Category Archives: Japanese cooking

Chankonabe- Food For Sumo Wrestlers

In many Asian cultures, hot pot meals are very common. Generally speaking, these one-pot meals are a combination of some sort of broth or stock, a variety of vegetables and one or more kinds of protein. I know that’s about as generic of a description as you can get, but that’s kind of the point- there are no hard, fast rules about what the Japanese call nabe (pronounced “nah-bey”), which, translated literally, means “cooking pot.” Continue reading

What The Heck Is Tuna Toast?

“Tuna Toast?” is the most common reaction when I tell people the name of my blog. Without some sort of explanation, they probably think it’s just some cute little phrase I dreamed up that has no meaning whatsoever. Then it dawned on me that maybe the phrase “tuna toast” isn’t as familiar to people who have never lived in Japan.

You see, Japan- and Tokyo in particular- is chock full of coffee shops and cafes. Some are so tiny they only seat five, others are larger and of those, some are of part of a chain. There are SO many coffee shops in Japan that I like to tell people there are two on every corner. It certainly seems that way.

Why the overabundance of these kissaten? My best guess is that in a bustling city where most people travel by train and foot, it’s necessary to sit down for a minute and take a coffee/snack break. It isn’t like L.A. where you drive to the end of your street to mail something or balk at the 10 minute walk to the store. You walk, stand on a crowded train, maneuver through the 100,000 other people crossing the street, and then walk 20 blocks more to reach your destination. And repeat. Every single day. I need a cup of coffee and snack just writing this, it’s so exhausting.

Anyway, back to tuna toast. Tuna toast is a dish commonly found in these tiny coffee shops- probably 80% of them sell some version of it.  At its core, tuna toast is exactly what its name implies- it’s toast, topped with tuna. Oh, but it’s sooo much more. The best versions of tuna toast are made with a thick slice of Japanese shokupan – light and flaky yet toothsome, yeasty and buttery all at the same time. This Rolls Royce of white bread is then topped with a generous heap of tuna salad made with Kewpie mayonnaise- again, a far better product than American mayo tasting of fresh eggs and full of umami. The whole thing is sprinkled with a bit of cheese and toasted in the oven until golden brown. It’s literally one of my favorite foods in the whole world, so I named my blog after it!

I know it sounds too simple to be so good, but the best things in life ARE the simple pleasures, aren’t they? Just make sure you use good ingredients- the shokupan and Kewpie are key- and you’ll be converted!

Recipe: Shrimp and Pork Gyoza (Potstickers)


Before I get into this post, I just realized that today marks a milestone for this little blog. Seven years ago today, I dipped my toe into the world of food blogging by launching Tuna Toast with this post. I thought I’d link to the original Blogger version since that was what I started on (I’ve since graduated to WordPress, thankfully!). I just wanted to say “thanks” for reading- if you still are- and for sticking around through the lulls in posting. Seven years- whoa. Ok- now onto the gyoza!


I am lucky enough to have two parents who are great cooks. Growing up, my sister and I woke up to toast with cinnamon sugar or buttered and topped with sardines (to this day, a favorite!), waffles, freshly fried corn or apple fritters which my dad would whip up on the weekends or huevos rancheros with perfectly runny eggs . Our lunch boxes were packed with my mom’s delicious egg or tuna salad sandwiches, and we always- always- sat down as a family to a homemade dinner. Whether it was one of Papa’s specialties like crispy chicken fried steak with white gravy, stir-fry of chicken and cashews with rice, eggplant Parmesan, Welsh rarebit or juicy hamburgers, or Mom’s chicken noodle soup, baked cod with Gruyere and mushrooms, stewed Japanese eggplant and chicken or shimesaba, it was always hand made and never out of a box. Of course, as kids my sister and I wanted to be like everyone else and would occasionally bemoan the lack of Hamburger Helper on our table (what were we thinking?!) but as we got older we realized how this variety of great food in our home helped form the palates and love of cooking we both have today. Continue reading

