Kabocha Okara Pan Cakes

Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin that looks like what we’d call squash back home, but tastes sweeter than any acorn or butternut squash I’ve ever had. I like it more than pumpkin, and ate so much last year I actually started to get a little kabocha fatigue. It is the ultimate lazy beggar food – it can all be cooked at once, nearly everything can be eaten, and it’s not very expensive (at least right now, while it’s in season). I bought 1/3 of a kabocha at our local JA store for 130 yen. Not bad considering they are selling them at Whole Foods in the US for $5 a pumpkin.

Kabocha pumpkin contains, to me, the taste of fall (or “autumn” if you’d rather), and tastes delicious steamed with the skin on, but it’s more versatile than that. A friend recently posted this cute little piece on what to do with kabocha. Timely, since I’d just recently made kabocha pan cakes.


Old Shaky Hands Dane bravely tries to hold a forkful of kabocha cake still enough for a photo.

I’m taking care not to say “pancakes” here, but pan cakes. The former contains mostly sweet batter with pumpkin added in as an element of flavor, while the latter is heartier, more savory – containing mostly pumpkin, they are lightly shaped into patties and set onto a hot, oiled griddle, where they develop a crispy exterior while remaining soft and moist inside. These are not topped with whipped cream and effing chocolate chips – they’re too good for that. If you remember the Okara Burgers from a past post, the shape and texture is very similar

Kabocha Pan Cakes

I let these ones cook a little too long. Meh, still good.


1/4 kabocha pumpkin
1/2 cup okara
3 tbs brown sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal (preferred, but can be hard to find), rice flour, or wheat flour
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp clove
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk or soy milk
nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice (optional)
canola or olive oil


  1. Scrape out the inner membrane and seeds of the kabocha quarter. Place it in a pot and cover with enough water to steam (don’t worry if you can’t cover the whole pumpkin). Bring water to a boil and then lower to simmer. Cook until the pumpkin flesh is very soft and easy pierced with a spoon, like butter.. Drain the water, leaving the pumpkin in the pot with the flesh facing up.
  2. Combine okara, brown sugar, cornmeal or flour, baking powder, and clove in a bowl. If using other spices, add them in as well. Lightly whisk the dry ingredients together.
  3. With a spoon, scoop pumpkin in chunks into the dry ingredients. If you cooked it well enough, this should be very easy. Don’t worry if a bit of the skin gets in – consider it bonus color and fiber. Add the milk and egg and mash the ingredients together with fork or clean hands, until well mixed.
  4. Heat a large fry pan on medium heat, and add a bit of olive or canola oil to the pan to prevent burning.
  5. Shape the mixture into patties about 3 in/8 cm in diameter. Place in the pan, 3 or 4 at a time. and cover. They should sizzle but not sputter. Cook about 6-7 minutes, then flip over and allow to cook for 5 more minutes or until lightly browned on both sides.
  6. Serve immediately. Top with honey, yogurt, or cheese if desired.

The mixture will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

“Stamina” Liver

We’ve just begun to come down from the stifling August heat, when schools reluctantly suspend lessons to prevent students from asphyxiating in their non-air-conditioned classrooms (I’m only a little joking). During this time, many tempura-and-noodle restaurants push their “stamina” sets, which typically consist of a high-calorie protein – usually eel – with garlic, noodles, and rice, designed to fortify their consumers with the energy they need to combat natsubate, heat exhaustion.

Unfortunately for an eel-lover like me, it’s not very economical to make at home, and thus is relegated to the Treat Yourself category of food. So where is the penny-pinching cook to turn when she is in need of a hearty dish to sustain her?

Don't be so squeamish; chances are you already consume muscle and adipose tissue.

Don’t be so squeamish; chances are you already consume muscle and adipose tissue.

In a word: liver.

Okay, now that I’ve lost the Americans, let me expound to you the virtues of liver: It’s cheap. It’s full of vitamins and nutrients. It prevents anemia and fatigue. It tastes really good when prepared with a little thought. Let’s explain that last one . . .

The key to good liver is to soak or marinate it before cooking. My mom recently told me she doesn’t do this – and maybe it’s not necessary – but for most people, this seems to be an important step. As with other offal and sweetbreads, the most common way to do this is by soaking the liver in milk for 1 or more hours (overnight in the fridge, even), but you could certainly get creative and brine or marinate with liquid of your choosing.

