Abura Miso: Miso Paste with Seasoned Pork

This is a long-overdue post for a recipe request I received by email in December. (Sorry it took so long, Barb!)

And what is this strange-looking paste that someone would actually request a recipe for it? It’s an Okinawan specialty known as Abura miso (AH-boo-rah, which means “fatty”). Why “fatty” — because, Silly Rabbit, it has pork belly. Or to be more precise, it has Rafute, which is the lovely and decadent seasoned pork belly which was featured here last summer (photo below).

So if you can possibly spare a couple of slices of rafute, you can preserve it in miso and create a wonderful condiment in doing so. Miso paste is cooked long and slow over gentle heat with generous doses of sake, grated ginger and ginger juice, and just a touch of sugar. The goal is to concentrate the sake and have it absorbed into the miso paste. In the last 20 minutes, the prepared rafute is added with yet more sake, and cooked together until the sake is again absorbed into the paste. Properly stored, abura miso has kept in our fridge for months (but it usually is eaten lo-o-ong before then).

For grating the ginger for this dish, I recommend using a Japanese ceramic grater, Oroshi, like the one in the photo. Yes, it IS a single-use gadget, but this is one of those tools that just does the job better than anything else and so I do find room for it in the kitchen. In this case, it pulverizes the ginger so it naturally forms a wet paste rather than shreds, which can be unpleasant if left in this condiment. For making ginger juice, too, this oroshi can’t be beat — you can see in the photo that the liquid pools in the “moat” around the teeth of the grater, and that there are marked grooves in the teeth to carry the juice to the “moat” and a spout on one end to pour off the juice.

Whether eaten alone with hot rice, or mixed with a raw egg over REALLY hot rice (the egg will soft-set from the heat of the rice), used to fill savory pancakes, or made into musubi (rice balls), Abura Miso is a genuine Okinawan treat.

For Barb M. in San Antonio, TX.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups (360g) awase miso (blended light and medium misos)
1 and1/2 cups (355ml) sake, plus optional 1/4 cup
2 TBL. aji-mirin (seasoned cooking sake)
1-2 tsp raw sugar (if using granulated white sugar, use less)
2-3 tsp grated ginger and all accumulated juices
2 slices prepared rafute

Combine miso paste, sake, mirin, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan, and place over medium high heat. Mixture will be very loose, and will drop very easily from a spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble, about 6-8 minutes, then immediately turn heat down to low.

Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture starts to darken in color, and to thicken, about 40-50 minutes depending on how wide the saucepan is. The goal is to concentrate the sake flavor and incorporate it into the miso paste. The longer the process takes, the more intense the sake flavor will be without burning the miso. This process will feel familiar to anyone who has made a brown roux for gumbo or etouffe — stir, stir, watch carefully, stir, fiddle with the heat to get it just right, stir again.

Meanwhile, prepare the rafute.

Remove the rafute from wherever you hid it to hide it from greedy family members, and dice it into 1/4-inch cubes (this is easier to do if the rafute is cold). Bring to room temperature by heating in microwave for 20 seconds at highest temperature. Don’t microwave too long or the skin of the rafute will pop and resemble fried pork rinds — you will lose the silken texture that is so important to abura miso.

When the miso has thickened to the point where it now drops rather reluctantly from a spoon, add the diced rafute, and optional additional 1/4 cup sake, stir well to incorporate new ingredients. Continue the stirring vigil for another 20-30 minutes to heat rafute thoroughly and to remove the raw taste of newly added sake.

Taste. It should have a prominent sake flavor, mellowed by cooking and ginger, and very lightly sweetened. I usually don’t add any salt because the miso paste contains a lot of salt, but depending on the brand and type of miso used, you may wish to add salt too. It will look very similar to canned pumpkin in color. But compared to the plain miso, you will notice the abura miso has a sheen — some might even say, a glow.

We most often use abura miso to season musubi, seen here (it’s hidden in the center, trust me).


Healthy Oceans, Healthy Choices: Kabocha Salmon Patties

One of the things that often gets lost in our busy lives is time — time to listen, to read, to watch, to learn. We barely have enough time to do what needs to be done in 24 hours — forget researching things that may or may not directly affect us, our families, our health.

If you have 7-1/2 minutes to spare today, pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee while you check out this video from
Oceana, a global non-profit organization committed to healthy oceans and sustainable fishing. It’s about the mercury lurking in some of our seafood and some of the warning signs of mercury poisoning we may be feeling in ourselves or seeing in our loved ones without realizing what they mean. Fatigued? Problems concentrating? It may not just be stress.

