When I worked in Japan on the JET Programme, my adopted hometown of Nakatsu took pride in the local specialty of karaage (kah-rah-ah-gay), a kind of fried chicken. Locals told me that when Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is pretty popular across Japan, opened up in Nakatsu, it couldn’t stay in business because Nakatsu residents preferred karaage. Here’s my personal take on karaage:
This recipe serves 2 people as the main protein in a meal, or about 4 people as a shared appetizer.
400 grams (14 ounces) of chicken, cut into roughly uniform chunks, about the size of a McNugget (I don’t know how else to describe it). In Nakatsu, skin-on chicken thigh is usually used, but I used boneless skinless chicken breast for the batch in the picture and they came out great.
1/2 tablespoon Kewpie Mayonnaise, What is this mayonnaise madness you ask? It helps the marinade adhere to the chicken, helps keep the chicken moist (important if you are using breast), and adds a bit of sweetness and umami as well.
Finely mince or pound the solid marinade ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Combine with all of the liquid marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the chicken pieces.
Coat the chicken with the marinade and let sit for 30 minutes.
Then dredge each piece of chicken in the all-purpose gluten-free flour. There is enough seasoning in the marinade itself, so there is no need to season the flour. Each piece of chicken should be lightly coated in flour.
Heat your oil in a cast iron or other sturdy pan. You only need enough oil for each chicken piece to be halfway submerged in oil. On my electric stove, I do this on medium heat. You will know when the oil is ready when you insert a wooden chopstick or skewer and it bubbles.
Fry three or four piece of chicken at a time until golden brown. Mine took about a minute and a half on each side. Be careful not to fry too many piece at a time, or you will cool down your oil too much.
Drain the chicken on a paper towel or cooling rack. Then serve with a squeeze of the lemon, lime, or kabosu. I also like to dip mine in some more Kewpie Mayo and a sprinkle of the shichimi togarashi.
To give you an idea of how serious Nakatsu is about karaage, here is a video (in Japanese) about how Nakatsu broke the Guinness World Record in 2019 for the largest serving of fried chicken made in a single day.
This dish has many names and variations. It’s a popular dim sum item and street food across Cantonese, Taiwanese, Teochew, and Southeast Asian cultures. I know it as lo bak go in Cantonese, luo bo gao in Mandarin, and chai tow kway in Taiwanese Hokkien. Apparently, it’s called “carrot cake” in Singapore, but it doesn’t actually contain any carrots. Also, it’s definitely a savory dish, so don’t let the “cake” throw you off.
The common essentials are daikon radish (also known as Chinese radish or Chinese turnip; the closely-related Korean mu radish also works here) and rice flour, which is made into a batter, steamed in a mold, and then pan fried. On the simple end of the spectrum, they are simply made with just the daikon and rice flour batter. Or you can make it fancy with all sorts of umami-laden bits.
This recipe is my own personal take. The recipe works best made one day of ahead of when you want to eat it, since it really benefits from a night in the fridge. Now here’s the recipe:
Turnip/Daikon Cake Ingredients
Note that I use grams for my weight measurements and US cups and tea/tablespoons for liquid volume. Using a kitchen scale has been game-changing for my cooking. Refer to the ingredient notes at the bottom of the post for additional context and explanation.
~900 grams fresh daikon or mu, peeled, and julienned
Put the bacon into a cold pan or wok, and bring up the heat to medium-high. If your bacon is lean, you might need to add some oil, but I rarely do. Stir fry until browned and crispy, then add the shiitake mushrooms and chai bo, and stir fry on medium heat for 3 minutes. Next, add the scallions (if using) and stir fry for 1 more minute. Scoop out the solid umami ingredients and set aside for later. You can leave some bacon grease in the pan. There is no need to clean out the pan before the next step.
Add the julienned daikon and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and translucent. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Add more water if it gets a little dry.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop out and drain the daikon, saving the cooking liquid. Add more water to the cooking liquid if needed to get to 2 and a half cups.
Add the strained daikon and previously pan fried umami ingredients back into your pan or wok (with the stove turned off). Stir in the oyster sauce now if you are using it.
Whisk the cooking liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients until incorporated. Pour the batter into your pan or work. Turn the stove to medium-low and stir the mixture together until it thickens. If it thickens too much, add an additional half cup of water. The batter should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Transfer the mixture into a greased heat-proof casserole or loaf pan. Cover with foil and steam for 1 hour. I don’t actually own a steamer large enough to make this recipe, so I put the foil-covered casserole in the oven along with another casserole full of boiling water, and baked at 300 F / 150 C for 1 hour.
Check for doneness after one hour. Insert a toothpick or skewer. It won’t come out clean like a dessert cake, but the batter that sticks should be milky white rather than translucent.
Allow everything to cool completely. Then put in the fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight.
Remove the chilled daikon cake, slice, pan fry, and serve.
There are many different regional and local variations for serving this dish, but I divide them roughly into the “dim sum style” and the “street food style.”
In the dim sum style, you cut the daikon cake into slices, pan fry in some oil until browned on two sides. Using a non-stick pan or griddle for this helps a lot. Garnish with some chopped scallions or chives if you like, then serve with the dipping sauce(s) of your choice. I like soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, and a tiny dab of mustard. XO sauce also works well, and some people use oyster sauce or a thick sweet soy sauce (a product known as soy paste in Taiwan or kecap manis (alternately spelled ketjap manis) in Malay and Indonesian.
