Cook,Eat, Repeat: Revisiting Japan through food- Ramen

A couple of years to turning forty, I often find myself thinking about regrets that I may or may not have. And while there certainly are things that could have gone better or slightly differently, I don’t have much to complain about. But one thing that I really regret is not having a good camera during my stay in Japan (and not buying one as well) and on top of that, losing more than 95% of whatever photos I had to a case of ‘laptop in the bathtub’ 🤦🏾‍♀️ Before you start wondering…I was working on an assignment  that was nearing its deadline, sitting on the edge of this deep bathtub, while soaking my feet  when a moment of carelessness resulted in a soaking laptop. It was near the end of my stay as well and so I lost most of the photos and a few other stored documents in that mishap. I still cannot believe that I was, to put it as frankly as possible, dumb enough to do that. But that’s what happens when you take the laptop to the bathroom and later question your reasoning!

I haven’t visited many countries yet and so I cannot say with absolute certainty but from whatever I have seen  of Japan and the experiences I gathered during the time I lived there, I can say with a good amount of confidence that it is one of the most beautiful places one could ever visit. And it’s beauty does not merely lie in its mountains and seas, the coming and going of the seasons, the traditional homes, the perfectly landscaped gardens, beautiful castles that are spread throughout the country…it transcends this physical part and seeps into the way of life there. There is a feeling of serenity and contentment in the beauty that enraptures one when in Japan -be it through the mesmerizing Sakura, the sight of women clad in kimonos, in the discipline that they exhibit in their daily routine, in the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, in their sense of aesthetics that ranges from how they dress to how their dining table is laid out to the placing of the hashi (chopsticks) to the way they say itadakimasu (I humbly receive – a phrase they say right before eating)…the list can be endless. I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to work there for two years and immerse myself in the culture and cuisine with the help and love of people I was fortunate to have crossed paths with.

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I fell in love with Japanese food pretty easily and have never  not liked anything that I had except for Ikura (salmon roe) and natto (fermented soybeans), with the latter being a bit too out of my comfort zone! I have made meals with and shared those with my colleagues, my students, amazing neighbors and every time the experience has been rewarding, to say the least. A name that stands out from all the wonderful people who I made memories with is Chikako Yasunaga- a woman who embraced me with open arms and heart and showered me with her kindness and love and called me her fourth child (she has three kids)! I never know how to describe her as I feel any words I use would not do justice to capturing her true essence and the wonderful human being she is. The day before I left Kobe, she came to meet me and obviously brought me food! When we said goodbye, she hugged me tightly and said ‘Chatterjee, daisuki desu‘ (I like/love ‘Chatterjee’- my last name), I suddenly realized I was leaving family there who I probably would not be able to see again and that thought was heart wrenching. I also remember crying a lot after she left. I have watched her cook and cooked with her, shared innumerable meals with her family and I owe a lot of my love for Japanese food to her and so not mentioning her here would be dishonoring her.

Arigatou Sensei.

 

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Yasunaga sensei with her husband (another wonderful person, a professor of law by profession) in Naples! We still send each other little life updates and it is just as easy talking to her over the phone with her broken English and my very rusty Japanese (that she had made me conversational in during my stay in Kobe!) as it was 12 years back!

 

 

So, for this month’s first recipe I am sharing a pretty simple recipe of Ramen that both my husband and I love and is a staple in our home during the winter months! It reminds me not only of Yasunaga sensei’s kitchen but also of my amazing neighbor Tom, who was a ramen enthusiast and we often explored various ramen places in our neighborhood! Those made for some great conversations, long walks and some wonderful food!

This is a version that we make at home and is not an absolute authentic Japanese one, in terms of the way some ingredients have been modified. It is a version that suits us best and also does not deviate a lot from traditional methods of making it. It tastes pretty good too!

