Dinner with Elizabeth Andoh

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Washoku dinner at Medicine: Three Jewels

Without a doubt, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen (Ten Speed Press) has been a life-changing cookbook for me. Our adventures with this book, written by Elizabeth Andoh, began on New Year's Eve with a washoku-style dinner at home. Jason and I have always tended toward Japanese food, and to have such a comprehensive guide to Japanese home cooking is a real joy. Since we bought the book, we have tried different recipes on a weekly basis.

Washoku cooking is a focus on the harmony of food. Meals prepared washoku-style focus on five basic principles which culminate in a beautifully presented, delicious plate. Andoh is quick to explain that not all meals need to follow all principles, and that these are merely guides to washoku cooking.


Washoku dinner at Medicine: Yakimono

Harmony in color. Washoku meals include foods that are red, yellow, green, black and white. This is not only visually pleasing, but a great way to be sure you are getting a good nutritional balance with your meal.

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Harmony in palate. By having a balance of salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy foods, a washoku-style meal is thoroughly satisfying to the entire palate.

Harmony in cooking method. Washoku-style meals use several different methods of cooking in each meal: simmering, searing, steaming, raw, and sauteeing or frying.

Harmony in the senses. Each meal should please the five senses: taste, sight, sound, smell and touch (texture).

Harmony in the outlook. This is a philisophical idea that when eating we should attempt "first to respect the efforts of all those who contributed their toil to cultivating and preparing our food; second, to do good deeds worthy of receiving such nourishment; third, to come to the table without ire; fourth, to eat for spiritual as well as temporal well-being; and fifth, to be serious in our struggle to attain enlightenment."


Washoku dinner at Medicine: Tsukemono (pickles)

When I heard that The Japan Society and the Mechanics' Institute were joining together to offer a lecture and dinner with Ms. Andoh at Medicine Eat Station, I jumped at the chance to go. We have become big fans of Medicine, and I could see that the Shojin-style offerings of the restaurant would match well with Andoh's book. For this dinner, the chef of Medicine combined some of the recipes from Washoku with classic recipes on the Medicine menu.

1. Amuse: Yasai Chippusu. Renkon and gobo chips with arajio salt
2. Three Jewels. Koriboshi daikon and konbu, hijiki and carrot, kent mango shiraae and mint.
3. Chawan Mushi Ankake. Basic Soy Beanery milk, gingko nuts, lily bult, goji berries, mitsuba.
4. Chikuzen Daki. Seasonal simmered vegetables, konyaku & bamboo shoot in shoyu broth.
5. Yakimono. Grilled asparagus, sweet red pepper and shiitake mushrooms.
6. Enoki No Miso-Jidate. Served with nine-grain rice and fresh pickles.
7. Dessert. Matcha tofu with shiritama.
8. Tea. Soba-cha.

In addition to the five principles outlined above, washoku cooking has a particular eye toward seasonality which you can imagine is very appealing to me. Called shun (rhymes with tune), washoku cooking pays attention to the exact moment in the year when a particular food is at it's peak of flavor. This can be a period of days, weeks, months, or hours. During the dinner, Andoh described that a dish may often play with this seasonality by mixing together an ingredient that has been in season for a while, an ingredient that has just come into season, and an ingredient that has a very long shun. This was demonstrated in the chikuzen daki, which had fresh bamboo shoot, snow peas, konyaku (a tuber in the yam family), and carrot.

I missed taking a picture of the chawan mushi, as Ms. Andoh was walking around the room and I had a chance to talk to her about my new pickle pot, or shokutaku tsukemono ki. She encouraged me to read her essay entitled The Pickle Pot, and to consider a new level of commitment with pickles by making nuka-zuke, or rice bran pickles.

The entire dinner was delicious, and I left Medicine with a greater understanding of washoku cooking and it's focus on harmony. Congratulations to all who made this meal such a wonderful success.


Washoku dinner at Medicine: Chikuzen Daki

For more, please read:

Interview with Will Petty, Medicine Eat Station
A Taste of Culture. Elizabeth Andoh's website.
The Pickle Pot by Elizabeth Andoh.