After soaking, dump the liquid and cook your liver. We had ours for breakfast, so it’s hash style, but here’s a very comprehensive article about liver from the Weston A. Price Foundation that gives several different recipes – including the following from Japan, called “Nira Reba” (liver and chives):

Nira Reba

Serves 4

1/2 pound pork liver
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 bunch nira (Chinese chives)
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake (rice wine)
1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon potato starch
lard for frying

Cut liver into bite-sized pieces and marinate in a mixture of soy sauce, sake and ginger for 20 minutes. Remove liver from the sauce, pat dry and dredge in arrowroot. Heat lard in a deep pan and fry the liver pieces.Remove liver to a heated plate. Chop nira into short pieces and sauté in a frying pan. Add deep-fried liver and sauté with nira. Add the sauce used for marinating liver to the frying pan and stir well. Add the mixture of water and potato starch, stir quickly and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

Sounds delicious. Here is our recipe – I dare you not to like it.

Sunday Morning Liver Hash


Quick note on dredging: Dredging – or rolling a piece of meat in a starch before cooking it – is a popular way to prepare liver. If you don’t want to do it, it’s certainly not necessary.


1 package chicken livers (with hearts attached); about 6 livers
300 ml milk
2 medium yams or potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, diced
3 small green peppers (Japanese piman), diced
2 medium red peppers, diced
canola oil
1/2 cup potato starch (for dredging)
salt, pepper, paprika
soy sauce and red wine (optional)


  1. Cut the livers into bite-sized pieces and separate the hearts. Soak the livers and hearts in the milk for 2 hours.
  2. While livers are soaking, boil the yams until they are soft enough to be pierced through with a fork. Drain, cut into cubes, and set aside.
  3. Fill a shallow bowl or plate with potato starch, salt, pepper, and paprika. This is the mixture in which you will dredge (dip and roll) the livers.
  4. When liver has soaked, pour out the milk. Return to bowl – don’t pat them dry, as the moisture will help the flour adhere to them.
  5. Heat a large fry pan with a little canola oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, peppers, and seasonings. Add a dash of soy sauce and/or red wine if you’re using it. Saute until onions are just soft.
  6. With a wooden spoon, push the sauteed vegetables to the side of the pan to create space and add a little more oil if necessary. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Working quickly, take each liver piece and lightly roll in the starch before popping it into the pan. Do the same with the hearts.
  7. Spread the vegetables lightly around the meat.  Add potatoes. Cover the pan and let cook until the liver turns pale, about 6 minutes. Check for doneness by slicing a piece and examining the insides. As with steak, a bit of pink in the middle is ideal, but it’s up to you.
  8. Plate and serve immediately.

Dane added ketchup because he likes it (gross) but I could also see a bit of Worcestershire sauce or Tobasco working as well. I didn’t add anything else to mine; all that oil and garlic was enough.

Enjoy lovelies.

Kinako, black sesame spread, and fruit = ambrosia

Kinako is a toasted soybean powder that tastes pleasantly nutty. You’ve probably had it dusted over mochi, which is all I’d ever really had it on as well. But then one of my adult conversation class students – who is probably about 85 years old and still “shreddin’ it,” as the kids say – told me she eats kinako in her yogurt every morning. So, in my quest to live forever genki, I tried it.

Just one spoonful is all you nee-ee-eed.

Whoa. Delicious.

The whole experience got me thinking; what else could I put kinako in or on?

So I put it in pancake batter. Amazing.
Sprinkled kinako, cinnamon, and sugar on my toast. Earth-shattering.
Dusted it over a plate of apple slices. Seriously, someone please stop me, I’m out of control.

Here’s a picture of the apple before I devoured it too quickly:


The black dots are sesame seeds. When I made this snack again, I made a paste of black sesame (kurogoma 黒ごま) and honey – 1 part black sesame to spread to 2 parts honey. If you don’t like apple, it goes especially well with pineapple and orange. When making this paste, a little goes a long way, as black sesame has a stronger taste than its white counterpart. Or, you can just pick up the pre-made kurogoma spread at your local Kosumosu; this is the lazy beggars’ guide, after all.

But if you forgo the sesame, at least try a bit of kinako on your next bowl of fruit. That’s going to be my mantra from here on out, like the Portlandia “Put a Bird On It” thing: Put Some Kinako On It!


Renkon! sounds like the name of a monster in a big-budget movie – maybe the Rancor from Return of the Jedi mixed with KING KONG? Run for your life! Get out while you can! The RenKON IS COMING!

Definitely takes more than one bite to eat.

But it turns out, renkon is just the Japanese name for lotus root. Yes, that lotus, the flower of which, along with the ohm symbol, took the tattoo market by storm in the late 90’s. I recently visited the gardens at the Heian shrine, where there is a large and quite famous pond full of lotus (it’s the one Scarlet Johansson hops across in Lost in Translation). As calming as a pond of lotus can be, it’s nice to know that beneath the murky pond mud lie hundreds of edible vegetables. When sliced, renkon has a distinctive honeycombed look, with many small holes that look like spokes in a wheel. It adds crunchy, delicious texture similar to watercress, and remains crisp even when fully cooked.