Teishoku: Japanese Set Meal, AKA My Comfort Food

It’s pretty funny how, since we returned from Italy a week ago, I’ve made either Italian or Japanese food for every meal. I guess I’ve subconsciously been looking for comfort due to missing my sister and coming off such an amazing trip, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I often find comfort in food. Don’t worry- I’m not sitting on the sofa armed with three pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a ladle! It’s just that both Italian and Japanese cuisine have always been my favorite (J’s too- he must have been Japanese in a former life!) so it makes sense to want to come back to what you know and love when you’re feeling a little down. Continue reading

Japanese Beef and Vegetable Rolls

Seven months have gone by since I last blogged- well, on here, anyway! I can’t believe I let something I once enjoyed so much slip away for so long. I guess a combination of blogging for clients at work, the instant gratification of sharing photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter plus my overall laziness in the kitchen (we had one helluva hot summer this year and I wasn’t going anywhere near the stove!) contributed to my blog abandonment. But hey- I’m back (again!)- and it feels good to be here. Fresh off a totally awe-inspiring, inspirational and eye-opening vacation to Italy (my sister wed the man of her dreams in a celebration that rivals even the best Pinterest wedding board!) and welcomed back to Los Angeles by much cooler weather, I’m feeling the urge to roll up my sleeves, get back in the kitchen and start documenting my food adventures in longer form once again.

Speaking of roll, these healthy ones made from paper thin slices of rib eye, green beans, carrots and gobo (burdock root in English, although I’m guessing you’re still scratching your head) are longtime favorites that too, hadn’t seen daylight in a few years. So I decided to whip up a batch for our first, post-Italy dinner at home and was very happy I did. Although they require some prep- blanching the vegetables to soften them a bit is the only major step- they do come together quite easily after that and make for a deliciously filling yet healthy dish. You’re probably wondering how the words “rib eye” and “healthy” can be uttered in the same conversation, but due to the utter thinness of the meat, you’re only consuming a couple of ounces while ingesting a large dose of high fiber vegetables. I’m all about using a little bit of a great ingredient to make a dish taste good rather than opting for large amounts of flavorless, low-calorie stuff that lacks any punch whatsoever. Trust me- the former will be exponentially more satisfying.

To compliment these beautiful beef and vegetable rolls, I made a batch of sprouted brown rice, a vinegared salad of cucumbers and bean sprouts; a green salad tossed with Japanese sesame dressing and hiyayakko- cold, silken tofu garnished with grated ginger, green onions and a touch of soy sauce.

This teishoku (set meal) style meal was missing the traditional addition of miso soup, but was otherwise a nice, veggie-heavy dinner to ease our post-vacation-weary-and-sad hearts into being back to reality….and back to blogging!

The recipe can be found in Japanese Cooking for Health and Fitness, available on

Japanese Dinner + The Blowtorch!

About two years ago, J bought me a blowtorch for my birthday.  No, I’m not going all Flashdance on you with dreams of becoming a food-blogging welder- he figured I’d need it in case I ever wanted to brulée something.  I think the main motivation for him to buy me the torch was because he wanted me aburi something.  Aburi means “flamed” in Japanese, and if you go out to sushi often you’ve probably seen the chef whip out his blowtorch and lightly sear the top of a piece of salmon, toro or mackerel.  The heat of the flame melts the fat in the fish and creates a beautiful, soft, fatty flavor and texture.  If you haven’t had the chance to try any aburi sashimi or sushi, make sure to request it next time because it is, in a word, heavenly.  

Luckily my mom sent us home with some of her world-famous shime saba on New Year’s Day, so I only had to take it out of the freezer, let it thaw, then go all Jennifer Beals on it (ok, I’ll stop with the Flashdance references now!).  To be honest, the reason why I’d never used the blowtorch before was because I was scared.  Visions of a propane explosion in my kitchen (and in my FACE!) kept me from ever even taking it out of the box, but after receiving assurances on it’s safety from my dad and my chef friend, I finally decided to use it.  The verdict?  Let’s put it this way: Once you torch something, you’re hooked.  At least I am.  Now I always look for things to brulée!

