Curried Kidney Beans and Potatoes

It’s been a while since I updated the recipe section. After three weeks of convalescing (basically the whole winter break), I found myself confronting a dilemma that all the single people across the world must one day face: an empty refrigerator and no one to send on an errand to the super. Subsisting off of batches of chicken soup, I’d depleted the pantry of everything but a bag full of kidney beans, some left over potatoes, and an intense spice rack. Not going to lie, the idea for curried kidney beans came from the Great Oracle of the Googles when it spat out recipes for Rajma when I typed in key words for ‘kidney beans’, ‘spices’, and ‘recipes’.

My variation isn’t true to Rajma per se… for one, it has potatoes. For seconds… I am allergic to rice so instead I’m toasting some bread and pretending that’s naan but Rajma sounds amazing and I look forward to making a true batch one day. Note: The amounts listed for spices are approximate. My coriander bottle practically emptied a quarter of its contents when the lid fell off… it should however be 1 teaspoon. So no worries if you fudge the numbers!

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CURRIED KIDNEY BEANS AND POTATOES

INGREDIENTS:
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1 can cut tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 tsp garam masala
Ground chili pepper to taste
2.5 cups red kidney beans
2 potatoes, cubed

INSTRUCTIONS:
0. Set kidney beans aside the night before in a bowl of water. Kidney beans must soak overnight before they will be ready to cook next day. Minimum 7-8 hour soak, can soak for longer but not less time. You can also boil them in advance so that when they are added in the final step, it cuts simmering time in half.
1. Coat deep sauce pan in olive oil. Heat onions and garlic on low heat until translucent.
2. Add potatoe cubes and fry on high heat for about three minutes. Add ground ginger as you stir potatoes, onions, and garlic.
3. Stir in kidney beans plus the can of cut tomatoes as well as any water/sauce that comes in the can. Add cumin, coriander, tumeric, garam masala. Lower heat and cover sauce pan, stirring and taste testing occasionally. Allow the mixture to cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

😀

So it was my first official week back to work. I didn’t realize just how much I missed my kids until I was up at the front again, teaching. Some days I’m so afraid that I’m doing it all wrong – I have legit freak out moments with thoughts ranging the spectrum of: “Oh my God, oh my God, they’re confused, right? I should have explained it differently! Now they’re going to fail the test… I’m the reason they’re failing English, right?” to “What if I’ve traumatized them?! What if they never want to meet another foreigner ever again?!”

This is probably a small scale version of what it’s like to be a parent.

Today one of my first graders was playing by himself on the stairwell. He’s a funny kid who’s startlingly un-Japanese. He speaks his mind. If he has questions he asks directly. He wants hugs and love and attention… he rarely sees his mother (who is remarried) and his father is quite strict and does not have much physical contact with his son. Today he was quieter than usual, ignoring me until I sit down on the stairs with him, when he asks:

“Where is your mother?” He wants to know what it’s like for foreigners to have a home life.

“In America,” I reply, munching on the last of my apple and unable to satisfy his curiosity about my home life. Lunch was late and I still had food to finish before going down to the teacher’s offices. I’m pretty sure my kids think I’m living with my parents still and that my mom’s got dinner cooking on the stove by the time I get back. The fact that I make my own bento surprises them every time.

My little first grader is unfazed by my answer. “What about your father?”

“Also in America. With my mom.”

“Grandma? Grandpa?” he asks.

“Not in Japan either.”

“Why?”

“Because I moved to Japan to teach English… so I’m living alone now.”

“Why?” he persists.

A little confused, I ask for clarification: “Why did I move to Japan or why am I living alone?”

“Both.”

“My parents couldn’t move with me and I’m teaching English to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

At which point our conversation is cut short by the vice principle, who is going around collecting photos for the year book. He likes the picture we make and has us pose on top of the stairs together. The camera is a shiny toy, it distracts the little one. He’s forgotten our conversation and now follows the vice principle as he makes his rounds through the classrooms. By then, I’d whittled the apple down to the core. I could eat it, like I normally do, but I’m not in the mood anymore. I chuck it into the nearest bin, remembering that I’ve got to do the grocery shopping tonight or starve.