Because lotus grow in ponds, they’re often sold covered in a residue of dark mud at the store. This can be easily washed off in the sink. To cook the renkon, wash and peel the outside. Cut the renkon into thin (less than a half centimeter) slices, and then maybe cut the slices in half to make half-moon shapes. Sometimes I don’t do this; it probably makes them harder to eat, but I think a round slice of renkon is pretty cool-looking.


You can add renkon to stir fries and salads, but I personally prefer it as a grilled or sauteed side dish. Renkon sauteed in mirin and soy sauce is sometimes called kinpira, though I think the word refers more to the way it’s cooked than the actual inclusion of lotus root. Here’s a “Western-style” take on lotus root with mushrooms and carrot.

Roasted renkon with shitake mushrooms (serves 1 – 2)

Ingredients: It’s difficult to give precise amounts – just make however much you want to eat.

1 medium renkon root
1 small package shitake mushrooms (about 7-8 mushrooms)
1/2 medium sized carrot
olive oil
basil or other italian herb
salt and black pepper


  1. After peeling, slice the renkon into the thinnest discs you can manage. Slice the discs in half.
  2. Slice the shitake mushrooms into thin strips.
  3. Slice the carrot into thin, 2 cm-long strips.
  4. Put the vegetables in a large mixing bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. Use just enough oil to coat the vegetables, not to pool in the bottom.
  5. Pour the mixture into the middle of a large piece of aluminum foil. Wrap tightly, ensuring that the foil completely covers the mixture.
  6. Put the package in your fish broiler and “roast” for 10-15 minutes.

Carefully take out the hot foil package and check for doneness. Serve alongside your favorite main dish. RAHH, RENKON!

Pasta with Shrimp, Scallions, and Soy Beans

Dane and I have decided that, one night a week, he’ll make dinner. When we first started dating, he made me stuffed peppers that he served with a glass of chardonnay and a simple lettuce salad. Swoon.

Since I grew up cooking, and Dane didn’t, I’m often quite impatient with him. Cooking is something you learn over time – nobody is born knowing how to scramble an egg, and most of us destroyed several eggs in our attempt to learn this “simple” art. So what seems like second nature to me is, of course, not nature at all. I try to remember that. Especially here, I know how lucky I am to have a partner who cooks at all. And actually, Dane is a wonderful cook. I joke that he eats box dinner when I go out of town, but last time I went anywhere, I came back to a tupperware container full of “curried pumpkin and broccoli soup.” It was delicious.

Dane made a delicious, laid-back dinner last night, which I devoured before heading off to taiko practice, and the leftovers of which are currently beckoning to me from inside the crowded refrigerator here at work. With pre-cooked beans and deveined shrimp, the whole thing can be executed in less than 30 minutes.


I don’t use filters. Not cause I’m into purity and truth; I’m just too lazy to open photo-editing software.

Pasta with Shrimp, Scallions, and Soy Beans (serves 2 people)


  • 2 servings dry spaghetti or pasta (a bundle about 2 cm in diameter = 1 serving)
  • 1 cup cooked soybeans
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 eggplant, cut into disks 1 cm thick
  • 8-10 uncooked, de-veined shrimp
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs white wine or cooking sake
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions
  • Thyme (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • My friend and well-known cooking guru Xan says that she made this dish and added lemon juice to bring out the flavors. I added lemon juice to a very similar dish and I agree. So, try adding a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice during the cooking process!


  1. If you are using dried soybeans, measure out ¾ cup into a pot, cover with ample water, and let soak overnight. Drain and replace with fresh water. Cook at a simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and checking for bean softness.
  2. If your shrimp havn’t been de-veined, use a toothpick to easily scrape the single black “vein” (actually the digestive canal) from each shrimp. If the toothpick isn’t working for you, you can also just pick them out with clean fingernails.
  3. Optional, but recommended: Lightly salt the eggplant discs after slicing.


  1. In a medium pot, boil the pasta until cooked, then strain in a colander. Don’t wash the pasta! Set aside
  2. Pour olive oil into a saucepan set over medium heat. Allow the oil to warm before adding the chopped garlic. Sautee the garlic about 1 minute.
  3. Add sliced eggplant, cooked beans, and spices. Sautee uncovered for 3-5 minutes, or until eggplant begins to look tender. Taste and add more oil and spices if desired.
  4. Add the shrimp, scallions, and white wine/cooking sake. Stir to mix ingredients before covering the saucepan with a lid for about 3 minutes. Remove the lid and sautee a little longer if necessary.
  5. Measure the cooked pasta onto two plates before covering with the shrimp sautee. Serve and enjoy, perhaps with a glass of white wine.

If you’re a multitasker, you can boil the pasta while you cook the sauteed portion to save more time.