HOW TO MAKE

Ingredients

  • Ramen noodles – 2 packages (store bought) Only the noodles will be used
  • Ginger- Thinly sliced , about 3-4 tsps
  • Garlic- Grated, 2 tsps
  • Onion- Thinly Sliced, 1 medium
  • Lemongrass- 1 stalk
  • Shitake Mushrooms- Sliced, 1 cup (I prefer to cut but you may want to keep them whole)
  • Carrots- Cut into matchsticks , 1 cup
  • Scallions- Chopped, 1/2cup
  • Eggs- Hard Boiled 1 or 2 (Typically the egg should not be hard boiled but should have a runny yolk. However, this time I boiled the eggs till they were absolutely well done. The runny yolk does taste delicious though;)
  • Chicken Tenders -6 or Thinly sliced chicken breasts – 3 (Again, typically Pork Belly is used for Ramen or any other cut of pork but I never have that when I feel like making Ramen and so we always have made it with chicken!)
  • Chicken or Vegetable Broth- About 4 cups
  • Water- 2 cups (or as needed)
  • Miso soup powder- 2 packets (store bought) [ Miso paste is traditionally used in making ramen but I have never tried that simply because I have not been able to buy it and so I buy miso soup powder packets. But I do intend to use miso paste in my next attempt and for that I am hoping I will remember to buy it before hand;)]
  • Mirin- About 1/4 cup
  • Soy Sauce- 2 tsps
  • Sesame Oil- 1-2 tsps
  • Salt- as needed
  • Sugar- 2-3 tsps
  • Sriracha- Optional ( I do not use it but my husband does and it adds a slight zing to the ramen)

 

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Method

  • In a cooking pot that is deep enough, heat the oil on medium low flame.
  • Add the ginger and onions and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the garlic. Keep stirring. Add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of more minutes. Add salt and stir again.
  • Add the soy sauce and mirin and about 1 tsp of sugar.Stir.
  • Add the broth and the stalk of the lemon grass and let the whole thing boil for about 10-15 minutes on low flame. The broth will be infused with all the flavors in your pot and letting a ramen broth simmer for long is key to making it savory. Check for seasoning and add salt and/or sugar as you prefer.
  • In a separate bowl, add the miso powder and make miso soup according to the instructions on the package. Once done, add that to the pot.

 

 

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  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan, prepare the ramen noodles according to package instructions…do not use any powdered stuff that may be inside. We just need the noodles. Once softened, add it to the boiling broth and let the whole thing simmer for an additional 2-3minutes.
  • While your broth is simmering, put the chicken in a 350F oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or till the internal temperature reaches 165F. (You can bake the chicken either right before starting the broth or simultaneously or after the broth is ready…your choice! ) I marinate the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a bit of lemon pepper powder, chilli flakes and 1/2 tsp of mayonnaise…it keeps the chicken wonderfully moist. Once done, slice it and keep it aside.

I was in a hurry and I cut the chicken really sloppy…please excuse that!

 

  • Check for seasonings in the broth. I like my ramen broth to be ginger heavy, so if needed I often add some extra ginger (just smash it with the back of the knife and let the broth absorb the flavor for a couple of minutes. Be careful to take that chunk out before serving just like the lemongrass stalk!).
  • If you are using Sriracha, stir that in now.
  • In your ramen bowl, pour the desired quantity of broth and add the chicken, carrots, eggs and scallions (I forgot to add in my bowl!).
  • Slurp! (Did you know that in Japan slurping on the ramen and broth is actually not frowned upon even when eating in a restaurant? It is, in fact, taken as a sign of compliment to the chef! I found this out when I had ramen for the first time, back in 2006!)

 

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Gochisosama deshita!

(For the unnitiated, the Japanese end every meal by saying this – it is a way of showing their appreciation for the food they just had and also for the person who cooked…it means “thank you for the meal or that was delicious”)

What is your take on Japanese food?Are you a fan or do you stick to sushi only when it comes to this cuisine? Do you cook Japanese food at home? Which ones?  Is there a favorite restaurant you go to? What is your favorite Japanese food? What about sake? Have you visited Japan? Do you have stories to share? I am eager to hear your association with this country and its food, both of which I have come to love dearly! Please share anything that you want to in the comment section or write your own post and share your story, photos, recipes….anything that you can think of! It will be wonderful to read:)

Here’s how to participate:

  • Create your own post with your recipe, photos, story anything that you might want to share, representing this month’s theme
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section
  • Join whenever you can!

