Japanese Pumpkin Cake


I love all of the fall pumpkin treats. Cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies, pancakes, donuts, and breads. But they are all mostly flavored with the blend of pumpkin pie spices (which I love). But what I like Japanese pumpkin bread, is that there are no spices. It’s straight up pumpkin. Actually, a Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) is similar to a buttercup squash. So you really taste the natural sweetness of the squash in this bread.

I doubled the recipe and filled two small loaf pans. I did measure all of the ingredients exactly as the recipe said. This bread is light, moist, and mildly sweet. Not the typical fall flavors you might be used to, but a delicious bread.


Recipe from Elinluv’s Sweet Delights Blog

Japanese Pumpkin Bread

Gammodoki (Tofu Patties) with Enoki Mushrooms

2013_05_24Aya’s mom sends seasoning packets to make these tofu patties. It’s really easy because you just mash up some tofu, add the seasoning mix, and fry in a pan. But after discovering the Japanese cookbook I have that’s in English, I decided to try these homemade with real ingredients.

They were fairly easy and Ellie loves them. I decided to serve them with some roasted enoki mushrooms in butter. I love enoki mushrooms! They have such a unique texture. I remember my first trip to Japan to meet Aya’s parents we ate a lot of them. They direct translation they told me when I asked what they were was “mountain sprouts.” That might be another reason I like them. But they are in my top three favorite Japanese vegetables.

I don’t repeat recipes a lot, but this has worked it’s way to be repeated recipe.




1 standard firm tofu package
2 x 1 inch piece of konbu or 1/4oz. dried hijiki (I used shredded nori seaweed)
1/2 carrot, peeled
2 dried shiitake mushrooms (I used more like 4 or 5)
8 green beans, trimmed (I used a small handful)
1 egg
salt, soy sauce, and mirin
Sesame oil (I used regular vegetable oil)

1) Drain tofu, wrap in paper towel and let sit for 30-60 minutes to drain all excess water out.

2) Meanwhile, soak konbu or hijiki in water for 30 minutes. chop roughly into 1/2in. long shreds.

3) Cut the carrot, green beans, and shiitake into 1/2in. shreds. (I put everything in a food processor and pulsed it a few times.

4) Put the tofu in large mixing bowl with egg, pinch of salt, and a dash of soy sauce and mirin. Mix thoroughly to even consistency.

5) Add vegetable shreds to tofu bowl and mix well.

6) They tell you to deep fry them in oil, which I did not. I just put a little oil in the pan and fried them that way. You can served this with some shredded daicon on top, which I have done in the past.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) Cabbage Pancake

2013_04_06b‘Okonomi’ means “what you like,” and ‘yaki’ means “grilled” or “cooked.” But the basic is a simple flour batter with shredded cabbage and either seafood or pork. This dish has many variations especially depending on the region of Japan as well.

You typically cook these at the table at home or out at a restaurant, and eat them as they are finished. I’ve had this once before in Japan at a restaurant but never at home.

I got out my old electric pancake skillet and we decided to cook them at the table to make it fun. I just learned that Aya’s mom has never made it before(she said “I’m from the East side.  That’s a West side thing”). Aya has never made it, and only had it at a restaurant. I was really going into uncharted territory when deciding to make this.


You can use squid, octopus, pork, scallops, shrimp, etc when making this. I decided on just using shrimp. Then it’s topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, dried fish flakes, pickled ginger, and ao nori (dried nori flakes).


It’s not one of my favorite dishes, mainly because the flavors are so unique. Pancakes with cabbage, fish, seaweed, and mayo? Yes, that’s pretty much it. We had fun making it at the table and Ellie loved the shrimp. And since the cabbage was in pancake form, she was more open to eating the cabbage. This step-by-step guide really shows the process quite well.

Considering I didn’t totally know what I was doing, I did pretty well.


Okonomiyaki (Cabbage Pancake)

*Recipe from the book Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko


3.5 cups plain all-purpose flour
3 cups water
2 large eggs beaten
1/4 tsp salt
4 sprigs scallions, roughly chopped
14 oz white cabbage, sliced very thin
vegetable oil for frying
Japanese okonomiyaki sauce
Japanese mayonnaise
ao nori (dried seaweed)
pickled ginger
1 lb of fresh raw shrimp, peeled and shells removed

Mix flour, water, eggs, cabbage, and shrimp together like you would pancake batter. Make sure all of the cabbage is evenly coated.

Heat skillet and pour batter in pancake shapes. If the batter is too thick, spread it around a little bit to make a circular shape.

Cook for 2-3 minutes and then flip. Make sure shrimp or other fish/pork you may use is fully cooked.

Cover pancake with okonomiyaki sauce then drizzle with Japanese mayonnaise. Cover with fish flakes, seaweed, and pickles ginger. You can put as much or as little as you want on.

Nimono (Simmered Tofu w/ Vegetables)

2013_03_30aThis is mostly vegetarian/vegan, except that the broth that everything cooks in is a fish base broth. Aya did say there are seaweed based broths available if you really wanted it to be true vegetarian.