In the street food style, you cut the chilled daikon cake into cubes, and pan fry until brown. Then scramble in an egg or two, and add chopped scallions. Some variations also add bean sprouts or other vegetables at this point. When I make these street food style, I squeeze some soy sauce, Sriracha, and ketchup on top, which is reminiscent of my favorite Taiwanese street food breakfast version of the dish. The mixture of ketchup and Sriracha is a good approximation for Taiwanese sweet chili sauce.
To make a vegetarian version of this, leave out the bacon and oyster sauce. And perhaps increase the amount of fried shallot and garlic.
I used two small Korean mu for the recipe in the pictures. Mu are shorter and rounder than Japanese daikon, but the two are interchangeable in this recipe. After cleaning, peeling, and julienning, it came out to 710 grams.
Despite the name, I don’t recommend using Western turnips or radishes for this, as they taste quite different from daikon or mu. Some people prefer to grate the daikon, which is even easier if you have a food processor. I prefer a chunkier texture (and couldn’t find my grater) so I just julienned the daikon with a knife.
Be sure to use plain white rice flour and NOT glutinous rice flour or “mochiko” in Japanese. They are different products. Plain white rice flour is softer and more tender, which is more appropriate for this dish.
Traditional recipes call for Cantonese laap cheong sausage and sometimes Chinese ham, but those require a trip to the Asian market, and I always have bacon at home.
Some recipes also add dried shrimp and dried scallops that have been reconstituted by soaking for a few hours in water and then finely chopped. These make the dish more luxurious for sure, but also usually require a trip to the Asian market or an online order.
The fried shallots and garlic are optional. A lot of recipes don’t call for them at all, but they add flavor and texture, and I always have them on hand in my pantry. You can buy jars of fried shallots and fried garlic at an Asian market or online.
The scallions are also optional, but I like adding them to liven things up a bit.
Here is the recipe for a Southeast Asian-inspired noodle dish that I made this morning for breakfast withÂ DCR and Kris.
Cook a half package of brown rice fettuccine according to instructions. This is about a handful of dry noodles, which was enough for 3 people for a breakfast, or maybe 2 people for lunch/dinner.
In the meantime, combine in a large bowl: 1/4 cup unsalted organic peanut butter, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of honey (or brown sugar), 1 minced garlic clove, 2 thinly chopped scallions, juice of 2 limes, chili oil (or sesame oil) to taste, red pepper flakesÂ and black pepper to taste.
Totally optional, but you can also crack a raw free-range egg into this mixture, or put in a dollop of mayonnaise for extra richness. This morning I used some leftover chipotle mayonnaise.
When the noodles finish cooking (about 10-12 minutes), drain, rinse, and combine with the sauce mixture. You may need to add some of the cooking water to thin out the sauce.
Serve with fresh basil, mint, or other fresh herbs or greens that you have around. We had basil and mint this morning. We just ripped up the leaves and mixed them in with our noodles.
I improvised this Japanese-inspired scallop recipe for a weekend lunch last week with some super fresh local scallops I got from Fresh Direct. My mom sent me a huge box of oranges from Arizona, so you will see that I will be sneaking orange into my recipes this month. The recipe below serves two.
Ingredients 6 large dry sea scallops Juice and zest of 2 oranges Juice and zest of 1 lemon 2 teaspoons of miso (use white miso or a mild brown miso) 1 handful of roasted macadamia nuts (I got these in Hawai’i when I was there last month) 1/2 teaspoon of yuzukoshÅ 1 scallion, chopped 1 dash of turmeric powder (optional, it gives the dressing a nice color and it’s good for you) Olive Oil 1 bunch of rainbow Swiss chard, sliced into ribbons 1 handful of fresh shiitake, sliced Butter Salt & Pepper
I improvised a big pot of this hearty vegan stew for Dinner with Ideas, which I hosted at my place last weekend. The photo above doesn’t really do the dish justice, but it was the only shot I remembered to take.
In any case, like most of my recipes, no precise measurements here, but basically it’s a pretty standard Indian-style dal base crossed with a blast of Japanese umami. Here’s how to recreate it at home (this recipe feeds 10-12 people):
0. Before you start, cook about 1 rice-cooker cup each of steel cut oatmeal and brown rice in a rice cooker with plenty of water. You can do this the day before.
2. Toast and grind up about 2 tablespoons of dhaba masalaÂ and mash up in a mortar and pestle with a good handful each of fresh ginger and garlic. Toss this mixture in with the onions and fry until the garlic takes on a roasted (and not raw) flavor.
3. Add in a big can of chopped tomatoes, some chili peppers and paprika to taste. Also add about a handful of chopped, reconstituted dried shiitake and a piece of kombu. Stir for a bit to combine and let brown/reduce.
4. Add 2.5 cups of dried red lentils and the pre-cooked brown rice and oatmeal. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 45-minutes to an hour or more.
5. When the lentils are nice and soft, add 2 bunches of kale sliced into ribbons as well as 3 heaping teaspoons of good quality miso (the miso is salty, so don’t over salt beforehand. Stir and cook until wilted.
6. Before serving, add a bit of something acid to bring all the flavors to life even more. You can use one or more of the following: fresh squeezed lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and/or some SonomicÂ vinegar. Adjust spices to taste. Top with some minced scallions and/or cilantro.
Above: Dinner with Ideas participants around the table. Below: Robb models some miso masala leftovers in a reused coconut manna jar.