I created this recipe when I wanted to bring a dairy-free, gluten-free dessert to a dinner party, so my daughter would have something to eat while the rest of us dug into an ice cream cake. Because another guest was vegan, I figured I’d make it vegan as well.
A quick Google search led me to this “Foster cake” recipe, which, as you can see, is in no way gluten free. Being a notorious non-follower of recipes, however, I didn’t worry about substituting a few ingredients and playing around a bit. I subbed almond flour for the matzo meal (but note the difference in amount), cut the sugar, and used coconut milk instead of almond milk because that’s all I had on hand.
The version I took to the party was a slightly sweeter version of what I have below. General consensus was that the cake was great (reminiscent of a McCain’s Deep and Delicious) but could even be a tad less sweet. If you have a really sweet tooth, though, feel free to add more sugar. I like just a subtle sweetness to my desserts, so I’m sticking with this revised amount, which is 50% less than the original recipe.
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
2 cups almond flour (I use the type sold at Costco)
1/3 cup potato starch (check the health food section at your local grocery store or buy katakuriko at your local Japanese food shop)
1 tsp vinegar
Instructions for cake
• Preheat oven to 350° F.
• Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
• In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the cake ingredients until smooth. Pour into pan.
• Bake for about 30 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check for doneness. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
While the cake is baking, make the glaze. Add the glaze to the cake while the cake is still hot.
Instructions for glaze
• Put all glaze ingredients in a small saucepan.
• Cook over medium heat until smooth and sugar is dissolved.
• Pour the glaze over the cake while the cake is still hot.
Instructions for eating
• Let the cake cool to room temperature.
• Eat cake!
About this time last year, I met a couple from Persia as they were picking red berries off some trees on our street. They told me the name of the berries in their language, but I forgot the word as soon as I heard it. Tonight, I saw the same couple again. We chatted for a bit, and they told me all the wonders of these berries: about their antioxidant properties and that they were beneficial to people with diabetes, heart conditions, and high cholesterol.
I tasted a berry and found it quite sour, but they said that a little bit of salt makes them delicious. The berries are also suitable for jam, so I might try that this year.
And while they told me the name once again in Farsi, this time they Googled the English translation. Zoghal akhteh, the name I couldn’t remember, translates as Cornelian cherries.
It’s not often a cookbook review is life-altering, but Fine Cooking’s review of Japanese Soul Cooking (by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat) a while back nudged me toward purchasing what I consider the best cookbook I’ve ever owned—and I’ve owned many.
In Greater Vancouver, we have a lot of Japanese restaurants, so I can get sushi and sashimi pretty much anywhere. I can even get some pretty good pub food. But what I’ve really been missing since returning from seven years in Japan is the street food, home cooking, and the coffee shop/local restaurant “western-style cooking.”
Soul Cooking has put an end to that. The book has all of my favourites and a few new things as well.
Here are some of the recipes I’ve tried from the cookbook (in order of appearance):
Ramen (pages 9–17)
I had no idea that making ramen is such a fairly complicated process, what with the stock and the marinated eggs (which happen to be the best part!). The first time I made ramen, I made the shoyu ramen, and I encountered no glitches. The second time (when I made shio [salt] ramen for my daughter’s birthday dinner), I accidentally drained the stock right into the sink. I tried to recover the meal by creating a less elaborate stock, but got completely distracted with the rest of the recipe and ended up adding way more salt than necessary. I’m going to try this again (mostly because the eggs were so good), but will likely save it for a time when I am alone in the house and can fully concentrate.
Gyoza (pages 28–34)
Making home-made gyoza (potstickers) is a rather time-consuming process, but the resulting product is so worth it. The instructions are very detailed and accurate, and the photos showing how to fold the gyoza help immensely.
Tadashi’s Lamb Curry (page 52)
I really liked this recipe, but apart from the lamb, my husband thought it tasted just like the packaged House Curry I pick up at the local Japanese grocer. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I figure why waste time making something from scratch if the people you are feeding don’t appreciate it. (To me, it was way better than House Curry, however!)
