The Food Column: Japan's tragedy inspired cookbook on cuisine from Tohoku region

Elizabeth Andoh was standing in her Tokyo kitchen last March 11 when life in Japan changed forever.

She was preparing to teach a cooking class the following day. The class never happened.

Survivors would later say they thought last year's earthquake in Japan would never end. It lasted several panicky minutes and measured a whopping 9.0 on the Richter scale.

But that was only the beginning. As news reports filtered in, Ms. Andoh heard terrifying stories of the tsunami that engulfed her fellow citizens to the northeast -- and then of the nuclear meltdown.

And she felt useless.

How could a food writer help in the face of such calamity?

A month after the quake, she carried through with a previously scheduled trip to Boston.

"I had the opportunity to experience this disaster the way the rest of the world was experiencing it," said Ms. Andoh, who was born and raised in New York but has lived mainly in Japan since her university days in the 1960s. "People had a genuine concern and a real fear" for how this tragedy would affect the world. "They wanted to be involved in some way."

This spurred her to find a way to help -- and to form a community of helpers.

She turned to what she knew -- food.

A graduate of the Yanagihara School of Classical Japanese Cuisine, Ms. Andoh has written for Gourmet and The New York Times and penned five cookbooks aimed at exporting Japanese cuisine to the world.

Fortuitously, immediately before the earthquake, she'd submitted a proposal for a cookbook featuring Japanese regional cuisines.

She zoomed in on the Tohoku region, the coastal province most devastated by the quake. People were fleeing the region. One essay in the cookbook describes the "evacuation en masse" of an entire town from the Tohoku region to northern Tokyo.

Ms. Andoh recognized that with the evacuation could come a huge shift in culinary traditions.

"When there's a mass evacuation and people move away, strange things happen to the foods and people's memories of them."

She decided to write a cookbook that would capture Tohoku food before the disaster and then donate some of the proceeds to relief efforts. She involved a small army of volunteer recipe testers and guest writers. Ten Speed Press, her publisher, chose an e-book format so it could be released before the quake's first anniversary this Sunday.

The book, "Kibo," which translates as "Brimming with Hope," includes recipes for such Tohoku favorites as Miso-Seared Scallops, Pinched-Noodle Soup with Pork and Salmon Rice Topped with Red Caviar. We tested a dessert recipe, Rice Taffy Dumplings with Crushed Edamame (below).

Fifty percent of the profits will benefit GlobalGiving's Japan projects (globalgiving.org). The e-cookbook is available through online booksellers such as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.


Whiskey goes public

Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District has received its license to sell on-site, so the shop will be open to the public starting tomorrow. [See Feb. 2 PG story.]

Eric Meyer reports the distillery will be open from 4:30 to 7 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for samplings and sales. For more information, including on tours and monthly cocktail classes (there's one April 16), see wiglewhiskey.com or read our story from Feb. 2.


Food & wine sales

Now through March 19: Orders are being taken for Temple Sinai Brotherhood's Passover Wine Sale. Order by March 19; wines can be picked up March 25 at the Oakland temple (or delivered to some areas for an extra charge). Wines range from $4.95 to $22.95 per bottle. To order, go to templesinaipgh.org.

Tomorrow through April 6: Pierogie sale, noon to 6 p.m. Fridays at St. Pius X Byzantine Catholic Church, Carrick. Potato, sauerkraut, cabbage or cottage cheese filling. For advance orders or information: 412-881-8344.

March 19 and following: Artist Series Wine Event, Capital Grille, Downtown. Buy a limited-allocation wine with an original artwork label and the restaurant will donate $25 per bottle to Share Our Strength. While supplies last.


Dinners

March 18: American Culinary Federation Awards Dinner and Chef William Foust Scholarship Auction, 5:30 p.m. at Providence Point, Scott. Should be a swanky meal, given that it's being prepared for more than 100 area chefs. $80 per person. Reservations required: 412-402-9778.

March 20: Six in the City Dinner Series, 7:30 p.m. at Casbah, Shadyside. Five-course dinner with wine or spirits. $110 per person; a portion benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. cratecook.com (click "special events").



Rice Taffy Dumplings with Crushed Edamame (Zunda Mochi)

PG tested

I have shortened the recipe; complete instructions for this dessert-like dish, including how to store it if you're not serving it right away, are included in the cookbook. No amount of pulsing would turn our edamame "smooth" as the recipe says it should be, but it tasted good regardless.

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8 ounces flash-frozen edamame in the pod
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed rice flour

For sugar syrup: Heat sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute, or until the mixture becomes transparent and the bubbles become a bit foamy. Set aside.

For edamame sauce: Boil a large pot of water over high heat. Add the beans, return to a boil and cook 30 seconds. Drain, allowing beans to cool naturally (do not use cold water). When cool enough to handle, about 3 minutes, shell the beans. Put in food processor and pulse until smooth but slightly textured. Add half the sugar syrup and pulse until smooth, shiny and very cohesive. Set aside.

For dumplings: Put the rice flour in a bowl. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon warm water in a spiral pattern, starting at the rim of the bowl and working toward the center. Using your fingertips, stir to mix. Gradually add 1 to 2 more tablespoon warm water until the flour easily forms a mass that comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Lightly knead dough and divide into 20 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a marble-sized ball and then press each with your thumb to flatten to a disk shape. Set aside on a plate or tray.

To cook the dumplings, bring a wide, shallow pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently drop the disks into the boiling water. Cook for at least 2 minutes after dumplings have floated to the surface. Using a fine-mesh skimmer, remove the dumplings from the pot and drop them briefly into a bowl of very cold water or ice water to rapidly chill them. Remove the dumplings from the water and put into the remaining sugar syrup for a few minutes.

Remove dumplings from the syrup and place in dishes, three to five per serving. Using a few drops of the marinade, or water, adjust the consistency of the edamame sauce. Place a dollop of edamame sauce over the dumplings. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 small servings.

-- "Kibo ("Brimming with Hope"): Recipes & Stories from Japan's Tohuku" by Elizabeth Andoh (Ten Speed, Feb. 2012, $3.99/Kindle edition)

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com

First Published 2012-03-07 23:45:39