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WaFooD: Konnyaku Day Roundup

jason

I promised a roundup for Konnyaku Day… Alas, thanks to my rather late announcement, there are only a couple of entries (at least so far). A number of people wrote in that they were planning to participate, so hopefully there will be a few more. However, I’d be happy to add anything that comes in this week. Just post a comment and I’ll add yours.

From Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden comes two treats: Konnyaku no miso ni and sashimi konnyaku. Konnyaku no miso ni is a clever variation of a typical braised vegetable dish, most commonly applied to eggplant. I definitely want to make this dish.

I’m also jealous that Obachan has access to unusual flavors of “sashimi konnyaku” which aren’t readily available in the U.S. She made yuzu konnyaku and aonori konnyaku with a sumiso (vinegared miso) sauce.

Konnyaku-no-miso-ni-obachanSashimi-konnyaku-obachan

Amy of Blue Lotus took advantage of the noodle incarnation of konnyaku. With a bit of sakura-ebi and shiso, it’s an example of contrasting textures and flavors in each bite.

Sakura-ebi Shiso Itokonnyaku

From Hiromi’s blog (in Japanese), we have Houtou with Konnyaku. You may remember Hiromi made Houtou shortly after we came back from Japan in March. She did the hard work on this as well, though I helped twist a few of our konnyaku slices into twisted shapes following her instruction.

Houtou-konnyakuHoutou-konnyaku-detail

I’ll extend the Konnyaku day roundup if anyone has some other dishes, even if you’re just getting around to posting your entry this week… Post a comment and I’ll add you!

That survival gig

jason

At Revenue Science, where I’ve been doing my “pay my bills” job while slowly building YuzuMura.com, we recently shipped the product to our Japanese partner. Today one of my coworkers passed around an email from our main contact at the Japanese company, complimenting us on the quality of our understanding of Japanese software issues. I was very happy to hear that, since that was why I was brought in on the project.

I have a few weeks left on the project to focus on automating some tests, and then I need to figure out what to do next. Based on my financial projections, it looks like I will still need to find an additional software gig for the next 6–12 months. I’m hoping to find something similarly focused on making software work with other languages, since that’s where I’m most useful and what gets me most excited. If it weren’t for the international impact of my work, I wouldn’t have stayed at Microsoft for seven years.

Two other okazu

jason

Over time I’ve developed the ability to incorporate atypical ingredients into Japanese preparations of food without turning the dishes into bizarre monstrosities. In order to make such dishes work, I try to think of the function of each ingredient, rather than on self-consciously “inventing” something new and dramatic. This allows for a kind of natural evolution of possibility, without the excesses of drama-first fusion cuisine.

Sea beans, a local seaweed, substitutes neatly for hijiki in this side dish with abura-age and carrots. It has a kind of light brininess, but the real highlight is the freshness and slightly crisp texture of this seaweed compared to reconstituted hijiki. It also requires less cooking time than hijiki usually does.

Seabeans

Garlic shoots and shiitake

Garlic-shoots-shiitake

Ninniku-me or garlic sprouts do exist in Japan, though they are not an everyday vegetable for most Japanese. These ones had surprisingly large bulbs on the top. This dish is simply sauteed briefly with some sliced fresh shiitake. On trips to Japan when I have the option to cook, I like to blanch them and use them as a kind of ohitashi, but occasionally I saute them like this.

WaFooD: 5/29 is Konnyaku Day!

jason

Update: For those of you coming from elsewhere, the roundup so far is posted here. Please send me your entries by Sunday and I can include the procrastinators...


A couple of weeks ago on eGullet, member Hiroyuki noted that May 29 is Konnyaku Day.

5/29 could be read “Go Ni Kyuu” in Japanese, which sounds very roughly like “Konnyaku”. That little dajare, or wordplay, is as good an excuse as any for the Japanese konnyaku farming industry to celebrate the gelatinous products of the devil-tongued root.