The point here is not to scare you off from seafood and fish — it’s important to include these in your diet on a regular basis. It’s equally important, though, to know what types of fish may pose a hazard to you or your family.

Last spring, we highlighted the convenience of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s
Seafood Watch fish guides. These guides are tailored for each distinct region in the U.S., so we recently ordered the guides for our new area. (Guides are also available for other countries in Europe and Asia, see earlier post for more information) If you have a mobile phone, you can save a tree and download the guides directly to your phone! The Seafood Watch guides provide at-a-glance, easy-to-decipher information about which species are farmed or fished in a sustainable manner (green is good, yellow is acceptable, red is bad), and which ones are known to have high levels of mercury (flagged).

Now we’d like to point you to another useful resource, Oceana’s “Green List” of national supermarket and warehouse chains that provide the FDA Advisory on mercury contamination at their fish counter. The stores on the List (including Shoppers, Safeway, Costco, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s here in the DC metro area) voluntarily post the FDA Advisory at their fish counters and canned seafood aisles (called point-of-sale advisories) to remind consumers which fish may be at risk for mercury contamination, and what the safe limits are for consuming some at-risk fish.

Why is this important? Because it provides a reminder for you and all shoppers that some varieties of fish (including swordfish, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish) are known to have high levels of mercury in their flesh, and that people at-risk (including children, older people, pregnant women) should limit how much they eat of these varieties, or avoid them. But that leaves many other wonderful fish varieties to choose from! The point of sale advisories help you as a consumer so you don’t have to struggle to remember which varieties are at-risk when you’re standing in the grocery.

Is the grocery chain where you shop on the Green List? Find out by following
this link, which will also show you the Red List (which includes Giant and Super Fresh in our area) that do NOT post the Advisory.

Another cool tool on the Oceana website is an
interactive grocery store map that allows you to input your area code, and click “Find My Grocer!” — a Google Map pops open with color-coded points showing you all the Green List and Red List grocery stores in your area. If you click on the colored point, the name and address of the store will appear. Finding your closest Green List grocer is just a click away!

Note to Hawaii consumers, the Oceana Lists only include national chains. The Hawaiian Islands have unique grocery store chains that are not on these lists. I used to check the seafood counters at Don Quijote, Star Market and Foodland on Oahu regularly and found no FDA advisories and only sporadic country of origin notices. Both Monterey Bay Aquarium and Oceana have campaigns that allow you to bring your concerns to the store management’s attention. Join the MBA’s campaign on labelling fish and seafood with country of origin and/or Oceana’s campaign on the FDA warning about mercury at the point of sale.

Following recommendations from both MBA and Oceana, we see that Alaskan wild salmon remain one of the best fish choices for the table. Both the fresh filets and canned varieties have healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and are fished in commercially sustainable ways.

Salmon patties made with canned Alaskan salmon and mashed potatoes are a delicious and economical way to eat healthy and stretch your budget dollar, too. The basic recipe is made with leftover mashed potatoes, but if you let your imagination roam, other interesting alternatives will come to mind. How about mashed tofu, if you want to cut down on the carbohydrates in your meal? Or sweet potatoes or yams, instead of russets? We especially like the sweet potato substitution with spicy notes like curry powder, garam masala, or jerk spices.

Here’s one version we did over the summer with leftover roasted kabocha and wasabi peas, and served with wasabi cocktail sauce. The crunchy peas add some texture to an otherwise very uniform patty, but the wasabi flavor was very mild — hence the need for the extra spicy cocktail sauce! Use fresh or frozen peas when wasabi peas are not available — they’ll add color and extra nutrition, if not texture.

Substitute any roasted or cooked hard squash in season for the kabocha: buttercup, butternut, Hubbard, blue and acorn are all in season now! Even pumpkin would be a nice medium for salmon patties.

*Note: Wasabi peas are a Japanese snack food of fried or freeze-dried green peas coated with crunchy wasabi-flavored rice flour. Look for them in Asian groceries and Trader Joe’s.

2 cups (360g) mashed roasted kabocha
1/2 medium onion, minced (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 small can (7.5 oz, 215g) Alaskan red salmon, drained and mashed
1 cup (120g) wasabi peas
1 quantity Wasabi Cocktail Sauce (below)

Add egg and onion to mashed sweet potatoes. Season well, and blend thoroughly. Add salmon, and roughly combine (we like to leave chunks of salmon noticeable in the patty, but you can combine to a smooth consistency if you prefer). Make a well in the center of the mixture, and add wasabi peas. Combine well. Shape into 2 large patties.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, and preheat cast iron or other heavy oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Add about 1 TBL olive oil to the pan, and add patties to pan, pressing lightly. Turn heat to medium, and brown well, about 1-2 minutes. (Note: kabocha and sweet potatoes have more sugar than regular potatoes, and may darken and even burn more easily) Flip patty over, press lightly again, and move pan to pre-heated oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until patties are firm to the touch. Meanwhile prepare cocktail sauce.

