Lifestyle

A taste of Japan

From pancakes to noodles, Meera Sodha’s exciting new book takes you on a culinary journey to the Far East

Aubergine Katsu curry with pickled radishes

katsu curry is an unlikely looking thief of the heart, but this mysterious brown concoction is one of Japan’s favourite dishes. In my take on it, the curry sauce is made using plenty of naturally sweet vegetables plus a couple of store-cupboard essentials. These modest ingredients come together to form a seductive and silky sauce much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a message to us all never to judge a dish by its colour.

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Note: The sauce freezes well, so feel free to double up when making. You’ll need a blender for this recipe.

Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients

For the radishes

100g radishes, trimmed and finely sliced

½ tsp salt

3 tbsp mirin

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

For the curry

3 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, chopped

2 medium carrots (200g), peeled and finely diced

1 sweet potato (200g), peeled and finely diced

4 cloves of garlic, sliced

1.5cm ginger, peeled and grated

2 tbsp curry powder

10 tbsp plain flour

500ml vegan vegetable stock

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

Salt

2 aubergines (600g), cut lengthways into 0.5cm-thick slices

200g panko breadcrumbs

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/400°F/gas 6. Put the radishes into a heatproof bowl, cover with 100ml of just-boiled water, and add the salt, mirin and vinegar. Stir and leave to cool.

2. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a lidded frying pan, then fry the onion, carrots and sweet potato for 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and ginger, fry for 2 minutes more, cover and leave to steam through for 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, mix, then stir in 2 tablespoons of flour until the vegetables are coated. Add the stock little by little, then bring to the boil. Add the soy sauce, ketchup and ½ teaspoon of salt, then take off the heat. Blend smooth, then return the sauce to the pan.

4. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Put the aubergines on a plate. Put 8 tablespoons of flour on a second, lipped plate, then slowly mix the flour with 180ml of water and ½ teaspoon of salt to make a thin paste. Put the panko on a third plate. Cover both sides of each aubergine slice in the flour paste, shaking off any excess, then press into the panko to coat. Lay the coated slices on the prepared tray and drizzle both sides with oil. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, turn the heat up to 220°C fan/240°C/475°F/gas 9 and cook for 10 minutes more, until crisp, then take out of the oven.

5. Just before serving, gently reheat the curry sauce for 5 minutes, adding more water and salt if need be. Put 3 or 4 aubergine slices on each plate, alongside the sauce, then serve with some drained pickled radish, rice, salad leaves and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds if you like.

Sweetheart cabbage Okonomiyaki

Sweetheart cabbage Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a type of savoury Japanese pancake, and it means ‘cooked as you like it’ – which in my case means laden with lots of sauce, crispy fried onions and a smattering of fresh spring onion.

Note: An 18-20cm non-stick frying pan is perfect for this pancake.

Makes 2 pancakes (to serve 2)

Ingredients

For the okonomiyaki

150g plain flour

1¼ tsp salt

4 medium eggs

300g sweetheart cabbage (around ½), shredded

6 spring onions, finely chopped, whites and greens separated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

For the okonomiyaki sauce

2½ tbsp tomato ketchup

2½ tbsp HP sauce

2½ tbsp date syrup

To serve Mayonnaise

Crispy fried onions (shop-bought)

Method

1. Whisk the flour, salt, eggs and 150ml of water together with a fork in a mixing bowl until there are no lumps and you have a smooth batter. Add the cabbage and the spring onion whites, and mix well to coat all the vegetables.

2. Now make the okonomiyaki sauce: put the ketchup, HP sauce and date syrup into a small bowl and mix well.

3. To cook the okonomiyaki, heat a tablespoon of oil in a small frying pan over a medium-high flame. Add half the batter to the pan and flatten it with a spoon or spatula to help it into a circular pancake around 3cm deep. Cook the first side for 3 to 4 minutes. You should see the scraps of cabbage and batter at the edges of the pancake starting to brown and crisp. If it is browning too fast, turn down the heat a little.

4. When it’s ready, turn the okonomiyaki with a spatula (or if you are particularly confident, toss it like a pancake) and cook on the other side for a further 3 minutes. Turn out on to a plate, and repeat with the second half of the batter.

5. To serve, criss-cross the surface of the okonomiyaki with the sauce and some mayonnaise, then liberally top with crispy onions and the reserved spring onion greens.

Breakfast at Shuko’s

Breakfast at Shuko’s

When Shuko Oda first opened Koya in London’s Soho, rumours spread around the city like hot butter. Firstly, Shuko had created some of the finest udon noodles anyone could eat without jumping on a plane to Japan. Secondly, these noodles were kneaded by foot! It transpired that both of these rumours were true, and suddenly everyone flocked to worship at the altar of this modestly brilliant place.

This dish, kama tama (or raw egg and soy udon noodles), is on the breakfast menu at Koya, although in my opinion it makes for a lovely quick lunch too. The recipe might only have three key ingredients, but it is as sophisticated as it is simple to make.

Note: The best udon noodles to use here are the plump, partially cooked ‘straight to wok’ noodles. If you use dried noodles, you’ll only need 200g and a tablespoon of additional water to loosen when you mix them with the egg yolks and soy.

Serves 2

Ingredients

300g ‘straight to wok’ udon noodles

2 medium egg yolks

1 tbsp soy sauce

Optional: 1 sheet of nori, shredded

Method

1. Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil, then drop in the noodles and cook until they are al dente. This should take around 3 minutes for the ‘straight to wok’ udons or 4 to 7 minutes if you’re using the dried wholewheat type.

2. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix together the egg yolks and soy sauce. When the noodles are cooked, drain well and immediately add to the egg mixture, mixing really well so they are coated in the sauce.

3. Divide the noodles between two bowls, and sprinkle with shredded nori if you like. Serve immediately.

Extracted from East, 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing by Meera Sodha. Published by Fig Tree, €28. Photography by David Loftus

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