Since the non-Japanese blogging world is probably oblivious to such events, I thought it might be fun to invite a few English bloggers to make their favorite konnyaku dish, or try something completely new. It’s a bit short notice, but if you have a blog and you would like to join in, send me a link to your “5/29” celebration anytime from now until May 30. Contact me using the “Email" link at the top of my blog, or just leave a comment below. I’ll round up anyone who participates and include them in a roundup starting on May 29. This will be the first event in a series I’ll call WaFooD, explorations of Japanese cooking ingredients and techniques.

Dengaku Konnyaku with Sansho

Konnyaku dengaku

What is Konnyaku? Wikipedia says it’s a tuber valued for its starchy corm, which still leaves me bewildered, and I actually cook with konnyaku relatively often. I guess I must not spend a lot of time with corms.

You might be surprised to find out that konnyaku’s starch is processed much the same way that corn for making tortillas or hominy is treated: subjected to some torture by limewater, the starches from the plant are apparently converted to something magical.

Insanely gelatinous, but relatively low in calories on its own, konnyaku is popular in Japan as a diet food. People believe that it expands in their stomach and keep them feeling full, though I suspect most of that expansion has happened already when it’s processed. I'm not really into food as medicine; for me, it's just another fun ingredient.

Popular applications include blocks of konnyaku which can be used for dengaku konnyaku or any number of other treats, thinly sliced konnyaku for “sashimi”, tied konnyaku for oden or nimono (poached, simmered dishes), noodles called shirataki popular for one-pot meals called nabe. In Taiwan, some manufacturers have turned konnyaku into yet another vegetarian "meat."

Sometimes konnyaku is processed into sweet confections with fruit flavors, but a skittish FDA forced recalls after discovering cases of a dozen or so people that carelessly swallowed the snacks whole and choked. The remaining products in that category were reformulated, and the remaining examples of those products in the US barely have any konnyaku in them. I guess Jello Jigglers weren’t considered dangerous, but these mysterious foreign vegetable products had to be stopped!

Eat small bites, but be adventurous! A few extra grams of fiber can’t hurt you.

OK, get in touch with me and tell me about your konnyaku creations. They can be Japanese-style, fusiony, or adapted to your local cuisine. If you’ve got photos, even better! See you May 29…

To make it easier to find you, you may also include a technorati tag for WaFooD in your post, just like below:

Technorati:

Making difficult decisions, pressing the pause button

jason

Over the last two years, I invested a substantial amount of money trying to build a market for one of my signature products, Dragon Beard Candy, from Bamboo Garden.

Other than Japanese ceramics, it was the first big product that I started with, so I have a pretty strong attachment to it. I want to continue to invest in the Dragon Beard Candy, but I analyzed the last two years of sales and trends over the last couple of months and I realized that it doesn’t make much sense to throw more money at the product during the summer months, when sales are not quite as vigorous as in the fall and winter. I also don’t have the time to fully invest in promoting it right now, as I’m trying to build up more resources before the next holiday season.

There’s only about a 3.5–4 month shelf life from the time I receive it from the manufacturer on average, so I tend to import very modest amounts because I’d rather run out than throw it away or give it away.

Fuel costs went sky-high over the last year, so my freight costs have made wholesale sales of that product, which really needs to be shipped by air, almost without value, and I just got another notification from my freight vendor that air freight fuel surcharges went up again. I have been emphasizing retail sales on my web site more this year partially for that reason, as the margins on the web site make profitability more attainable.

Unfortunately, there’s just not that much value in selling the product in the summertime, unless I do more large-scale corporate gift sales… Of course, those orders tend to cluster around the holidays, as well.

I don’t expect the fuel costs to get better, but I want to assign my resources toward some new products this summer, so about a week or so ago I clearance priced the last little bit of candy I have from my spring shipment.

I plan to pick up a few other products that I’ve had in the back of my mind for the last few months… some Japanese snacks, some more gifty stuff, and maybe a few other unexpected things. I’ll pick up the dragon beard candy again when appropriate holidays are approaching, starting around September. That’ll coincide with the Chinese mid-Autumn festival, sometimes called the Moon Festival in the U.S. For the last two years, that’s when sales for the product really started picking up. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser extent, Chinese New Year also drive a lot of sales.

