Little tiny dishes with delicately plated ingredients, perfect execution of cooking and tastes of deliciousness. I love Japanese meals that are presented as several courses, and especially when they integrate well, following naturally from one to the next.
One iconic dish, Chawanmushi, is often served as part of the course. This savoury egg custard is cooked with a fragrant dashi broth, hiding amongst it treasures to be revealed when you dig in. Made with delicate and seasonal ingredients, the best ones are silky smooth and very light. The dashi broth is very important as it is the unique flavour of Japanese food. I used packets of dashi powder mixed with water.
Until recently, fresh Shiitake mushrooms were not commonly found in New Zealand. This is key to Asian cooking and I’m excited that Meadow Mushrooms, the 50 year old mushroom producer in NZ has extended their range to include these now. Grown on sawdust logs which have been inoculated with Shiitake mushroom spores, these grow quickly and are harvested in 14 days. They are bold in flavour, with a strong umami taste adding depth to most dishes.
Here I have also added wakame and fish cake. Other fillings such as prawns, crab meat, clams, small pieces of chicken thighs and onion slices are also excellent options. Traditionally steamed, you can also cook this in a water bath.
Using all my small sized cups and ramekins, I made mini portions. They were 60ml to 80ml each and I made seven with these quantities below. Increase your steaming time by 3 minutes if your bowls are larger.
- 400ml water
- 1 x 8g packet dashi powder
- 3 eggs (180g)
- 1.5 tsp soy sauce
- 1.5 tsp cooking Sake or mirin
- 2 tsp dried wakame
- 4-5 Shiitake mushrooms, sliced and halved
- 14 thin slices of Japanese fish cake
- Using a measuring jug, make up dashi stock. Add wakame to rehydrate it within the stock.
- Lightly beat the eggs and strain it through a sieve into the dashi stock, to remove any clumps of egg. This helps with the smoothness of the dish, ensuring no clumps or air pockets inside the custard. Add soy sauce and cooking sake.
- Place your fillings in the chawanmushi cups, reserving a few pieces of mushroom and fish cake for the top.
- Pour egg mixture into chawanmushi cups.
- On top of the mixture, add 2 small pieces of Shiitake mushrooms and a piece of fish cake, allowing it to float.
- Using a bamboo steamer over a wok, gently steam chawanmushi cups on low for 12 minutes. (mine were tiny 60ml to 80ml portions so steamed quickly. If you are making bigger portions, steam for 15 mins).
- If not using a bamboo steamer, where water vapor is allowed to escape, use aluminum foil to cover the tops of each cup to prevent condensation from dripping into the cups. You can also wrap a large clean tea towel around the steamer lid to contain the condensation from the steaming.
- Insert a wooden toothpick to check if it has cooked through. They are ready if clear juice comes out.
- Serve warm.
A few weeks ago I went to a pottery workshop in beautiful Titirangi, Auckland New Zealand. They served a delightful vegetarian lunch and one of the dishes served was from Yotam Ottenlenghi‘s SIMPLE. The cookbook is filled with really easy recipes and after tasting this soba dish, I just had to remake it at home.
My recipe below is an adaptation of the original recipe, as J is allergic to pistachios and avocados are out of season. We also don’t have Nigella seeds so have used chilli flakes instead. This is optional.
Love the tanginess of the lime, but mostly, I am blown away by the cardamom. Feel free to up the cardamom quantities, I have been quite liberal with it myself! You should have left over dressing with the quantities below, which is great stored in a jar for a second meal.
- 250g buckwheat soba noodles
- ½ tsp of cardamom seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 35g (1 cup) basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 35g (1 cup) coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 limes: slightly press and roll limes on the bench surface. Finely grate for 2 tsp zest, then juice to get 80ml.
- Extra lime, cut into 4 wedges, to serve
- 5 tbsp olive or avocado oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 drops of garlic essence (optional)
- 1 red or green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced (optional)
- 2 ripe avocados, deseeded and cut into thin slices (optional)
- 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional), to sprinkle over
- 1 tsp salt
- Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet.
- Once cooked, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside in the colander to drain well.
- Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle (if using pods, open for seeds and discard the outer husks).
- Place the crushed cardamom seeds in a mixing jug with the basil, coriander, lime zest and juice, oil, garlic, chilli, avocado (if using) and 1 tsp salt.
- Place noodles in a large mixing bowl and pour dressing in. Mix everything together well, taste and add more seasoning if needed.
- Serve platter style. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes, if using, and serve with a wedge of lime.
A simple dessert, reminiscent of childhood days in Hong Kong. They are loved for the smoothness and silkiness of the custard. The key to this is to always use a sieve to remove clumps in the mix before pouring into bowls, and to tightly cover the bowls while steaming.
Try eating it hot as well as cold – there is quite a difference in the experience!
Makes 3 small rice bowl portions
- 180ml full fat milk
- 120ml water
- 80g sugar (best to use chinese rock sugar 冰糖)
- 3 eggs, lightly whisked
- Heat milk and water in a smal saucepan and melt the sugar in it. Set aside to cool to 40C.
- Whisk eggs lightly with a fork.
- Once the sugar mixture has cooled, add whisked eggs in.
- Using a sieve, pour the egg mixture into small bowls or ramekins. This removes any lumps in the mix.
- Cover tightly with foil and steam on a rack in a wok or steamer for 9 minutes.
- Turn off heat and leave for another 2 minutes before removing bowls from the steamer.
- Carefully peel back the foil to avoid water on the foil dripping over the surface or he custard.
- Serve hot or cold.