Serve hot with cocktail sauce, salad or your favorite cooked greens, and rice or rolls.
If you serve this with some type of corn — cornbread, polenta, succotash,
corn chowder, etc. you would have a wonderful meal combining the “Three Sisters.” More on that soon.

1 TBL prepared wasabi paste
1 TBL lemon juice
1/4 cup ketchup
dash Tabasco
2-3 TBL capers, drained and rinsed

Combine all ingredients. Set aside.


One Radish, Two Pickles, and a Garnish

The Japanese white radish, Daikon, is used in traditional meals in raw, cooked and pickled forms. Shredded raw daikon is a common garnish and side dish with sashimi its peppery bite complementing the mild cool flavor of the raw fish. When we had poke for the Superbowl game last Sunday (go there), I shredded a large mound of daikon as garnish for the platter, but that still left us with 3/4 of the root. I will cook with daikon if a particular dish requires it, such as Oden or Okinawan Kombu, but to be honest it's not my favorite cooked vegetable. So instead of cooking with it, I decided to pickle the remaining daikon two ways.

Daikon is a large (1-5 lb) root vegetable that can come in many shapes and varieties. I had only ever seen the long, white variety (seen here) until we came to Hawaii. Since then we've also seen short, thicker, bulbous looking variety labelled in the supermarkets as "Korean radish" and another stocky root tinged dark green at the top that is also labelled as daikon. When choosing one at the market, the radish should feel heavy for its size -- a sign of freshness, since daikon begins drying out and losing its water weight the longer it sits after harvesting. I also look for small roots
one, because larger roots can sometimes be woody and unpalatable; and two, because I don't usually cook a lot of daikon at one time.

To prepare, simply wash well with a vegetable scrubber and clean water, and peel. To shred, you can use the large holes of a regular grater. But I discovered this great tool while I was watching one of the workers at our favorite Thai restaurant make long beautiful strips of perfectly julienned papaya for a green papaya salad. I walked over to ask her if I could take a look at the tool she was using, and she told me I could find it at any Filipino (I did not find any at Pacific Supermarket, or any other Filipino grocery I know) or Thai grocery. After a few weeks search, I did find it at a Thai market in Chinatown (go there). With the same easy motion you use to peel a potato or carrot, you can make long julienne strips from any suitable vegetable: carrots, daikon, potatoes (make shoe-string fries), green papaya, sweet potatoes, etc. It takes up much less storage space than a mandoline, Benriner or other type of box grater, and cleans up faster and easier too. So here we used the julienne-peeler to make a garnish for our poke platter.

With the remaining daikon, the smaller tapered end was also shredded and pickled with carrots, sugar and vinegar in the Vietnamese style. This pickle can accompany most Vietnamese stye meals, like the BBQ pork with rice noodles (go there for recipe). It's also a great sandwich pickle, as in Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches but even a regular tuna, ham-and-cheese, or deli turkey sandwich will benefit from this vinegary condiment.

Finally, the larger end was thinly sliced and combined with carrots, wakame (wa-KAH-may) seaweed, sugar, salt, rice vinegar, lemon and dashi-no-moto to make a Japanese pickle called Namasu (NAH-mah-s'). Like its Southeast Asian cousin above, namasu is a quick fresh pickle, and can accompany any Japanese rice meal.

1 lb. (450g) daikon, scrubbed, peeled
1 small carrot (100-120g), scrubbed and peeled
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 TBL. dried wakame seaweed, placed in a bowl and covered with 4 cups cool water for 20-30 minutes (not longer)

Slice daikon lengthwise, then into thin half-moon slices. Place in colander and sprinkle with sugar, then mix well and leave 30-40 minutes to drain. Sugar will pull water from the radish and leave it pliable but crunchy. Do not rinse.

Using your peeler, slice thin ribbons of carrot from the root. Cut the ribbons into fourths across their width. Place in colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 20-40 minutes to drain. Do not rinse.

Place wakame in small bowl and cover with 3 cups cool water for 20-30 minutes. Rinse in 2-3 changes of water. Squeeze dry.

Combine daikon, carrot, and wakame in medium bowl.

