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My poor family and friends.  I ask people what they want for dinner as if I’m really going to consider their answer, but in my mind I’m just going to make kinpira and rice. So what it actually comes down to is whether or not I have a daikon in the fridge. Maybe that’s what I should do, check and see first if we have a daikon, and only if we don’t will I ask what people want.

When we lived in Japan we had these wonderful friends named the Kurashiges. She is a  librarian, he is a backcountry snowboarder. We bonded over mountains, Tolkien, Patagonia and Tove Jansson’s moomintroll. On some of the darkest, stormiest days when the mountain was completely concealed in snow Kurashige-san would spend the entire day cooking a Japanese vegetarian feast (we’re talking at least 20 different dishes) and we’d go to their house and eat the best home-style Japanese food I’ve ever had in my life. Kurashige-san introduced me to the addictive citrus/spice combination of yuzu and togarashi, and to me there is no greater example of this than kinpira (きんぴら).

Kinpira is a simple Japanese-style stir-fry using just a few key ingredients with a wonderful swirl of citrus, spicy pepper and salty soy sauce. The key is chopping your vegetables into relatively thin matchstick pieces. And you can use any vegetable really, I like using daikon and carrot as my base, but feel free to add more or different vegetables.

Recipe: Kinpira

one cup of matchstick thin daikon (i just tried cutting mine like this. total fail).

two cups of matchstick thin carrot

1/2 cup of matchstick thin green vegetable (just a color thing really, I’ve used broccoli stem, asparagus, kale stems, zucchini/courgette…)

pinch of sugar

splash of sake

tablespoon of dashi or water

two tablespoons of soy sauce

teaspoon of grated organic lemon peel (I peel a lemon with a vegetable peeler then slice long, thin strips). if you love citrus (like me!) use more peel.

1/2 teaspoon of shichimi togarashi (japanese dry, hot pepper spice mix, available at all asian food grocery stores)

1/2 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

Heat a large skillet (I use cast iron) on medium-high heat, add sesame oil. Add the daikon first and stir it until coated with oil for about a minute. Add the carrot and stir to coat as well. Sprinkle the sugar to crystalize on the vegetables. Splash in some sake to deglaze the pan. Add the green vegetables and a tablespoon of water or dashi (so that the vegetables don’t burn). Swirl in the soy sauce (the final product should be rich with soy sauce but without much remaining liquid in the pan). When the vegetables seem moist and taste rich (not dry!) add the lemon peel and shichimi togarashi. I always err on the side of more soy sauce and perhaps water to make sure the vegetables aren’t too dry.

When the kinpira is done, take it out of the pan. Serve immediately with hot rice or toss with noodles.