Japan is a very special place for me. Not only is it where my mother grew up, but it’s where the rest of her family, including my cousins, aunts and uncles, still live.
When I was in graduate school, I spent one semester studying in Niigata Prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu. It was an amazing experience. Not only did it provide insight into my mother and her culture, but it also marked the beginning of an expat life that eventually brought me to Basel.
While I was there, I travelled around the country, from Kyoto down to Nara, all along the way meeting my family, and all along the way tasting the plethora of food this very small country has to offer.
Ramen and Udon. Sushi. Miso Soup. Okonomiyaki. Gyozo. All heavenly. Heck, even Japanese cucumbers are amazing. And they are only cucumbers!
This is a country that does food well. And with an extra plus that so many of the ingredients that comprise Japanese food are just plain good for you. There is a reason these guys live so long, folks.
Take for example salmon. Rich in protein and omega-3, this fish is one heck of a power food. So healthy is salmon that researchers have confirmed that a mere 4-ounce piece of salmon contains the same amount of omega-3 fats that it otherwise takes one adult to consume over the course of several days.
Pretty impressive, salmon. Pretty impressive. It’s no wonder this is a go-to food for those wanting to improve their health.
This miso-based salmon dish I make is one of my favourites. I usually make it for lunch on days when Aidan is in school, when I’ve had a busy morning running errands, and I simply want to sit, rest, and enjoy the quietness of the lunch hour. And together with a simple avocado salad with wasabi and lemon dressing, this lunch puts me in a happy place.
It takes about 30 minutes to put together, and it starts with fresh ginger.
Ginger is a fantastic root vegetable that goes well with most Asian dishes. Its taste carries a punch, so be sure not to put too much in. General rule of thumb, no pun intended, is that the amount of ginger you put into a dish should be roughly the size of your thumb. Two at most if you are making a large dish. If you have big thumbs, well, then try your picky finger I suppose. But the thumb measurement has always worked for me.
Grate the ginger, together with some garlic, and toss both into a small bowl. Add to that a large dollop of miso paste.
For those who aren’t familiar with miso, here’s the 401 on it. Miso is the Japanese word for fermented soy bean paste. I’m guessing they came up with a cute word like miso because the word fermented doesn’t exactly sound appetising. This is a staple of Japanese cuisine. Packed with flavour, it’s used in everything from soups to salad dressings.
I highly recommend you buy a small container of it, look up a few miso-based recipes, and explore.
Right. Back to the recipe. Once the miso is in the bowl, add to it some brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, a splash of water, rice vinegar and mirin, which is a much sweeter version of rice vinegar. Another rule of thumb that I’ve mentioned in previous posts: watch your sugar levels. Always start off with half of what the recipe calls for, including mine. This dish has a sweet flare to it, so find your level carefully.
Mix well, then slice up some salmon (fresh if you have it, or fresh-looking if you live in a land-locked country like Switzerland) and toss it into the bowl and mix well.
Cover it and set aside while you get your wasabi-avocado salad ready.
Chop up lettuce and onions and toss it in a bowl. Half and core an avocado, dice it up and throw it in there as well. Now for the dressing. Whisk equal portions of olive oil and water, then add fresh lemon juice, a splash of soy sauce and a small spoonful of wasabi (start out with a 1/2 teaspoon and gradually increase to taste). For my single salad I end up putting a full teaspoon of wasabi in the dressing — but I was nearly born eating this stuff and can handle it like no other.
Done. Set aside and pour the dressing over the salad right before you eat.
With the salad ready, let’s finish up the salmon. Put a small spoonful of oil into a skillet and heat till very hot. Toss in the salmon and all its marinade and sear quickly.
Beware: Despite its meaty appearance, salmon is still a fish, and thus cooks quickly. Very quickly. The sugar caramelises equally quickly on high heat. Don’t leave it for too long.
The inside of the salmon should still be nearly raw when you eat it – your goal is to sear it just enough to brown the sides. Start flipping at around 30 seconds (once you see the marinade caramelise). This is what you want your salmon to look like just before you turn off the heat…
Got me? Hope so. Once the salmon is caramelised, turn off the heat and immediately transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and green onions, sit down in your favourite area of the house, and enjoy. Quietly.
And that’s a wrap. Serve with a slice of lemon if you like. And maybe your favourite book. Oh the joys of an empty house.
Full Recipe (for 1 quiet lunch)
Ingredients for Salmon
- 1 thumb of ginger, grated
- 1 small clove of garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil (adjust to up to 1 tsp to taste)
- 1 tbsp red miso
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (to taste)
- 250 grams salmon, skin removed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
- toasted sesame seeds
- green onions, thinly chopped
- lemon wedge for garnish
- romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
- 1/2 small onion, diced or thinly sliced
- 1/2 ripe avocado, cored and diced
- 1/2 tsp soysauce
- 1/2 tsp wasabi (to taste)
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp water
- juice of one quarter of a lemon
- In a medium-sized bowl, add garlic, ginger, sesame oil, miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sugar and a splash of water. Mix well.
- Add salmon to marinade, mix well and set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, add lettuce, onion and avocado.
- In a small bowl, whisk together oil, water and lemon. Add a splash of soy sauce, then add wasabi to taste, roughly a 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Mix well. Pour over salad right before serving.
- Add a small amount of oil to an iron skillet on medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add salmon and its marinade. Sear quickly until sugar begins to caramelise and salmon is nicely browned. Remove from heat immediately.
- Serve with a lemon wedge, sesame seeds and chopped chives.