 

Thank you for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Motivation

Although Monday is almost over here and the Tuesday morning sun has risen in many parts of the world, still  here I am!

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Be true and be you… be kind and be gentle…be kind and be patient. It is a much better place for you to be in and for others who are in your circle.

Thanks for stopping by!

 

Cook, Eat, Repeat- With Love, From Japan

When I was thinking of doing this ‘cultural exchange through food’ in the form of a monthly challenge, I knew it would be daunting and I would have to keep myself really motivated. And just a month into this, I am only beginning to get a feel of that. And then life throws curve balls at times that you don’t always know how to deal with and so extra energy goes towards dealing with that! Unfortunately, this month is something of that. And while I have recipes ready, I do not have the time to sit and type it all up and let you take a peek into my pocketbook of memories through the stories. And I don’t want to put in a halfhearted effort and just write something for the sake of posting. So, while half of the month is gone and I haven’t shared anything with you yet, I will be doing so shortly. Maybe post a couple of recipes together! But first, I need to gather my thoughts and claim my mental space back from some unnecessary and unsavory issues. While I deal with that and work on sharing my stories with you, I will let you know about this month’s theme- ‘Japanese Cuisine’- my second most favorite cuisine in the whole wide world!!!

So, if you have any favorite recipes that you want to share, or your experience of trying and loving (or not) the cuisine, any photos you may want to share or recommend any blog that has delectable recipes from Japan, please do so through a post of yours and leave a link in the comment section for me and the others to find! I would be so happy to read them:)

I will be back midweek with two recipes and share snippets of my experience while living in this land that I fell in love with.

Here’s how to participate

  • Create your own post with your recipe, story, photosanything that you might wish to share that represents the theme of the month- JAPANESE CUISINE
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or maybe leave a link in the comment section.
  • Join whenever you can!
  • Visit some of the other posts shared.

 

Thanks for stopping by and I will be back soon!

Resolutions, or the lack thereof

We made it through the first month of the year, some holding fast to the resolutions made, some falling off sometimes but getting back up again and some still wondering if they should have made at least a few tangible goals. As I am trying to think if I was able to stick to my resolutions, I feel that I might not have made any! So, as you can tell I am that person in the third category;)

While I consciously, probably, did not make any goals, I have slowly started doing things I hadn’t done before, or you can say slowly adding things to my daily habits and making alterations to existing methods of doing things to adapt better to the increasing demands of daily life. I won’t say I have been absolutely following the new habits rigidly and am stopping a lot too, but it is getting better and I can sense small  palpable differences.

I have been doing five things that were not part of a conscious resolution- three of those I have modified to suit my current needs, and the fourth and fifth ones are new that I am trying to make a regular habit of.

Journal, Gratitude Journal, Sayings- are things that have been adapted from their older styles. Allow me to explain a bit.

The old ones- Journal:  I have had journals for quite sometime now and while I do not write regularly and had stopped altogether lately,  I now make it a point to note down just special moments- of joy and of sadness as well.  Gratitude Journal: I bought one of those pretty looking gratitude journal notebooks and have started listing 3 things that I was grateful for at the end of every day (I used to do a similar thing in my regular journal but this is better). Sayings: I have another notebook that I write down sayings or quotes of learned souls that affect me and this gives me clarity, joy and instills humbleness when I feel low.

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The new ones-Jar of Good and Everyday List

Jar of Good- I saw on a friend’s Instagram post that she had decided to start a jar of good (inspired by someone she follows), the idea of which was to keep a note, in a jar at the end of every week, jotting down just one good thing that had happened. And the jar is to be emptied and the notes read on December 31st to help us see that probably in spite of all that we complained about throughout the year, we also had pretty incredible, even if simple, moments. Moments that probably got lost in the shadow of the joy of a new promotion or taking the long awaited trip, though these are things that absolutely should be put on those notes too! Along with moments that are humble and pivotal to our mental health. I have been doing this and I can’t help but wonder how this is going to turn out!