1/2 packet dashi-no-moto (dried bonito broth)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar (or 1/4 cup white vinegar + 1/2 tsp. sugar)
TBL. mirin
TBL. fresh lemon juice

Combine dressing ingredients in small bowl in the order listed above. Whisk or stir well to dissolve sugar and dashi-no-moto. Taste and correct seasoning
it should taste lemony and ever-so-slightly sweet.

Pour over vegetables and leave in refrigerator at least 30 minutes. Keeps in refrigerator up to 5 days.


Table-top Cooking: BBQ pork with rice noodles

Tabletop cooking need no longer be relegated to special nights out at fancy teppanyaki restaurants, where smiling chefs send shrimp and vegetables flying through the air. If you can live without the theatrics, you can grill or have sukiyaki or shabu-shabu at home anytime. It's a great family experience, and a wonderful way to entertain at home, allowing each family member or guest to add the meats or vegetables they desire to the pot or grill. We've done everything from fajitas, pancakes, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, Korean bulgogi and fish juhn, Japanese nabes and okonomiyaki, and this grilled Vietnamese style pork with rice vermicelli noodles.

Rather than buying an electric appliance that leaves you with a trailing electrical cord and extension to deal with, we recommend this simple butane stove that sits compactly on the table and has an easy-to-control flame. This model comes in a plastic case for carrying and storage, and retails here in Hawaii for less than $20. I have also seen sleek stainless steel models selling for closer to $70. The non-refillable butane cartridges are less than $2 a piece. If you're having a hard time finding a butane stove, try a Korean or Japanese grocery. The added bonus, especially for we who live in hurricane-earthquake-tsunami prone areas, this doubles as a handy emergency stove. In fact, we bought this for that latter purpose and had it in the house for almost a year before the little light bulb went on over my head, and I remembered a dinner with friends who used a butane stove to grill bulgogi at the table. That was such a fun meal! Why not make everyday meals more fun, too?

The cookware you use for tabletop cooking should be pans that do NOT have a long handle. With one or more persons reaching toward the hot pans, a long handle is easy to tip over, catch in a sleeve, or bump. With hot liquids and oils, and an open flame, it is an invitation to disaster to use any pot, pan or wok with a long handle. Here are some safer options.

For grilling, this yakiniku grill is ideal. This model is non-stick and includes a drain hole for the excess grease (you need to put a small bowl at the drain point to catch the hot oil). We use this for fajitas, pancakes, yakiniku (literallly, "grilled meat" in Japanese), and okonomiyaki. It retails between $20-25 (in Hawaii, sometimes Long's has it on sale too — same with the stove and butane cartridges). In a pinch, you could also use a shallow pan like the paella-style one we use for sukiyaki, below.

For soups and nabes, we used to use this 3 quart pot from All-Clad just because it was already in the kitchen, any similar pot will work. Recently we've acquired this beautiful stoneware nabe pot too. We make kimchee soup, nabes, and other quick soupy stew-like meals in these.

For sukiyaki and other braised dishes, this shallower paella-style pan from Calphalon works well.
Photos of traditional cast-iron nabe and sukiyaki pans can be seen on this commercial site.

Here is a simple and tasty dish that's perfect for entertaining or to liven up a weekend meal at home. Thin slices of pork (you can certainly use beef or chicken, as well) are marinated in a sweet lemongrass marinade, grilled and served atop a bed of rice vermicelli noodles (called bun, "buhn") and fresh salad and herb base. Of course, you don't have to grill the meat at the table prepare it all in the kitchen and simply serve this delicious "Vietnamese noodle salad"!

Recipe for 4 persons

Marinade for 1 lb. (450g) pork, beef, or chicken
TBL. brown sugar
tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion, minced (about 3 TBL.)

stalk lemongrass, peeled and tender parts minced
2 TBL. fish sauce
1 TBL. oil

Thinly slice (as for sukiyaki) pork or beef. (In these photos I used pork sliced for tonkatsu, but that's too thick. Next time I'll get a thinner slice, or pound this cut thinner.) Or slice and pound thin chicken breasts or thighs. Combine marinade ingredients and add meat. Let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.

To assemble:
10 oz. (280g) bean sprouts (moyashi)
1 large bunch Thai basil
1 large bunch mint
1 large bunch cilantro
4 stalks scallions, roots trimmed
1 Japanese cucumber
1 head Romaine or leaf lettuce
1 package of rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water 30 minutes or until pliable
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (optional)
Carrot Pickle (recipe below)

Wash and pick leaves off basil, mint and cilantro. Rough chop herbs and scallions and set aside.

Peel cucumber. Cut off ends, then cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut off seeds, then julienne. Cut lengths into 2" (5 cm) pieces. Set aside.

Wash and remove thick ends, if necessary. Julienne.

