List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Japan
Although the post for my last world cooking country went up two months ago, it has actually been six months since I last made anything for this challenge. It started out because of the panic buying in March followed by the quarantine meaning ingredients were hard to come by – then other things happened.
Usually I keep a tight watch on the continents in this challenge to make sure I do a different thing week on week. However, as this was my first one back, I wanted to go with something that ranks as one of my absolute favourites – which is how I ended up making Japanese food and, because of taking too much on too quickly, ended up needlessly panicking about everything I made despite the fact that everything ended up tasting amazing.
Since I cook a fair bit of Japanese food anyway – mainly tonkatsu, yakisoba and curries – I wanted to make something that was a bit more out of my regular cooking routine. I was originally going to make three things, but given the complexities of the two I did end up making, I ditched the idea of trying to make tempura for the first time. However, I did find out that there is a Bengali version of this using squash blossoms – so all is not lost.
When it came to deciding on what to make for a country, sometimes you have to go with the obvious choice because you know it’s going to be perfect. I mean, there are few foods out there that are as quintessentially Japanese as sushi. Also, and I completely forgot about this before I started writing, it allows me to cross something off.
List Item: Make your own sushi
As Bob Ross would say, this was a happy accident.
Now, back in the mists of time I have made sushi before. However, it has been many many years – and the last time I sliced my finger so bad that the blood loss made me want to throw up. So, despite loving sushi, I haven’t been the most eager to return to it. Plus, given the rules and variety, there is something quite daunting about making sushi.
For this challenge, therefore, I decided to keep it ‘simple’. Rather than make multiple types, I opted to just make sushi rolls. I don’t have specialist equipment other than a rice cooker – so these are all hand rolled (without a bamboo mat) and the rice was cooled with a handfan. Also, because of expense reasons and availability, I used risotto rice instead of proper sushi rice. In the end, they’re both short-grain rice of the same species and behave pretty much the same.
Thanks to Just One Cookbook, I was able to perfectly season the rice. I didn’t follow her ideas for the futomaki filling though, instead I went with what I enjoy: salmon, cucumber and avocado. There was also some surimi in there for my husband.
This sushi was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I haven’t had sushi since lockdown began, so to have it seven months or so later made for a delicious homecoming. Given how expensive it can be, especially if you get it as a delivery, I think I might actually start making my own as a part of the larger cooking rotation.
Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake
For my birthday last year, a friend of mine got me a really pretty Japanese cookery book called Tokyo Cult Recipes. Since then, I’ve really wanted to make something from it for when I did Japan for this particular challenge. So rather than make the spaghetti recipe, I went for this really lovely cake.
If you watch enough anime, you will have seen this cake somewhere. Recently I have seen it reference in Nichijou and in one of my favourite scenes in K-On! and it also has the honour of having it’s own emoji character. Like, outside of making mochi (which was never going to happen because I am not a rabbit and I don’t have the proper equipment) or something using matcha, this is the obvious choice for a Japanese dessert.
I may have gone a bit crazy with the piping (but hey, this is only my second time using a piping bag), but I couldn’t help but want to make this cake pretty. The sponge is extremely light with a cherry syrup soaked in and a thick layer of cream and sliced strawberries in between the cake layers.
Aside from the false start where I was convinced I ruined the cakes by not folding the ingredients properly (which turned out to be untrue), this cake showed me how much fun baking can be. I have already had a request to make this as a birthday cake and that been told this may be one of the best cakes I ever made – so this is a real winner of a recipe and this whole post has reminded me just why I did this global food challenge.