When we sat down to eat, Aya said, “This tastes like Japan.” I took that as a good sign.

It’s a lightly flavored broth with a little soy sauce and rice wine. So the vegetables don’t really have a strong flavor. But from what Aya says, it’s very Japanese.

Aya said dishes like this with simmered vegetables are very common for a typical dinner in Japan. It’s usually accompanied by soup, rice, and two other small dishes. I served it with gyoza, and a daicon salad.



Nimono (Simmered Tofu w/ Vegetables)

*Recipe from the book Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1lb daikon
2 atsu-age (fried tofu) 7oz. each
3/4 cup cut green beans
1 tsp rice
4oz. carrot, peeled and cut into 1cm thick slices
11oz. baby potatoes, unpeeled
3 cups dashi stock
2 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp mirin

Soak the dried shiitake in one cup of water for 2 hours. Drain and discard the liquid. Remove and discard the stalks.

Peel the daikon and slice into 1cm discs. Plunge into cold water.

Put the atsu-age in a sieve, and wash off the excess oil with hot water from the kettle. Drain and cut into pieces of about 1 x 2 in.

Boil the green beans for 2 minutes and then drain them, cooling them under running water.

Cover the daikon with water in a pan and add the rice. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 15 minutes, then drain. Discard the rice.

Put the atsu-age and the mushrooms, carrot and potatoes into the pan with the daikon. Add the dashi stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Regularly skim off any scum that comes to the surface. Add the sugar, soy sauce and sake. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Cut wax paper into a circle smaller than the pan lid. Place the paper inside the pan to seal the ingredients (I didn’t do this part). Cover with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce reduces by half. Add the green beans for two minutes so that they just warm through.

Remove the paper and add the mirin. Taste the sauce and adjust with soy sauce if required. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the ingredients attractively in groups on a large servings plate. Pour over a little sauce and serve warm or cold.


Grilled Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune) つくねやきとり

2013_02_07aI’ve made a pledge to cook Japanese at least once a week. Either for lunch or dinner. Since we are raising Ellie to be bilingual and bicultural, it’s important to us that she is familiar with, and exposed to Japanese food. I just wasn’t sure where to go to find recipes that Aya didn’t have to always translate for me.

My mom had gotten me a Japanese cookbook when Aya and I were dating in college that I had never opened. Until now. So far it’s turned out to be a great resource and Aya just fills in where I have questions. So first up from this cookbook is grilled chicken balls cooked on bamboo skewers. The Japanese name is tsukune which is a type of yakitori (skewer grilled chicken; think Japanese kebobs). Yakitori (tori means bird) is pretty much a Japanese version of shish kebobs. It’s a very common bar food but not limited to that. You can use just about any part of the chicken to make yakitori. Breasts, thighs, wings, heart, liver, gizzard, cartilage, and skin(Aya’s favorite…yup). I’ve had most of these, but I prefer the breast, thigh, and wing meat best. But tsukune are chicken meatballs. Ground chicken wasn’t on sale so I actually used ground turkey instead, shhh.

What’s great about these is that you can make the meatballs in advance and then grill later with the sauce. You could even freeze them. I made mine in one swoop.

Aya was impressed I made these (so was I) and loved them. So did Ellie. I served it with miso soup, brown rice, stir fried renkon, daicon salad (Japanese radish) and o-hitashi (spinach with toasted sesame seeds).


2013_02_07bTsukune (Grilled Chicken Meatballs)

Ingredients: (I made a double batch)

11 oz ground chicken (I used turkey)
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp flour
2 tsp cornstarch (potato starch is more common in Japan)
6 Tbsp dried bread crumbs (panko)
1 in. piece of fresh ginger


4 Tbsp sake
5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch blended with 1 tsp water

Soak bamboo skewers in water overnight. Blend all ingredients for the chicken balls except the ginger in a food processor. With wet hands, scoop about one tablespoon mixture and form into meatball (Will be about half the size of a golf ball). Makes 30-32 meatballs. (My double batch made 34 meatballs, so I think I made mine a little too big.

Grate the ginger and add the the ginger juice to a pot of boiling water. Add the chicken balls and boil for about 7 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Remove meatballs and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, mix all the ingredients for the sauce, except for the cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about ten minutes. Add the cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Remove and put in small bowl.

Thread 3-4 meatballs on each skewer. Brush with sauce and cook on a medium grill or on a barbeque (I put mine in the oven under the broiler on low). Rotate and add more sauce.

2013_02_07cO-hitashi (Spinach with Toasated Sesame Seeds)


1lb fresh spinach
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Blanche spinach in boiling water for 15 seconds. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water. Squeeze out excess water by hand and compress spinach into a ball. Place ball of spinach in a bowl with soy sauce and water. Let soak 15 minutes or longer.

Drain spinach and squeeze out excess liquid by hand. Roll spinach into a cylinder log shape about 2 inches in diameter. Cut it into 4 pieces. You will have 4 small cylinders now. Dip one end in sesame seeds and serve on plate. (I really should have taken pictures of the process). It is supposed to be cold. If you want more flavor you can pour ponzu or soy sauce on the spinach too.