I once read online that most twenty-somethings thought that becoming an adult meant no longer having a bed time… The reality: it just meant having to be in charge of one’s own bed time. How very true. It also means getting to decide where one will be working for the next year. In my case, I’ve just finished signing my contract for 2015-2016. Year two as an English teacher in Japan commences. And I couldn’t be any happier, or any more frightened, if I tried 😀

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English Speech Competition + Creamy Zucchini Soup Recipe

So I bought this gigantic zucchini and it had been sitting in my fridge for almost three days. I’m not going to deny… that zucchini was an impulse purchase. I’m still not used to seeing veg for so cheap O.O Need to stop hording all the vegetables like I did back in Tokyo. As soon as something went on sale I would stock up because I knew that I would not be seeing that price for weeks or months or maybe never to come again. This is the true, sad story of being a broke student in a foreign country… a tale that is not being repeated this time around because thankfully, I (legally) have a job.

Yes, that job mostly mainly consists of teaching proper pronunciation to a student population that may never in their lives need to use it again after high school and I only visit each school once a week (different school Monday through Friday, but only because we’re short staffed). But that doesn’t make me any less of a teacher! My boss admitted that even though he had been studying English diligently since middle school (English language is now just barely becoming compulsory in fifth and sixth grade of elementary school) and continued well into college: he can’t speak a word of it. Which in one part a) it’s his shy nature to admit that he can’t when the opposite is quite true… because… he can get the basic idea across. That’s more than most speakers of a foreign language can do. And for the most part he’s spot on in understanding what I’m saying. Plus b) all he’s lacking is the practical application of the language and not much more as his theory of it is pretty much down pat at this point.

And that’s the crux of the problem: Japanese people are such shy, hard workers that they freeze up at the opportunity to speak English because they don’t want to let anyone down. It’s such a strange dichotomy: on one hand they study really hard to gain the basic theoretics only to stop themselves from gaining full potential because they don’t want to stand out or because they’re quite afraid of failing.

At the moment, none of the kids are in school so my job is to coach the ones who will be participating in the English speech competition. It’s utter madness in a nutshell. The kids are expected to write at a certain level but with language education only just becoming cumpulsory at the lower levels… word on the street is: JETs write the essay and the kids memorize/recite it in their best English (ahem, Rokunohe and Shingo *cough cough*). Not so for Gonohe! We flat out refuse to write any essays for our kids: they do all the work while our main function remains to polish their existing skills. For a JET, this pretty much entails the reading of essays, grammar correction, and creating CDs with the lovely voice of yours truly reading said essays at native speed (to be fair I include two file versions: medium and native speed). I also work with the kids directly, which is a bit trickier because it’s a combination of coach, tutor, teacher, best friend, and personal cheerleader.

So far, though, and mind you I perfectly understand this is perhaps too early to say but I’ll say it anyway: so far… I like this job! Some might say it’s not challenging enough but for my skill level right now it’s 丁度いい or choudoii (otherwise in English: just right) 😀

As I was saying: in comparison to the previous time when I didn’t (legally) have a job, I’ll be making bank. Not to say it’s bank according to my age and educational level, but it’s bank for someone who used to be a secretary at $8/hour. And so going to the supermarket this far up North, where the majority of the produce is grown, I sometimes forget that although a veg might be on sale even the non-sale price is more affordable than Tokyo.

And now we come full circle to the dilemma of the giant zucchini that cost me under a dollar and of which half is still in my fridge. After scouring my spice rack, I came across French Tarragon, which according to my sources goes well with veg. Giant zucchini in fridge and a bag of potatoes waiting to be used, an onion, more garlic than I could use in a month, and salt and pepper… the recipe began forming in my mind. After a few Google searches to make sure I had some approximate measurements for one, I combined two that I liked best and included my own intuitive hand at the spices. I’ve got enough leftovers for another couple of nights so I’d say that this following recipe can serve at least four people and three at the very least.

CREAMY ZUCCHINI RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

1 large zucchini (or 3-4 small to medium-sized ones), chopped

4 small/medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

½ medium white onion, chopped

1 fresh garlic clove, chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock brought to a boil

½ cup of cream

Oil for frying

1-1½ tsp dried French tarragon

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. I like to use the same pot where the soup is going to boil instead of dirtying a frying pan for this step but ultimately the choice is up to you: pour olive or vegetable oil (I used Sarada Oil – in Japan Sarada or Salad Oil is a mixture between canola oil and sesame oil – because that is all I had left but if it were up to me… olive oil would give this soup a great taste). Heat the onion and garlic for a few seconds before adding zucchini and potatoes. Fry for about five minutes or until just softened, add 1 teaspoon of tarragon to season. You do not want to cook the veggies through! Make sure they do not brown.

2. Once done heating the vegetables, turn off the stove and begin boiling water for your stock. Add in your stock and bring to a nice simmer. At this point you’ll want to add the other half teaspoon of dried tarragon to give your stock added flavor but this is optional. I actually love tarragon and found that seasoning both vegetables and stock to be beneficial towards the flavor I was pursuing. Don’t go above a teaspoon and a half for this recipe, though. Tarragon in excess can overpower with its flavor instead of enhancing the dish. Once brought to a boil, turn off the stove and wait a couple minutes before pouring into pot with vegetables and cover.

