#Cornography Day 86: Corn and Beef Quesadillas

Yesterday we went to Laura’s parents’ house for an Easter roast. Laura and her mom don’t like lamb so we had a lovely beef sirloin instead. Emiko rubbed it with garlic and olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and then cooked it for just 45 minutes so it was still gorgeously pink and juicy in the middle.

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We were given the leftovers to take home. I had an odd craving for something in a tortilla. At first I thought I’d make beef and corn salsa wraps, but that seemed weird and boring. So I decided on quesadillas instead. I mixed corn with peppers with diced onion and Hyugarashi and sliced the leftover beef into small, thin strips. I piled everything onto a tortilla in a dry frying pan and topped it with mozzarella cheese. I grilled it until the cheese had liquefied and pressed another tortilla on top. I fried it gently for about 3 minutes until the bottom tortilla had browned nicely, then turned it over. I must say, my quesadilla flipping skills need a bit of work. I got corn everywhere. Anyway, the end product was lovely. I had it with a little creme fraiche mixed with a dollop of Nagarita.

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#Cornography Day 85: Corn with Umeboshi Dressing

Corn’s naturally high levels of sweetness and umami mean that it works best with ingredients that are sour, bitter, salty, or spicy to balance and enhance its flavor. This is why I tend to use a lot of citrus and chilli with corn. But it occurred to me today that it would probably match well with umeboshi, the Japanese pickled plums that are exceedingly sour and salty. I made a very simple dressing from just umeboshi puree and yuzu oil, then stirred it through the corn. I topped it with a sprinkle of ume-shiso furikake to accent the flavour and add a little texture. The resulting simple salad was delicious. What I particularly liked was how the sweetness of the corn brought out the umeboshi’s grape-juicy stone fruit flavor. A lovely light dish with a new flavour combo I will return to.

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#Cornography Day 84: Thai Orchard’s Laab Moo with Corn

Here in Forest Hill we don’t have a lot of options for eating out, but we do have one pretty good Thai restaurant, called Thai Orchard. They’re no Som Saa, but they’re more than adequate sustenance for a lazy weekend night in. We ordered loads of food and ate it while watching Calvary on Netflix. Excellent film.

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One of my favorite Thai standards is laab moo, a pungent salad of minced pork, fish sauce, toasted rice, lime, chillies, onions, and various herbs, and Thai Orchard do a good one. It’s properly stinky with fish sauce and they don’t hold back on the spice. Its hot-and-sour flavor was a perfect way to gussy up my corn for the day. Most satisfactory.

Japanese Soul Food in London

Two weeks from today, my cookbook, Nanban: Japanese Soul Food will be released. Needless to say, I am exceptionally excited. The book looks beautiful thanks to the photography by Paul Winch-Furness and the design by Charlotte Heal, not to mention the careful attention of my editors at Square Peg.

Nanban, of course, is the name of my intermittent and itinerant pop-up, and it means ‘southern barbarian,’ an epithet used by the Japanese for Europeans when they first arrived in the 16th century. Why ‘southern’? Because they had arrived in the south of Japan, at the island of Kyushu, having travelled via the South China Seas, so the Japanese simply assumed that’s where they were from. Nobody uses this term to describe people anymore (that would be rude), but it is used to describe certain dishes with their origins in European cookery, like chicken nanban and nanban-zuke. And why ‘barbarian’? Because the Europeans were barbaric, of course.

I chose the word nanban because I wanted to focus on the world of Japanese dishes that have their origins in non-Japanese cultures, and because I wanted to mainly feature food from the south of Japan, specifically Kyushu and Okinawa. I chose the tagline ‘Japanese soul food’ for a similar reason, referencing the soul food of the American south. I use it to describe a sort of hearty, flavorful, rough-around-the-edges, and casual Japanese cookery that I fell in love with when I studied Japanese cuisine as a young man.

