Simple cooking is what I’ve always known and loved. It is the sort of food I grew up eating – thoughtful, considered and uncomplicated, in the best possible way. If we had good ingredients to begin with, little was needed to make a beautiful meal. This idea was reawakened by my time in the Italian countryside, a place which profoundly impacted the way I cook. I was reminded again years later, this time in Japan, where even the most basic ingredients are cherished, seasons are auspicious, and uncomplicated cooking is celebrated.
Food and family are so intertwined. While cooking for family is, of course, to satisfy hunger, it is so much more. ‘Family food’ is generous and unfussy and demonstrates love and care – it is perfectly imperfect. For me, it is also about making rituals and creating special moments together; even something as simple as eggs on toast can be a joyous occasion when you are all together around the dining table. That notion of being together and sharing food at a table is a practice that is often lost in the busyness of our lives. No matter what the day has brought us, the dependable act of setting the table and enjoying a simple meal is comforting and ever-reassuring.
SOBA SALAD (Serves 4)
While not a traditional way to eat soba noodles, soba salad is one of my lunchtime staples. I vary the ingredients depending on what I feel like or what is available. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, or a combination of buckwheat and wheat, the latter being more common. Broad beans can be used instead of the edamame, and often I’ll add cherry tomatoes and avocado, too.
300 g frozen edamame beans
handful of greens, such as mizuna, mustard greens or rocket
400 g soba noodles
Ginger sesame dressing
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cm piece of ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon caster sugar
toasted black and white sesame seeds
finely sliced spring onion
Blanch the edamame in a saucepan of boiling water over a high heat for 1–2 minutes, or cook according to the packet instructions. Remove with a slotted spoon (don’t drain the pan as you’ll use the water to cook the noodles) and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain, then place in a large bowl along with the greens.
Add the soba noodles to the pan of boiling water and cook until al dente, according to the packet instructions (it should be around 6 minutes). Drain and rinse under cold running water. Leave to drain for a minute or two, then add to the edamame and greens.
Meanwhile, place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jug and whisk until combined. Season to taste and adjust to suit – feel free to add more of any of the dressing ingredients to your liking. Pour over the noodle mixture and toss until well coated.
Divide among bowls and top with the nori, sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi and spring onion.
Pork + Cabbage gyoza (Serves 4-6)
These little pork and cabbage dumplings are a family favourite. I love cooking a meal that gets everyone involved – we all sit around the table, folding and rolling. It’s a great way to pass the time when the weather is less than desirable, too. We make our own gyoza wrappers at home, so we decide exactly what goes into the dough, but, of course, store-bought ones are the next best thing – you will need about 35 for this amount of filling. The crimping takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it really is very simple – and there is no need for them to be perfect. Similarly with the frying, at first it may seem counterintuitive to fry the gyoza in oil, then to add water, but this ensures each dumpling has a crispy bottom, while the water steams and subsequently cooks the dumplings.
We eat these for dinner simply with steamed rice.
1⁄2 wombok (about 300 g), finely sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt
4 spring onions, finely sliced, plus extra to serve
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
3 cm piece of ginger, finely grated
handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
500 g pork mince
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil vegetable oil, for frying
sea salt and white pepper
shichimi togarashi, to serve
250 g (12⁄3 cups) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
125–150 ml boiling water
Soy and vinegar dipping sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
pinch of shichimi togarashi or dried chilli flakes, or serve with a dash of chilli oil
To make the dough for the gyoza wrappers, place the flour in a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Slowly pour in the boiling water (start with 125 ml and add more if needed) and mix on a medium speed for 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and elastic. It shouldn’t come together in a ball, it is too soft for that, but it also shouldn’t be pasty. Add 1 tablespoon of extra flour if the mixture seems wet. Dust the dough in flour, then wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss the cabbage in a bowl with the salt and set aside to drain for 15 minutes. Squeeze the salted cabbage to remove any excess liquid. Combine the spring onion, garlic, ginger, coriander, pork, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on a low speed for 2–3 minutes until the mixture is well incorporated and almost paste-like in texture. Add the cabbage and mix again for30 seconds just to incorporate. Alternatively, mix well using a wooden spoon or your hands.
To make the gyoza wrappers, roll the dough into a 1.5 cm thick log and then cut into 1 cm lengths. You will need to generously flour your work surface when doing this. It’s handy to keep a small mound of flour on the bench that you can then just drag into the centre as you need. There is no need to roll and cut all of the dough, either – just cut off as much as you can work within a short time, keeping the remainder of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Working with one piece at a time, face the dough cut-side up and roll into a 7–8 cm round using a rolling pin. The easiest way to create a circle shape is to turn the piece 90 degrees each time you do a roll. Lightly dust the wrappers with flour and set aside as you continue with the remainder of the dough. If the wrappers will be sitting out for some time, cover them with a tea towel or plastic wrap.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and fill a small bowl with water. Now you’re ready to assemble.
Hold a gyoza wrapper in one hand and place about a tablespoon of the pork mixture in the centre. Dip a finger in the bowl of water and use it to dampen all around the edge of the gyoza wrapper. Fold the wrapper to lightly envelope the mixture, as if you were holding a taco. Using both hands, pinch the gyoza edges together and make a small crimp. Make small pleats, from the middle out, until completely sealed. Place the dumpling on the lined tray and repeat with remaining gyoza wrappers and pork mixture.
For the dipping sauce, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the gyoza in a single layer, fairly tightly packed and flat-side down. You will need to do this in batches or multiple frying pans. Cook for about 3 minutes until the bottoms of the gyoza are crispy and golden. Add 200 ml of water to the pan and cover with a lid (be careful when adding the water as it will bubble and spit as soon as it hits the hot oil). Steam the gyoza for about 7 minutes, or until the liquid has completely evaporated and the dumplings are cooked through.
Season the gyoza with salt and white pepper and serve with a scattering of extra spring onion and shichimi togarashi and the dipping sauce alongside.
Loving it? Get your copy of A Year Of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura here!
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