All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Koebi to tofu no mabo harusame / mapo bean vermicelli with bay shrimp and tofu (milder version)

This is a reduced-sodium version of the original koebi to tofu no mabo harusame recipe of October 2011. By cutting back on soy sauce, partially replacing tobanjan chili bean paste with taka no tsume red chili peppers and using Shaoxing wine and kurozu brown rice vinegar, this is milder and lighter while still being aromatic and clearly spicy. Some simple techniques are involved to bring out the most of the seasonings below.

1/2 of recipe:
298 calories; 17.7 g protein; 11.6 g fat; 28.1 g carbohydrate; 26.8 g net carbs; 430 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 697 mg with regular soy sauce); 75 mg cholesterol; 1.3 g fiber


Ainame no dyukuseru-yaki / grilled ling cod with duxelles

Tasty mushroom sauce adds amazing aroma and depth to a simple fish dish. This is a very easy fish dish that looks pretty impressive at the table.

1/2 of recipe:
226 calories; 28.7 g protein; 8.5 g fat; 5.9 g carbohydrate; 4.9 g net carbs; 114 mg sodium; 95 mg cholesterol; 1.0 g fiber


Dyukuseru / duxelles / minced mushroom saute

Sauteed mushrooms with their concentrated flavor are handy as a filling for rolled meat dishes and a topping for grilled fish as well as an ingredient of omelets, croquettes, savory tarts, soups, and more.

Whole recipe:
145 calories; 7.7 g protein; 5.7 g fat; 17.7 g carbohydrate; 12.0 g net carbs; 15 mg sodium; 14 mg cholesterol; 5.7 g fiber


Tom cooks 14. Kyabetsu to age no misoshiru (miso soup with cabbage and thin deep-fried tofu)

A long time ago when my friend got sick, her husband made her miso soup. His effort to comfort her really did touch her heart, she said. But, she continued, "he made too much and we ended up eating the same thing for days. I couldn't say I didn't want to eat it anymore, because I knew he had worked hard to make it for me ... "
How sweet... or does it sound like the recipe for disaster?


Kani to mibuna no mazegohan / steamed rice with crab and mibuna mustard greens

A common winter-season duo of crab and mibuna mustard greens is mixed in steamed rice. The hidden flavor of a piece of kombu kelp and sake, which are added when cooking rice, tops off the overall combination.

1/3 of recipe:
197 calories per serving; 7.1 g protein; 0.6 g fat; 37.9 g carbohydrate; 37.3 g net carbs; 137 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 0.6 g fiber

1/2 of recipe:
295 calories per serving; 10.7 g protein; 0.9 g fat; 56.9 g carbohydrate; 56.0 g net carbs; 205 mg sodium; 18 mg cholesterol; 0.9 g fiber


Lunch bento, December 5, 2013

Tom likes to hike even in below-freezing temperatures. He usually makes a sandwich or grabs one at a store, but a warm lunch must be nice on a cold day. So here we tested a new thermos lunch box to see how warm the food stays.


    Fu champuruu / Okinawan-style stir-fry with wheat gluten cakes

    Fu wheat gluten cakes come alive in champuruu, a common Okinawan stir-fry dish. Fu is soaked in egg before frying, making this dish very filling. Any vegetable, mushroom, meat or  seafood works great. Check your fridge!

    1/3 of recipe:
    101 calories; 7.6 g protein; 4.5 g fat; 6.1 g carbohydrate; 4.9 g net carbs; 100 mg sodium; 145 mg cholesterol; 1.2 g fiber


    Hijiki no irini, chikuwa-iri / saute-simmered hijiki seaweed with chikuwa fishcakes

    A small side dish with mineral-rich hijiki seaweed. This is relatively sweet and strongly flavored without being overly salty.

    1/3 of recipe:
    49 calories; 3.3 g protein; 0.9 g fat; 6.7 g carbohydrate; 4.7 g net carbs; 134 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 185 mg with regular soy sauce); 5 mg cholesterol; 2.0 g fiber


    Kurimanju / chestnut cakes

    A humble autumn confectionery with candied chestnut and white bean paste. Tastes great with bitter or strong unsweetened tea.


