For me, the nikkei cuisine is one of the favourites, a perfect combination of food from countries I love. For those who don’t know, nikkei was a term coined to refer to emigrants of Japanese origin and their descendants. In South America, Peru was the first country to receive a great flux of Japanese workers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, followed by Brazil. In the 80’s the name nikkei became a reference to Japanese cuisine cooked outside Japan using indigenous products. Today, this marriage of Peruvian, Brazilian and Japanese food is commonly known as nikkei cuisine.
Last year, to try and learn more about it, I purchased a nikkei cookbook written by a Brazilian Londoner, who I had heard of because of his popular blog The London Foodie. Luiz Hara is a descendant of Japanese immigrants who arrived in the state of São Paulo in the early 1900’s.
Many months later, our paths crossed during an opening evening at SOAS university for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition course. When we were divided into small groups I noticed that one of the faces looked familiar. When this gentle and soft-spoken guy started talking about his work, I realised he was Luiz Hara, the Nikkei cookbook author & The London Foodie. Luiz has been running his regular Japanese and Nikkei supperclubs in his home since 2012, and often welcomes other chefs.
I am one who believes in those ‘sliding doors’ moments we have in life. There we were: two Brazilians who had never met before but who have very similar interests. We found out later that we arrived in this country in exactly the same year.
Having discovered that I also have an enthusiasm for food, Luiz kindly asked me if I would like to volunteer in one of his supperclubs. I accepted it straight away. One day I received the message from him, and there I went with my apron in hand.
As I was helping chopping, slicing, cooking and prepping in general, Luiz and I didn't stop talking. We got on so well that the day passed very quickly. Frustratingly for me, I couldn't stay to try his food as I had another commitment that evening.
Finally, last Friday I had the pleasure to go back, this time to try Luiz’s nikkei cuisine. Both myself and my husband - and everyone else around us - were in awe of the food he served us.
The evening started with the guests being welcomed with a glass of G&T and shichimi (Japanese spice) flavoured popcorn, and leek and tofu gyoza for canapés. For me, the first impression counts. The nibbles were yummy, a taste for what was to come… very promising.
After mingling with the other guests, we were ushered to the basement where the dining tables were set next to Luiz’s impressive kitchen.
Luiz then introduced his menu to us: 5 starters, a very substantial main course with accompaniments, and a dessert.
The first starter: Salmon Sashimi South American way (a nikkei style ceviche) was refreshing, flavoursome with a mild kick of chilli.
The second, and one of my favourites: Mentaiko Spaghetti (spaghetti in marinated spicy cod roe and black caviar sauce). Beautifully presented, looking like a creamy small bird’s nest ready to be explored. At the first mouthful, all my flavour senses were awoken. The small explosion of the cod roe and caviar with the creamy texture brought noises of pleasure to the table.
One of my other favourite dishes was the Shiitake Zosui with a 64ºC sous vide egg. The perfume of shiitake mushrooms was the first thing that hit my nose. The miso-mascarpone added a special umami taste.
The main courses were brought to the table to be shared between us. The Argentinian Picanha was perfectly salty and tender with a pleasant taste of garlic and citrus. Luiz brought us second, third and fourth servings of the meat and the Japanese three-mushroom rice. We behaved like famine vultures reaching for the plates and defending some of the pieces for ourselves.
The dessert was a Panettone bread and butter pudding with Genmaicha custard. I loved it. The mild roasted brown rice and green tea flavour of the genmaicha custard toned down the richness of the bread and butter pudding. It was an unforgettable dinner. So much so that the flavours have stayed with me.
In this last post of the year, I sign off with a dessert inspired by Luiz's supperclub. It’s a winter recipe I normally make for Christmas but this time instead of adding citrus or spices I am flavouring it with genmaicha tea. I wish you a very happy and wholesome Christmas!
|The welcome drinks and nibbles.|
|Salmon sashimi South American way.|
|Yasai no Agebitashi - deep fried and marinated vegetables in dashi, soy, sake and mirin.|
|Shiitake Zosui with a 64ºC sous vide egg.|
|Selection of tempura.|
|Deliciously tender Argentinian picanha with celeriac wasabi remoulade.|
|Luiz demonstrating to the table how to put the dessert together.|
|Bread and butter pudding with genmaicha tea custard.|
If you prefer a vegan rice pudding option, use cashew, coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s milk and replace the butter with coconut oil instead. I opted for the full-on dairy recipe as it gives a creamy texture and adds a lovely caramel flavour. And also, because it’s Christmas and this dessert reminds me of my childhood ;-).
|The main ingredients.|
|Milk infused with genmaicha tea.|
|Melted butter and sugar mix...|
|...then add the re-hydrated goji berries.|
|My genmaicha flavoured rice pudding|
1 litre organic whole full-fat milk (I used organic raw milk from Hook and Son)
4 teaspoons of organic genmaicha tea or 4 tea bags
30g organic butter
100g pudding rice
70g organic raw sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
40g of goji berries (I re-hydrated them in lukewarm water for 5 minutes)
a pinch of sea-salt
Preheat the oven to 130ºC.
In a medium size pan, pour in the milk and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat, add the tea and let it brew for 3 minutes. If you are using loose tea, sieve and reserve; if using tea bags, take them out and reserve.
In another pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the sugar and stir for 2 minutes or until the rice becomes sticky. Add the goji berries, stir.
Now, add the genmaicha-infused milk stirring well. Add the cream and vanilla and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once this is reached, give it a stir.
Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake for about 1-1½ to 2 hour. If the mixture starts to turn brown too quickly on the top, cover with a foil.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
A healthy note: genmaicha tea contains green tea leaves which studies have shown to help regulate blood pressure and fight hypertension. It also has brown rice, which contains selenium, a mineral that helps regulate thyroid hormones. It has antioxidant properties and has a compound, theanine, that has been shown to help with relaxation.
Raw cow’s milk, from a nutritional perspective, is superior to pasteurized milk in terms of its beneficial enzymes, but you need to check the source and make sure it is certified free of harmful microorganisms. Raw cow's milk contains fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A and D, calcium and other minerals.
Goji Berry or Wolfberry (Lycium barbarum). Contains antioxidants and vitamin C. It boosts blood circulation, lowers elevated blood sugar, increases HDL cholesterol levels (the good one) and reduces fatigue.
Till next year!