 

Everyday List- I have recently picked up this habit (after seeing it on Marie Kondo’s Instagram post) of jotting down things to be done in as much detail as possible, either for the day or in the next 2-3 days -as I see fit- and use that as a guide for the day/s. I never had done this before as it wasn’t necessary but I am beginning to see that this helps better than just having things on the family calendar/ roster, simply because “think about 5 new lunch ideas for school” does not get a place on that roster! Good old bullet points have made a difference. Have you done something like this before or something similar maybe? Do you find it useful? Or are you ‘store it all in the mind’ kind of a person?

 

 

 

So, the lack of resolutions this year has helped me adapt my old habits better while also adding new things to help me navigate this crazy life. I usually do all of these things at the end of the day and to be honest, I cannot even do it everyday as I am ready to collapse on the bed. So my journal gets left out and some days my ‘sayings’ notebook doesn’t get picked up. But my ‘everyday list’ and ‘gratitude journal’ are doing much better! It may seem like a lot of work, that is superfluous as well. But it helps, at least me, to round up the day in a better way. There are days I don’t feel like doing this and I either just fall asleep or read a couple of pages of whichever book I happen to be reading or re reading at the time. And that’s okay! Something that brings us  joy, mindfulness, clarity, closure doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be restricting. The purpose then gets defeated. So, I am letting these grow on me slowly and enjoying this process!

Do you think we all have such habits that we stick to or adapt or let go or add on? How do you end your day? Is there something you wish you could do different? I would love to hear from you if you don’t mind sharing.

 

Thanks for stopping by and hope you get a reason to smile today!

 

Cook, Eat, Repeat: “Aam Panna”

Here I am with my third and final post for this month – the ‘Aam Panna‘ (Aam- Mango in Hindi language  and Panna – a concoction of sorts).

As Google will tell you, it is drink made from raw mangoes that helps one cool down during the intense heat of the summer months in India and supposedly has heat-resistant properties. While I can’t comment with a 100% guarantee on the latter, I can certainly say that it is something that is just perfect for the hot and sultry days of the summer in my home country. And if you gave it a try, I am sure you too would love this wonderful  concoction of raw mangoes, mint, a bit of sugar, a pinch of black salt and a pinch of roasted cumin!

Living in a land that is far away from the sights and smells I grew up with has been an adjustment and even after all these years, it still is. I wonder if it is the same for others  who are away from their motherland as well. I have heard some people say, who have been here much longer, that they still feel that something is missing, something no amount of opulence and comfort can make up for. A pull that does not let go, a love so deep and poignant that it is hard to put into words.

This drink is humble and accommodating and reminds me of growing up in India. It reminds me of quiet afternoons and the fiery Gul Mohor (flame of the forest); of the exhilarating champa (plumeria) and bushes of hibiscus; of that sole peddler whose voice could be heard over the whirring of the fan blades, trying to make the last sale of the day; the occasional tired barks of stray dogs lying in the shade of the trees, coiled and too tired, from the heat, to move; of my Ma’s beautiful voice humming a tune while going about the daily chores; of that heavily fragrant smell of ‘Keo Karpin hair oil that Baba could not, and still cannot, do without; of the repetitive thud of a ‘cambis‘ ball hitting the wall as my brother tried to get the ‘spin’ perfect; of that small black and white ‘Oscar’ television that stood in the corner of the room, hidden by an embroidered TV ‘cover’; of special summer programs that we watched on that same TV with cousins who often visited when school was closed; of secret crushes and stolen innocent glances; of undiluted love from warm embraces of my Rangadadu (my mom’s uncle..my favorite grandpa among all). It’s a drink that reminds me of the matters of the heart.

 

HOW TO MAKE!

There are many ways by which you can dress up or dress down this simple drink, all of which you will find online, in plenty. Here’s how I like mine!

