Two days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I received an email from culinary teacher and cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh describing the moments of the earthquake as she experienced them in Tokyo. I have since been receiving Andoh’s frequent updates through her online newsletter.
Andoh lives and teaches in Tokyo and Osaka. We have been corresponding with each other for many years and I am a devoted fan of her many cookbooks. I use Andoh’s book, “Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen” as a closely followed reference for our Japanese classes at my cooking school.
Andoh’s most recent cookbook is entitled “Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions.” It’s an important addition to my Japanese cookbook collection. According to Andoh, the word kansha means appreciation. As anyone who follows Elizabeth Andoh’s work knows, her books are filled with beautiful Japanese words and her interpretations of their meanings. Andoh’s books are not merely cookbooks. They are life-changing philosophies.
In a recent email sent out to Andoh’s many friends and followers, she began a “dictionary of a determined nation,” a collection of words that reflect the spirit and mood in Japan as it struggles in the aftermath of catastrophic natural disaster. Samples of some of the words in Andoh’s deeply personal annotated dictionary are shimbou (patience), gaman (endurance) and gambaru (hanging in there).
Part of Andoh’s message to the world is to consider using food in a way that results in little or no waste. This is part of her kansha philosophy. One recipe from her book that reflects this concept is Heaven-And-Earth Tempura Pancakes. Andoh explains that her name for this dish is a euphemism for the tops and bottoms of various produce that might be found in the fridge in need of repurposing. Heaven might be the top of fennel, celery or leeks. Earth might be trimmed bits of mushrooms, parsnip, or carrot peel.
One trick to making great tempura pancakes is to select a collection of vegetables and herbs that have near-similar cooking times. Cutting most firm vegetables into thin strips and a few others into half-moons to provide a little textural contrast will help shape the pancakes. Andoh recommends dusting the ingredients lightly with cornstarch before mixing in the batter to help the mixture hold together.
Today in my kitchen, I had Japanese eggplant, bitter melon, carrots, zucchini and red onion on hand. For herbs, I had a big bunch of basil and some cilantro.
I followed Andoh’s instructions on making a thin batter from cake flour, cold water and ice cubes. I dusted the cut-up vegetables and herbs with cornstarch, poured the batter over them, and deep-fried the pancakes one at a time in canola oil.
To make this recipe easy to execute, I recommend using a wide Chinese-style long handled strainer that can hold a delicate mound of veggie-batter mixture in its basin. Dip the empty strainer into the hot oil first before adding any batter and the pancake is less likely to stick. Place about a quarter-cup of veggie-batter mixture onto the strainer and lower it into the oil. It takes a minute or so to cook through, but you can lift the strainer after about 30 seconds to check on the color of the pancake.
Following Andoh’s style, I made some pancakes that were predominantly green in color and others that had red and orange hues. I served them together with a little wedged lime and togarashi powder (a Japanese chili pepper condiment).
To learn more about Elizabeth Andoh, go to www.kanshacooking.com. Follow through different links to access Andoh’s companion site on washoku cuisine and to sign up for her culinary newsletter.
- 1 small bitter melon (optional)
- ½ red onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 small zucchini, julienned
- 1 small yellow squash, cut into half-moons
- 1 small Japanese eggplant, cut into half-moons
- 2 small carrots, julienned
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs
- Ice cubes (about six)
- ¼ cup self rising cake flour
- ⅓ cup sparkling (or still) water
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Halve the bitter melon lengthwise. Remove the seeds from the center core with a spoon. Slice the flesh into julienne strips and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt to remove excess liquid and help with the bitterness. Let the melon sit for about ten minutes and rinse under cold water. Pat the melon dry with paper toweling.
- Combine the bitter melon, red onion, zucchini, squash, eggplant, carrots and herbs in a medium bowl (or you can separate the vegetables by colors like I did into mostly-green and mostly-orange).
- Lightly dust the vegetables in some cornstarch.
- In a medium bowl, add in the ice cubes, water, and cake flour. Lightly mix the batter. The ice cubes help the batter to stay cold, which will create a light tempura.
- Heat about two inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole pot or in a wok or high-sided skillet to 370 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, test the oil with small bits of batter.
- Pour some of the batter over some of the vegetables (I like to do this in small batches at a time). Form about a quarter-cup mound of vegetable-batter mixture onto a wide flat strainer and lower it into the hot oil.
- Fry the pancake in the oil for about a minute. Remove the pancake from the hot oil and drain onto paper toweling.
- Sprinkle the pancake with some salt. Repeat with the remaining batter.