Whenever I travel out of the country I make sure to take a cooking class. It started in 2008 when I went to Provence, France on a culinary tour. When I decided to visit Italy for three weeks in 2010, I spent a week alone and then booked two culinary tours back to back for the following two weeks. Before anything else, when I began planning my trip, I looked up cooking classes in Japan. I don’t remember exactly how I decided on this one, but I am so glad I found the Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto, Japan. Cooking classes can be found anywhere you go in the world, even in your hometown, or in your own home if you prefer (shameless plug!), but taking a cooking class in a different country is something so unique. You get to use tools that maybe you’ve never seen before, or don’t know how to use, and they might just become kitchen staples for you.
Learning to make fresh pasta in Italy, ratatouille in France, or sushi in Japan adds a certain feeling of authenticity and romance to the experience. Couple that with chefs and home cooks that are passionate about food and their homeland, and you’ve got an evening of heightened emotions and flavors that will burn themselves into your tastebuds and memories forever.
The sweetened cream and hint of espresso from the tiramisu I made in Italy, in the home of a jewelry maker who offered me (which I gladly accepted) three helpings of dessert, lingers on the edge of my taste memory. It surfaces from time to time, causing a craving that could only be satisfied by overlooking the Mediterranean Sea as I sit on a back porch in the town of Praiano. Thankfully, though, I can satisfy much of this craving with the skills and recipes I learned during my stay in Italy.
The same goes for the fresh and earthy flavors of Japan. We were welcomed into the home of Taro Saeki for the Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto, Japan. Instead of whisks, spatulas and mixing spoons, we used chopsticks for all our cooking. Taro’s skill and passion in the kitchen matched that of the Italian, and even the French, cooks I’ve had the pleasure of cooking with and learning from. Most people would agree that feasting together is a great way to celebrate friendships and gain commonalities. I believe that preparing said feast together can form even deeper bonds, and that’s what happened in Taro’s kitchen one rainy night in Kyoto. Jonathan, David and I got to experience the joy of cooking as a family with people we had only met half an hour earlier. I can’t speak for them, but I will anyway. Our cooking class was one of the highlights of our visit to Japan. Not only because of the wonderful food we ate, but because we met some neat people and got to learn and work together to create the meal we shared that night.
Not to mention the deep, umami flavor of homemade miso soup and dashimaki tamago. Chopsticks were our utensils. Burdock root, soy, and kombu were our ingredients. We got to prepare and savor true Wagyu beef. It melts in your mouth the second it hits your tongue. The flavor lingers as you prepare yourself for the next bite. Salt and pepper. That’s all that is needed to showcase the simultaneously delicate and rich flavors of the perfectly marbled beef. I’ve never had beef with such indulgent flavor, and I can’t wait until I get to cook with this delicacy again. I can’t say enough good things about this cooking class. Seriously look it up if you will be visiting Kyoto! I had so much fun meeting new people, and learning real Japanese cooking from someone who lives and breathes the craft.
Dashimaki Tamago with Kinpira
Chicken with Oroshi Ponzu
Wagyu Beef with Sauteed Mushrooms
Now, I can’t give away all these fabulous recipes that we learned in Japan, but I will teach you how to make the most valuable Japanese recipe you’ll ever learn. It is used in Japanese cooking all over the place, and is the base for the one dish you get at every Japanese restaurant, regardless of what you order. That one dish is Miso Soup and the base to that dish is called Dashi.
How To Make Dashi (Japanese Soup Stock) makes 4 cups, enough for 1 recipe of Miso Soup – below
4 cups water
1-2 square inch piece of dried kombu (dried sea kelp)
2 cups, loosely packed, dried fish flakes (I use bonito because that’s what is readily available to me)
1. In a saucepan, combine the water and kombu. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let it sit for 1 minute before straining out the liquid. If you stop at this step you have Kombu Dashi. It is a very mild soup stock, and is perfect to use for strict vegetarian diets.
2. Add the fish flakes into the liquid from Step One, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow to sit for 1 minute. Strain and reserve the liquid. This liquid is called Ichiban Dashi, and it is the most widely used soup stock in Japanese cooking.
Miso Soup makes 4 servings
4 cups Ichiban Dashi (see recipe above)
3 tablespoons miso (I prefer yellow, but you can use your favorite)
1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup diced tofu
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1. In a small saucepan, heat the dashi. Then whisk in the miso to dissolve.
2. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Add the tofu, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
4. Remove from the heat, add the scallions, and serve immediately.