To get an idea of what sort of food I’m talking about, pop into any of the restaurants below. They’re all different (one of the main points I hope my book makes is how diverse Japanese food is), but they all have a similar cheap-and-cheerful, elbows-on-the-table vibe.

Shofoodoh
This long-running residency at Pacific Social Club specialises in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is essentially a mad jumble of cabbage and noodles with a customisable selection of ingredients, fried on a teppan, and topped with a thin pancake, tangy sauce, and Kewpee mayo. It’s a meal in itself, but if you go, don’t miss the delicious smaller plates as well. The spicy tuna tartare and rthe pork belly with spring onion are a couple of my favourites.

Asakusa
Asakusa is a proper izakaya, a place to stay and drink (and eat). The menu is long, though I’ve never had a dud dish there. The sushi is excellent and affordable, as is the fried chicken, steak, and dengaku aubergine. But the real special stuff is on the specials board; look there for things like monkfish liver with ponzu and squid tentacle karaage. They also have a very good value sake and shochu menu.

Tonkotsu East
I get asked which London ramen shop is my favorite a lot, and my answer is always the same: it doesn’t matter which my favorite is. You have to find the one that you like best – that’s what ramen’s all about. And I love too many to recommend just one, anyway. Having said that, my favorite single bowl in London is the tsukemen (dipping ramen) at the Haggerston branch of Tonkotsu. The broth has an incredibly deep and meaty flavor, almost like grilled onions and fatty beef. And it’s a great space, too. The massive noodle machine at the back is particularly impressive.

Sushi Waka
Sushi Waka has a menu like that at Asakusa: a little of this, a little of that, with a few unexpected oddities if you read the menu carefully. They are the only restaurant in London that I know of serving chicken nanban and shiokara – fermented squid guts. If you go, ask for a table in the upstairs tatami room for a very Japanese experience.

Toconoco
You’d probably never find Toconoco if you weren’t looking for it, so go look for it. Tucked away in a canalside residential area in Haggerston, they specialise in teishoku (set lunches) that include rice, miso soup, a little salad or dish of pickles, and a hearty main could be a bowl of udon, a plate of curry, or a dish of meaty potato croquettes, depending on when you go. It’s a pleasant, quiet spot for lunch, and they do a nice matcha latte, as well.

#Cornography Day 82: Mushroom, Courgette, and Corn Risotto

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Few dishes are as satisfying to make as risotto. I love that you really have to stay engaged with it as it cooks, and I love how you really have to use your senses to gauge it’s doneness. Feeling the drag of the stir and the bite of the rice, seeing the grains change and the liquid evaporate, and always smelling and tasting. It’s also great because it’s so welcoming of random ingredients, in this case: corn.

I sautéed some onions in olive oil, then added garlic, thyme, and a brunoise of mushroom stems. I toasted the rice and added a splash of viognier. I then proceeded with the ladling and stirring of the stock, or more accurately, ago dashi. When the rice was about 80% done,  I added corn, diced mushroom caps and courgette. To finish, I added some of my yuzu-nosho, parmesan, creme fraiche, and canned artichoke hearts that Green Giant sent me. To finish,  I threw in a few leaves of basil.

The corn worked surprisingly well, providing a nice texture and mellow sweetness. A great meal for a rainy night.

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Nanban: Big News!

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I am thrilled to announce that I have found permanent premises for Nanban and we will be open for business soon in Chelsea! Our new concept is “Japanese Soul Food For The Soul,” with a focus on healthy ramen, a fresh new idea for London and the world. The menu will include paleo tsukemen, raw vegan reimen, hot green smoothie detox ramen, and our revolutionary new bone broth ramen, made from wholesome boiled bones. And for takeaway lunches, we’re offering our new Ramen Wrap™, noodles with spicy hummus, ancient grains, and kale in a delicious Asian flatbread.

Follow Nanban on Twitter for more updates. We look forward to welcoming you for some great and great-for-you ramen soon!

Can’t wait? Pre-order Nanban: Japanese Soul Food now!