Blanch the soaked rice noodles in boiling water until they turn bright white, about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Combine 3/4 of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce together. Place 1/4 of the salad in the bottom of a deep bowl (like a saimin or ramen bowl).

Coil 1/4 of the rice noodles over the salad in a mound.

Garnish noodles with remaining herbs, cucumber and Carrot Pickle (and peanuts, if using). Place garnished bowl, chopsticks and a small bowl with dipping sauce (Nuoc Nam, recipe below) in front of each diner.

Remove meat from marinade and arrange on serving platter. Lightly dab with paper towel to make sure it is not too wet (it will splatter in the hot oil).

Assemble the grill and place it where the cook can reach it safely (this meal is best prepared where one cook handles the raw meat, placing it on the grill while other diners remove pieces to their bowls as the meat cooks). Set the grill pan securely on the stove notches to make certain it doesn't move around or slip. Put a catch bowl at the oil drip spout, if necessary. Turn on grill and allow pan to heat to cooking temperature. Lightly oil grill and carefully place slices on the pan (do not drop pieces onto oil, which will splatter). Have a clean plate on hand to remove meat as it cooks, if the diners don't keep pace with the cooking. Let folks remove cooked meat to their bowls and begin eating.

A final caveat: you have an open flame and hot liquids or oil on the table, so you do keep a close eye on the stove; and never allow young children to reach near the open flame. Also, since you're cooking meats with some fat on them, there will still be some splattering from the grill, so all diners should be warned of the possibility of splatters, no mater how careful you are. It should go without saying, too, that you probably want to try this out before inviting friends to participate so you have a better idea of how far the splattering oil can reach.

This photo is BBQ pork bun from our favorite restaurant. (See how thin the meat is?)

More tabletop cooking to come . . .

Combine together:
2 cloves garlic, minced
TBL. sugar (I still use brown sugar)
6 TBL. fish sauce
2 TBL. lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced serrano or bird's eye chile (optional)

Stir well until sugar dissolves. Divide into 4 dipping bowls.

2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1 TBL. sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBL. rice wine vinegar
tsp. sea salt

Sprinkle carrots with sugar. Leave for 15 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over carrots. Set aside until needed.

Table-top Cooking, Part 2: Sukiyaki


International recipe conversions made easier

Converting measures the old-fashioned way

Sharing recipes with friends and acquiring cookbooks while traveling and living overseas has occasionally left me playing the conversion game. This isn't so bad when you're converting similar measurements (like volume, cups to liters). But it's maddeningly slow work when you have to cross between the U.S. standard of measuring dry goods by volume (like cups of flour or sugar) to a metric weight standard. One cup of flour doesn't weigh the same as one cup of brown sugar. In the past, I've patiently measured out my ingredients in cups, then dumped them onto an electronic kitchen scale, before faithfully recording the weight into a translated recipe. I've done the same in reverse, translating recipes from other countries for my American friends. It can be slow and tedious work.

If you're nodding your head sympathetically as you read this, then you'll want to click on the link that is winking at you in the sidebar. This is no ordinary conversion site because it has a unique tool just for international foodies -- it's called the On-line Cooking Converter. With one click this tool will instantly give you 7 conversions from US/British pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, pint, cup, teaspoon or tablespoon to European metric kilogram, gram, liter, mililiter, cup, teaspoon and tablespoon, or vice versa.

But that's not even the best part. There's a menu of almost 200 different wet and dry goods (different types of flours and sugars, even) from which to choose before making the conversions. As you would expect, the differences can be dramatic. One cup of regular flour is 99 grams, one cup of brown sugar is 201 grams. Now all you have to do is take a copy of your recipe and go to the Cooking Converter at, and call up your ingredients and plug in your values. Voila, your measurements are converted!

This tool is available for use on the
Convert-me,com site for free! When you click on the link, look in the right-hand column for "Cooking Conversion" to try this tool for yourself.

When I was preparing the
Double Mango Bread recipe for World Bread Day, I knew our host, kochtopf, has many readers in Europe and Asia so I wanted to provide the metric measures for those readers. I checked my manually-weighed measurements against those on the "Cooking Conversion" tool and it checked out. I hope that many other people will find it useful, too. I'm happy to spread the news about any tool or product that makes it easier to share recipes, and that might make people more likely to cook (or bake)!!

There is also a free Google gadget from that will calculate simpler like-to-like measurements (lengths, volumes, weights, etc.) which you can make available on your website or load on your Google homepage. I tried to put it in my sidebar here but it was much too big. But you can still try out this cool little converter for yourself at the
Test Kitchen. If you like it, you can download it for yourself at the Convert-me site.