So here it is- my first foray into the world of blowtorching food:

Pretty cool, right?  Anyway, here’s the rest of the meal:

I had some beautiful King Trumpet mushrooms which I sliced, brushed with a garlic/soy/agave/sake mixture and grilled in a pan:

I did the same for some yams I had laying around:

Cold, silken tofu topped with ginger and soy sauce:

Japanese cucumber, sugar snap pea and onion salad with sesame dressing:

A couple of Japanese condiments: on the left, taberu rayu, which is the hottest condiment in Japan right now.  Not “hot” as in Scoville scale, but as in it’s super popular.  Rayu is chili/sesame oil and has been around for ages; taberu means “to eat” in Japanese, and taberu rayu is the chili/sesame oil we all know and love combined with toasted garlic, sesame seeds, dried shrimp and other goodies to make to chunky, so you can actually eat it.  My best friend Mika gave it to us, and ohmahgawd it is downright addictive.  As if there aren’t already enough Japanese condiments that make you want to eat buckets of rice!  I could probably eat five pounds of rice with spoonfuls of taberu rayu mixed in.  Seriously good stuff.  The one of the right is shichimi tōgarashi, or seven flavor chili pepper, which is great on yakitori or grilled vegetables.  

The star of the show, aburi saba:

The table:

If you have any great recipes involving the use of a blowtorch, let me know!  I’m totally hooked.

Recipe: Miso Glazed Salmon

If you’ve ever dined at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably had a miso-glazed fish of some sort..most likely miso-glazed cod.  It’s ubiquitous on most Japanese or sushi restaurant menus, and I really think it’s because it is just plain delicious.  The dish is also very easy to prepare and uses ingredients found in most Japanese kitchens, so you can see why it’s a regular on so many menus.  Now it can be a regular in your household too!

White miso paste- check!
Mirin (sweet cooking wine)- check!
Agave nectar- che….wait, huh? (read on for the recipe!)

J loves it when I make Japanese food, so I thought I would surprise him with this dish.  I kind of mixed things up a little by adding Ginger and Garlic Braised Boy Choy as a side dish, since I rarely even buy boy choy.  I have nothing against it, it just doesn’t fall on my “must-have” items, but one of my new year’s resolutions is to start cooking more creatively (read: stop making the same things!) so I’ve been making an effort to pick up items I wouldn’t normally buy.  Hello boy choy, welcome to my kitchen!

So I used Irish blogger Donal Skehan’s recipe for bok choy.  I know…you’re like, “An Irishman’s recipe for Chinese cabbage?”  I’ve been reading more Irish blogs since my sister moved there (and became an Irish blogger herself) and it happened to catch my eye, plus it looked pretty authentic to me, so why not?!  Also, Donal seems to have such respect for vegetables (he grows his own bok choy) and I liked how the recipe let the cabbage shine more than anything (oh, another thing- this guy is poised to become the Jamie Oliver of Ireland- no joke- check out his blog!).  It was simple, came together quickly and was delicious to boot.  I had such great luck with it, perhaps next time I need to make colcannon I’ll get the recipe from a Chinese blog.

On to the salmon!  I made a simple mixture of white and red miso paste, agave nectar (instead of sugar- it’s already liquid and mixes better, plus it’s better for you!), minced ginger, a touch of sesame oil, mirin and a touch of soy sauce and slathered it onto the salmon fillets to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.

After a few minutes under the broiler, it was done, and the ginger aroma wafted through the house…yum!

To add a bit more “meat” to the meal I sauteed some sliced shiitake mushrooms in a tiny bit of butter, then splashed it with mirin and soy sauce.  Serve everything with a nice, heaping scoop of fluffy brown rice and you’ve got a quick and healthy meal, but mostly you’ll make it because it tastes really great!

