Taro and his wife, Yoshiko, have been running “Haru Cooking Class” at their home in Kyoto since 2011. With a background in culinary arts and hotel management, Taro started offering cooking classes as a hobby. It was an easy decision. He had always enjoyed cooking and wanted to share his passion with others. This hobby quickly turned into a full-time business when his cooking classes and Nishiki market tours gained popularity and rave reviews among tourists visiting the Koyto area.
Taro and Yoshiko offer both a meat-based and vegetarian cooking class, however you should be aware that the vegetarian class uses fish-flake containing dashi (Japanese broth) in a number of the dishes. If avoiding fish flakes is important to you, let Taro know in advance, and he will gladly make a modified dashi that contains only vegetables.
The afternoon started off with the class of six sitting on tatami mats in Taro and Yoshiko’s living room, drinking hojicha, snacking on crunchy rice-based twists and discussing the recipes that we would prepare as a group. Taro took his time with this part of the class, happily taking all questions that the group had about ingredients, cooking techniques and Japanese culture.
Since dashi (Japanese broth) is the foundation of many Japanese dishes, we kicked off the hands-on component of the class with a quick lesson on making the traditional Ichiban dashi. Although it only takes 10-15 minutes to make dashi from scratch, we learned that 80-90% of Japanese households make dashi using a pre-made powder called Hondashi or dashinomoto as a way to save time and money. The pre-made dashi is okay if you’re tight on time, but because the seasoning is already added, it’s impossible to control the flavor of the finished product.
For an entirely vegan dashi, Taro recommended heating kombu in water on low heat just until it comes to a boil and then straining the kombu. Overcooking kombu can not only result in a dark, cloudy broth, but it can also leave the broth tasting bitter and unappetizing.
Taro also gave us a quick lesson on the five different types of soy sauces and how and when they should be used in Japanese cooking. The majority of soy sauces fall under the “dark category;” however, light color soy sauce, which contains more sodium, is generally used in soups and sauces because it’s able to bring out other flavors that are present. Alternatively, dark soy sauce tends to be used to hide or tone down other unwanted flavors.
The hand-ons component of the class was well-organized, allowing all six participants to fully partake in the meal preparation. We learned and practiced the delicate art of cooking dashimaki tamago (Japanese omelet) in a rectangular sauté pan as well as a special Japanese chopping technique called “sasagaki” for finely chopping gobo, a fibrous root vegetable. Taro provided us with all of the recipes that we prepared along with a few additional vegetarian recipes that we could add to our Japanese recipe collection.
Here is the complete meal:
Taro reminded us that you can put just about anything into miso soup: spring onions, wakame, tofu, yuba, onions, etc. Anything goes! Be sure to remember to use a strainer when dissolving the miso into the dashi as miso can sometimes have a grainy texture that you don’t want to transfer to the soup.
This pickled cabbage and daikon salad was tossed with light color soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and sesame seeds.
Dashimaki tamago (right below) is a Japanese omelet that contains light color soy sauce, dashi and spring onions. Kinpira (left below) is the general terms for pan-fried root vegetables. While the recipe calls for any kind of root vegetable, in Japan, this salad usually contains burdock root (gobo), lotus root and/or carrot. We cook the sautéed vegetables in a sauce containing soy sauce, mirin and sesame seeds. After turning off the heat, we finished the dish with a light drizzle of sesame oil.
Dengaku-miso-yasai-itame, or miso glazed tofu and vegetables, is a simple, easy-to-follow recipe that you could make on a weeknight in 10-15 minutes. You can combine whatever vegetables you have on hand with a small portion of chopped tofu. The sauce, which contains mirin, miso and ginger adds depth to this simple dish. If you like the combination of miso and fresh ginger, you are bound to enjoy dengaku-miso-yasai-itame!