Serves :  Happy souls! Time : about 20 minutes (that includes 15 minutes of boiling mangoes)

Ingredients : Raw mangoes (either 2-3 fresh whole ones or about 2 cups of frozen pieces)// Water- about 2 cups for boiling and more(about 1 cup per person) for making the actual drink// Sugar- 3-4 Tbsp// Mint Leaves- a handful// Black salt- 2 tbsp// Roasted and ground cumin powder- 2 Tbsp// Ice Cubes

Method : If using fresh raw mangoes, cut the mango in small pieces and boil in water for about 15 minutes. If using the frozen ones (which are already usually cut into pieces) you may have to increase the boiling time by 5-7 more minutes. Once done, strain.

[Note: Sometimes the frozen mango is cut in slices and not chunks- in that case the boiling time will be about 7-8 mins total only. ]

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In a blender, add ice cubes, the mangoes, and the other ingredients mentioned above and puree . (Note that you will not be needing the entire batch of this purée  for a glass of aam panna. You can store the rest in the fridge for 3-4 days easily).

 

In a glass, add a couple of ice cubes  and fill about a little more than 1/4 of the glass with the mango purée . If you want a slightly fuller taste, and this is better tasting for sure, fill 1/2 of the glass with the purée. Then  fill up the glass with water. Add a couple of mint leaves and give the concoction a good stir! I sometimes also add just a pinch of the roasted cumin at the end, on the top.

 

 

[  You could grab cumin powder from your spice shelf or if you happen to have whole cumin, spend a couple of extra minutes and roast about 2-3 tbsp on a pan in low heat till their color turns darker and you get that wonderful smell. Grind it using a mortar and pestle and store in an air tight container. Using this will enhance the flavor much more].

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Aam Panna is indeed a very refreshing drink and you can easily adjust the sweetness by adding more or less sugar!  Go ahead and make one yourself one and be sure to pour out another for your loved one!

Thanks for stopping by. And I will see you next month, which is just next week, with something totally different! Till then, cook- eat- repeat!

 

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Cook, Eat, Repeat Challenge: A Drink to Cherish – Mango Lassi

Hello!

I am a bit behind my intended schedule but here I am with the second and soon to follow third drinks of the month. Today’s post is about the famous Mango Lassi which will be followed by the less famous (only in the Western World though!) distant cousin of its- Aam Panna. (aam-Mango in Hindi language while “panna” could be called a concoction.)

But before I proceed to the ridiculously easy recipe (not sure if we can use the word recipe even!), I wanted to give you a slice of what’s been happening at this end, though I must warn you it is nothing exciting! Rather something so mundane that all of you have probably experienced it or are going through this in some form or the other:)

Our son turned five this weekend and boy was he excited for his big day! And so was his biggest cheerleader- yours truly;) We were going with a Superhero ‘theme’ this year and big bright balloons and banner and other celebratory decorative items had been slowly piling in the guest room that looks more like a storeroom, if I were to be honest. Everything was going according to plans till 9pm the night before. Our baby girl started crying and soon we figured out that it was not a normal cry but more of a severe distress that had totally thrown her off.  She would cry for 2-3hours at a stretch with intervals of 10-15 minutes, fall asleep for a bit and the cycle would repeat itself.  We figured that the grand day was going to have major setbacks. We contemplated of taking the baby girl to the ER around 2am but the awful weather outside and us finally figuring out what was really bothering her (premolars were on their way through those delicate gums) let us deal with the issue indoors for that night.

A good part of the birthday morning was spent at the doctor’s office and then on our way back, snow squall hit us and it snowed like crazy afterwards. Family, who was supposed to come over for birthday lunch, got delayed naturally and the little guy who was doing a great job of keeping it all together till then, broke down a little bit and asked if no one was going to celebrate his big day. It was heartbreaking to say the least and I looked around to see that a little birthday banner and two balloons brought from the store was all that was there. I hugged him as tightly as possible. Baby girl was still going through that cycle and we as parents were clearly not been able to step up to the game as fatigue was slowly catching up. We remembered at that point that a few months back when our baby girl had turned 1, the big brother was down with asthma and a fever of 103F.  A pattern of sorts?

