese rice.
To understand the importance of rice in the Japanese diet you only need to look at the word ‘gohan’, which means both meal and rice. A typical Japanese home-cooked meal always includes a bowl of rice accompanied by soup and several other communal dishes, including vegetables, fish and meat, to give a nutritionally balanced meal.
I lived in a rural village called Nishiyama on the western coast of Japan for two years. It was surrounded by endless rice fields and mountains. There I got to truly experience the importance of rice in Japanese society. I remember one neighbour who warmly welcomed me to Nishiyama village with gifts of his own harvested rice and seasonal vegetables. I became good friends with him and his wife, and learned so much from them about Japanese food and culture. One day they brought me along to their rice field to watch their son plant rice seeds. After witnessing the hard work involved in planting, cultivating and harvesting rice, I gained a deeper appreciation for this sacred grain.
At home I prefer to serve rice in small Japanese-style bowls rather than on plates, as it’s easier to control portion sizes this way. The concept of communal eating and the use of chopsticks during eating also help control the amount of food eaten during a Japanese meal, without people having to make a conscious effort to do so.
Kombu & Shiitake Dashi (Kelp & Shiitake stock/broth)
Makes 1 litre
1 litre water
20g dried kombu (kelp) – a piece about the size of a postcard
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 Put 1 litre of cold water in a large saucepan.
2 Add the kombu and shiitake mushrooms to the water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes. If you have time leave to soak for a few hours or overnight (in this case, place in the fridge). This will fill the water with the goodness and umami from both the seaweed and the mushrooms.
3 Heat the water until it comes to the boil and then remove the kombu and mushrooms immediately.
4 This can be stored in the fridge for about 3 days, or you can freeze it.
Tip This is an ideal dashi for vegetarians.
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.