Japanese Inspired Fantasy–and Cooking–With K. Bird Lincoln
K. Bird Lincoln writes fantasy inspired by her love of the Japanese culture. Today K. Bird is sharing 2 easy Japanese recipes for busy writers and their picky families.
Confess. When someone says “Japanese Food” you immediately think of either nigiri-sushi with glistening slices of pink, raw fish riding on top of rice or dudes in tall, white hats flipping shrimp over a grill-table. Japanese means expensive restaurants with issues for people with shellfish allergies, right?
It’s okay, that’s what I thought too, until I ended up marrying a Tokyo boy against all my wildest expectations. But that’s another story. After living for six years in Japan, though, I found out, surprise surprise, that Japanese housewives have ye olde standby dinners that don’t involve exotic ingredients and are fairly easy to put together. We are all busy moms and need to feed our family, right?
So here are two recipes I learned from Tokyo housewives, with ingredients you can buy even at a higher end grocery store in a Midwestern town or at an Asian grocery store if you’re lucky enough to live near one. (I live in a mid-sized town on the windswept Minnesota Prairie and they’re all available here.) This is a sneaky way to introduce Japanese flavors to even meat-and-potatoes picky eaters. So next time you want to go to an expensive restaurant with dudes in tall hats and your kids say “I don’t like Japanese food” you can be all like “Yes, you do! And you just ate it for dinner last week!”
- Niku Jaga (braised meat and potatoes)This is perfect for writers because it’s literally like 10 minutes of chopping/sautéing and then you can just let it sit and simmer while you go back to the computer and get your daily word count in. I love having potatoes that literally melt when you spoon them up so I tend to leave it simmering at low heat forever. The one special ingredient you need is dashi broth. That’s the broth made of combination of fish and konbu seaweed. You can buy it in handy little packets at any Asian food store or on Amazon. I send you to Nami’s Just One Cookbook for the classic take on Niku Jyaga that involves thinly sliced beef. But since I don’t eat beef, I use chicken. You could use pork or beef or whatever.Ingredients1 medium onion, cut in to wedges
5oz (140grams) boneless pork loin (or chicken breast) sliced thin
1 small carrot, cut into wedges
2 medium potatoes, pared and quartered
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoon sake (or dry sherry)
1 cup Japanese dashi broth
About 1/4 cup green peas or snow peas cut in halfStir-fry the onion, meat, carrot, potatoes, and ginger in vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Combine the sugar, soy sauce, sake, and dashi broth in a mixing bowl and add to the pork and vegetables. Continue to cook over low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables tender. Add the green peas or snow peas and cook a few minutes more, or until the peas are tender. Serve hot with plain rice.
- Hambagu (hamburger steak)This recipe is literally scarfed up by my teenagers. I usually end up making rice, and then following the recipe up through cooking the patties, turn off the stove, leave the pan, and then going back to my computer to write. When everyone gets home, it’s only about 10 minutes to “finish” off the dish with the sauce and then we can eat quickly. So the one special ingredient here is Bulldog sauce. If you’re interested in authentic home-style Japanese hambagu, I highly recommend Cooking with Dog. (Actually, you should go click that link anyway, because it’s a veritable treasure trove of recipes where a female chef shows you how to do everything and her adorable poodle, Frances narrates in pretty funny Japanglish).Go out and get yourself some Bulldog Sauce (Amazon if you’re desperate, but I found Bulldog sauce at my local Hy-Vee grocery store and pretty much at any Asian grocery).For the recipe here, I started with Just One Cookbook recipe and then “healthified it” with ground turkey for my family since I don’t eat beef. I also go with my Tokyo Boy’s sister’s sauce rather than the several-ingredient one Nami uses, but that’s personal taste. Pretty much everyone loves it. And you can serve it with mashed potatoes or Japanese potato salad or rice, roasted carrots and a green salad and it’s awesome.
½ large onion chopped finely
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ground turkey
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
⅓ cup (20 g) panko or any other kind of bread crumbs (sometimes I just crumple up a piece of whole wheat bread)
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional seasoning add ins: chopped garlic or powdered garlic, celery seed, tarragon
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Bulldog tonkatsu sauce
Add the meat, egg, milk, Panko, chopped onion, salt, black pepper (and any of the optional seasonings that turn you on) in the bowl and mix all together. Mix the meat well with your hands until the mixture gets sticky. Make about 6 oval shaped patties. You can put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to overnight for seasonings/meat to combine, but I often don’t have the time for this step.
In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering and place the patties gently on the pan. Indent the center of each patty with 2 fingers because the center of patties will rise with heat. Cook the patties about 5 minutes. Do not flip until nicely browned. Cover and cook for 5 minutes to thoroughly cook the inside of the patties (adjust cooking time depending on thickness). Then uncover and transfer patties onto a plate. Into the juices, put the butter, Bulldog and ketchup and stir. Put patties back into the pan, nestling them into the sauce (you can also add oven-roasted baby carrots here and make them saucy and delicious too). Cover, turn down to simmer/low, and cook for another 5-8 minutes to make sure meat cooks all the way through. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice or oven roasted carrots.
For more recipes I recommend Nami’s Just One Cookbook or Cooking with Dog. Or you can check out my slightly more “Midwesternized” recipes, as well as musings related to being a breast cancer survivor, sf/f writer, and chocolate on my blog. Signing up for my newsletter The Mossy Glen will net you sporadic emails with access to free short stories and chocolate giveaways.
Interested in Japan-related fantasy? Check out my medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, on Amazon, or my April 2017 debut Urban Fantasy about a biracial girl in Portland, Oregon who discovers mysterious things about her Japanese father, Dream Eater.
Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional/writer/mother/breast cancer survivor living on the windblown Minnesota Prairie with her family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee and chocolate. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she has spent more years now in Japan and on the West Coast than in the Midwest. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews under the name K. Bird Lincoln on Goodreads and Amazon.