I can’t be home with our family for Thanksgiving and I am feeling a bit homesick. So I wanted to talk to you about food.
Thanksgiving is much more than food, isn’t it? Thanksgiving is an experience, a memory. It is about sharing stories and conversations. And, of course, Thanksgiving is about family.
Thanksgiving for our family is memories of a farm on an island in the Puget Sound, a fall storm and turkey cooked on the barbecue, board games, a visiting donkey and puppies born under the kitchen table. Thanksgiving is pumpkins, apple pie and stuffing. Thanksgiving is Barney with a plate too big for him to carry and little girls dressed up and dancing on the deck.
We don’t celebrate American Thanksgiving here in Japan. Today, just like any other work day, we were up at 6:00 a.m. and then off to school to teach at our international school near Nagoya.
However, tomorrow is a holiday, Kinrō Kansha no Hi (勤労感謝の日-Labour Day). The holiday is a mixture of thanks for the rice harvest, appreciation of hard work done, human rights day and other things all thrown in together.
We will be happy to take the three day weekend to have dinner with friends, go visit a new Japanese crafts town, and maybe do some Christmas shopping.
The Japanese celebrate food. They show thanks for food at nearly every meal. Like the Italians, good food is very important to the Japanese culture. If you know a few Japanese words for foods, you should have a head start in Japan.
As I rode my bus home this afternoon, I looked out the window and saw food growing on trees and nestled in family vegetable plots. Persimmon (kaki), mikans (satsuma) and nashi (Japanese pear) hang from trees at the entrances to homes. My favorite vegetable plot is lush with onions, cabbage and greens. Hanging gems of small purple nasubi (eggplant) and red chilis peak out between fence posts.
Saturday Don and I made an easy salad with a few fresh vegetables. We were inspired by a delicate little okazu (side dish) we had as part of an obento last weekend in a nearby town, Mino. Mino is famous for its handmade paper art: scrolls, paper lanterns and shoji paper.
Vegetables are honored here in Japan and there are a surprising variety of them. In this recipe, the crisp clean taste of the thinly sliced vegetables is enhanced by the warm dressing made of ground sesames and miso.
Autumn vegetable salad with sesame dressing
Ingredients and directions:
Choose crisp bright colored vegetables. Cool in refrigerator until very crisp. Slice thinly these 3 vegetables.
- Mizuna (水菜 ’water greens’). Check out this blog to learn how to grow it. I hope you can find mizuna in New York and Oakland. If not, find a green that has a clean, not too pungent flavor.
- Red onions
Sesame-miso Dressing (You can also use this dressing for hot vegetables such as spinach or broccoli.)
4 T of fresh sesame seeds.
- Buy very fresh sesame seeds. Sesame seeds can quickly go rancid and may even be rancid in the store. If you can, buy in bulk from a store that has a fast turnover. Taste a few to be sure.
- Toast in a pan over medium heat. No oil is necessary. Toast until you can smell the aroma of warm sesame and the seeds just begin to pop. Do not toast past a golden color.
- Grind the seeds into a paste in a suribachi bowl with a surikogi (wooden pestle).
If you aren’t luck enough to have one of these great little suribachi bowls, use a mortar and pestle. You will enjoy the slow soothing process of grinding the seeds. It is a kind of ‘zen-like’ process and the warm aroma wafts up from the bowl. There is nothing quite like using one of these ceramic bowls with ridges carved into the inside of the bowl. Just Hungry, a blog by Makiko, my favorite Japanese recipe blogs, says it better: “The rough-surfaced grooves, which are called kushi no me since they are made with a comb-like device on the wet surface of the clay, help to mash and bruise whatever you are grinding a lot more efficiently than a smooth surface. It’s ideal for grinding up sesame seeds, which is what I use it for mostly.”
2 T of miso (white or brown rice miso)
- With the wooden pestle smash the miso into the sesame paste in the suribachi.
1 T of Japanese vinegar
- Stir vinegar into the suribachi, mixing with sesame-miso paste.
1-2 T sugar
- Stir sugar into suribachi, mixing with sesame-miso-vinegar paste.
1-3 T corn oil
- Stir oil into suribachi, mixing with the rest.
Now apply the dressing to the vegetables. Apply according to your taste. But, a little bit goes a long way. Start with less and add as you desire.
That should be it. I did find that the dressing was very thick. This thick dressing is fine with hot vegetables, as the warm vegetables ‘melt’ the dressing into a better consistency. For the cold vegetables, I found the consistency worked out fine even though it seemed thick.