Anyways, the good man cooked good food as I cradled a very distraught baby and a little upset birthday boy. Family arrived and there was a good amount of jumping up and down from all possible surfaces for the kid and his cousin, lots of car races and other things that a five year old’s heart desires. Which brings me to part two of the eventful day! By the time it came down to cake cutting, the birthday boy was so exhausted that he decided he did not want to cut the cake and started crying. After what seemed like forever, he stopped and we cut the cake and took pictures. And right after, he started complaining of ear ache (which apparently had been bothering him since afternoon but he did not want to stop having the fun he was having!). After another round of crying in which the baby girl joined in as well, family left and just like that, the day was over.

So much for a grand birthday!

The kids suffering so much took all the fun out of everything and made me actually forget that it was also our anniversary! But the red roses on the table jolted my memory back to that and while nothing went according to the plans, I was still grateful that we had each other to fall back on and as long as the four of us are together, nothing else mattered.The next morning was spent visiting the doctor’s office again, this time for the boy, picking up medicine from the pharmacy and getting stuff from the store that would help with the general crankiness of little humans.

 

You probably should not have to read this when you are looking for Mango Lassi. But I guess what I am trying to say is that things always don’t work according to plans and we all know that. It can be disappointing, saddening and many other unhappy emotions.  But we can in many cases, still steal moments from days that unfold in a less grand and ideal manner.

In this case, while we may not remember the day for all the grand celebrations that should have taken place, we will certainly remember it for the little ones’ discomfort and my big boy’s wise words. He was having a conversation with his father while having his lunch all by himself…sitting quietly. His dad mentioned that he was sorry for not being able to have a big celebration and that things did not go as planned,  and without thinking for a second, the little guy had said : “It’s okay Baba (dad)…bonu (his name for his sister) is so small and she needs Ma now and you have to make food as we have people coming over. We are all busy. That’s okay. Also, I was sick on Bonu’s birthday…do you remember?!” There is so much that we can learn from kids. As he is  “singing” at the moment…has picked up these lines from his dad –“Take it Easy….We may lose and we may win though we will never be here again”.

After the absolute madness dwindled down a bit, I was trying to think of my birthdays when I was growing up and could not really remember my 5th birthday. I guess my son will be okay too! But it was very nice to remember something that is uncannily related to the drink of this week…as my birthday falls in the hot summer month of May, mangoes (my favorite fruit in the whole wide world) were always a part of the day…be it as aam panna, or lassi or custard or just slices of that golden/yellow lip smacking fruit! There’s something  wonderfully satisfying about this drink specially in the sweltering heat of the summer and that tantalizing smell of fresh cut mangoes (typically Himsagar or the Alphonso variety) is a matter of million memories.

And so, here goes Mango Lassi…an absolute easy drink to make and cherish.

Serving size: 2, Time- 5-10 minutes

Ingredients-

Mango (Fresh, cut into pieces) 1 large or canned/frozen mango pulp : 2 cups—-Yogurt: 1 cup—-Milk: 1/4 cup—-Ice cubes: as needed—–Sugar: 1/2 tbsp (you may need less or more depending on the sweetness of the mangoes and your own preference)—-Ground Cardamom Seeds: 1/2 tsp

How to make

Put all of the ingredients in the blender and puree! Check for sweetness. You may add a little cold water or a couple of ice cubes to adjust the consistency and make it to your liking.

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Do you have a drink that reminds you of your childhood days?Or is there something that you associate with specific celebration/s in your culture? Whatever it is, I would love to hear from you! You can join in with a recipe or a story or even just a photo:)

Here’s how to participate!

  • Create your own post with your recipe, story, photos- anything that you might wish to share that represents the theme of the month.
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section.
  • Join whenever you can!
  • Visit some other posts shared.

 

Cheers and thanks for stopping by!