Make, Jane, make!: Covert Recipes: Japanese Curry (from scratch, no MSG, Jane-style :)


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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Covert Recipes: Japanese Curry (from scratch, no MSG, Jane-style :)

I love Japanese-style curry. It tasted especially good in Japan when ordered with a ticket from a vending machine and eaten at a cramped diner after a long day of traveling. You can easily duplicate these yummy plate lunches using some store-bought curry cubes, but I find that most of them contain MSG which doesn't sit well with my eczema.

I've searched high and low on the internet for a homemade version of this great curry, but have yet to find one that doesn't include bouillon cubes (i.e. more MSG). So I decided that it was time to create my own. The flavouring of my version is fragrant and slightly sweet (you can add some heat in too, but I've left mine heatless for now because of our young kids :P) The presentation of the dish (ground meat and julienned veggies) is taken from my good friend, whose thoughtfully frozen curries were greatly enjoyed by us during the sleepless weeks after the baby girl was born.

I'd never thought of using ground meat and finely julienned vegetables in my Japanese curry before, but it works great for kids because it mixes so well with rice and it is impossible for even the most skilled picky eater to select out only what they want. In fact you can use a lot of vegetables that the kids may not usually eat in this recipe, hence the "covert" label.

The sweetness of my version comes from fruit, which also conveniently thickens the sauce. I usually use one or two finely chopped pears and a banana, which dissolve during the cooking process and lends the sauce a subtle sweetness.

I grind the spice mix myself, because I find spices taste much fresher and better when not ground beforehand. Besides, cheap coffee grinders are easy to find, so it's not hard to keep an extra grinder for spices. You could probably also use some store-bought Chinese curry powder but the taste will likely be slightly different than mine and also probably not quite Japanese.

I cook the fruit down a bit first to get a slight caramelization which adds to the taste and thickness of the sauce. When the fruit has softened and become fragrant, I add the spices and fry them a short while to release their flavours.

Then I use some sake/stock/water to deglaze before stirring in your ground meat of choice... ground beef in this version.

Use only as much water as is needed because the vegetables will usually release a good amount of water.  Of course you could always use some roux or a few cubed potatoes to thicken up the final product if you end up having a watery sauce... or if you've added more liquid to increase the sauciness factor.

In this particular pot, there's an entire large eggplant, four large carrot and five green/red bell peppers hidden in there. Hubby and I enjoy this curry with tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) and rice. My sons gobble this down without even a second glance to figure out what exactly has been mixed with their rice. They usually ask for second and third helpings as well!

The curry tastes great fresh and hot on the first day... but it gets even better on the second day when the flavours have had time to meld and it freezes well. It's also pretty easy to make in large batches provided you have a large enough pot :)

All in all, it's a good recipe to have in the pocket for busy people and picky kids.


Japanese Curry (from scratch, no MSG, Jane-style :)
Yield: 4 adult servings or enough for a young family of 4 plus a leftovers lunch

1-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsps onion powder
1-inch piece ginger, grated
1 - 2 pears, finely chopped
1/2 - 1 banana, chopped
1 - 2 tbsp miso paste (any colour)
1 lb ground meat of your choice
1 eggplant, julienned
3 - 4 carrots, grated/julienned
3 - 4 bell peppers, julienned
or other veggies of your choice in the amounts you like!
2 - 3 tsps salt, or to taste (strongly dependent on how much water/veggies you add)

  1. Grind the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, peppercorns and fennel in a coffee/spice grinder until fine. Mix with garlic and onion powder and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat a small amount of oil over medium-high heat and saute pears and bananas until soft and beginning to caramelize.
  3. Add in spice mixture and grater ginger and stir until fragrant, approximately one minute.
  4. Deglaze with water (or stock or sake if you wish). Stir in miso paste.
  5. Add in ground meat and enough water to barely cover the meat. Saute while stirring to break up all the meat lumps.
  6. Add your chopped vegetables. Season with salt if necessary. Top up with some liquid if necessary. Cover and simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  7. Serve warm over rice or keep for a later date!

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