I also think it’s more compelling as a special occasion product, with limited availability. When I was at FoodEx this year, I started thinking that I might shift into selling a few featured products and only offer them until I run out… It would let me feature a wider variety of interesting products, and of course, I could always revisit a product that turns out to have particularly enduring demand.

Little filo shreds and cannelini soup with kurogoma

jason

I’m fond of kadaif or kataifi, which is essentially shredded filo dough, as the base for little hors d’ouevres similar to canapes. Apparently, the most typical application for kataifi is in canola-like cream filled desserts, but I tend to use the pastry for more savory purposes.

A while back I made channa gobi masala nests, and I tend to make similar dishes with other fillings when I need a dramatic take-along dish for a party. Last weekend I brought such a dish to a party filled with asparagus and morels… but I didn’t use up all of my kataifi dough.

We took advantage of that excess a couple of nights ago, and made a variation with a filling of asparagus, garlic, tomato, and a couple of cheeses.

Asparagus tomato kataifi

We wanted a little soup, too, so I boiled some canellini beans with garlic and bay leaf, then pureed the beans with some sauteed onions and celery, and adjusted the seasoning to make a simple soup. I snuck a few drops of toasted sesame oil, and heated up some kurogoma in a dry pan to add some contrast and flavor to the soup.

Canellini-soup-kurogoma

Things to do with eringii

jason

Eringii mushrooms have great visual appeal. It’s possible to compose dramatic looking dishes with them, but I think they taste best with simple preparations.

Eringii-shouyu-butter

I usually serve them as a side dish with two or three other options.

This dish only takes a minute of active preparation, as I can just slice some in half, set them in a skillet with a bit of sizzling butter on medium heat, let cook until slightly browned on one side, flip, and after a minute or so, finish with a splash of soy Japanese sauce.

Butter and soy sauce is a magical combination.

Introducing MoriAwase.com and the debut of my "other" blog

jason

Pursuing My Passions has always been focused on my life after Microsoft, about indulging my passions for good food, contemporary Asian craft, and travel while somehow trying to build a business around those obsessions. But except for the occasional comment on a restaurant here an there, I haven’t spent much time looking outward at what other people are doing.

I wanted to build a bit of a community focused on changing contemporary Asian lifestyles, as well as on food, crafts, and design. Of course, with my ever-increasingly insane schedule, I never put the necessary amount of time into the project. But I’ve decided I will bite off a little at a time, much like I did originally with this blog… and for now, I’ve decided to create a blog wholly focused on an assortment of such things, rather than just on what I’m up to myself.

The first couple of entries on that blog are now up on MoriAwase.com. If you have any sort of enthusiasm for rustic-contemporary Asian craft, contemporary Asian art and design, for Asian cuisine and travel, please take a look, and consider signing up to participate in the MoriAwase.com Forums.

Pursuing My Passions will continue, focused mostly on what I’m cooking, where I’m traveling, and what I’m doing with my business, as it always has… MoriAwase will be a bit more focused on the world around me, and perhaps more traditionally blog-like with links to interesting content outside of my narrow little sphere.

Little eggplants in the spring

jason

These small “Indian” eggplants from Uwajimaya remind me of kyo-nasu (Kyoto eggplant). I love using these small eggplants for elegant side dishes. It’s a little early for great eggplant, but they’re starting to be quite respectable again.

But I chose to lean toward spicy…. Nothing terribly complicated; just fresh and full of little contrasts.

Eggplant marinated with lime

Eggplant and cilantro

Thai chilies, shallots, and lime juice marinated with briefly fried halves of eggplant, with fresh cilantro leaves. I salted the eggplant and rinsed to keep them reasonably shapely. Pleasantly tart and exciting the first night, they have an even better flavor on the second day. Just add the fresh cilantro at the last minute for a nice balance of flavor.

Eggplant and tofu with thai basil

Eggplant and atsuage

Extra soft atusage (fried tofu), braised eggplant, seasoned with a little green curry paste, and basil, served dry. A little indulgent, but somehow comforting.