The Best of Japanese Cuisine: Gluten-Free Vegetarian Yakisoba Noodle Recipe

April 25th, 2008 yum Posted in Easy, Izakaya, Japanese, Vegan 8 Comments »

yaki31.jpgWhen we first moved to Japan, I discovered the joys of many types of Japanese cuisine, from the elite kaiseki ryouri (a multi course meal) to Japanese “fast foods” like okonomiyaki (a cabbage based savory pancake/pizza), takoyaki (dough balls with bits of octopus), or yakisoba (fried chinese-style noodle dish with cabbage and sauce). I was able to enjoy some of the multi-course traditional Japanese meals, although finding gluten-free dishes was often made difficult due to liberal usage of soy sauce, but the more everyday, wheat-based snack dishes were off limits. I tried to enjoy the dishes vicariously through my DH, watching him eat the foods and asking about the flavor, or maybe trying a sniff here and there, but really, there was nothing I could do but go to my own kitchen and try to come up with gluten-free versions.

In March of last year I blogged about my time honored recipe for Okonomiyaki (pescatarian with veg variation)

But recently, I’ve been thinking about yakisoba, or Japanese fried noodles. DH always enjoyed this dish in Japan, and it was one of the few gluten foods that he occasionally made. You can buy a little package of the noodles with a packet of sauce in the refrigerator section, and combine it with some fresh cabbage and carrots and fry it up in a pan- almost as easy as instant ramen! Of course, I couldn’t do this, but I always wanted to make a gluten-free vegetarian yakisoba.

What is yakisoba?
“Yakisoba is a noodleIt is prepared by stir-frying ramen-style noodles with bite-sized pork, vegetables (usually cabbage, onions or carrots) and flavoured with sosu, salt and pepper. It is served with a multitude of garnishes, such as aonori (seaweed powder), beni shoga (shredded pickled ginger), katsuobushi (fish flakes), and Japanese mayonnaise.

Yakisoba is most familiarly served on a plate either as a main dish or a side dish. Another popular way to prepare and serve yakisoba in Japan is to pile the noodles into a bun sliced down the middle in the style of hot-dog, and garnish the top with mayonnaise and shreds of pickled ginger. Called yakisoba-pan, pan meaning bread, it is commonly available at local matsuri (Japanese festivals) or conbini (convenience stores).” (source: Wikipedia)

The entry for yakisoba in the Japanese Wikipedia is almost the same as the English site, but it also mentions that now, for flavoring a so called “sauce yakisoba” is the most typical, but previously in Kanto (Eastern Japan, around Tokyo) yakisoba flavored with soy cause was common, and in Kansai (Western Japan, around Osaka) yakisoba flavored with a Japanese worcestershire based sauce was common. Apparently Kansai Osaka style yakisoba won out in the end in just one more example of the delicate struggle for cultural supremacy between Kansai and Kanto.

yakisobasauce.gifYakisoba is a simple thing to make, if you can eat wheat. Even if you don’t buy one of the yakisoba packs with noodles and sauce packets, or don’t buy the instant yakisoba that just requires water, you can buy the sauce pre-made like the one one the left. Obviously this sauce is no good for us, though, because it contains wheat ingredients, so the first challenge was coming up with a sauce. I found several ideas online, such as this one for Vegetarian Yakisoba sauce or some variations that use a homemade tonkatsu sauce recipe as sauce. Personally, I just don’t see using any sauce with ketchup in it, but some people seem to like it. Ultimately my version came about from reading a post on a message board where a woman said that a Japanese friend of hers had showed her how to make yakisoba just using three ingredients for the sauce. It sounded simple, and reasonably authentic, without either tomato or chili paste.

If you’re wondering about Japanese worcestershire sauce, it is quite different than american worcestershire and I really enjoy using it in Japanese recipes. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about it:

“Japanese Worcestershire sauce, often simply known as sōsu (“sauce”), or Usutā sōsu (“Worcester sauce”) is made from purees of fruits and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes, matured with sugar, salt, spices, starch and caramel. Despite this appellation, it bears only moderate resemblance to Western Worcestershire sauce. Sōsu comes in a variety of thickness, with the thicker sauces looking and tasting like a cross between the original Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce. There are many variations according to flavour and thickness, and are often named after the foods they are designed to go with, such as okonomiyaki sauce and tonkatsu sauce. It has become a staple table sauce in Japan, particularly in homes and canteens, since the 1950s. It is used for dishes such as tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), takoyaki, yakisoba, yaki udon, sōsu katsudon and korokke.”(source: Wikipedia

I do use Bulldog Worcestershire sauce, which at the very least does not contain wheat because Japanese label laws require it be listed as one of the “top seven” but I haven’t contacted the company, so use at your own discretion.

