Ohayo gozaimasu! That means "good morning" in Japanese, and a good morning-after it is. Today is the morning after the evening of the first get-together of Ninecooks' World Cuisines Cooking Group.
After several months of planning, scheduling, and, yes, blogging, I finally gathered nine cooks (hmm, nine cooks.....a coincidence?) together in the kitchen for the first stop on our endless world tour. Unlike other groups that come to cook in my kitchen, this group approaches food by culture; other Ninecooks group cooking sessions are organized around a particular technique (knife skills, soup making) or ingredient (preserved lemons) or sometimes color. Inspired by celebrations and holidays, travels, family traditions and our own curiosity, this group will go wherever in the world the culinary road leads. Next stop, one of the African cuisines. After that....well, Barbara brought me a cookbook from her recent trip to Argentina, so it's ever-so-possible that Argentinian cooking will be on the menu.
Yesterday we went directly to Japan, for an evening of o-bento, a menu chosen for its diversity of ingredients (rice, dumplings, sushi, fish) and techniques (making the sushi rice, rolling norimaki, forming and cooking potstickers).
Of course, in typical Ninecooks fashion, we had to get some parts of our menu underway right away. Kathie rinsed the Nishiki rice, Candy soaked the dried shiitake mushrooms, and we organized our ingredients.
It was a beautiful night, almost too nice to be in the kitchen, so while the rice was drying we decamped to the porch for introductions. Our group ranges in age from 40-something to 70-something, and includes artists, teachers, therapists, consultants, a retired pharmacist, and a writer. As we begin to cook together, we'll discover more about work, family, home, travels, favorite grocery store, books, movies, and how we feel about current events.
I shared a very abridged history of the bento, the single-serving takeout found everywhere from school lunches to commuter railway stations.
Back in the kitchen, everyone got to work. While the rice burbled away in the rice cooker, we minced and mixed the filling for our potsticker dumplings and formed them in the gyoza wrappers using a small plastic dumpling press. We marinated the salmon in a teriyaki sauce, made a ginger-y salad dressing for some sliced cucumbers, toasted black sesame seeds for garnish. After the rice had steamed, we mixed in a rice-vinegar dressing, doing half in a traditional Japanese sushi tub, and the other half in a wooden salad bowl. We stuck our potstickers to the pot, giving them a lovely crust on one side. We crisped the yakinori (sheets of pressed, dried seaweed) on the stovetop over a low gas flame, and then made vegetable-filled maki rolls. A selection of small pieces went into our bentos....but where did the extras go????
You guessed it....same place as the extra potstickers. After all, we needed to keep our strength up, for...more eating!
Everyone filled his or her own plastic bento box with potstickers, sushi, a piece of teriyaki salmon, and rice, in the general proportions we'd read about: 4 parts rice, 3 parts meat or fish, 2 parts vegetable, and 1 part bright pink pickled ginger. And, as they say in Japanese, voila!