The closest we came to Japan was several years ago when we had a lay-over in Tokyo while on our way to South Korea. As the plane approached the airport, I strained to see as much as I could out of the small window, knowing that view might be as much as I would ever see of Japan. The one image I remember best is the color green everywhere, before buildings and runways filled the window. In my mind’s eye, I saw temples, simple homes with paper screens and futons, tea houses. Now we watch the news from Japan with heavy hearts.
We spent five weeks in South Korea, traveling the length of the country, while visiting restored Buddhist temples, world-class botanical gardens, huge markets with an array of exotic foods and crafts, and always, always, eating. Russ and I told each other that we could easily live off of Korean food alone, with its reliance on simply prepared vegetables, a minimum of meat, some fish, burning chile sauce, and light soups.
My Asian cooking is not extensive, usually a generic stir-fry. When I lived in the U.S., where Asian ingredients are easier to find than they are in Mexico, I would sometimes make dashi (だし), a simple broth made of kombu seaweed and bonito fish flakes. This broth is the basis for Japanese miso and noodle soups. Western chefs use it to season vegetables and other dishes. I enjoy it on its own as a mug of hot, savory broth.
As a way of paying homage to the people of Japan, I am making dashi today and wishing the good people of Japan safety and renewal. I know they need more than our good wishes, so we also made a donation to the American Red Cross. If you wish to do the same, contact information follows this recipe.
- 4 cups (1 liter) water
- 7″ (17.8 cm.) piece of kombu
- 1/2 cup (2 oz./5 grams) bonito fish flakes
- Add kombu and water to a pot.
- Heat water over medium heat. Just before it reaches a boil, remove kombu.
- Bring water to a boil and add fish flakes.
- Turn off heat and allow fish flakes to seep for 2 minutes.
- Strain broth, discarding fish flakes. Refrigerate or freeze.
For a simple soup, simmer julienned carrots and cubes of tofu in dashi until heated through. Season with miso or tamari and top with cilantro and sliced green onion for garnish.
- For a tastier dashi, first soak kombu in four cups cold water for one hour, then continue with cooking instruction, using the soaking water.
- Bonito fish flakes are made by steaming and drying bonito, a type of mackerel, until it is bone-dry, and then it into flakes. Kombu is a seaweed from the kelp family. Kelp dashi is the taste responsible for the identification of umami, a Japanese word which indicates the fifth taste of savory, in addition to the four tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
- Making dashi from scratch, as easy as it is, has become uncommon in Japan, as instant dashi powder is now widely used.
- If you wish to support Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, donations can be made to the American Red Cross. Or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 USD. For those outside of the US who wish to donate here is a directory of international Red Cross centers.