    Mushiyasai no karashi-gomazu-dare / steamed vegetables with mustard sesame vinegar sauce

    This spicy and nutty sauce is great with any vegetable. Tom likes to use it in a number of ways, including as a condiment for sausages and as a replacement for Western mustard on sandwiches.

    1/4 of recipe  (sauce only): 
    18 calories; 0.7 g protein; 1.4 g fat; 0.9 g carbohydrate; 0.7 g net carbs; 41 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 80 mg with regular soy sauce); 0 mg cholesterol; 0.2 g fiber


    Shiroan / sweetened white bean paste

    This silky bean paste goes into a number of Japanese sweets. Making it involves a series of time-consuming yet simple tasks, but the results are very satisfying.


    Kuri no kanroni / candied chestnuts

    Japanese-style marron glacé. The autumn harvest is first colored by kuchinashi gardenia fruit, then sweetened with sugar and mirin for glossy finish. As I mainly make this in order to prepare kuri kinton--mashed satsumaimo sweet potato with candied kuri chestnuts, for financial luck (yellow for gold) in the osechi New Year's meal--it is a reminder that the end of the year is slowly drawing near. It is, in other words, the first of many preparations for the New Year's Day meal. To make perfect kuri no kanroni, you need to take off lots of the edible portion, as even a small piece of inner skin on the surface will cause discoloration. I make only a few "perfect" kuri no kanroni, leaving the majority of chestnuts in a relatively natural state with lots of blemishes. But they are all equally and unbeatably tasty.


    Sakana to konsai no amazuan / fish and root vegetables with sweet and sour sauce

    This is basically a fish version of sweet and sour subuta pork, without onion. As fish requires minimum prep flavoring, both calories and sodium are lower than the pork version, yet it is very filling and quite yummy.

    1/2 of recipe:
    250 calories; 21.9 g protein; 10.0 g fat; 16.2 g carbohydrate; 13.6 g net carbs; 372 mg sodium (with reduced-sodium soy sauce; 525 mg with regular soy sauce); 64 mg cholesterol; 2.6 g fiber


    Kiriboshi-daikon to saishin no misoshiru / miso soup with dried julienned daikon radish and yu choy sum

    Kiriboshi-daikon is another ingredient packed with umami. It instantly adds a soft and deep taste to miso soup. Niboshi dashi--stock made with young dried sardines—provides the punch to counter kiriboshi-daikon's sweet note. Below I used iriko (tiny niboshi), as I was out of regular niboshi.

    1/2 of recipe:
    37 calories; 2.2 g protein; 0.4 g fat; 6.3 g carbohydrate; 3.8 g net carbs; 235 mg sodium (with reduced-sodium miso; 351 mg with regular miso); 0 mg cholesterol; 2.5 g fiber


    Nama yatsuhashi / cinnamon-flavored steamed rice cakes with sweet azuki beans

    I first encountered nama yatsuhashi during a school trip to Kyoto, where this special treat was waiting for us at every ryokan inn and souvenir shop. Back then the cinnamon aroma was very exotic for junior high school students from a small town, and at first we were a bit surprised by this Kyoto confectionery. But as our trip continued, soon everyone was keen for more (free) nama yatsuhashi. Cinnamon-flavored soft rice cake wrappers taste so good in combination with the sweet azuki beans inside. This is one of a very few Japanese sweets Tom likes.


    Negi to shoga no ae-men / oyster sauce flavored Chinese noodles with green onions and ginger

    So simple and tasty! The combination of green onions and ginger is pungent and fresh, and provides a great contrast to the deep taste of oyster sauce. The sauce can be made with oyster sauce and water only; in the recipe below, I used chicken stock and a few other ingredients to control the sodium and give extra umami. One of my favorite lunch noodles.