Miso Glazed Salmon

2 TBS white miso paste
1 TBS red miso paste
1 tsp dark toasted sesame oil (make sure it’s dark- the light totally lacks the flavor necessary to make this)
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar (if you use honey, make it 2 tsp since it isn’t as sweet)
2 tsp minced ginger
1 TBD mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine- you could use sweet vermouth or sake)
1 tsp soy sauce
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin off or on, depending on your preference

Mix the first seven ingredients together in a bowl until smooth and well combined.  Put the salmon in a dish and slather the entire mixture onto all sides of the salmon.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour (you could do it less if you like, but I think an hour is good!).

Preheat your broiler, cover your cooking surface (sheet pan, etc) with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup!) and spray the foil with cooking spray.  Lay the salmon skin-side down if you have skin on it, making sure to leave a nice coating of the marinade on the fish and broil for about 4 minutes.  Flip the salmon carefully and broil for another 3-4 minutes.  Alternately, you could do this in an oven- 425 degrees, 4 minutes per side.

Garnish with sesame seeds if you like, and serve.  I highly recommend serving it on a hot pile of rice (brown, white, jasmine, whatever!) since the miso glaze goes really well with it.

Roll Your Own Sushi

One of the first times (if not THE first time) J and I went to my parents’ house as a couple, they served what we like to call “Roll Your Own Sushi.” My sister and I had grown having these dinners where mom would put plates of sliced sashimi, cucumbers, imitation crab (hey- it’s great in sushi rolls!) and sheets of toasted nori on the table along with a large bowl of sushi rice, and we would each make our own handrolls. I guess it’s akin to sandwich night, but instead of platters of coldcuts and loaves of bread, you’d see all of the ingredients necessary to make handrolls. Well let me tell you- J, who had NOT grown up having Roll Your Own Sushi Night was completely, utterly impressed and asked me every day for weeks after that if we could do it at our own home. It’s kind of funny because to people like my mom and me, Roll Your Own Sushi is an easy supper; a good way of making others do the work- I mean, there isn’t much effort involved in making a pot of sushi rice, and beyond that it’s just some slicing, dicing and plating.

So the other night when I felt like eating sushi but didn’t feel like going out (a rarity, I know!), I stopped at Fish King on my way home from work and picked up some salmon and hamachi sashimi. The salmon was beautiful and completely odorless (a very good sign as fish should never smell really fishy) so I sliced it into thin strips, while the yellowtail had a bit of a fishy smell so I rinsed it, patted it dry and diced it into a spicy hamachi mixture. After combining some Kewpie Mayonnaise with rayu (chili oil) and Sriracha, I folded the chopped hamachi in with a handful of diced green onions and seasoned it ever so lightly with a touch of sea salt. For the veggie elements I decided on Japanese cucumbers, diakon sprouts and Haas avocados.

I toasted sheets of nori over the flame on my stovetop and mixed in a portion of instant sushi rice seasoning (I know, it’s cheating but it was a weeknight!) into my pot of hot, Japanese rice and placed it all on the table. Personally, I think the thing that goes best with handrolls is miso soup, so I made a pot of that as well, using silken tofu and scallions as additions.

We made some hojicha, hunkered down and got to work rolling our own sushi. My favorite combo that night ended up being spicy a hamachi/cucumber/avocado handroll while J made lots with the salmon/daikon sprouts/avocado. The great thing about rolling your own sushi is you can make whatever combination you like, and it’s fun to play around with the flavor and texture combinations.