Now let’s explore some Japanese video clips about yakisoba!

Earlier I mentioned that yakisoba is a popular dish that you can get at local festivals. Here’s a video clip of one such festival stall:

People love television features on unique restaurants- here’s one segment on a special Yakisoba restaurant in Tokyo:

Sorry, it’s in Japanese, but basically they are just introducing the restaurant and their special variation on yakisoba. They point out the following differences between their yakisoba and typical yakisoba:
The quality of the noodle- it is steamed and contains less water than typical noodles
They don’t use oil to fry the noodles
Only costs 400 yen (like $4)- it’s cheap! (although this isn’t THAT strange- it is a fast food, after all)
They offer fun flavors like Mayonnaise or Curry

And, in case you haven’t gotten your fix of Japanese popular culture, check out these fun commercials (CM) for prepared yakisoba:

Now that you’ve become hungry for yakisoba, try my recipe. Our evaluation? DH scarfed it up and asked for more. His only complaint, and this was totally fair, was that I had overcooked the noodles. So, make sure you just do then very al dente before frying them. We loved the sesame oil flavor and sesame seeds, and I really enjoyed the tang of the slivered pickled ginger and ao nori garnish. (DH skipped the latter.) I was thrilled because it tasted great but was really easy to make- but then, as I said to DH, anything is yummy if you fry it in oil and season it with a rich, salty sauce. It might not be the healthiest dish in the universe, but it is really yummy. And what made me happiest of all was that I finally got to really experience Japanese yakisoba, as authentically as I could make it… And now I can’t wait to make it again! Itadakimasu! (Japanese phrase said just before you dig into a good meal.)

My Other Posts on Gluten-Free Japanese Cuisine:
Japanese Bento
Japanese Green Tea
Vegetarian Onigiri
Lotus Root Chip Recipe
Onigiri with cucumber pickles- Veg and Pescatarian Recipes

Gluten Free Vegetarian Yakisoba Recipe
1/2 package Brown rice Spaghetti Tinkyada pasta (8 oz or so) cooked to be very al dente- NOT completely cooked
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
1/4 cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, white part and green separated and chopped
2 small or 1 lg carrots, shredded
2 or more tbsp. pickled ginger strips/ matchsticks (not the shape for sushi)
kurogoma Black sesame seeds, to taste
Ao Nori/ Blue-green nori sprinkles

Homemade Yakisoba Sauce
1 tbsp. wheat free low sodium San-J tamari
1 tbsp. wheat free worchestershire sauce (Edward & sons has one that is GF and vegetarian, Bulldog Japanese brand is another option- be careful though as I have not confirmed with Bulldog personally, only read the label.)
1 tbsp. mirin

Heat a little peanut oil and sesame oil in your pan. (maybe a tbsp. all together, with a little more peanut oil than sesame)
Toss in your shredded cabbage and let it soften slightly, then throw in the white parts of your green onion (chopped), wait a minute and add your shredded carrot. Add a little more sesame oil to the pan if desired and then throw in your pasta, mixing veggies throughout and letting the pasta brown slightly on each side. You can cook it until the pasta is as brown and crunchy as you prefer. Throw in your pickled ginger strips, mix, add sesame seeds, and serve in a big plate. Sprinkle the ao nori on individual servings to taste.


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Visiting the Japanese Izakaya Menu: Baked Lotus Root Chip Recipe

August 12th, 2007 yum Posted in Izakaya, Japanese, Vegetables, Vegetarian 10 Comments »