3. Bring vegetables and broth to a boil of about two minutes. Lower to a simmer for the next twenty minutes. You might have to blend in batches so be prepared with Tupperware or bowls for this next step: a) you can blend with a hand processor or b) you can use a blender. I only had a blender handy so I blended mine in three batches and used Tupperware to contain the already blended contents until thick and creamy before moving on to the next batch. That same Tupperware is holding the leftovers of my soup so it’s not like I was dirtying unnecessary kitchenware 😀

4. Once soup is well blended, return to pot and turn up the heat to medium. At this stage you will add the cream as well as salt and pepper for taste, checking occasionally to make sure that mix well and that you don’t over or under do it.

5. Can be served hot or cold! Bon appetite!

Dinner with Murakami + Recipe

It’s time for a recipe! Eating on the cheap is no joke in Japan but this is a meal that cost me 590 yen and I didn’t use up all the ingredients, which means I can make another meal on that same amount.

When in Aomori, eat all the vegetables! This prefecture may not be as convenient as more financially prosperous ones but it sure has some damn fine veg. Although still quite expensive by American standards, it’s still a very far cry from the grocery expenses I racked up in Tokyo. So what’s a girl to do in a hard-boiled wonderland filled with all the veg she could want and an insatiable love for reading?

Simple. Dinner with Murakami night! Tonight’s specialty is a hearty vegetable soup with a side dish of roasted potatoes and the wonderful company of Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Also, this serves as cooking practice for when the one and only Michelle comes to visit next year! A staunch vegetarian and vegan Monday lover, Michelle made sure to give me her favorite vegetarian broth in a jar just before I left for Japan.

WARNING: Depending on the kind of vegan you are, check for a Better Than Bouillon label that does not include honey. The kind that I used has honey listed in the back but it only says vegetarian friendly though I’ve heard this company has all sorts of bouillon substitutes. I’m sure they have a vegan one, it’ll just take some Googling.

BETTER THAN CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE (Vegetarian and vegan friendly version)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2-1 cup of chopped potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 lotus root, three round slices and julienne the rest
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (water + Better Than Bouillon added)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • (Optional veggies: tomato, mushroom, broccoli)

DIRECTIONS

Prep/Notes: Wash all vegetables well, make sure to chop them ahead of time to save time. When slicing the lotus root, try to keep it at about 1/4 inch thickness. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook thoroughly but too then means that it will break apart when boiling. Begin simmering water for vegetable broth a pot large enough to accommodate vegetables as well. When using Better Than Bouillon make sure to taste the broth regularly. I started with a teaspoon and worked from there. Make sure it dissolves completely before adding more.

1. In a large frying pan, pour some extra virgin olive oil and gently heat the rosemary to infuse it with flavor. Next, stir in the onions, lotus root, and garlic. Saute them for about five minutes or until you see the onion becoming transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

2. Add the lotus root (round and julienne slices), carrots, and potatoes and continue to fry on medium heat. Once the potato and carrots begin to turn soft, transfer to the vegetable broth and boil on medium to high for thirty minutes. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon or less of pepper to taste. Stir occasionally and check the flavor every once in a while. Adjust broth/salt/pepper levels as necessary.

3. Serve immediately and squeeze some fresh lemon juice for an added kick! Let cool before eating.

ROASTED POTATOES WITH ROSEMARY

INGREDIENTS

  • If using three small potatoes as depicted, measure out about a 1/2 to 1 cup of the chopped potatoes for your soup (some people prefer to use less potato and more of the other veggies, so depending on your tastes), use what’s left for this recipe.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Pour olive oil in frying pan. Warm the garlic and rosemary. Once heated add the chopped potatoes and sprinkle salt and black pepper to your taste.

2. Serve once all potato chunks have cooked through and are golden brown on the outside

3. Pour yourself a glass of grape juice (or wine), set out your favorite Murakami novel and enjoy the tastes of a vegetarian friendly meal with all the comfort and taste of home.

This meal cost me about 590 yen, or about a six dollars, and serves anywhere from three to four people (depending on appetite and how likely you are to go for seconds). It might also be more expensive depending on what you have to buy (for example, I inherited a massive spice rack and olive oil from my sempai) but if you don’t have something, McCormick’s at Walmart/Target work wonders. For the lotus root, look for it in an Asian supermarket.

Enjoy!