I have to admit- we got full quite quickly and there ended up being some salmon left over, which we cooked up into BBQ salmon crostini (slices of toasted baguette topped with quick pickled red onions, slices seared salmon coated in BBQ sauce and thinly sliced avocado) the next night . I highly recommend cooking any left over sashimi you have if you plan to eat it the next day- it’s great in miso soup too- but never eat it as sashimi just in case. Roll Your Own Sushi is great when you have friends over, and you really don’t need to buy a lot of sashimi to feed a crowd- the rice and veggies can be the main element- so it isn’t as expensive as eating sushi out.

Maybe you’ll try it? It’s fun too!

Mika’s Doria

Doria. I’ve said that word to every food-loving friend multiple times in the seven years I’ve been back from living in Japan, and they all look at me with the same, Never-Heard-Of-It-What-Is-It look. I’ve spent time googling it and trying to find where the word originated from, only to be bombarded with endless pages of people named Doria Rice. What is doria, you ask? It’s just about the Greatest Dish On The Planet, my friends, and consider your taste buds sad from having to live without it for so many years.

Basically doria is a rice gratin. It comes in many flavors- sometimes it’s made with a béchamel-type sauce; other times it oozes piping hot marinara or even a demi-glace. It is extremely popular in Japan and found on just about every Italian or fami-resu (that’s Japanese slang for “family restaurant”…which, come to think of it, is ALSO Japanese slang- think Denny’s, Applebees, etc) menu in the country. Most coffee shops even make one version of doria. “A lot of countries have popular dishes that aren’t well-liked here,” you say. But what’s not to like about rice, sauce and cheese all baked together in a dish and served piping hot out of the oven? It amazes me this shoe-in for Best Comfort Food hasn’t made a blip on the food radar here in the States, where oozing cheese is ranked high on the list of Things People Want To Eat On A Daily Basis.

After many fruitless years of searching, I decided that if I wanted doria, I’d have to make it myself. I’ve made ones with tomato sauce, eggplant and mozzarella; others with Mexican rice, a spicy tomato salsa, white sauce and cheddar. Want steak doria? Just combine some rice with diced steak and maybe mix it up with a deep, brown demi-glace, chopped parsley and grated Gruyère and then top the whole thing off with grated parmesan! It’s a great way to use up leftover rice and pretty much anything else you may have in the fridge. The basic elements are simply rice, some sort of sauce, and cheese. Add whatever else you like.

Doria, just before a sprinkling of parmesan and a trip to the oven

Well, meet Mika. Mika is my best friend, soul sister and a fellow doria fanatic. She and I used to go to a little spot near my Tokyo apartment called The Apple Pot (oh, how I miss you!) that made the BEST chicken doria ever. It was a tomatoey rice mixed with lots of chicken, those frozen mixed veggies that we all ate as a kid (carrots, peans, corn) and drenched in the tastiest béchamel which bubbled out from a mountain of melted cheese. YUM! Mika resides here now and feels the pain of the non-doria culture we live in, so we’ve had numerous conversations about our beloved baked rice dish. When she and I planned to watch the Super Bowl together, I decided to surprise her with a custom made doria just for her.

Hot and bubbling out of the oven

One thing you should know about Mika is that she loves anything cheesy, creamy, rich and decadent and lists Kewpie Mayonnaise as her Favorite Food Ever. It hardly seems fair that she has a waist the circumference of a Frisbee since she puts extra mayonnaise (ONLY Kewpie brand though- she knows what she likes!) on any vegetable she consumes and orders spaghetti alla carbonara every time we go to an Italian restaurant. Luckily she’s one of the coolest girls I know, so although I’d love to envy her speedy metabolism, I love her dearly and am happy to contribute to her mayo/cream/cheese habit anytime.

I wanted to make her a doria that had all of the flavors she loves the most (sans mayo, which I knew she’d put on the salad I was planning to serve with it). So I decided on a sort of carbonara doria. After rendering down some pancetta I sautéed some onions in the fat, then tossed them in a bowl with the pancetta, diced roasted chicken, brown rice, green peas, grated Asiago and a creamy cheese sauce made with milk, asiago and a bit of egg mixed in to thicken it. After adding LOTS of black pepper (another Mika staple) I poured it into a baking dish, topped it with a nice grating of parmesan cheese, covered it with foil and baked for 20 minutes. After 5 minutes without the foil, the top was golden and it was ready to serve.