    Whole recipe:
    303 calories; 11.5 g protein; 6.0 g fat; 50.9 g carbohydrate; 47.8 g net carbs; 556 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 3.1 g fiber


    Hakusai to satsumaage no nibitashi / napa cabbage and deep-fried fishcakes in light broth

    An easy desalination prep step not only reduces sodium content, it also improves the flavor of satsumaage, making it taste milder and more refined. Soy sauce flavored satsumaage is a great match with hakusai and its naturally mellow taste.

    1/2 of recipe:
    88 calories; 5.5 g protein; 1.2 g fat; 12.4 g carbohydrate; 11.6 g net carbs; 192 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 344-381 mg with regular soy sauce); 8 mg cholesterol; 0.8 g fiber


    Nerimono no shionuki / desalinating fishcakes

    Desalinating fishcakes? What???
    I did not know you can desalinate fishcakes until I read Karushio Reshipi [Lightly Salted Recipes], an eye-opening cookbook by the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center.
    Fishcakes generally contain a high amount of sodium, and I had simply thought that we should limit consumption or avoid them all together.

    A simple process of boiling fishcakes for 1-2 minutes and letting them sit in the same water for some time can eliminate most of their sodium.


    Harusame to chingensai no itameni / saute-simmered mung bean vermicelli and baby bok choy

    This is a reduced-sodium version of harusame to komatsuna no itameni (saute-simmered mung bean vermicelli and komatsuna) with a different vegetable. While I cut back on both oyster sauce and tobanjan chili bean paste, I added taka no tsume red chili pepper, Shaoxing wine and a small amount of shiokoji salted rice malt to achieve the right spiciness, saltiness and umami. It’s as tasty as the original recipe!

    1/3 of recipe:
    95 calories; 1.7 g protein; 1.7 g fat; 17.9 g carbohydrate; 15.4 g net carbs; 329 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 2.5 g fiber


    Kani to horenso no tomato kuriimu pasuta / pasta with crab and spinach tomato cream sauce

    Vodka and lemon zest and juice really perk up this quick tomato cream sauce! Adapted from Pike Place Market Cookbook, it tastes especially good with flat pasta.

    1/2 of recipe:
    481 calories; 24.0 g protein; 14.0 g fat; 61.2 g carbohydrate; 56.8 g net carbs; 361 mg sodium (approx. 100 mg less if pasta is boiled without salt); 61 mg cholesterol; 4.6 g fiber


    Shiso no mi no shiozuke (aojiso) / salted green perilla fruits

    Salted perilla fruits are a flavorful condiment. They are great to eat with steamed rice, onigiri rice balls, hiyayakko tofu, pickle-type vegetable salads, etc. The following is the two-step preparation process that preserves the green color.


    Yakidofu to tomyo, enoki no chuka-nibitashi / broiled tofu, sugar pea shoots and enoki mushrooms in Chinese broth

    Sugar pea shoots, a common Chinese stir-fry ingredient, are a great companion with simmered tofu in this everyday Japanese dish with a Chinese twist.

    1/2 of recipe:
    98 calories; 8.2 g protein; 4.9 g fat; 5.5 g carbohydrate; 3.2 g net carbs; 233 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 309-327 mg with regular soy sauce); 0 mg cholesterol; 2.3 g fiber


    Daigaku-imo / candied Japanese sweet potato

    My introduction to daigaku-imo was school lunch at elementary school. Although the name daigaku-imo literally means "university potato," this candied sweet potato is popular with students of all ages, and is also a popular deli item with both youngsters and grownups. The sweet and slightly salty coating makes you come back for more of this snack-like dish. Traditionally, satsumaimo sweet potato is first deep-fried and dipped in the candy coating prepared separately. What follows is a simplified method of sauteing satsumaimo with a somewhat large amount of oil in a frying pan and adding the candy coating ingredients to the same pan.

