November 13, 2019

Dear friends,

The November sumo tournament in Kyushu, Japan started Sunday. We needed a Japanese meal to savor while watching Hakuho and Takakeisho stomp around the dohyo (clay ring). So I made sukiyaki.

If I lived in Japan, I would say I’ve gone native. Here in Ohio, I can only plead proximity to a man who is Japanese. But frankly, my husband often seems more American than I am, while I am trending Asian.

I fell hard for sumo, of all things, after watching it once for laughs on NHK, the Japanese channel we subscribe to on DirecTV. Fat men in diapers rolling around a ring? Hahahaha.

No. That’s not sumo at all. The rikishi (wrestlers) are incredibly toned and athletic although, yes, large. The sport has intricate rules and rituals that date back in legend for 2,000 years, and the costumes of the referees, judges and support staff, unchanged by time, are stunning. The matches are brief and exciting. The rivalries are intense.

The top-tier fighters are treated like rock stars in Japan, yet live a life of sacrifice set apart from society. They must wear kimonos in public. They are forbidden to drive cars. They can’t even marry or live outside their “stables” until attaining a certain rank. Dip into their world at http://www.japanistry.com. Then dip into some sukiyaki while watching highlights of a match or two at https://www3.nhk.or.jp › nhkworld › sumo.

Sukiyaki, a meal almost as ancient as sumo, is similar to the chankonabe stew that rikishi eat to gain weight. It, too, is a hot pot but is seasoned differently and is made with beef, not chicken or pork. Also, I don’t recommend you take an hours-long nap after eating it, as rikishi do to gain weight.

Sumo or no, sukiyaki is a great dish for a cold evening. The hearty “broth” is rich and slightly sweet. It brims with cellophane noodles (or shiratake if you want to be dead authentic), mushrooms, thin-sliced beef and other items depending on your pantry and location in Japan. I added shopped Napa cabbage, wilted spinach and chunks of daikon radish, simmered until soft and almost translucent.

You can sub thin-sliced carrot for the radish and shiitake mushrooms for the white mushrooms I used, and water for the dashi I made with instant granules. Add cubes of tofu if you’d like. But do keep the slippery noodles and beef, and buy some mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) for this dish if you have none in your cupboard.

Latin and Asian groceries and some mainstream supermarkets sell packages of paper-thin sliced raw beef. I didn’t have any on hand so I partially froze a top sirloin steak and shaved it in shallow, oblique cuts with a sharp knife. My live-in sushi chef helped.

This recipe isn’t authentic — the raw egg for dipping is omitted, for example. But it is delicious and easy to make in an American kitchen.

SUKIYAKI

Broth:
2 cups water or dashi
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup mirin
1 tbsp. sugar or to taste

Hot pot:
4 oz. cellophane noodles (2 small nests)
4 slices daikon radish, 1/2-inch thick (optional)
Vegetable oil
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (shiitake or white)
10 green onions, trimmed and cut in 2-inch lengths
16 to 20 oz. beef in paper-thin slices (I used sirloin)
4 oz. (1/2 head) napa cabbage, very roughly chopped
4 oz. fresh spinach

Combine sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Submerge noodles in a saucepan of boiling water. Cover, remove from heat and let stand until softened and tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve and set aside.

Place radish in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer, covered, until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Or substitute thick diagonal slices of carrot, simmered until al dente.

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a wide soup pot (the Japanese use a shallow cast-iron pot). When very hot, add mushrooms and stir fry until almost done. Add about 1/4 cup of the sukiyaki broth, stirring until the boiling broth evaporates. With a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a platter.

Add more oil to soup pot and when hot, stir fry green onions until fairly tender. Transfer to the platter.

Add more oil to soup pot and when hot, add beef (in batches if necessary) and stir-fry until no longer pink. Add 1/4 cup of the sukiyaki broth and boil and stir for 1 minute (the juice from the meat will prevent the broth from evaporating). Transfer to the platter.

Turn heat to high and add the cabbage. Cover and cook until cabbage partially wilts. Add the noodles, spinach, beef and remaining vegetables. Pour in all of the sukiyaki broth. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Portion into bowls, dredging noodles from the bottom and topping with meat, vegetables and broth. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS

Tony and I have waited several years for the second season of one of our favorite Netflix series. Now it is here, and we invite you to join us in enjoying “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.”

The series has become a cult favorite among American food lovers in the last year or two. Tony and I discovered the original Japanese series before it was marketed to American audiences. We stumbled across it while searching for Japanese programs on Netflix.

The show is a gentle comedy-drama about the odd characters who dine at a small Tokyo restaurant that opens at midnight and closes at dawn. Just one item is on the menu, pork miso soup, but the owner-waiter-chef behind the bar who anchors the restaurant will prepare anything that is requested.

While the diners reveal their stories, they eat various simple but luscious-looking dishes. We watch the chef prepare tan-men, a vegetable-forward ramen or egg tofu, a custard-like block of steamed eggs and dashi (it contains no tofu) that quivers atop a mound of rice. Each episode is named after the requested dish, but is about the people as much as the food.

If you are hungry after watching the episodes (and you will be), check out justonecookbook.com, where a San Francisco blogger has reproduced the recipes from the first season.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Frozen cauliflower-crust pizza from Aldi (my first; not awful); sheet pan Buffalo chicken tenders, Southwestern chopped salad; whipped cream cheese, apricot jam and sliced ripe pear on toast; baked brie with apricot preserves, sugar-free cranberry sauce, shepherd’s pie with mushrooms and fava beans, sugar-free pumpkin pie, sugar-free pumpkin custard; egg sandwich on toast with horseradish and ketchup; sukiyaki.

What I ate out last week:
Low-cal plate (hamburger patty, cottage cheese, applesauce and a hard-cooked egg) at Village Gardens in Cuyahoga Falls; popcorn, no butter at Cinemark; pineapple-ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; spit-grilled leg of lamb, beef tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce, pulled pork, jalapeno corn muffin, spinach-ricotta ravioli with chicken sausage, Knock You Naked cookies and on and on at the Men Who Cook fundraiser at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron.

THE MAILBAG

From Molly M.:
Regarding your reader’s request for dry-aged steaks, Heinen’s and Whole Foods carry a few choices such as ribeye and strip.

Dear Molly:
Nancy S. also pointed out that dry-aged steaks are available at Heinen’s. Thank you both for the info.

From D.S.:
We have eaten at Don Quijote three times in the last month. The garlic soup was heaven, but your recipe does’t have any cheese. There were long strands of melty cheese in my soup. Next time try the Gallego, a rich soup with pork loin, white beans, potatoes, bacon and Spanish chorizo. I even got a bowl to go for my 90-year-old mother, who doesn’t get out much anymore. She thought it was delicious and asked for more anytime we went back. I also tried the Torta Espanola. A potato lover’s dream. They even have a (gasp!) hamburger on the menu, for I am sad to report some of my family aren’t adventurous.

Dear D.S.:
I did notice the wisps of melted cheese (not much) in Don Quijote’s version of the soup. They added to the deliciousness. I went with chef Jose Andres’ recipe, though, and didn’t feel comfortable tampering with it. I can’t wait to go back to Don Quijote and try the gallego soup.

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