Creamy rice with crispy pancetta, tender chunks of chicken and cheeeeeeeeeeeese!

Mika loved the doria (I’d made myself a Mexican doria since I had leftover beans I had to use, plus my waist isn’t the size of a Frisbee!). I’ll definitely be making more dorias in the future, but if you get a chance, I hope you try this one. It’s made a bit healthier with brown rice and milk for the cheese sauce (instead of cream) and sure to please anyone who has a weakness for cheesy baked dishes.

Mika’s Doria

Makes 1 serving…if you’re really hungry:)

1 ounce pancetta or bacon, diced
½ of a medium onion, diced
1 cup cold white or brown rice
½ cup cubed cooked chicken breast
¼ cup frozen green peas
Chopped parsley
Salt & pepper
Creamy cheese sauce (see below)

Creamy cheese sauce:

1 pat butter
1 garlic clove
½ cup whole milk
¾ cup grated Asiago cheese
¼ cup egg beater or 1 large egg, mixed
Salt & pepper

½ ounce finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sautee the pancetta in a pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is slightly crispy. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and add the onions, sautéing until they are translucent. Combine in a large mixing bowl along with the pancetta, rice, chicken, peas and parsley and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter under low heat, add the garlic clove and swirl it off the heat for about a minute to impart the garlic flavor; discard garlic. Add milk, heat under low heat until hot but not boiling, then add cheese, whisking constantly until cheese is melted and combined with the milk. Put your egg or egg beater into a small bowl, then add about ¼ cup of the milk/cheese mixture while stirring, then add it back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk/cheese mixture. Whisk over low heat until thickened, then add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over other ingredients in the bowl and mix well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Pour into an 8 x 8 baking dish, or an 8 inch (roughly) round baking dish if you have one, patting the mixture down slightly. The doria will fill the dish about an inch high. Cover with grated parmesan, then cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another 5, or until cheese on top turns golden brown.



Comfort food. Those two words put together usually conjures up images of gooey macaroni and cheese, a slab of homemade meatloaf with piles of fluffy mashed potatoes or a big bowl of boeuf bourguignon. Being half-Japanese, however, means sometimes a comforting meal is found in some katsu-curry, a big bowl of ramen, or a nice teishoku, or “set meal.” Teishoku usually consists of some sort of meat or fish, rice, miso soup or a salad, and some pickles on the side. I always eat my teishoku in a circular order- take a bite of fish or meat with the pickes, then rice, sip some miso soup, eat some salad and then start over. It’s always a perfect combination of flavors and textures and tastes best when you eat it that way.

The other night, my teishoku was comprised of:

Hiyayakko- or cold tofu. This time I topped it with a mixture of kuro goma (black sesame seeds), grated shoga (ginger), shoyu (soy sauce), a little sugar, goma abura (sesame oil) and su (rice wine vinegar) all topped with some chopped green onions:

Grilled saba (mackeral) seasoned with sweet miso, served with a side of celery pickels made with rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger and jalapenos. Those are definitely not your traditional Japanese pickles but boy, they were good.

Daikon salad with wafu (Japanese style) salad dressing and cilantro. My sushi chef, Toshi (as in the sushi chef at my local sushi joint, not my personal sushi chef!), often uses cilantro in Japanese dishes and it seriously works, so I’ve started adding it to my dishes as well!

Put them all together with a bowl of nutty brown rice and you have a teishoku supper! Next time I’ll make some miso soup but it was too hot that evening for soup so I left it out.

Most of these things can be purchased at your local Japanese supermarket (depending on whether or not you have such a thing in your city!). Why not try to make your own teishoku supper? It’s healthy, hearty Japanese comfort food.