    1/2 of recipe:
    234 calories; 1.7g protein; 4.3g fat; 47.0g carbohydrate; 82mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 158-176mg with regular soy sauce); 0mg cholesterol; 3.0g fiber


    Yakiimo / roasted Japanese sweet potato

    A much-beloved snack in fall and early winter. When I was a child, a vendor pushing a cart filled with blackened rocks and reddish-purple sweet potatoes would come around the neighborhood, chanting, "Roasted sweet potatoes! Rock-roasted sweet potatoes!" in a slow, time-honored cadence. If you started to get ready (asking parents to pitch in some cash) when you first heard the chant, the vendor would be near your house by the time you dashed out the front door. The man at the cart would dig through the rocks and find some big, beautiful sweet potatoes, wrap them in newspaper and hand them to his young customer. The warmth and the mellow smell were so rewarding, and needless to say the sweet taste was a big hit after running back to the house. Later the cart became a small truck and the chant was replaced with a recorded voice on a loudspeaker, but the melody was still the same. I wonder if those vendors are still coming around the neighborhood. Yakiimo is also a favorite when family or friends gather to clean up the yard and burn fallen leaves, providing a perfect place to roast these fall treats.


    Hanaho to kobashira no kakiage / mixed tempura with perilla flower spikes and bay scallops

    Shiso flower spikes are pretty and tasty! Paired with mildly sweet bay scallops for a delicious duo.

    1/2 of recipe:
    603 calories; 12.0 g protein; 50.4 g fat; 19.8 g carbohydrate; 18.9 g net carbs; 228 mg sodium (when using tentsuyu made with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 375-411 mg with tentsuyu with regular soy sauce); 35 mg cholesterol; 0.9 g fiber


    Kobashira-iri omuraisu / tomato rice with bay scallops in egg crepe

    Omuraisu, or "omelet rice," has been my favorite food since childhood. It was symbolic of Westernized food and found at a modern restaurant on the top floor of a department store in a large city where my family went on weekend outings. In college, I frequently went to eat omuraisu for lunch at a cafe near campus. The combination of ketchup-flavored chicken pilaf and fluffy crepe-like omelet tasted heavenly. I also enjoyed omuraisu at more upscale restaurants later, but my preference has always been for the simple kind, meaning no demiglace or cream sauce. At restaurants, it is often more of an omelet using multiple eggs per portion. Since one egg per day is my preference, our omuraisu is wrapped with egg crepe. Fresh ripe tomatoes for the rice and the addition of dashi and rice vinegar to the ketchup topping sauce—added to reduce the amount of sodium-loaded ketchup--bring a nice, refined touch.

    1/2 of recipe:
    445 calories; 19.5 g protein; 11.4 g fat; 63.0 g carbohydrate; 59.4 g net carbs; 340 mg sodium; 234 mg cholesterol; 3.6 g fiber


    Shishito sweet pepper & Fushimi togarashi sweet pepper

    Shishito (right)
    Fushimi togarashi (left)

    (Japanese varieties of Capsicum annum)


    The size of your pinky or index finger, shishito (abbreviation of shishitogarashi) is one of those inexpensive vegetables that always seems to be available in Japan, especially during warm seasons. Shishito has thin, relatively soft walls, and tastes mild yet slightly bitter. While it is often classified as a sweet pepper, it is not as sweet or juicy as you might imagine from those large, thick-walled peppers in American grocery stores. For me, it is closer to a Anaheim pepper. From a local vegetable shop in Tokyo, I once had a shishito that was very spicy like a serrano pepper, and I've heard that occasional encounters with hot shishito were common in the past.


    Shishito to shantoreru no shiokoji kinpira / kinpira saute of shishito peppers and chanterelle mushrooms with salted rice malt

    A quick, spicy saute. Shiokoji salted rice malt brings out the soft bitterness of shishito peppers and a bit fruity, woodsy scent of chanterelle mushrooms.

