Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nikujaga and Korean Hot Cucumber Salad

Nothing is better than a bowl of steamy stew of some sort on a cold day. Seeing that I still have a few organic potatoes sitting on the counter top, I decided to make a dish my Japanese friend described as "the taste of mother": Nikujaga. Then it reminded me of numerous Chinese dishes, such as stewed beef noodles, wonton soup, and so on, that invoke sentiments of nostalgia.
I came across this video tutorial on YouTube, and adopted the recipe from Just Hungry with a few modifications.Usually the liquid part is reduced slowly to almost nothing, contrary to western style stews where the liquid or soupy part is abundant. You can increase the amount of beef in this dish if you want it to be more filling, or serve it as a one-pot meal. And since I tend to fall for the lighter flavours, I reduce the amount of soy sauce and sugar in the stewing liquid.
Nikujaga, Japanese stewed meat and potatoes
900 g / 2 lbs of potatoes. Use boiling potatoes for a firmer texture, and baking potatoes if you want it rather crumbly and mushy. (Either way it's good, though the former makes for a prettier dish.)

Note: I used boiling potatoes: bring a pot of water to a boil, put in the potatoes (chunks) and boil for about 10 minutes. You still want the potatoes to maintain their shapes as they will be stewed later, so it is ok if they are not cooked through)
200g / 6 oz thinly slice beef or pork. "Minute steak" is fine, or just cut up a thin cutlet.
1 medium onion
A small piece of fresh ginger
about 4-5 cups of dashi soup stock I used 3 1/2 cups

6 Tbs sugar I used 2 Tbs
3 Tbs sake, or sweet sherry
3 Tbs soy sauce I used 2 Tbs
1 Tbs mirin (or just add another Tbs. of sake and a bit more sugar)
1 tsp dark sesame oil

4 Mushrooms
1/2 package Konnyaku
1/2 carrot
Some chopped green onions for garnish

Peel and cut up the potatoes. Roughly chop up the meat. Slice the onion. Chop the ginger finely.
Sauté the onion and ginger in some oil. Add the meat and sauté till browned.
Add the potatoes and sauté briefly. Add enough dashi stock to cover. Add the sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce. Add the sesame oil. Bring to a boil, then put a pot lid that's smaller than the pot you're using directly on top of the potatoes, Simmer over medium-low heat, until the liquid is much reduced and the potatoes are tender, and infused with a sort of golden color, about 20-30 min.
Sprinkle with the green onions and toss around in the pan. Serve immediately.

The final product was amazing, a truly savory dish that would bring you to tears if you miss the home-cooked meals, or that particular dish mom always made when we were little. That was the feeling I got from this dish: a sweet, slowly-cooked stew that brought me back in time.

Korean Hot Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber (I cut them into bite-size pieces for the texture)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup red onions (sliced)

1 clove garlic (chopped)

1 teaspoon gochugaru (or other chili powder)

1 teaspoon gochuchang

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame seeds (toasted)

Mix the cucumbers and salt and let sit for 10-20 minutes. Mix the water and vinegar and let the onion sit in the mixture for 10-20 minutes. Rinse the cucumber and dry. Drain the onions.
Mix the remaining ingredients and toss with the cucumber and onions. Top with some more toasted sesame seeds. Serve cold (I like to refrigerate it for a bit)
The dressing has a really nice combination of spiciness, sweetness and sourness that is a perfect complement to the juicy and crunchy cucumbers. The thinly sliced onions, which are almost translucent in appearance, are great additions in terms of presentation and taste (the best part is that it is not overpowering.)

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