Japanese restaurants and cuisine have become popular over the past several decades, but how many of us ever attempt to cook Japanese food? Judging by the small number of Japanese recipes in cooking and women's magazines, my guess is that this trend has not yet found its way into many home kitchens.
Which leads me to the theme for this month's Dinner Club menu. Japanese food is a perfect subject for a dinner club because it will permit your members to explore both the flavors and cooking techniques of this exotic cuisine.
Even if your club normally prepares recipes ahead of the meal, this is the kind of menu that would be more fun, and tastier, to cook together. You can help one another to become familiar with Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques while sipping on Saketinis together.
This menu has many courses because I've designed it to be an education in Japanese cuisine as well as a dining experience. Many of the dishes are rich with flavor, but still light enough to allow lots of little tastes. Adjust your recipe sizing to allow for small portions of each dish for everyone. Schedule a long evening for this dinner to allow enough time for leisurely preparation and eating.
There are a few recipes that you might choose to prepare ahead, particularly the dashi stock for the miso soup, and the green tea cakes that should be served chilled anyway. Also, if you will be making your own pickled ginger for the sushi, it will need to be prepared in advance.
Setting the Stage
You might think you need to get special kitchen equipment for this dinner. Rest assured that you'll probably do fine with the tools you have on hand. For example, you'll need a pot for cooking the rice, sharp knives for cutting the ingredients, a large wide spoon for preparing the sushi rice and a couple of large skillets, all pretty standard stuff. If you wanted to try your hand at making rolled sushi you would need a bamboo mat.
But the recipe in this menu eliminates that necessity since it's for hand rolled sushi. As you become an experienced Japanese cook, you can purchase the authentic cookware, but it's not necessary for this dinner.
I love Japanese dinnerware. The design of the pieces enhances the elegance of the cuisine. The simple round soup bowls offer their fragrant contents without pretense. Oblong and rectangular dinner plates present the main course with artful precision. And the beautiful glazes used to finish the pieces create the perfect backdrop for a meal. Presenting the meal on Japanese dinnerware will increase the ambience of your table immeasurably. However, if no one in your club owns Japanese dinnerware, then use the simplest pattern in your collection. Simple white or black plates are preferable. Do you have anything with a bamboo motif? That would be very appropriate for this meal.
Set out chopsticks as well as traditional flatware.
Even if your club members don't know how to use he Japanese implements, you can all have fun trying to learn. Also, a large, deep basin spoon is traditional for the soup course.
Decorate your table with pots that have single Japanese irises planted in them for an understated elegant effect.
Play traditional Japanese music in the background to complete the atmosphere.
Prepare your shopping list several weeks before the meal to allow enough time to track down or order some of the specialty Japanese ingredients. For example, depending on where you live, you may need to order Sushi vinegar, wasabi (Japanese horseradish), and nori (dried seaweed) from an online source.
Make sure you purchase the proper grain rice and follow the correct procedure to make sushi rice. It's essential to the outcome of your sushi dishes.
Give members clean white wash cloths or hand towels that have been moistened in hot water to wash with prior to dining.
Saketini - This recipe gives a Japanese twist to the traditional martini.
Gyoza - These Japanese dumplings are one of my favorite starters. The gyoza wrappers are easier to work with than you might think.
Miso Soup - One of the lightest, most flavorful soups you'll taste. If you're making the required dashi stock from scratch, you may want to prepare it in advance.
Cucumber and Daikon Salad - A refreshing accompaniment to your meal.
Temaki Zushi - Hand rolled sushi. A simple way to let everyone try their hand at making sushi. As Setsuko Yoshizuka (About's Guide to Japanese Cuisine) suggests there are many options for fillings including cucumber, raw tuna, avocado, crabmeat, scallops and more.
Teriyaki Chicken - Learn how to make your own teriyaki sauce in this recipe and have an authentic taste of Japanese food.
Yakisoba - Japanese fried noodles cooked with carrots, cabbage and a little bit of pork.
Green Tea Cakes - You'll probably want to have someone make these lovely little Japanese Petits Fours in advance of your party.
Green Tea - You can serve this healthful tea throughout your meal.