    1/2 of recipe:
    32 calories; 0.2 g protein; 2.0 g fat; 1.9 g carbohydrate; 1.1 g net carbs; 30 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 0.8 g fiber


    Kyuri to nagaimo no shoga-amazu-ae / Japanese cucumber and Chinese yam in ginger-flavored sweetened vinegar

    A small, refreshing, pickle-like dish. Ginger gives a spicy punch to the sweetened vinegar dressing.

    1/2 of recipe:
    25 calories; 0.8 g protein; 0.1 g fat; 4.8 g carbohydrate; 4.2 g net carbs; 21 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 0.6 g fiber


    Toriniku no gomadare-yaki / grilled chicken with sesame sauce

    Tender, juicy chicken breast with toasty sesame sauce. The chicken is first marinated in sake, then steamed with sauce on top, and finally broiled for a toasty result.
    Adapted from "Seikaro Kokusai Byoin no Aijo Kenko Reshipi," a healthy recipe cookbook by St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo.

    Whole recipe:
    382 calories; 33.7 g protein; 23.3 g fat; 5.0 g carbohydrate; 4.0 g net carbs; 291 mg sodium (with 50% reduced-sodium soy sauce; 489-519 mg with regular soy sauce); 126 mg cholesterol; 1.0 g fiber


    Gobo no surinagashi, tonyu-jitate / soy milk miso soup with pureed burdock root

    A gobo potage soup! The aromatic, earthy flavor of gobo is softened by soy milk and nagaimo. A small amount of yogurt provides just enough hidden complexity, making this simple soup very satisfying.

    1/2 of recipe:
    110 calories; 6.1 g protein; 2.4 g fat; 16.4 g carbohydrate; 13.8 g net carbs; 305 mg sodium (with 50% reduced sodium soy sauce; 315 mg with regular soy sauce); 0 mg cholesterol; 2.6 g fiber


    Ebi to ika no diabura-fu / camarones y calamar a la diabla / prawns and calamari in spicy chili pepper sauce

    Prawns and calamari in spicy, smoky chili pepper sauce with a hint of chocolate flavor. While chipotle in adobo sauce can pretty much take care of the flavor, let's try different dried chili peppers to find your favorite spiciness and taste. This diabla sauce tastes young and edgy immediately after it is prepared, but it becomes amazingly deep and aromatic if you let it sit for hours, ideally overnight. Great with rice and tortillas.


    Mekishikan raisu / arroz a la mexicana / Mexican rice (with medium-grain Asian rice)

    A spice-free, mild version. I like to serve this when white rice is called for with Mexican food, or with rich, spicy dishes.


    Tofu-iri okonomiyaki / savory pancake with tofu

    Tofu gives a fluffy texture without having to add nagaimo Chinese yam to the okonomiyaki batter. This is a basic vegetable okonomiyaki with cabbage and green onions. Add your favorite seafood or meat to make this recipe your own.

    One pancake:
    369 calories; 18.6 g protein; 14.6 g fat; 36.3 g carbohydrate; 33.3 g net carbs; 604 mg sodium; 229 mg cholesterol; 3.0 g fiber


    Taiyaki / fish-shaped cakes with sweet azuki bean paste

    One of my favorite Japanese sweets. There are many specialized taiyaki shops all over Japan, and their fish often have a different look. Sweet azuki bean paste is the traditional filling, although in the last few decades filling options have expanded to custard cream, matcha cream, chocolate cream, caramel cream, etc. I like the traditional style taiyaki, whose cake batter is made of flour, water, egg and baking soda (no milk or baking powder) and is filled with azuki bean paste cooked right there at the shop. The recipe below tastes very similar to the mini imagawayaki (a round cake with sweet azuki bean paste inside, which is the original form of taiyaki) I used to buy in my childhood at a little shop run by an old lady in a neighboring town.


    Kani zosui / steamed rice with crab and egg in broth

    A gentle, savory rice dish with quickly simmered crabmeat in soy sauce flavored dashi. Egg adds extra mildness while mitsuba highlights the whole combination. This warms up your body and is also great for a tired stomach.