Tomato Salada (page 80)
I just loved the way the other ingredients complemented the tomatoes in this one. I have only made it once, though, because my husband doesn’t like onions and you can’t really hide them in this recipe. Still, if you have garden-fresh tomatoes around, this recipe rocks.
I make the potato korokke (croquettes) quite often and even make extra for the freezer so that I can deep-fry them at a later date for a quick meal. The korokke recipe is one of my favourite recipes in the book. Don’t let the name fool you, these korokke also contain pork. I haven’t tried the curry-rice recipe yet, but that’s on my to-do list. While the kani (crab) cream korokke were good, they’re a bit more complicated to make and my family doesn’t like them as much as the potato ones.
Tatsuta-age (page 95)
Tastuta-age (what I know as chicken kara-age) is the dish I cook the most. It’s the reason I always make sure I have chicken legs and katakuriko (potato starch) on hand. While it sounds like a cumbersome dish to make, it’s really very quick and easy.
Potato Salada (page 210)
My husband hates potato salad but loves this, so it’s pretty much the only potato salad I make now. What’s different about it? Thinly sliced cucumber, carrot, and onion are lightly cured in salt before they get added to the cooked potato. (The onion hater doesn’t even complain about the onions.) When I make this salad, sometimes I go with the original recipe; other times I add a bit of yuzu koshou (a citrusy chili pepper condiment), which really spices it up. Either way, though, this salad is great.
Hamburg (page 220)
The Japanese version of Salisbury steak takes the humble meal to a whole other level. The soya sauce adds that touch of umami, and the milk-soaked panko makes the burger almost melt in your mouth. I’ve even served these with a side of perogies for a Japanese-Polish fusion meal.
Mushroom Wafu Pasta (page 231)
To be honest, I don’t recall what this tasted like, but I remember that we all loved it. (This actually surprised me because I expected a few complaints, for some reason.) You can use any mushrooms for it (except portabella).
Thumbing through this cookbook again, I realize there are so many dishes I haven’t tried. I also realized that they have a recipe for hiyashi chukka (cold Chinese noodles), which we called “reimen” in Osaka. (That’s probably why I didn’t notice.) Reimen is my favourite summer dish and I occasionally do make it here in Canada, so I’m looking forward to trying Ono and Salat’s recipe.
I’m publicly committing to a new goal: to try every single recipe in this book. Wish me luck!
I’ve been experimenting a lot more in the kitchen these days. Yesterday, I combined the following into a sauce for chicken breasts: lemon zest, yuzu koshou, cherry balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, and sake. I seared the chicken breasts first, then added the sauce ingredients and let everything simmer for a half an hour or so, adding a bit of cornstarch to thicken it a bit. I served it with a side of another random-crap-in-a-pan dish, a fried rice made with veggies, soy sauce, curry, coconut milk, and sesame oil. Yum!
If there’s one dish that makes me think of the time I spent in Japan, it’s takoyaki, tiny dumplings with a chunk of octopus and a few other things inside. Takoyaki was invented in Osaka, the food capital of Japan, in the 1930s, by a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo.
In the beginning, takoyaki was street food for me, something I’d find at an Osaka matsuri (festival). It soon became my favourite après-ski food, far better than the pizza pops of my youth. And when I lived a few doors down from a takoyaki shop, it became a staple in my life, so much so that when I moved to a different neighbourhood, I bought myself a takoyaki maker and learned how to make the dish myself. I made a slightly westernized version, using homemade chicken broth instead of dashi, and sometimes veered from the traditional octopus, adding cheese instead (inspired by the shop in my old neighbourhood).
Takoyaki is a social dish, best made by a group of friends huddled around a kotatsu. I lugged the cast-iron moulds home with me when I left Japan, hoping I could recreate that experience in Canada, but I soon realized the impracticalities of hooking up a gas canister to the device in a Canadian apartment. Still, I was reluctant to part with the takoyaki maker, and stored it until my decluttering phase in 2015.
It’s become more common here in recent years. In fact, I can now get great takoyaki at nearby Ikoi. But I still miss being able to make it at home whenever I want. All that’s going to change, though, because the other day, my electric takoyaki maker arrived. Now all I have to do is source me some octopus and a few other ingredients, and get going. It’s a pity I no longer have my kotatsu.