prettyrenkon3.jpgSome years ago, when I had just arrived in Japan and absolutely everything was completely new to me I went out with a group of other Japan newbies and our “sempai,” or “seniors.” Our seniors had been living in Japan for some time. In the interest of showing us the ropes and introducing us to Japanese social life, they took us to a wonderfully unique Japanese establishment, the Izakaya bar. Izakayas have a wide menu of light snacks and side dishes along with an expansive drink menu. The best part is that the food is actually inexpensive (rare for Japan, unless you’re at a fast food joint) and the menus of the most popular Izakaya chains have pictures of everything and often English subtitles. They might even have an English menu! These menus are excellent for the gluten free diner, as they often include things that would be naturally gluten free like “Butter Potato” and “Butter Corn”, sashimi (raw fish), salt roasted fish, cold tofu (don’t add the wheat soy sauce) and an assortment of ice creams. I ate at a lot of Izakayas over the two years we lived in Japan, but that first trip was one of the most memorable as I had for the first time deep fried lotus root chips, also known as Renkon Chipusu. Our Sempai (seniors) established that there was no wheat in the chips, and I enjoyed the sweet, crunchy chip along with my beverages that night. I have always been a fan of fried potatoes (French fries) and other fried goods (mostly in my own kitchen), but those fried chips were probably the best fried thing I’d ever had for their delicate, beautiful structure and sweet, crunchy fried goodness. wholeren.jpgIn retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them anyway, because fried things are usually fried communally in a fryer and there are lots of very wheaty fried goods at any izakaya worth its salt. But, happily, I felt fine afterwards and I had just discovered my first new Japanese vegetable, the renkon, or lotus root as it is called in English. Sadly, after that one divine experience I was never able to find renkon chips that hadn’t been coated in wheat, as the chain we went to changed its recipe, but I was then inspired to create my own versions of those tasty, tasty chips. Because I rarely fry foods, I decided it made more sense to create a healthier, non fried version for home snacking. I came up with two winning recipes, and the one below is my most recent lotus root chip recipe.

lotusrootspeeled.jpg The lotus root is not as common here in the States as it is in Japan and other regions of Asia, so let me introduce it to you. The lotus plant is “planted in the soil of the pond or river bottom, while the leaves float on top of the water surface. The flowers are usually found on thick stems rising several centimeters above the water. . . . Lotus roots (called bhe in some parts of India and Pakistan, and renkon in Japan) are used as a vegetable [and are] rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper and manganese while very low in saturated fat.” (source: Wikipedia) You can also read about the Lotus Root at Chow.

standinglotus.jpgYou should be able to buy lotus root at your local Chinese, Japanese, or Korean grocery store. Be careful when picking out your lotus root- sometimes it is fresher than others, and you don’t want old, moldy lotus root. Trust me on this. The exterior should be uniform, light brown without dark spots. Sometimes it is sold untrimmed, so you can’t see the holes. If so, check the stems for any white mold. If you can see the holes, they should be light and clear, without brown spots or anything growing inside them. They should feel firm to the touch. If you bring one home and it has a minor brown spot, cut it out. This vegetable might be hard to find in your area, but it is usually reasonably priced and is well worth the effort. It remains my favorite “new” vegetable that I discovered in Japan. *nostalgic sniff” It’s rare that one finds a vegetable that is as tasty as it is beautiful, but the lotus root succeeds on both points.

prettiestrenkonsm.jpg prettyrenkonb.jpg prettyreknon2.jpg

If you want more Lotus Root Recipes, try
the Fat Free Vegan’s recipe for Microwaved Lotus Root Chip Recipe
Mm-Yosa’s Japanese Style Stuffed Lotus Root Recipe (Non-veg)
Gotham Gal’s Simmered Lotus Root Recipe
an innovative chef’s Butter Renkon recipe (Non-veg)
Onokine Grindz’ Lotus Root Rice Recipe

Baked Renkon Chip Recipe
3 trimmed lotus roots (renkon, 蓮根 れんこん)
rice vinegar
pasta seasoning blend (trader joes or Spice Hunter)
olive oil
Peel your lotus roots and immediately immerse them in water, adding at least a tablespoon of vinegar to keep them from browning. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Use a food processor or mandoline to thinly slice lotus root chips, immerse them in your vinegar water until ready to bake. Dry off chips in salad spinner or wrap in a towel. When dry, place on a dark baking sheet and sprinkle with pasta seasonings and drizzle a little olive oil on the chips. Mix them so that the oil and seasoning is evenly distributed, and then place the chips on your baking sheet in a single layer, with no overlapping. If you have too many chips, reserve some for a second batch. Set your timer for 10 minutes, and bake your chips. (If you got paper thin chips with a mandoline, use less time- this time is for food processor sliced chips). At the ten minute mark, turn over your chips carefully. They may slightly stick to the surface of your baking sheet. Bake for five more minutes. You should be able to see white starch on the top of your chips at this point. Turn over your chips one more time and bake for five minutes. If your chips are nicely golden, then plate. If they are not golden, turn them over one more time and put them back in the oven, checking on them every few minutes. Don’t overbake! When golden but not entirely brown, plate your chips and salt them lightly. Enjoy!
This is a healthy adaption of a greasy izakaya classic. Try them deep fried if you are feeling decadent and they would probably rate a 9.
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