    Moyashi to mitsuba no ohitashi / bean sprouts and mitsuba in light broth

    Crisp and juicy moyashi is transformed into a small, refined dish by the addition of mitsuba with its clean, faintly bitter taste and aroma.


    Kakitamajiru, mitsuba-iri / egg flower clear soup with mitsuba

    Eggs are one of the best matches with mitsuba. This distinctive aromatic Japanese herb instantly perks up an easy clear soup with fluffy eggs.


    Lunch, September 16

    Unexpected events make your life more interesting. Who would think Tom would be sent to the ER and then admitted to the Critical Care Unit for cardiac problems?


      Daizu moyashi yakisoba / fried noodles with soybean sprouts

      Soybean sprouts stay relatively crispy, making this yakisoba dish look and feel much bigger than it really is. Crunchy soybeans are an additional plus for the overall texture.


      Myoga Japanese ginger buds

      Buds of Zingiber mioga

      Myoga is the name of the plant, yet the word usually means the plant's buds when food is the topic.

      In summer and early fall, these jewels appear from the ground, emerging little by little. A tiny mole (cute one) coming out of the dark earth, looking confused -- that's how myoga buds appear. As a strong reminder of the season, myoga appears in a number of dishes, mainly as a garnish, in Japan. It is great simply sliced and added to green leafy salads, on top of steamed rice, cold noodles, miso soup, sunomono with rice vinegar dressing, tempura ... you name it. Myoga has a zesty tang and aroma, and its breezy sensation is a bit similar to the effect of mint. Myoga's taste and aroma are sharper than ginger's, and they are at their height when myoga is fresh and immediately after being cut or sliced. When preparing myoga raw for a dish, make sure to slice or cut it at the end, ideally immediately before serving, to enjoy its distinctive qualities. When used in cooking, you can still enjoy the taste and smell of myoga but on a milder level.


      Nasu to ebi no karashi-gomaae / eggplant and prawns in Japanese mustard sesame dressing

      A great combination of eggplant and prawns for a neat little side dish. Karashi mustard adds just enough bite to spice up rich sesame dressing.


      Kabu no ebi-ankake / Japanese turnips with thickened prawn sauce

      A very soothing dish. Soft, juicy kabu turnips and naturally sweet prawns make a tender twosome, and the distinctive taste and aroma of mitsuba add just the right accent. Ginger gives a refreshing note.


      Nagaimo to okura no ume-ae / Chinese yam and okra with pickled plum

      A little summer dish for your good health. Nagaimo and okra, both loaded with mucin to protect your immune system, are paired with umeboshi, yet another traditional health food.


      Nasu no agebitashi / deep-fried eggplant in light broth

      A heavenly creamy and juicy eggplant dish for summer. Okra makes marinade broth thick and smooth, while grated ginger clears away the oiliness of eggplant. Since eggplant is deep-fried, a small amount is very satisfying.


      Ebi to soramame no shiraae / prawns and fava beans in tofu dressing

      A golden combination of sweet prawns and softly bitter fava beans dressed with tofu dressing and a hint of sesame for a delightful aroma. 


      Yakinasu no akadashi / red miso soup with grilled eggplant

      The concentrated taste of grilled eggplant goes great with the strong flavor of red miso soup. Sliced myoga Japanese ginger buds are packed with aroma and flavor, and instantly turn the spotlight on this simple combination.


      Kimi no shoyuzuke / egg yolks in soy sauce

      How simple and delicious can egg yolks be? This dish answers the question – extremely simple and absolutely great on steamed rice! The yolks take on an amber hue from marinating in soy sauce and mirin, and the concentrated rich taste and creamy texture is a big step up from traditional tamago-kake gohan, where a whole egg is simply placed on rice with a drizzle of soy sauce.


      Ebi no paeriya / paella with prawns

      A party paella with botan-ebi spot shrimp at the height of their season! The broth is also made with spot shrimp, infusing the rice with the yummy flavor of shrimp at their best.